In a distinct escalation of the ongoing battle between Berkeley developers and some Berkeley citizens, Councilmember Dona Spring has called for what amounts to a full city investigation of the way major developers do business in Berkeley.
Spring’s request is scheduled for presentation to City Council at its Nov. 18 meeting, followed by a discussion by Council at its Nov. 25 meeting in conjunction with City Manager Phil Kamlarz’ report on “escaped property fees and assessments” in the city.
In a “Request For Information Regarding Compliance Of Berkeley Development Projects” released on the city’s website this week, Spring asks her fellow Councilmembers to request the city manager to answer “a series of questions regarding compliance of [three] Berkeley development projects...with payment of fees and assessments, state and federal funding requirements, compliance with the provision of 20 percent low income housing, and cultural space in return for an extra story in height.”
The three projects listed in her memo are the Berkeleyan, the Gaia Building, and what she identifies as the Pioneer Building.
The Berkeleyan at 1910 Oxford St. and the Gaia Building at 2116 Allston Way were both developed by Patrick Kennedy’s Berkeley-based Panoramic Interests company.
Spring said the “Pioneer Building” is the mixed-used project at 2161 Allston Way developed by Berkeley developer Avi Nevo’s Aldar Investment Company and also known as both Oak Court and Allston Oaks.
The Gaia Building was completed in 2001 and has operated since that time under a temporary occupancy permit issued by the city. The Berkeleyan was completed in 1998. Oak Court was completed in 2002.
All three developments were listed in the Nov. 4 Kalmarz “escaped property taxes and assessments” report as having not being billed by the city for significant Berkeley fees and assessments over the past few years.
By late Wednesday night, Kennedy said he had not seen the Spring memo on the city’s website. Neither Nevo nor Aldar Investment Company could be reached for comment.
For her part, Councilmember Spring had plenty of comments in a telephone interview.
“I think the public is wondering why there’s favoritism of one business over another,” she said, adding that “citizens have been asking these kinds of questions for several years” concerning the three projects.
“We’ve given maximum heights and densities, low setbacks, reduced parking—and we’re now finding out that these are heavily publicly-subsidized projects. It raises a lot of issues about how much is being doled out at the public trough. What are we getting for this funding? We have no way of verifying what we’ve been getting.”
Spring said she was particularly galled by the fact that City Council has never received definitive information as to how many low-income tenant units actually exist in Kennedy’s Gaia Building. Called “inclusionary units,” these set-aside apartments are often cited by Kennedy as one of the benefits of the project in downtown Berkeley.
“Not providing accurate information on the actual number of the inclusionary units is one of the reasons [the Gaia Building] was never given a permanent occupancy permit,” Spring said.
“But [having a temporary occupancy permit] doesn’t hurt [Kennedy] any. He goes on with business as usual. Ironically, by only having a temporary occupancy permit, he was able to escape fees and assessments. So it only rewarded him. It didn’t put any pressure on him.
“The city seems toothless to regulate this guy. We know that Mr. Kennedy exploits every loophole and angle that he has. He needs to be run under a fine-tooth comb.”
Kennedy didn’t respond by presstime to a reporter’s voicemail message seeking his comments on Councilmember Spring’s assertions.
Spring’s request lists nine separate questions she wants the city manager to answer concerning the three downtown projects, including the amount of fee waivers granted, the amount of money loaned or granted to the projects from federal or state sources, and the number of affordable units required for each project.
In addition, Spring wants to know how the Gaia Building was occupied for three years without being in compliance for a permanent occupancy permit.