Berkeley Neighborhoods Council

 

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by creating a unified neighborhood voice
for promoting livability and resolving problems

 

Neighborhood News, Round And About

More on Library Gardens >>>>K Street Flats:

In our last issue of the eNEWS, the first item in this Section was about the building at 2020 Kittredge Street, then known as Library Gardens, but now re-branded as K Street Flats presumably to help erase the memory of the fatal balcony collapse that happened on June 16, 2015.  With the second year anniversary of that tragedy upon us, BNC wants to pause and remember the six people who died on that date:

Olivia Burke, 21
Eoghan Culligan, 21
Niccolai Schuster, 21
Lorcan Miller, 21
Eimear Walsh,21
Ashley Donohoe, 22

In addition, seven people were seriously injured.

On November 29, 2016, a complaint was filed by Wood Robinson, Enforcement Supervisor with the California Contractors' State License Board, (CSLB), against Segue Construction, Inc., 7139 Koll Center Parkway, Suite 200, Pleasanton, California.  The complaint alleged that Segue “willfully departed from or disregarded building plans or specifications, and willfully departed from accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike construction in the building of the Berkeley apartment complex.”

On April 19, 2017, a stipulated agreement between Segue Construction, Segue's officers:  Erick David Hockaday, David Michael Dunlop and Kirk Alan Wallis and CSLB's Legal Action Deputy was adopted and signed.  The settlement will become effective on May 19, 2017 and includes the following:

  1. Segue's construction license is revoked.  They cannot apply for reissuance or reinstatement of any license for five years from the effective date of this decision.
  2. Mr. Wallis has agreed to reimburse CSLB's investigative cost of $99,950 and Mr. Dunlop has agreed to reimburse CSLB's investigative costs not to exceed $15,000, prior to issuance of a new or reinstated license.
  3. For Mr. Wallis and/or Mr. Dunlop to associate with any future California contractor's license, a disciplinary bond that totals between $15,000 and $150,000 must be filed with CSLB, for a period of at least two years and for such additional time as the CSLB Registrar may determine.

In reading the Order to Adopt Stipulated Settlement agreement, Case No N2015-483, it does not appear that Segue admits to any guilt.  In the section on “Culpability,” respondents acknowledge there are “disputed questions of fact and law and in order to avoid the uncertainties and costs of further proceedings” it is their intent to relinquish the right to contest the charges against them.  It is also stated that any “admissions” “shall not be admissible in any other criminal or civil proceeding.”

In early June, the CSLB released 145 pages of supporting documents.  That report concluded that the balcony was designed correctly but had suffered from “dry rot damage which had occurred along the top of the cantilever balcony desk joists.”

On June 2, 2017 the East Bay Times reported

“Instead of using more water-resistant plywood atop the joists, workers used oriented strand board (OSB), which can soak up water like a sponge, even if the surface appears dry.”

We already know that Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley opted to not file criminal charges.  We also know from newspaper reports that in early May a confidential settlement was reached between the victims of the collapse and those responsible.

And, the story of this tragedy gets even more alarming…

Following the June 2015 balcony collapse, and information unfolded regarding Segue Construction, we reported to you that the firm had a history of serious problems, including those that involved balcony construction.  We learned that those problems did not have to be disclosed because they were resolved through private settlement agreements which by state law are not required to be reported to regulatory agencies.  Newspapers reported that a bill had been introduced to require public disclosure of such problems.  But in May 2017, we were informed by an editorial in The East Bay Times that the “contractors' lobbyists killed it, thanks to the capitulation of then-Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa”.  Mr. Dodd is now in the California Senate.  This bill, SB465, signed by Governor Brown on September 15, 2016, had been watered down to require a study as to whether such regulations are needed! A committee of the California Building Standards Commission was tasked to study “recent elevated failures in California” and submit findings and recommendations for statutory changes by January 2018.  SB465 is automatically repealed in January 2018.  We read that to mean that IF the committee doesn't make any recommendations, that's the end of it.

Another bill, SB72, which would require inspection every six years of decks and balconies in condominiums and buildings with three or more units is pending.  We need to know the status of this bill.

We also know that on January 19, 2016, the City Council received an e-mail from a person concerned about the “several floors of wood and particle/strand that are completely open and about to be saturated with rain (again)” in the new construction at the northeast corner of Shattuck and Dwight Way.  We wrote the City Manager to among other things to tell us “what steps has the City taken to ensure that the OSB has been protected against direct contact with water?” We received no response, so we're going to ask again and be more diligent in getting a reply.  Readers are urged to read about this part of the story in the Neighborhood News, Round and About Section of our Eighteenth Issue of the eNEWS.

We are sure there will be much more to come, so stay tuned.

Another Lawsuit, 1310 Haskell Street

Existing:  1310 Haskell Street

On June 1, 2017, Berkeley was once again sued over the City Council's denial of a Use Permit to demolish a single family home at 1310 Haskell Street and replace it with 3 two-story single family homes, increasing the number of bedrooms on the site from 2 to 9.  This is the second lawsuit filed regarding the same project.  In order to get an adequate understanding of what is going on with this project, we've put together the following timeline:

March 10, 2016:  The Board of Adjustments (ZAB) held a public hearing on the project.  ZAB found that the project complies with the R-2A Zoning development standards, and was not detrimental to the neighborhood.  They approved the Use Permit:  (Note:  The appointing Council Member is shown in parens)

Voting Yes:  Allen (Wengraf), Donaldson (Moore) , Hauser (Droste), O'Keefe (Anderson), Williams (Capitelli)
Voting No:  Hahn (Worthington), Pinkston (Bates), Tregub (Arreguin)

July 12, 2016:  Neighbors filed an appeal of the ZAB decision and the City Council held a public hearing.  Council denied the permit “without prejudice.” (This kind of motion allows the applicant to submit a new proposal without having to wait a year to do so.)

Voting Yes:  Council Members Anderson, Arreguin, Maio, Moore and Mayor Bates
Abstaining:  Council Members Capitelli, Droste, Worthingon, Wengraf

Proposed:  1310 Haskell Street

October 7, 2016:  the SF Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBarf), the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA), Sonja Trauss and Diego Aguilar-Canabal filed suit against the city of Berkeley alleging the action to deny the permit was a violation of the State Housing Accountability Act (HAA).  Attorney for the plaintiffs:  Ryan Peterson, of Zasks, Freedman and Patterson, PC

October 21, 2016:  The court essentially agreed with the plaintiffs and the parties to the lawsuit entered into a stipulated agreement that required the City to hold another hearing regarding the project, conduct a HAA analysis as part of the hearing for this and all future housing projects, and pay legal fees of $6,895 attorney's fees and $480 court costs.

February 28, 2017:  The City Council held the required public hearing.

Two motions were made:  First was to approve the project and dismiss the appeal.

Voting Yes:  Council Members Droste, Wengraf, and Worthington
Voting No:  Council Members Bartlett, Davila, Maio and Mayor Arreguin
Recused from the vote:  Council Member Hahn because she voted on the matter previously as a ZAB Member)

The second motion was to deny the demolition permit and the construction of the 3 buildings on this single lot.

Voting Yes:  Council Members Bartlett, Davila, Maio, Worthington and Mayor Arreguin
Voting No:  Council Members Droste and Wengraf
Recused from the vote:  Council Member Hahn (voted on it previously)

June 1, 2017:  A lawsuit was filed by same October 2016 group, with the same attorney against the city of Berkeley on the basis that the City again violated the HAA.

Who are these people that are so diligently suing our City? This is what we know:

San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, aka SFBarf:  An organization in San Francisco that is not confined to just renters.  They plainly espouse a philosophy of building more and more housing.  They have launched what they call a campaign to “Sue the Suburbs.” Beside writing letters and attending meetings, they have engaged in two lawsuits:  One in Lafayette, the other in Berkeley.  The Lafayette lawsuit was filed in September 2015 regarding a 22 acre parcel on Deer Hill Road, just north of Highway 24.  The Council had approved 44 single family homes with a dog park, and 10 acres of sports fields with 70 to 80 parking spaces for users of the fields.  The lawsuit was settled after reaching an agreement with the city of Lafayette that scraped that proposal and replaced it with 315 rental units for moderate income households.

Sonja Trauss:  Grew up in Philadelphia and was active in her neighborhood association there, and worked as a teacher at one time.  Founded SF Barf in 2014.  Had a “Member Profile” in the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) October 15, 2015 publication, The Urbanist“ in which she is quoted as saying that she ”wants to get back to a time of light supervision and excessive building.“

Jeremy Stoppelman:  About a 40-year old computer engineer who took his degree from the University of Illinois, and who also attended Harvard Business School.  The story is told that in 2004 he was ill with the flu and couldn't find a local doctor and that's how he founded and is current CEO and President of Yelp.  He is said to have given $100,000 to start up SF Barf because not building enough housing had 'choked off potential growth for commerce in San Francisco'.

California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA),
The vehicle that solicits ”tax deductible“ donations to fund SF Barf's legal actions.  They also seek to sign up volunteers who will be undertake such actions as being plaintiffs, do research, organize, raise funds, etc.  Sonja Trauss is very much in evidence on their website along with Brian Hanlon.

Diego Aguilar-Canabal:  In an opinion article that he wrote for Berkeleyside in 2015, he described himself as a 23-year old, music data analyst.  Berkeleyside added that he was native to the Washington D.C area, a recent college graduate and a ”relatively new“ Berkeley resident.  In another opinion article that he wrote for The Daily California, titled Mayoral Candidate Jesse Arreguin not Progressive, September 2016, he was described as the Editor-in-Chief of the SF Bay Area Metropolitan Observer, lives in Berkeley and serves on the Housing Advisory Commission.

SF Bay Area Metropolitan Observer (BAMO):  A visit to that website lists Diego Aguilar Canabal as Editor-in-Chief with Sonja Trauss as Web Master.  To give readers a feel for what BAMO is all about, you can find a February 28, 2017 opinion piece against Los Angeles Measure S, titled the ”Neighborhood Integrity Initiative“ which they describe as reflecting ”classism, racism, and an overall I-got-mine NIMBY mentality.“ We don't know the details in Measure S, but the official title given is a ”Temporary Moratorium [that] Stops Council Approvals of Projects that Seek Spot Zoning and General Plan Amendments to Intensify Land Use in the City of Los Angeles.“ It provides for an exemption from height restrictions for affordable housing projects, but BAMO complains they would still have to be considered as projects that would need a General Plan amendment.  Another article that would be of interest to our readers is an Editorial, dated February 21, 2017, written by Sonja Trauss, ”Berkeley Finally Treats Crisis Like a Crisis.“ The article praises Council Member Bartlett for his ”Step-up Housing Proposal“ regarding the use of ”MicroPADs“ — very small stackable steel units manufactured in China that were proposed by Patrick Kennedy as housing for the homeless.  There were few advertisements on the website, but one we found running in several places throughout the site was for the Rhoades Planning Group, ”planners building community“ in the areas of Panning/Zoning, Development Entitlement, Housing Policy/Implementation, Density Bonus Law and CEQA.

Ryan Peterson, an attorney with the firm of Zasks, Freedman and Patterson, PC
A law firm probably in located in San Francisco (no address listed on their website).  They state they have 11 attorneys and describe themselves as ”The voice of Bay Area property owners“ and ”When it comes to real estate, we love a good challenge.“ They cite extensive experience advocating for their clients from the local level all the way to the U.S.  Supreme Court and their services include:  real estate litigation;  landlord/tenant issues;  land use, permits and appeals;  and real estate transactions.

BNC predicts that Berkeley will be hearing more and more from these groups, so this is just the preliminary information that we've been able to find.  We'll keep you advised as we go along.