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Gaia Heaters Prompt City Investigation: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday October 08, 2004

City housing officials have launched an investigation into the Gaia Building’s electric apartment heaters following a complaint from tenant Thomas Miller. 

Berkeley Supervising Housing Inspector Carlos Romo said that while building specs submitted for the structure at 2140 Allston Way called for 1500 watt heaters in the building’s one-bedroom units, the heater in Miller’s apartment is a Cadet Model C101 1200, rated by Cadet Manufacturing at a thousand watts. 

“We will be trying to identify if the owner, by going with something less, was trying to cut corners,” Romo said. 

The more powerful heaters were specified by the energy consultant hired to evaluate heating needs for the building, which was built by Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy with loans backed by a public agency, the Association of Bay Area Governments. 

“The consultant told us that there is some margin for error in the figure, so the owner could conceivably go with something smaller,” Romo said. 

“This was the first I’ve heard about it,” Kennedy said Thursday afternoon. “We’ve never had any complaints about heat before, and most tenants say they never use their heaters because the building is so tight. 

“Most units have two or three heaters, but Mr. Miller is apparently in one of the smaller units.” 

Miller’s is a one-bedroom apartment in a building with 91 one- and two-bedroom units. There is a visible gap between the upper edge and the frame of his southernmost bedroom window even when latched. 

According to the state Uniform Building Code, dwellings must, at a minimum, have heating systems that enable residents to maintain a constant temperature of 70 degrees at a point three feet above the floor, regardless of outside temperatures. 

That section has been incorporated as Subsection 701.1 of Section 19.40.040 of the city Uniform Housing Code. 

Miller said he first worried about the heat in his third floor apartment during the cold days of March, shortly after he had moved in. 

“I had to open up the (gas) oven and turn it on to get enough heat,” he said, a tactic Romo urged him not to use during a recent visit to his apartment.  

Miller’s apartment is one of the so-called inclusionary units, apartments reserved for low-income residents, that enabled Kennedy to trump the city’s five-story limit for downtown buildings. By building another floor reserved for cultural uses, he was able to create the equivalent of an eight-story building a half-block from the UC Berkeley campus. 

“Are you aware that the tenant is actually under the care of the Berkeley Mental Health Department?” asked Kennedy when called about the heating probe. 

Miller had already freely admitted that he has had three heart attacks, suffers from Hepatitis C and is undergoing treatment for medically managed schizophrenia. It was those conditions which qualified him as a Section VIII disability tenant. 

His move into the building was facilitated by Berkeley’s BOSS program. 

Like all Gaia tenants, Miller had to sign an authorization allowing Kennedy’s Panoramic Management to tap directly into his bank account for his monthly rent. 

Miller said he is also concerned because his apartment lacks window screens, a feature also missing from the Fine Arts Building and several other Kennedy Buildings visited recently by a Daily Planet reporter. 

“At this point we have to be in communication with the building officials and decide how to proceed,” Romo said. “It could require additional checking with the owner.” 

Romo said he would also be inspecting the heating units in other apartments in the building.›