Berkeley Neighborhoods Council

 

Dedicated to improving the quality of life for all
by creating a unified neighborhood voice
for promoting livability and resolving problems

 

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS, Round and About

An Update on Library Gardens

On November 29, 2016, a complaint was filed by Wood Robinson, Enforcement Supervisor with the Contractors' State License Board, Department of Consumer Affairs, against Seque Construction, Inc., Pleasanton, California.  The complaint alleges a violation of Business and Professions Code, Section 7109A, described as being based on “departing from trade standards” in the construction of balconies in the Library Gardens building, 2020 Kittredge Street.

It should be noted that after the balcony collapse it came to light that Seque Construction had been previously sued by homeowners' associations in San Jose and Millbrae for, among other problems, improperly waterproofing balconies.  These problems had not come to the attention of the State Contractors' Board because they had been settled.  NBC cited one case in 2013 where Seque paid $3.5 million to owners of a 109-unit complex in Millbrae and another $3 million in 2014 regarding problems with balconies in a 245-unit apartment building in San Jose.

Seque Construction was the general contractor for the Library Gardens building,

Work started in January 2005 and was completed on April 23, 2007.  Subcontractors were also involved in the construction which included cantilevered balconies at units 305 and 405.  The complaint lists a number of specific problems with the construction and notes that between October 2005 and “final waterproofing” in August 2006, Berkeley had 38 inches of rain.  Then, on June 16, 2015, the balcony at unit 405 collapsed, killing six and injuring seven.  The company had until December 14, 2016 to contest the allegations or their license would be automatically revoked.

Apparently the complaint was contested as a February 2017 check of the State Contractor's License website lists Seque Construction as having a valid license, issued in March 1992 and expiring on March 31, 2018.  The site also notes a “Pending Disciplinary Action” against the firm and provides a link to the full complaint.

If you've been Downtown, you've probably noticed that the Library Gardens Building has undergone a complete facelift.  It's got a new name — “K Street Flats” — and a whole new appearance, bright blue replaces the yellowish tan, there are no balconies in sight, and there's a new corner restaurant with a chic name — Mâison Bleue! Two bedroom apartments are renting for $2,994 to $4,000 per month.

BNC is not sure who currently owns 2020 Kittredge now, but GreyStar is the property management firm responsible for the building and GreyStar and Seque Construction seem to be linked in other developments.  For example, both were involved in the 2014 San Jose building mentioned above.

GreyStar's website indicates it was formed in 1993.  It's website proclaims they “didn't set out to be the biggest, only to be the best”.  The site also sports a statement describing that their “Mission is to Enrich the Lives We Touch by Doing Things the Right Way.” BNC remembers that prior to the balcony collapse, tenants in the Library Garden building had filed numerous complaints about trash in the hallways, urine in the stair wells and generally poor maintenance.

GreyStar manages six other properties in Berkeley:  Berkeley Central Apartments, 2055 Center Street;  Bachenheimer Apartments, 2119 University Avenue;  Parker Apartments, 2018 Parker;  Telegraph Commons, 2490 Channing Way;  Varsity Berkeley Apartments, 2014 Durant Avenue;  and Hillside Village, 1797 Shattuck Avenue.  They also manage multiple buildings in San Francisco, San Jose, and Pleasanton, as well as in other Bay Area communities that stretch from Hercules to Oakland to Walnut Creek to Sunnyvale and San Mateo.  All the buildings we looked at on their website offer mostly one and two bedrooms with one bath, renting for significant amounts per month.

On January 27, 2017, the State adopted new building regulations that include more stringent specifications, documentation and inspection standards that apply to the construction of what are known as exterior elevated elements, or EEEs — balconies, exterior stairs and exterior walkways — in apartment buildings, hotels, motels, public schools and state-owned buildings.  In adopting them, it was stated this was in response to the Library Gardens balcony collapse in Berkeley.

BNC intends to continue looking into this matter — particularly to find out if any other projects in Berkeley have been built by Seque Construction, Inc.  We also want to get a good look at a report that we understand was written by the city of Berkeley regarding how many of these problems exist today in Berkeley, where they exist, and what has been done about them since the balcony tragedy in 2015.  We'll let you know whatever we find out.

It's About Leaving with a $6 Million Check in Your Pocket, Housing and the New Boss

Football coach Sonny Dykes and Cal parted company in January and local sports' writers reported he departed with a $6 million check in his pocket.  It seems that Cal's Athletic Department was facing cuts, so combined with the football team's not-so-great performance and concerns that Coach Dykes had been actively seeking a coaching position at Baylor, Dykes was let go.

As the Cal Bears football team didn't do so well in the 2016 season (5 wins, 7 loses), ticket sales didn't either.  Season ticket renewals in 2017 were reported by the San Francisco Chronicle to have dropped 30%, a loss of $2 million in revenue, and when football revenue goes down, the whole Athletic Department loses since profits from football underwrite Cal's other sports programs.  In 2010, Cal tried to eliminate baseball, gymnastics, rugby and lacrosse.  Alarmed alumni came to the rescue and raised the money to save the teams then, but the deficit has continued to grow.  Cal has about 30 sports, more than twice the NCAA minimum of 14, and, by law, it must meet regulations requiring parity between women's and men's sports.  While currently it is rumored that the sports programs most in jeopardy are men's soccer, rugby, gymnastics, baseball and crew, a 13-member committee was formed to try and balance cuts between the Athletics and Academic Departments.  It's unclear if they've made any recommendations.

However, not all the current Athletic Department financial problems are connected to Coach Dykes who was hired about four years ago.  The financial troubles go back to when Memorial Stadium was retrofitted/refurbished and the new athletic training center was constructed at a cost of $474 million.  BNC readers will recall the University financed this amount by a loan that depended largely on personal-seat licenses.  To date, the University has been making an $18 million interest-only payment each year, but in 2034 that amount will jump to $30 million when principal payments kick in.  To add to Cal's financial worries, UC's total budget is currently facing a $110 to $150 million shortfall.  So it's not easy to understand, why at the start of 2016, Dykes' new four-year contract started with a 33 percent raise, that included a $350,000 base salary, a $250,000 signing bonus, and a $2.3 million fee for appearances representing the team, for a total package of $2.9 million not including health/pension benefits, two cars and a country club membership.  One-year after signing and the season ended with a losing record, Dykes was out, but a severance clause says that if he doesn't get another coaching job during the next three years, the university will owe him $5.9 million!

According to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 2017, a whole lot of the blame for the decline in ticket sales is due to the 2012 Pac-12 TV contract.  In the “old days” people went to a football game on a Saturday afternoon, and enjoyed the game, the view and the warm fall weather.  This last year there were five home games, three of which were played at night which ended so late it was a race to get to the BART station to catch the last train.  One alum was quoted as saying “Who wants to go to a game that gets over at midnight, especially in late October or November when temperatures can get pretty low?” The 7:30 pm start time accommodates a TV schedule that brings in $25 million annually, plus gives the team a national audience which is something the team wants.  Cal spent large sums on a new stadium, training center and coaches to fuel the dream that Cal will be a national college football contender, even though Cal's Golden Bears haven't won such a title since 1937.  And along with this is the dream that increased donations to the campus will come through the generosity of sports-addicted alumni.  It just hasn't worked out that way!

While the night games have ticked off some number of alumni, no one seems to have asked about the effect of such games, with their noise, lights and traffic and parking issues, on the surrounding residential neighborhoods, particularly Panoramic Hill.  BNC would like to know if any of our readers remember what the Student Athletic Center and Stadium Reconstruction Environmental Impact Report said about Cal's night time use of the Stadium.  We seem to remember something about limited night time use.  We'd like to know what your understanding about this was so please let us know.

In the meantime, it seems that Cal has decided that some new housing will be needed for the 1,000 new students they will be admitting annually for the next five years.  The University's Housing Master Plan Task Force, chaired by Carol Christ, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, has issued a “draft report for discussion and input”.  Their report has set a recommended goal of housing 50% of undergraduates and 25% of graduate students that indicates a need for 15,600 beds with only 8,700 available.  Nine sites are listed as “possible” to make up the deficit:

  • Channing Way at Ellsworth
  • The Oxford Tract, northwest of the main campus, now used mainly for agricultural research
  • Bancroft Way at Oxford
  • Increasing density at Unit 3 on Durant Avenue
  • The parking garage on upper Hearst Avenue
  • People's Park
  • University Village in Albany
  • The Richmond Field Station in Richmond

You can find the eight-page Housing Master Plan Task Force Draft Report, dated January 2017, on the University of California, Berkeley website.  Just enter the name of the report in the Search box.

In addition, the Student Co-Ops are looking at some of the buildings on Holy Hill for student housing.

It's not too early for Berkeley's neighborhoods to start considering this report, so let's hear from you.

And lastly, in case you missed it, the San Francisco Chronicle on February 6, 2017 says that nanochemistry expert Paul Alivisatos is considered to be the front-runner as the next Berkeley Chancellor.  He earned his doctorate in chemistry from Berkeley in 1986, joined the faculty two years later, and most recently he's been at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  The National Academy of Sciences announced in February that he will be one of five people honored in Washington for “extraordinary scientific achievements”.

While we ended this section with the previous paragraph, we now know how wrong the tip provided in the San Francisco Chronicle was, since the Board of Regents recently approved the aforementioned Carol Christ to be Berkeley's 11th Chancellor.  She will be speaking on March 24, 2017, 7:30 am to 9:00 am, Bancroft Hotel, 2680 Bancroft Way on Dilemmas, Goals and Resources in Housing the Student Population.  The event is sponsored by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce.  Cost is$25 for non-members with pre-registration, $30 for non-members at the door.  Call the Chamber at 510-549-7000 for more details.

What the Rats in Berkeley are Doing

BNC learned from a January 19, 2017 article in Berkeleyside that there was an upsurge in reported rat activity.  It seems these fellows are trying to escape the cold and wet by nesting on car engines where they then proceed to chew on wires.  In addition, their buddies, Roof Rats, are said to be invading attics and Norway Rats are moving into basements.  We didn't get a direct notice of this upsurge in rat activity, but the article said that Council Member Wengraf sent out a recent newsletter stating there was a rat infestation problem in North Berkeley, so we thought we would send out this information to a wider audience than District 6.

Environmental Health Division Manager, Manuel Ramirez is quoted in the article as saying “rodent infestation is always an issue in a city environment.  They're here for a reason;  we're providing them with shelter and food.” True enough.  In thinking about this subject, it was heartening to find that the City's website, Environment Health Division has lots to say on the subject.  It lists eight signs of rodent activity that you might look for in your yard and also common rodent entry locations that every home owner should check once in a while.  Good information to have, and now with all the rain, it's probably a good time to do a check.

So, if you find evidence of a rat, what should you do?

  • Some recommend poison — but this is not really a good choice because birds and animals that might feed on the poisoned rat will in turn be poisoned.
  • Get a cat.  This can be done by contacting the Berkeley Animal Shelter,1 Bolivar Drive, 981-6600, but keep in mind that cats kill birds, and, if you do get a cat, don't leave its food out because that will attract more rats into your yard.
  • The most interesting and best solution seems to be to set up a barn owl box.  Barn owls are said to be prolific consumers of rats, and barn owls don't prey on native song birds.  You can find out more from the website, Hungry Owl Project.  We've found a Berkeley resident who wants to do this, and we will let you know how it turns out.  BNC is also seeking comments from anyone who has already built a barn owl box.  Let's hear from you.