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Sawtooth Building Artists Lose Parking Lot to Bayer

By Richard Brenneman
Friday January 04, 2008

Plans to close the parking lot used by one of West Berkeley’s last relatively inexpensive havens for artists and craft workers are galvanizing occupants of the Sawtooth Building. 

“We’re not going to go down quietly,” said John Curl, a tenant in the landmarked factory building at 2547 Eighth St. at the corner of Dwight Way. 

The problem facing occupants and customers of the venerable structure is the move by Bayer Healthcare to close the lot used by many tenants and visitors to the building.  

Bayer representative Trina Ost-rander said the company needs the lot to replace space that will be lost to construction activities resulting from the demolition of a warehouse and its replacement by a new research building that will bring 150 scientists to Berkeley from a site in Richmond. 

Curl said tenants received no formal notice of the impending closure. 

“I learned about it from a phone call from another tenant,” he said.  

A city notice posted shortly before Christmas simply an-nounced that anyone using the lot after Dec. 28 would be ticketed and fined.  

After tenants contacted city officials, City Councilmember Darryl Moore, who represents West Berkeley, talked to Bayer officials, who granted a one-month extension. 

Curl said continued use of the lot is critical to the survival of many of the building’s tenants, especially the dance studios which attract large numbers of clients in the evening hours. 

Closure of the lot means many attendees would have to park blocks away, raising safety concerns he fears could result in the loss of clientele. 

Ostrander said city Transpor-tation Planner Matt Nichols had developed a plan to add eight parking spaces on Carleton Street by restriping spaces from parallel to angle parking. 

But Curl said that’s not enough. 


Meeting set 

Moore will meet with Curl, Nichols and West Berkeley building owner Dennis Cohen on Jan. 16 to discuss alternatives, Curl said. 

“I don’t know what that can accomplish,” he said. “None of the options are acceptable.”  

In addition to the angle parking, Curl said city staff had suggested installing two-hour meters, but meters would be a problem for tenants, who would be forced to leave their businesses to shuffle cars throughout the day. 

While metalsmith Curtis Arima sells his work at galleries and doesn’t depend on walk-ins, except on open-studio days, “the building as a whole will be deeply impacted,” he said. 

With parking already tight because of dance and yoga studios in the building, closing the lot could be a real tragedy for some of the building’s tenants, he said. 

The Kawneer lot lease, initiated when the city signed a 30-year development agreement with the pharmaceutical company in 1991, has been twice extended, and formally ended on Dec. 31. 

It was Nichols who posted the notices that alarmed the building’s tenants. 

“The city posted the signs so late that people got distressed,” said Ostrander. “We were able to extend it a month,” but construction must move forward on the new building at Seventh Street and Dwight Way, she said. 

Curl said that at the time of the last agreement, then-City Manager Weldon Rucker had assured the company the city would seek no further extensions. 

“Someone really dropped the ball about getting the notification out” about the end of the lease, Moore said. “When I heard about it, I was able to get an extension.” 

While Bayer plans to keep the lot for its own parking needs, Moore said he would be asking the company about the use of the lot in the evening to accommodate students who attend classes in the Sawtooth Building. 

The councilmember acknowledged that the eight spaces along Carleton wouldn’t replace those lost when the lot closes, “but the lot doesn’t belong to us, and what more can we do?” 


BID needed? 

With the city looking for ways to increase development in West Berkeley, Moore said, the obvious solution is a business improvement district (BID) that will levy fees on businesses—“but not residents”—to provide new transportation, infrastructure and policing services for the district. 

The call for a BID hasn’t gone without opposition. 

“We really need to sit down and look at the level of services west of San Pablo Avenue,” he said. 

With parking structures costing $40,000 to $50,000 per space, Moore said one solution may be shuttle services so people who work in the area can take BART to and from San Franscisco and ride shuttles to their West Berkeley places of work. 

The Transportation Commission is already looking at a traffic circulation and parking study for the area, he said. 

Though officially named the Kawneer Building, the building’s roofline—designed to catch sunlight to illuminate the factory floor below—provided the structure’s popular name. 

According to the application that led to the building’s recognition as an official city landmark, the plant produced window sashes and metal store fronts from 1913 to 1958 for the Kawneer Manufacturing Co. 

Landmarked in 1986, the building is popular with artists and artisans, who occupy workshops and studios in the subdivided factory floor space in one of the few remaining West Berkeley buildings available at rents they can afford. 

Recent losses to artists of live/work spaces at the Drayage, eviction of the Nexus collective, the closure of the Crucible’s West Berkeley site and the temporary shutdown of the Shipyard for city code violations have heightened their concerns. 

“This is a very important issue for the city, because there’s already been such a loss of artists and arts and crafts that the city really needs to protect those who are left,” Curl said. “We’re a major anchor for the arts and crafts in the city, and if they turn their backs on us, we won’t let it happen without a lot of fallout.”  


Trail closure 

Another concern affecting another group comes with the closure of a popular stretch of bike trail between Folger Avenue and Murray Street in West Berkeley. 

The trail closure marks the site where a Berkeley Fire Department will build an emergency equipment warehouse, adjacent to the site of the Shipyard. 

During last summer’s city shutdown of the Shipyard, where artists occupied studios in converted shipping containers, leaseholder Jim Mason blamed the action on a city goal of removing inconvenient neighbors. 

But Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong said the closure was needed to prevent trash dumping at the site and to allow time for a cleanup before construction of the warehouse can begin. 

The project is expected to take about a year to complete. 

The new warehouse will house the city’s new emergency water supply system that will enable firefighters to pump up water from the bay to fight fires in the event of a major earthquake or other natural disaster, Dong said.  

Several shipping containers from the Shipyard had been located on the property, which was then owned by Union Pacific Railroad Co. 

The city purchased the railroad’s abandoned spur line in June for $3 million. 

One irate cyclist, Will Steele, emailed the Daily Planet that the closure forced bike riders to make a quarter-mile detour either to San Pablo Avenue to the east or Seventh Street to the west to ride into Emeryville. 

Dave Campbell of the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition and a member of the city’s Transportation Commission said the closure may be discussed at the first ever joint meeting of the bicycle and transportation advisory commissions of Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville on Feb. 4.