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City Council May Prolong Drayage Eviction Standoff By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday June 14, 2005

The City Council will yet again Tuesday be asked to weigh in on the fate of 11 artisans refusing to leave their homes at an illegal live-work West Berkeley warehouse. 

In an effort to speed up evictions at the East Bay Drayage, the owner, Lawrence White, last week submitted plans to demolish the warehouse’s two dozen interior units. City officials have said the permit can be granted within a week and without a public hearing. However, Councilmember Dona Spring is asking the council to require the Zoning Adjustments Board to rule on the permit, a process which could take several months. 

Spring has failed in previous attempts to ask the council to intervene in city planning matters. 

Joan MacQuarrie, a city building official, said White’s permit submittal last week was flawed, but if he resubmitted it early this week, the city could rule on it within by the end of the week. 

Time is of the essence for both sides. Having incurred over $100,000 in city fines for not evacuating the warehouse by April 15, White is eager to obtain the demolition permit to hasten eviction proceedings. Meanwhile, the tenants hope that by stalling the process they can pressure White to accept an offer on the property from the Northern California Land Trust, which has pledged to bring the building up to code and give residents the opportunity to buy their units. 

According to Jeffrey Carter, the tenants’ legal advisor, White and the Land Trust have resumed sale negotiations after talks stalled last month. 

As for the interior demolition permits, Spring and the tenants have argued that the zoning ordinance requires that the demolition of rental units go before the ZAB. However, Berkeley Zoning Officer Mark Rhoades contends that since the residences were never legally established they are not subject to the requirement for a public hearing. 



The council Tuesday will also consider a new compromise plan to slightly reduce the number of meetings scheduled for several of the city’s 44 citizen commissions. The plan, submitted by City Manager Phil Kamlarz, calls for the meeting for 15 commissions to be reduced from 11 a year to nine, with the right to request a tenth meeting.  

As part of a pilot program, 12 more commissions would be permitted to prepare their own meeting minutes and agenda to relieve the burden on city staff. If the experiment proves successful, Kamlarz said, he would extend it to other commissions.  

According to Kamlarz’s report, the city spends $200 to staff a commission meeting. The proposal would also combine the Disaster Council with the Fire Safety Commission, which city officials have maintained serve similar purposes. Disaster Council members have argued that a merger would overburden them and harm the city’s preparedness for an earthquake or fire. 



With the council required to adopt a balanced budget by the end of the month, Tuesday’s meeting features several proposals from councilmembers for initiatives they would like to see funded. Although the city is cutting expenses to close a $8.9 million general fund deficit, an unexpected windfall from property-based taxes has given the council some extra money to fund programs.  

The council wish list includes a $50,000 request by councilmembers Linda Maio and Darryl Moore to build a fence at a soon-to-be-constructed four-block bike path running from Delaware Street across University Avenue. The fence had been promised to neighbors concerned that the bike path would invite burglars at night, but rising steel prices have made the original design at University Avenue unfeasible. 

Councilmember Maio, in response to several neighborhood complaints of train conductors sounding their horns too loudly, is also asking for $120,000 for the city to install warning signals at train intersections that would make less noise than the train horn. 

Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Gordon Wozniak and Spring are asking the council to approve $80,000 to pay for the Berkeley Guides for one-half year. They hope that the Downtown Berkeley Association by then will have raised enough money to pay for the rest of the program, aimed at serving patrons of downtown businesses. If the DBA doesn’t raise the money, Councilmembers Moore and Wozniak have proposed that the city pay for the entire year at $163,000. 

Councilmembers Moore and Max Anderson are asking for $50,000 to study the creation of a youth center in South or West Berkeley. 

Also on Tuesday, representatives from city-funded non-profits will make presentations to the council regarding the budget. 



The council will be asked Tuesday to approve $61,418 for a consultant’s report on real-time signs alerting motorists about available parking spaces in Berkeley lots. The city has been moving ahead with the program, estimated to cost $1.2 million to install and $212,000 a year to operate. The city hopes to share the costs with private lot operators and UC Berkeley. 

The council will also vote Tuesday on whether to refinance bonds for seismic upgrades of the Center Street and Sather Gate parking lots. By refinancing the bonds, issued in 1994, the city expects to save $1 million to use for parking improvements.