Council Adopts Condo Conversi By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday October 21, 2005

On a six-to-three vote, city councilmembers Tuesday approved proposed amendments to Berkeley’s condominium conversion ordinance, preparing the ground for a final vote next Tuesday. 

The measure is an interim step, needed to allow the 40 or so conversions now in the pipeline to proceed while the city works out a more definitive piece of legislation, first in a workshop with city councilmembers and officials on Jan. 17. 

“This ensures the grandfathering in of previously existing tenancies-in-common so that those that were in the pipeline that were already existing in 1992 can continue” to go through the conversion process along with the rental units where owners have proposed to convert, said Housing Director Steve Barton. 

The city conversion ordinance allows for conversions of 100 units a year, a quota that hasn’t been met so far this year, he said. 

“All who have already applied would be ready to go forward,” he said. 

The major areas of conflict Tuesday involved conversion fees and which, if any, tenants an owner would be allowed to evict once embarked on conversion. 

The proposed ordinance offered two alternatives for duplex owners who had lived on the property or in another Berkeley rental for at least seven years. Under the first, the city would charge no fees for conversion while the second would keep the fee at the current rate of five percent of the sales price. 

For larger rental properties in the pipeline, the interim ordinance caps conversion fees on larger units at 12.5 percent when owners agree to put existing occupants under rent control to protect their rights. 

The purpose of the fees is to mitigate the loss of affordable housing by providing cash for the city’s Housing Trust Fund to provide for new affordable units. 

“The legal basis for the fee is the change in value from rental to ownership,” said City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque. “The legal rationale is that you are losing affordability.” 

The ordinance allows conversions without bringing the buildings up to city code standards, while the existing ordinance requires code compliance before conversion, Barton said.  

The second set of alternatives dealt with tenant protections. Under the first variant, only low- and moderate-income tenants as well as the elderly would be protected from eviction, while the second version protected all tenants regardless of age or income. 

The city Housing Advisory Commission voted Monday evening to support the amendments that would protect the rights of existing tenants to remain in the buildings after conversion and would cap fees to 5 percent for owner-occupied two-, three- and four-unit properties, which would also not be counted under the 100-unit quota system. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington moved adoption of the ordinance with the total tenant protection provision and the 5 percent fee for owner-occupied duplex conversions. 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli offered a third protection variant that would have protected the low- and moderate-income tenants, the elderly and those with disabilities, while allowing eviction of higher-income renters. 

Capitelli’s motion went down to defeat with only Gordon Wozniak and Betty Olds joining him. Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Max Anderson, Dona Spring and Mayor Tom Bates then joined with Worthington to pass his original motion. 

“There’s a lot more work to do,” said Bates. “I’m going to support this, but I’m not happy with it. I’m really eager for January so we can sink our teeth in it.” 


Soft story changes 

The second major piece of legislation before the council also carried the day, this time by a unanimous vote. 

At issue was an amendment to the Berkeley Municipal Code to adopt an inventory of so-called soft story buildings and to adopt a section of the 2003 International Existing Building Code and Amendments. 

Soft story buildings are structures with ground floors that are especially vulnerable to collapse in a major earthquake, and the new building code amendment sets forth requirements for stabilizing the structures. 

The measures place the nearly 400 buildings with 5,000 residential units on a city Inventory of Potentially Hazardous Buildings and requires owners to notify residents and the public of the potential dangers and gives owners 180 days in which they can appeal their listing. 

Owners of listed properties will then have two years to submit an engineering report analyzing whether the building is capable of handling a major temblor. 

The changes adopted Monday don’t require owners to make the changes, an issue to be taken up later by the council. 


Other business  

The council also: 

• Denied an appeal of a Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) decision to approve the construction of a second story to a home at 1322 Kains Ave. Neighbor Laura Riggs contested the approval because the added story will cast her house into partial shadow. 

• Denied an appeal challenging ZAB’s approval of the partial demolition of a single-story Victorian cottage and its conversion into a three-story, three-unit condominium at 2901 Otis St. and overturned a Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) decision to declare the building a structure of merit, then remanded the project back to ZAB and the LPC. 

• Affirmed a ZAB decision to allow the opening of a new gelato restaurant at 2170 Shattuck Ave. 

• Partially overturned a ZAB decision approving construction of a new home at 2615 Marin Ave., approving an appeal by neighbors to lower the roofline by a foot to restore part of their views of the Bay and remanded the project back to ZAB. 

• Approved a 31-month contract with Universal Building Services, a union shop, to provide janitorial at the city Public Safety Building through fiscal year 2008. Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson voted against the contract. 

• Delayed until next Tuesday a vote on a resolution calling on the council to reaffirm its support for the full demolition and removal of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Bevatron and Building 51. 

• Approved on first reading the sale of the last major piece of surplus city property, a building at 2344 Sixth St., to LifeLong Medical Care, Inc., for $2.2 million. 

• Adopted a revised Housing Element of the General Plan after making revisions required after the state Department of Housing and Community Development rejected earlier drafts. Only Dona Spring voted against adoption. 

• Adopted unanimously the city plan and zoning amendments and the environmental documents required before the Gilman Street Playing Fields can be built on the southern parking area of Golden Gate Fields on land owned by the East Bay Regional Parks District, a project hailed by Worthington as “the second biggest accomplishment of the Bates administration.”f