Council Addresses Filmmaker Tenancy, Police Complaint Process

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 27, 2007

Some 50 filmmakers, radio producers and writers renting studio space at the seven-story tower at Tenth and Parker streets hope that they will come away from the special City Council meeting tonight (Tuesday) with hope of minimal rent increases over six months or a year, rather than the significant increases the new landlord is demanding. 

There is a special council meeting tonight on the tenant-landlord situation at the tower best known as the Fantasy Building, slated to begin at 8:30 p.m. At the regular meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. the council will address a resolution supporting an open police complaint process, hear an appeal on a proposed five-story building at 2701 Shattuck Ave., listen to an update on the Oxford Plaza/David Brower Center and more. 


Filmmakers vs. landlord at council 

The situation at the West Berkeley property known as the Fantasy Building, as described by the tenants—mostly independent filmmakers who have rented space in the building for more than two decades—is that the new building owner, San Rafael-based Wareham Development, is jacking up the rents 40-to-100 percent, something tenants say they cannot afford.  

The proposed rent hikes are on top of rents raised about a year ago when the former owner was preparing to sell the building, tenants say. Current rents are about $3-to-$3.25 per square foot; the increase will bring rents to $4 per square foot and more. 

While tenants say the increase is unfair, bringing rents above other artist studio rents in the area, Tim Gallen, spokesperson for Wareham, says that is comparing apples to oranges.  

“Who in their right mind would treat this like any other office space?” Gallen wanted to know. There are two theaters in the space and the towers provide a view of the bay, he said.  

Robbins “doesn’t have a lot of latitude,” Gallen said. “We have to upgrade the theater if we want to attract people doing work for Hollywood people.” 

Reached by phone on Monday and asked to react to Gallen’s comments, filmmaker Rick Goldsmith, a tenant in the building, said that the small screening theaters are “absolutely adequate for my purposes as a working filmmaker.”  

Gallen’s statement shows that Wareham is looking for a different kind of tenant for the building, he said, people whose films “have nothing to do with the social issues that affect real people’s lives,” which are the documentaries that the artists at the building produce. 

In related developments, Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Darryl Moore, Susan Wengraf, aide to Councilmember Betty Moore and planning commissioner, and Calvin Fong, aide to the mayor, met with Robbins and Chris Barlow of Wareham Friday to discuss the leases, according to an e-mail from Fong. The meeting clarified certain portions of the leases, including parking, utility operation costs, supplementary property taxes, right to terminate the lease by the tenants, relocation within the project and security deposits, Fong said, noting that Wareham said they would put the clarifications in writing.  


Support for open police hearings 

In other matters, the council will discuss Councilmember Laurie Capitelli’s resolution to support AB1648, which would open the police complaint process, closed after the California Supreme Court said police personnel records could not be made public. The issue, on the March 13 consent calendar agenda—normally passed without discussion—was pulled for deliberation by Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, after the Berkeley Police Association president asked the council not to support the bill. 


Oxford Plaza presentation 

Housing Director Steve Barton will make a presentation on the status of the Oxford Plaza/David Brower Center project proposed for Oxford Street and Allston Way, a complex project that includes low-income family housing, retail and office space for nonprofit environmental organizations. 

Also the council will decide whether to hear an appeal of a five-story 24-unit project the zoning board approved for 2701 Shattuck Ave. Neighbors say the development is too high and should be stepped down from neighboring residences. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington is asking the council to approve a resolution calling for the adoption of a Cesar Chavez National Holiday.