Public Comment

Corruption or Serial Incompetence?

By Nasira Abdul-Allem
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:51:00 AM

I was one of the participants at the Berkeley City Council meeting on Dec. 15, 2009 at which Dr. Rash B. Ghosh’s McGee and Dwight Way property lien was discussed.  

I wrote to the city manager regarding Dr. Ghosh stating that he has been the victim of a series of reclassifications as “errors” of formerly approved, signed-off, and consequently legal plans and permits. These so-called “errors” have resulted in grave injustices to Professor Ghosh, a Berkeley scientist, his tenants, and our organization, the International Institute of the Bengal Basin (IIBB). People such as myself are also denied the community, or “sangha,” of participating in the activities of our non-denominational temple dedicated to uniting people of all faiths and cultures. As a resident of Berkeley and as a frequent visitor to numerous public events held by the IIBB on behalf of oppressed people, these injustices concern me greatly! 

In California, India, Bangladesh, and beyond, Dr. Ghosh and the IIBB have been helping the people in mitigating groundwater toxicity. Dr. Ghosh has been gathering human data on arsenic poisoning from the Bengal Basin, and this has saved the US millions of dollars in animal research while introducing US technology to Southern Asia. The primary goal is to use the Bengal Basin project as a model for emerging economies. The work of this dedicated and outstanding scientist, Dr. Ghosh, and others in India and in Bangladesh helped us lower the arsenic level of our drinking water to a safe at 7ppb in California, the surface water level in Bengal Basin. For thousands of years such levels have not had any injurious health effects. 

I understand that the city plans to use 600,000 tax-payer dollars to redesign what, according to one of Northern California’s preeminent structural engineers, Dr. Hussein Nasser, is one of the strongest wood-frame buildings in this region. This $600,000 figure has been floating around for the last few years, and it will rise when administrative costs are included. In a 2007 meeting, Mayor Bates categorically denied that Berkeley would use city funds to improve Dr. Ghosh’s property. I wonder who is behind this expensive and unnecessary change in direction. Also, I do not understand why the previous approvals of both buildings are no longer valid, or why Dr. Ghosh must undo and redo the work previously approved and signed-off. 

City attorney Zach Cowan and senior zoning planner Steven Ross admitted in writing that part of the attic/third floor is legal and not covered by the abatement order and could not decide how much roof to remove. This order cannot be enforced because it is so confusing and unclear. Why remove it then? 

The city often claims lack of personnel and financial resources as a justification for reduced services, and for this reason, it has not enforced the requirement that soft-story building owners put up signs indicating their buildings are structurally unsafe. Yet the city had the resources to send seven or more city employees, including police, on several occasions to close the McGee and Dwight buildings under the pretext of structural safety despite the fact that these same structures were improved with city approval and signed off in January 1998. Furthermore, the $8,000 the city spent reboarding these same buildings made the property appear blighted and abandoned thus violating their own orders to board from inside—which the owner had already accomplished. Now the property appears abandoned and has suffered vandalism including broken windows and ripped out railings. Additionally, young people have been consuming drugs and alcohol on the porch. The city is creating blight! 

These funds could have been used to post signs on the city’s 400 noncompliant unsafe soft-story buildings and 2000 illegal units instead of the city targeting Berkeley senior water expert and our temple. Does the city accord the same treatment to non-minority property owners? 

The city called the fire department to close the McGee building on Sept. 6, 2007 for alleged fire hazards, but the fire department could find no problems meriting citation. Nevertheless, they closed the building under the pretext of electrical and structural hazards and notified the property owner that they would issue the permit independently addressing the alleged problems. But they did not. Instead they referred the matter to the building depart. The fire department also stated that the property owner had 30 days to correct the hazard without a heavy fine. Yet the report came out 22 months later in response to public record act request. Once this report was released, Dr. Ghosh’s architect, Kristin Personett, immediately responded with the required plans. Dr. Ghosh has repeatedly expressed his willingness to meet the fire department requirements and re-occupy the house, regardless of the validity of the allegations, yet the city has been delaying an issuing permit with no valid reason. It took the city ten years to issue the final permit for this project without owner input in June 2008, but the Dwight Way property was closed while awaiting its permit. Now further alleged violations have been added, and previous approvals are claimed to have been issued in error. Yet further delays will lead to foreclosure. Almost everything approved or signed off in the past is now found in error, and further errors are continually and deliberately added. Is the city always afflicted by such serial incompetence? Is this part of the plan? Does this happen to non-minority citizens?  

Berkeley is more than a city to me; it is my home. Just as I would devote my whole being to preserving common decency and mutual respect for the members of my family, I will do no less to preserve righteousness within this great city! I chose this community over all other cities, and I am extremely concerned about its preservation as a thriving example of democracy as well as free speech and religious, racial and cultural tolerance.  

For details about our city’s abuse of Dr. Ghosh ‘s rights, please visit our website, 


Nasira Abdul-Allem is with the International Institute of the Bengal Basin.