Public Comment

City Targets Berkeley Senior Scientist And a Nonprofit

By Rosalie Say
Thursday January 21, 2010 - 09:28:00 AM

On Dec. 15, 2009, the Berkeley City Council held a public hearing on the city’s proposed $8,000 lien concerning the boarding-up of Dr. Rash Ghosh’s McGee and Dwight property. City officials supervised the city’s boarding-up of Dr. Ghosh’s buildings, which violated its own order to board from the inside as well as a court order, and defeated the alleged purpose for boarding.  

All the city accomplished was our eviction, and it is now delaying our return to our affordable and safe housing. The proposed lien is another attempt by the city to push the property owner into additional financial hardship and make it more difficult for him to get his property back.  

We believe that the lien is completely unjustified. This is especially true considering that the staff of building chief Joan MacQuarrie signed off on the remodeling of both buildings in 1993 and early 1998. A senior zoning planner signed off the McGee property in February of 1998. Unfortunately, the city did not honor its own approval. Is it wrong to trust your local government and rely on its approval and spend thousands of dollars following that approval? The city now admits publicly that it signed off on the previous permit, yet the city’s subsequent actions have caused Dr. Ghosh tremendous financial hardship and have severely impacted his health.The boarding-up is one of the many examples of the city’s gross mistreatment of Dr. Ghosh. 

On Sept. 6, 2007, without notice, the city ordered our landlord and his eight minority tenants to vacate our residence at 2507 McGee immediately for “safety” reasons. Our non-profit organization and activities center (temple) at the same address were also closed. The circumstances of the building’s closure were very unusual, as is the manner in which the city suddenly evicted us without any court order and denied the due process allowed to other city residents.  

The city sent about eight people to inspect the property, and this happened during a staff shortage and reduced public services. Why so many people, especially under such conditions? Is this the normal practice for a house inspection? If not, why the different treatment? On several occasions after the closure, city officials including the building chief entered Dr. Ghosh’s buildings illegally and without notice. These officials should not have so little regard for the law. 

Our rights for a mandatory hearing as aggrieved parties were denied repeatedly. A relocation notice was sent to our landlord weeks after the city evicted us illegally. We appealed to the Housing Commission, but have received no response. The Peace and Justice Commission was explicitly told not to entertain our case. Why is the city preventing us from being heard? 

Dr. Ghosh was complying with the city’s undue demand to undo the work that he did with their approved permit and he notified us about the relocation. If the work was not completed within a short time, the house was supposed to be put into receivership and given to for-profit developer Ali Kashani, and his partner, former city of Berkeley zoning manager Mark Rhoades. While the owner was in Washington, D.C., the city made an arrangement to inspect the house with someone improperly claiming to represent the nonprofit, although he had no authorization to do so. The city had received no formal complaint from tenants or neighbors, so what was their authority to compel this inspection? 

The highly reputed Gill’s Electric completed electrical work with new material at the cost of $33,000. The foundation and structure were done for $75,000. The city approved both these jobs in Sept. 2008, and we were awaiting the final signoff allowing us to return to our home. Instead the city has prevented legal work for the last 15 months. Why? 

To understand the irregularity of the present case, it must be understood in its larger context. In 1990, a private consulting firm assessed the property as severely damaged by the 1989 earthquake and suggested demolition. The former owner agreed and informed the planning department of his intent to do so and initiated action to remove his Caucasian tenants on the same “safety issue” used to evict us. The city refused to allow the eviction, stating that the property was not a candidate for demolition. Yet the condition of the building at that time was in fact seriously compromised. Why did the city do this when Caucasian tenants lived there, but now takes this unprecedented action against minority tenants?  

To us, this is a plain and simple seizure of private property and an overstepping of the city’s authority. The city’s actions were intended to deliver the property to their proposed receiver. Our landlord is clearly an easy target—a Bengali retired senior citizen (East Indian origin) and a minority who has been forced by the city to bear the costs of its deliberate mistakes on property which they now publicly admit has been approved with permits signed off. 

This property has been improved over time and provides safe and affordable housing to me and others. It is a place where people of diverse cultures, faiths, colors, and disciplines live in a collegial environment. The city has moved swiftly against this property but has ignored real problem properties. The Southwest Berkeley drug houses have a thirty-year history of criminal activity and community complaints, yet the city refuses to deal effectively with these problems. In 2008 the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury issued a report stating as such. According to its testimony to the Grand Jury, the city claimed that “under the law it must have a high benchmark for seizure of private property, particularly a home.” 

Thanks to the Daily Planet, the city now publicly admits that the whole project was signed off on in 1998. I am worried that I will lose my permanent affordable housing forever. I lived in the back attic which is legal. Attorney Zach Cowan admitted this in writing that “the rear part of the third floor is not covered by the abatement order” but now they wanted this removed. 


Rosalie Say is with the International Institute of Bengal Basin.