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Reza Valiyee, a Man of Perpetual Motion

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday August 20, 2009 - 11:13:00 AM
Reza Valiyee, a landlord with a long history of building without city permits on some of his 22 Berkeley properties, blocks the lens of a reporter’s camera.
Richard Brenneman
Reza Valiyee, a landlord with a long history of building without city permits on some of his 22 Berkeley properties, blocks the lens of a reporter’s camera.

Reza Valiyee claims to have invented what physicists have long declared impossible: the perpetual motion machine. 

But it’s the seemingly perpetual motion of construction equipment at his Berkeley rental properties that have tenants—and at least one city councilmember—up in arms. 

Not even citations from the city’s building code enforcement officers seem to stop Valiyee from chopping up curbs and pouring concrete on the yards of his properties. 

And once the concrete dries, unregistered and apparently junker cars sprout where once grass and flowers grew, neighbors say. 

“It is quite a mess,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has twice pushed the city to issue citations for Valiyee’s unauthorized work at 2252 Derby St. 

The original notices, issued July 29, included four separate violations of the city building code, including: 

• Construction of sidewalk and driveway without permits; 

• Paving a required landscape area; 

• Construction of a building addition without a permit; 

• Construction in the public right-of-way without a permit, and  

• Establishment of new off-street parking without permits. 

When work continued, the city served a stop-work order on Aug. 6, accompanied by a demand that he “correct all violations within 15 days.” 

After another constituent complaint, Worthington asked inspectors to look at Valiyee’s properties in the 2200 block of Ward Street, where seven more violations were cited.  

The residence at 2245 Ward earned four citations, the same ones as for Derby Street except for the unauthorized building addition violation. 

The home at 2249 Ward earned two citations, one for an illegal sidewalk and driveway and the other for paving a required landscape area. 

And 2253 Ward was cited for paving a required landscape area. 

A check for properties listed under his own name in Alameda County revealed a total of 22 in Berkeley, purchased between 1972 and 2006, and one on Ayala Avenue in Oakland, purchased in 1981. 

The properties are currently assessed at $6,058,820, but are undoubtedly worth much more since most were bought before the recent real estate boom and bust cycle. In addition, Proposition 13 allows for a maximum of a 2 percent annual increase in assessed value, and 14 of the properties were purchased before 1990.  

A reporter who drove past one of his properties Friday afternoon found himself in a momentarily tense confrontation with the scofflaw landlord. 

Within seconds after the reporter began shooting photographs from inside his car of a Valiyee rental at the southwest corner of Ellsworth and Derby streets, a worker doing plumbing repairs spotted the camera and went to fetch Valiyee. 

The pair approached the car, and both men repeatedly reached inside the car to cover the camera lens, the worker demanding, “Where’s your permit to take pictures?” 

“It’s called the First Amendment,” the reporter replied. 

Finally Valiyee told his employee to ease off, and he asked the reporter why he was taking pictures. 

After he was told that neighbors had complained about illegal construction, Valiyee said, “All I am doing is providing housing for students who really need it.” 

He declined to talk about why he had repeatedly done work without permits, though he acknowledged that he had just paid $600 to cover costs for a curb cut he had made. 


His properties  

According to the assessor’s office, Valiyee owns seven properties in the 2200 block of Ward Street: 2209, 2211, 2219, 2227, 2245, 2249 and 2253. 

He owns three residences on Derby Street, 2244, 2248 and 2252. 

Two dwellings are on Ellsworth—2708 and 2712. 

Other properties are at 2178 Ashby Ave., 2110 Parker St., 2219 Blake St., 2245 Prospect St., 2412 Piedmont Ave., 2731 Haste St. and 2116 Channing Way. 

The city has faced Valiyee in court on at least 14 occasions, including an action which resulted in the court putting the Prospect and Piedmont properties into city receivership after they were declared public nuisances because he had installed illegal bedrooms. 

Developer Ali Kashani, then working in the affordable housing market, was appointed as receiver to oversee the repairs. 

At the time of the action, Zach Cowan of the city attorney’s office told the Daily Planet that “Valiyee’s long history of stalling on city-mandated repair work has forced the city’s heavy hand.” 

The landlord also owns a key stretch of Shattuck Avenue—2609, 2621 and 2627—which Worthington said he would like to see developed. 

“But he tells me he’s waiting for BART to buy it so they can build another station. I don’t think that’s likely, but he’s convinced that if he waits long enough, they’ll take him up,” said the councilmember. 

Maybe Valiyee’s perpetual motion machines will enable BART to build speedier, cheaper trains and his real estate dreams will come true. 

“I have solved all the world’s energy problems,” he told the Planet reporter. 

When asked if he meant his perpetual motion machine, Valiyee said yes. 

When the reporter replied that every physicist he’d ever met said the notion was fallacious, he replied, “Physicists said Gallileo was wrong when he said the earth revolves around the sun, and he said man would never land on the moon.” 

“Actually,” the reporter said, “physicists were at the forefront of the moon race.” 

Valiyee said he will have a working model of his invention within a few weeks, and then he would be the leader in the world. 

The reporter smiled. The U.S. Patent Office had long ago stopped taking applications for the devices unless the inventor provides a working model that proves his claim. While several patents have been granted, none has yet made it to the market. 

The agency maintains a listing of different devices that have tried and failed to meet the test at|. 

For those interested in Valiyee’s invention, he has posted some versions—along with letters to political leaders—on his website at