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Confusion Surrounds Possible Eviction of Nexus Collective

By Ricghard Brenneman
Tuesday May 30, 2006

The Nexus Institute, a prominent West Berkeley artists’ collective, faces eviction from its home of 20 years when their lease expires Thursday. 

That much is certain. Beyond that, endless questions arise. 

“My understanding is that we’ll stay while we negotiate with them,” said Carolyn Newborg, a co-president of the collective. 

“Their lease is up on the 31st, and we’re not renewing. We notified them of that in October,” said Mim Carlson, executive director of the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, the collective’s landlord. 

A co-op with a long and distinguished history in West Berkeley, Nexus currently resides in buildings at 2701-2721 Eighth St. 

The largest structure is the distinctive brick building at the southeast corner of Eighth and Carleton streets built in 1924 for Standard Die & Specialty by the Austin Building Co.—the firm that also built the distinctive H.J. Heinz Co. factory at San Pablo and Ashby avenues. 

Of the two other buildings, clad in sheet metal, one was used as a factory to make the World War II progenitor of today’s cluster bombs. 

Only the brick building is landmarked. The problem Nexus faces is that the Humane Society needs to sell the property to raise money to build a new facility at their headquarters, located on the same block at 2700 Ninth St. 

“Our realtor hasn’t brought us any buyers yet,” said Carlson. 

But Gregory Harper, an Emeryville attorney and artist who represents Nexus, said that’s not the case. 

“Somebody should let them know that we accepted their offer to sell to us,” he said. 

Harper said the Human Society broke off talks while Nexus was seeking answers to key questions about the property. For one thing, he said, the property the society is selling doesn’t legally exist yet. 

The Humane Society’s property is currently all one parcel, and would have to be split before it could be sold, he said. 

Other questions had to do with the site’s long history of industrial use. 

“There were underground storage tanks that we understand were removed,” Harper said, leading to more questions about possible residual contamination. 

Before such questions were answered, Harper said, “they abruptly said ‘No, that’s it. You’ve had long enough.’ We said we didn’t have enough information.” 

Asked about the offer, Carlson said, “You’ll have to talk to our attorney, Brian Smith.” A San Francisco attorney, Smith was unavailable for comment by the paper’s deadline. 

Any buyer would face an additional complication in the legal requirement to provide new space for the evicted artists. 

According to a July 23, 2004, memorandum from then-Assistant to the City Manager Jim Hynes, the Humane Society “is required to replace 75 percent of whatever the Nexus tenants currently have,” either at the current site or at another one within the West Berkeley district. 

Yet another complication arises from the landmarked building, which is an unreinforced masonry structure which requires a seismic retrofit. 

“We offered to do the retrofit if they renewed our lease,” said Bob Brockl, one of the Nexus artists. 

The collective includes 25 artists who operate a community gallery in the landmarked building. Classes are given as well. 

Before Nexus, the site was home to another Berkeley institution, Ohmega Salvage. 

“I hope we can resolve this,” said Newborg. “It’s a shame to have two nonprofits in conflict. Otherwise, our interests aren’t in conflict. We have artists who are animal rescuers and they have animal rescuers who are artists.”