Gaia Building Takes Another Property Tax Hit

J Douglas Allen Taylor
Friday February 06, 2004

Renewing the question of how much money Berkeley may be missing in so-called “escaped property fees and taxes” because of blind spots in its assessment program, the Berkeley Finance Administration has increased the taxable assessment of Patrick Kennedy’s controversial Gaia Building following a query from a former member of the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

The new assessment adds slightly more than 5,000 square feet which finance administration staff originally listed as balcony space but which they have now determined to be corridors and walkways. Balconies are exempt from taxation under Berkeley ordinance, while corridors and walkways are not. 

The city manager’s office has scheduled a Feb. 24 report to the city council on plans to improve its methods of assessing and taxing properties in Berkeley. Escaped property fees and taxes became a major issue in Berkeley politics last year after revelations that several city property developments, including the Gaia Building and three other properties built by Kennedy’s Panoramic Interests company, had been either unbilled or underbilled for Berkeley property fees and assessments over the past several years. 

Notice of the Gaia Building reassessment came in a letter late last month from Deputy Planning Director Wendy Cosin to Tim Hansen, who served on the Berkeley Landmarks Commission at the time the Gaia Building was being built two years ago. “Finance staff is in the process of making the appropriate adjustments,” Cosin wrote. 

In his original query to City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan in early January, Hansen noted that the Gaia Building balconies “are not decorative additions to a building but rather the hallways for entering and leaving the apartments. ... Is it the city’s position that all such hallways are not taxed? ... I certainly understand that there [are] different ways to measure for different purposes, but it is important that everyone is treated the same.” 

Hansen said he first noticed that the Gaia Building may have been under-assessed after seeing the property’s parcel tax numbers in a Daily Planet story. 

Neither Patrick Kennedy nor representatives of the Berkeley Finance Administration could be contacted by deadline in connection with this story. 

—J. Douglas Allen-Taylor