Attorneys for the city and developer Patrick Kennedy are meeting today (Friday) to reach what Kennedy hopes will be a final settlement on the use of the Gaia Cultural Center.
“We’ve been exchanging letters, e-mails, memoranda and other communications for seven years now,” Kennedy said.
The latest controversies stem from a rowdy party held in the cultural center—the central part of the Gaia Building’s ground floor—and from a proposal to hold weekly church services for the homeless in the center.
Anna de Leon, proprietor of Anna’s Jazz Island, the building’s first commercial tenant, called police after a birthday party held in the center on Jan. 7 got out of hand.
De Leon said she called police after customers became anxious and would-be party-goers were sneaking in through her club. When police arrived, they shut down the party, and de Leon said she counted 191 people leaving a space where the city had declared a maximum capacity of 99.
“Who would’ve thought that would happen at an 18th birthday party for a Berkeley High School honor student?” asked Kennedy. “I do know there wasn’t any alcohol being served.”
“No alcohol was being served,” echoed Gloria Atherstone, an officer of Gaia Arts Management, Inc., which administers the cultural center, as well as an officer of Glass Onion Catering, which provides food service for gatherings at the center.
However Berkeley Police Officer H. Wellington, who wrote up the official report of the incident, said he found two soda bottles abandoned in the building’s lobby that “smelled strongly of alcohol.”
The crowd grew more rambunctious after the eviction, and several scuffles broke out, resulting in the citation and release of one attendee for throwing a bottle toward the officers, police said.
De Leon has also alleged that Glass Onion has improperly served alcohol without a liquor license at several functions in the cultural center.
The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has said that while the catering company doesn’t have a liquor license, they are allowed to serve charity events where the non-profits have acquired a special license for one-day events.
Only one organization, The Marsh, which holds theatrical performances in the center, failed to obtain the requisite license. In response, the ABC denied the troupe the right to obtain further licenses, said an ABC spokesperson.
“Anna has provided a wonderful addition to downtown Berkeley at a time when movie attendance is down,” along with other business, said Kennedy.
“It’s a shame that there’s conflict,” he said.
One of the issues to be resolved today is the lease of the center for weekly services of the San Francisco City Church for its East Bay congregation.
City Planning Manager Mark Rhoades said that the church can’t use the space without first acquiring a use permit as required under the city zoning code for religious institutions.
“Our lawyers disagree,” said Kennedy, “if he wants to say a spiritual quest isn’t a cultural use. Does that mean someone who wants to hold a prayer meeting in their hotel room has to first get a use permit? I’m confident our lawyers will sort things out.”
The flap over the Gaia Cultural Center is merely the latest twist in the ongoing brouhaha about Berkeley’s building bonuses, which allow builders to create larger structures than would be otherwise permitted.
Critics of the bonuses point to the Gaia Building as the city’s prime exemplar of what not to do.
Kennedy’s Panoramic Interests was allowed to build the Gaia higher than downtown zoning would normally allow because he was awarded both of the city’s available bonuses—one mandated by state law and the other dispensed by the city.
The first awards beefier building size for projects that allot a percentage of residential units for lower-income tenants—or upper-median- income in the case of condos. The second locally-awarded privilege was intended to bestow a bonus for space devoted to cultural activities.
While the authors of Berkeley’s 1990 Downtown Plan recommended that cultural bonuses be allowed only for projects that reserve the resulting space for purely non-profit use, that proviso wasn’t adopted until its inclusion in the 2000 General Plan.
In issuing permits for the Gaia Building, Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board specifically permitted for-profit uses, provided that the space was allotted to businesses that give preference to local artists, musicians or writers and that allow the facility’s use for other cultural purposes, said Rhoades.
“That can’t happen again,” he said.›