16 Drayage Tenants Refuse to Leave; Owner’s Fines Exceed $100,000 By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday May 10, 2005

Calling Berkeley’s fire marshal “a bully,” the owner of a West Berkeley warehouse said he was considering taking legal action to halt city-mandated fines and expenses that have cost him over $100,000 in the past month. 

“The City of Berkeley has behaved in an unconstitutional manner,” said Lawrence White, owner of the Drayage, a live/work warehouse that that city officials demanded White have evacuated by April 15.  

Sixteen of the building’s roughly 30 tenants have refused to vacate, leaving White and city officials in a standoff. 

“The city has the power to declare the building uninhabitable and evict the tenants, but instead they find it easier to fine me $2,500 a day and make me pay $1,000 a day for fire suppression,” White said.  

White has so far declined to send tenants eviction notices, as requested by city officials. 

On Wednesday, White further angered city officials when, claiming he couldn’t afford the charges, he dismissed the two fire suppression officers stationed at the Drayage 24-hours-a-day. 

Under pressure from the city attorney’s office, White rehired the fire suppression team Friday, according David Orth, the city’s fire marshal. Orth said the city increased police patrol around the building while the suppression team was dismissed, but that it wouldn’t seek to charge Orth for the extra work. 

The crisis at the Drayage began in March, when a fire inspection revealed more than 250 separate violations at the former warehouse. The inspection came shortly after a deal fell through for White to sell the building to Developer Ali Kashani for $2.05 million. 

The Northern California Land Trust, which has been working with tenants to buy the building, has since presented a written offer, that tenants say is higher than Kashani’s. White, who has upped his asking price to $2.7 million, however said he won’t entertain offers until the conflict with city is settled. 

“I am not going to accept any offers under the gun,” he said. “This will not be a distress sale.”