New: Redwood Gardens Community Pressured by Management

Lydia Gans
Monday October 27, 2014 - 04:13:00 PM

Redwood Gardens at 2951 Derby Street in Berkeley has been in the news lately and will continue to be. Many of us are familiar with the place from cultural, political, or social events we attended in their community room. It is part of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidized complex of buildings with 169 apartments, gardens and community facilities for seniors and people with disabilities. The project was established as a co-op some 28 years ago by Cooperative Services Inc. (CSI). Currently it is managed by CSI Support and Development which operates number of co-ops in California. Redwood Gardens is the only development that now is not a co-op. (There is some history behind the change which is not necessary to go into here.)

The CSI Support and Development website outlines the principles of cooperatives. “Living in a co-op means living in a building that is controlled by the resident members. The resident members vote on all major operating decisions, including writing the annual budget. … Becoming part of a CSI co-op allows you to enjoy the benefits of apartment living while retaining control of your environment.”

Although this ideal existed in Redwood Gardens in the past, it is far from the way things are now. The residents have no control over management decisions and even opportunities for expressing their concerns and being heard are being increasingly denied. And there are some very serious concerns. They are afraid that much of what management has been doing and plan to do will have negative impact on the quality of their lives.

In the words of resident Gary Hicks, “There is increasing enmity between the residents and management.” The popular community room is no longer available, it has been taken over by management for offices. A bridge that is a primary entrance to the east side of the building is hazardous and restoration is taking unduly long. (Architect Avram Gur Arye has provided extensive photographs of this.) Changes are being made in the gardens and community areas with no input from the residents. 

Now management wants to move the laundry into what has long been a pleasant sun room on the third floor. This has aroused vehement objections from the residents. Besides the issue of noise at all hours, possible flooding, dust and air pollution immediately next to occupied apartments there are people with extreme chemical sensitivities who would be severely affected anywhere in the vicinity. The people are protesting. They are determined to prevent this from happening. They plan to occupy the sun room to prevent any work taking place – even at the cost of going to jail. 

And there is an even bigger threat looming over resident's community. With a big zero-interest loan from HUD the management company has made plans for major renovations. But the residents had little opportunity to express their opinions and no chance to affect the decisions. Some are saying they are feeling bullied. 

The process will be extremely stressful. Management explained that they will renovate one apartment at a time spending just one day in each unit. They expect to make major changes in cabinets, appliances, floors, etc. – completing it all in one working day! And the residents must move their belongings out and store them temporarily, it's not clear where, for the day. There are further conditions, all quite unreasonable, particularly for this population. 

There was no discussion. A resident described how it all went down. “Each person had a 15 minute interview. During that they gave each of us a piece of green paper with all the details on it about what's going to happen. One of the things that is particularly disturbing that we have to provide for our own help to pack. We either have to pay $100 for labor that they would identify or we have to have friends to help.” 

The process is expected to begin in November. Taking into account weekends and holidays, completing the work on 169 units will take a very long time. Doing the math – it works out to almost 8 months. For two thirds of the year the residents will be living with the stress of not knowing exactly when their turn will come and having to cope with the state of confusion all around them. 

All this is not to say they are not under stress already. The threat of eviction and becoming homeless for incurring the disapproval of management always hangs over their heads. Being seniors or disabled individuals with limited incomes, alternative housing options are extremely scarce.