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Settlement Puts an End To Dragaye Standoff By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday October 04, 2005

The eight remaining tenants of an illegal West Berkeley live-work warehouse have agreed to vacate their homes by the end of the month in return for approximately $10,000 and six months free rent dating back to April. 

The deal reached last week between the tenants and property owner Lawrence White ends a seven-month standoff at the East Bay Drayage. 

White said by telephone Monday that he still had a deal to sell the property for $2.7 million to a developer who will replace the warehouse on the corner of Addison and Third streets with housing and possibly ground floor retail. White said the buyer has requested his identity be kept secret until the title changes hands in December. 

Last March, after White’s deal to sell the property to developer Ali Kashani for $2.05 million fell through, a fire inspection at the Drayage uncovered more than 200 health and safety code violations. 

When the city ordered White to evacuate the building in April, many of the two dozen residents, most of whom were artisans, refused to leave. The standoff drew attention to the dwindling amount of artist space available in West Berkeley as rents and land values continue to rise. 

White also said Monday that he planned to contest the nearly $400,000 in fines the city has levied on him since April 15 for failing to evacuate the building.  

Deputy Fire Chief David Orth said Berkeley would decide this week whether to seek payment of the fines in light of the settlement. He added that the city might also chose to keep fining White $2,500 a day until the building is evacuated on Oct. 31. 

Commenting on the agreement with tenants, White said, “I’m delighted that it’s finally over and everybody’s happy with it.” 

The eight remaining tenants voted to accept the deal last week after an all-day negotiating session. Had no deal been reached, White could have filed eviction notices on Oct. 8. The tenants had planned to contest the evictions and legal proceedings were expected to last into 2006 with city fines continuing to accumulate. 

The $10,000 settlement applies only to the eight remaining tenants at the Drayage. Tenants who left earlier made separate deals with White. Settlements varied with one short-term tenant accepting $6,000 and another settling for $800, according to Maresa Danielsen, a tenant.  

Jeffrey Ruiz, who lived and built furniture at the Drayage for 11 years, said that a $10,000 pay out coupled with not having to pay rent from last April through October was enough for him to stop fighting to save the Drayage as space for artisans. 

During the early months of the standoff, tenants worked with the Northern California Land Trust on its announced intention to buy the property and build affordable live-work units for the tenants to purchase, which didn’t happen. 

“Once the land trust deal fell though I didn’t feel like I had it in me to fight for this place,” said Danielsen, who has lived at the Drayage for eight years. 

“I’m still super-pissed at the city for giving us no support,” she added. “What the city wants to do is rezone West Berkeley and have as much yuppie housing as possible.” 

Danielsen said city officials didn’t do enough to pressure White into accepting a deal with the land trust. Land Trust Executive Director Ian Winters said the non-profit development group offered White $2.5 million for the property, while White countered that he never received any official offer from the land trust. 

Berkeley Community Services Liaison Michael Caplan said the city had few options other than fines to pressure White. “Private property transfers are really beyond the purview of the city,” he said, adding that the episode has forced Berkeley to explore policies to keep artists in West Berkeley. 

“We need to get our heads together on policies that will protect live-work spaces for our artists and craftsmen,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore, who represents the West Berkeley district that includes the Drayage. Moore said he might propose establishing enterprise zones in West Berkeley giving developers incentives like tax breaks to build affordable live-work spaces. 

White bought the warehouse for $1.8 million in 1997. Despite his pending deal to sell it for $2.7 million, he said that the cost of this year’s battle with the city and tenants means that he will lose money on the property. 

In the years since White bought the Drayage, West Berkeley has been home to several new housing developments. Opponents of the developments fear that more housing and retail will drive up land costs and force out industrial and artisan jobs that have been centered in West Berkeley. One block east of the Drayage, a new condominium and retail development is planned for the site where Celia’s Mexican Restaurant and Brennan’s have long stood. 

Danielsen said that while she has found a new home in West Berkeley, many other Drayage tenants have moved to Oakland. Ruiz is moving his furniture making business 84 miles north to Clearlake, Danielsen said. 

“The saddest thing is that after all this, West Berkeley has lost one of its coolest things,” she added. “It sucks all around.”›