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Court Approves Limited Measure I Corrections

Judith Scherr
Tuesday September 05, 2006

An Alameda Country judge agreed with the city and Measure I opponents, ruling Friday to allow only limited changes to the text of the city attorney’s analysis of the Condominium Conversion ballot measure that will go before voters Nov. 7. 

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque had mistakenly based her written analysis on an early version of the ballot measure rather than a later, modified version. (Each side blamed the other for the mistake.)  

Speaking in Alameda County Superior Court Department 31 for Measure I proponents, attorney William Flynn of Neyhart, Anderson, Freitas, Flynn & Grosbol hoped to go beyond the two changes the two sides had already agreed on—the number of days for the right of first refusal and the entity that would ascertain the level of rental vacancies in the city. 

Flynn called the city attorney’s analysis “false and misleading,” and asserted: “This is the time and place to challenge” other parts of the analysis. 

But Jay Koslofsky, attorney representing Mayor Tom Bates, the lead author of arguments opposing the measure, accused Flynn of “trying to bootstrap-in their (other) arguments.” 

Apparently in agreement, Judge Winifred Smith replied, “The writ of mandate hearing doesn’t open it up for general revue.” 

Giving the attorney a short legal lesson, she continued: “A writ of mandate is an error that needs to be corrected. I don’t believe it opens up the floodgates for the review of everything you want changed.” 

Attorney Kevin Siegel of McDonough Holland & Allen speaking for the city, added, “We don’t want the courts micromanaging.”  

In granting the writ of mandate, the two points the judge approved for change are: 

• Tenants have first rights for 30 days to buy the unit they live in. (An earlier version said 14 days.) 

• The Housing Department will not be responsible for determining the vacancy rate, as the early version stated, but a third impartial party will make the determination. (Up to 500 units can be converted according to the new law—the exact number depends on the vacancy rate.) 

Flynn had hoped to make several other changes, but was unsuccessful. One was to remove the word “discount” from the city attorney analysis, which refers to a “5 percent discount in the purchase price” for tenants buying the units in which they live. Flynn argued that the tenant rather would be paid a sum equal to 5 percent of the sales price, when purchasing the property. 

“It is 5 percent off the purchase price,” Siegel countered. “It’s clearly accurate to say 5 percent discount.”  

The proposed Condominium Conversion law will replace the current Berkeley law and allow the conversion of up to 500 units of housing under certain conditions, rather than limiting the number to 100 as written in the current law.  

Named in the argument supporting Measure I are Eleanor Pepples, Dean Metzger, Jim Smith, Shirley Dean and Doris Maslach. Named in the argument opposing Measure I are Assemblymember Loni Hancock, Rent Board Chair Howard Chong, Mayor Tom Bates, Fr. George Crespin and City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.