A popular recycling center has won a four-year lease extension from UC Berkeley, ending a lengthy struggle that involved hundreds of teachers, a host of local politicians and thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The nonprofit East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, which recycles cans, paper, bottle caps and other items for use in art classes in local schools, will remain in a university-owned building at 6713 San Pablo Ave. until at least Jan. 2006, at a reduced rent, under the terms of an out-of-court settlement reached Aug. 15.
The agreement still needs to be finalized, according to an attorney for the Depot, but both sides expect it to go through.
The university and Depot inked a five-year lease in January 1996 with an option for a five-year renewal. As the first five-year term reached its conclusion, the Depot told the university it wanted to renew.
But UC Berkeley officials pointed out that the contract only allowed renewal “with landlord’s consent” and suggested that it wanted the space back.
Depot officials said they had not agreed to the “landlord’s consent” language in contract negotiations and argued that it should not have been placed in the final contract.
With local politicians and teachers pressuring the university to extend the lease, the Depot and UC Berkeley worked out a compromise in March 2001 involving an 18-month lease extension and an increase in rent.
But the Depot subsequently backed out of the deal and pursued legal action.
According to Depot attorney Zona Sage, the university acknowledged in depositions that the “landlord’s consent” language was not a part of negotiations and that an administrative assistant in the university’s real estate office had added it into the contract of her own accord.
University attorneys could not be reached to confirm this account.
In the spring, the university pursued a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to throw out the Depot’s claim, but lost, paving the way for the Aug. 15 agreement.
Under the agreement, the university agreed to cover the Depot’s extensive legal fees. According to Sage, UC Berkeley will cover those fees through both reduced rent and a cash payment.
Irene Hegarty, the university’s director of community relations, said the cash payment totals $50,000.
Depot Executive Director Linda Rinna-Levitsky said the agreement was a “thrilling,” David and Goliath-type victory.
“This was, on one level, a very strong landlord-tenant fight,” she said. “But I think the bigger issue is a small nonprofit, there for teachers, stood up to the university and won.”
Hegarty said she was glad an agreement had been reached, but disputed the notion that the university had acted as a cruel landlord.
“I think we need to keep in mind that the university has done the community and the East Bay Depot a favor for 6 1/2 years now by providing an attractive space at below-market rates,” she said.
Hegarty said the long-term future of the building is still up in the air since the university may need space for staff displaced by its ongoing efforts at seismic retrofitting of on-campus buildings.
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