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2525 Telegraph LPC Decision May Be Appealed
4/4/2010 • BY GEORGE BEIER • 1 Comment

To:     Mayor Tom Bates

Berkeley City Council Members
City of Berkleey
2180 Milvia St
Berkeley, CA 94704
 
Date:     July 14th, 2009
 
From:    George Beier (as an individual for the purposes of responding to Rena Rickle’s letter. As President of the Willard Neighborhood Association for the purposes of relating events of prior WNA meetings and actions).
 
 
Re: 2525 Telegraph Avenue / Request for Immediate Council Action / “Call Up” this matter for determination at the 7/23/2009 meeting. By 1) Council Certification of Landmark Designation/and, or/ Amendment of the Notice of Decision (“NOD”); or 2) other appropriate relief to expedite resolution of this matter.
 
Dear Mayor Bates and Council members:
 
I am writing to you to encourage you to NOT MODIFY the decision of the LPC in regards to 2525 Telegraph. I also urge you to NOT EXPEDITE any appeal for this property for the following reasons:
 
1.       Delays in Repairs/Lack of Good Faith. Ms. Rickles in her letter argues that the application cannot afford to wait between 5-7 months for the appeal process due to financial hardship and that the Council should take this into account.   I would also encourage the council to consider the substandard living conditions that the tenants have been subjected to for the past year.    The tenants have repeatedly asked for heaters to be repaired, cracks (due to the jacking up and then falling of the building) to be repaired, graffiti to be removed, etc. The applicant cannot have it both ways – expediting his appeal due to financial hardship yet delaying all repairs to be made to the building. 
 
2.      Inadequate time to prepare for the appeal. Ms. Rickles states that there was “almost no opposition” to the original proposal for the art gallery and two story renovated building. This is not true. At a monthly meeting of the Willard Neighborhood Association and at the Zoning Board meeting itself, WNA members voiced vigorous opposition to Mr. Eslami’s request to serve liquor and also opposed his desire to stay open until the wee hours of the morning. The ZAB ruled in our favor on both of these issues, as documented in the WNA Newsletter of September, 25th, 2007.
 
The WNA originally considered a two-story building with an art house / café. We have not considered the impact of a four –story building with 5 and 6 bedroom units with no additional parking. There may or may not be opposition to this new plan.   The normal course of the appeals process would give us adequate time to consider the new plan. A rushed schedule obviates our ability to weigh in on the project.
 
3.      Mr. Eslami indicated repeatedly his support for landmarking the original, 2-story, mixed-use building. Mr. Eslami stated several times his desire to work with Ms. Graves in her efforts to landmark the building. Originally, I assumed that Mr. Eslami was working to landmark the existing building. (Mixed-use, 2 stories, courtyards, etc.) In her proposed changed language, Ms. Rickles replaces “mixed-use” with “structure” and eliminates all references to the courtyards in the building. This gutted proposal is certainly NOT reflective of my original understanding nor that of the building’s tenants. Mr. Eslami did explain to me before the LPC meeting that he intended to present the 4-story building and I thought this made sense – that way he wouldn’t have to go before them twice. I also think the LPC did the right thing – gave Mr. Eslami the right to renovate the building as long as he maintained the original character and feel of the building.
 
4.      The Tenants Are Not Responsible for the “Renovation Nightmare”. Ms. Rickles indicates that “securing the safety” of the building has exhausted the entire renovation budget.   As Mr. Eslami himself has explained to me numerous times, the long south wall of the building is collapsing due to the shoddy construction of the building’s southern neighbor. Mr. Eslami indicated to me that he is planning or is engaged in a lawsuit with that building’s owner (Wells Fargo Bank).  It seems to me that Mr. Eslami purchased the building “as is” and at a steep discount, and made a mistake in underestimating the problems with the building.   I am very sympathetic to his plight. Nevertheless, the tenants should not be asked to pay for his mistake. They agreed to a two-story building with courtyards, keeping their respective units with no rent increases. Now they are being asked to agree to a four story building, with little or no courtyards, 5-6 bedroom units, smaller units, moving out for a year, and increased rents. It’s too much to ask.
 
Mr. Eslami’s real argument should be with the original owner. If Mr. Eslami purchased a lemon, he should take it back to the dealership.
5.      The Tenants Have Not “Refused” an offer to meet with the Rent Board. Mr. Eslami previously agreed to pay for the relocation to and from the building and the difference in the rents for the year or so that they will be required to move out. However, when pressed on this point in a meeting of the WNA, he pulled back on this issue and said something to the effect of “we’ll agree to whatever the rent board asks us to do.” This is completely different from two prior conversations with both me and Vincent Casalaina (prior president of the WNA) in which he explicitly stated he would pay for the move-in, move-out, and the difference in rents. Both Vincent and I took notes of the meetings and then sent the notes to Mr. Eslami for his approval. I then sent these notes on to the Mr. Eslami, the City Council, the tenants, and the WNA. 
 
Until that WNA meeting, I was “on-board” with Mr. Eslami. I accepted the fact that due to his underestimation of the renovation costs, the building would have to be larger than proposed (four-stories instead of two-stories). I was willing to not protest when he increased the unit sizes to 5 and 6 bedrooms and reduced the unit sizes for the existing tenants. But his backtracking on his commitment to make the tenants whole both humiliated and infuriated me. We all had a deal, and I felt that Mr. Eslami is/was backing out of the deal. 
 
6.      There is an implicit threat that the building cannot be ‘saved.’ Ms. Rickles language is deeply disturbing: “to ‘save’ the building, the owners will have to show a higher rate of return by expanding the currently vacant units by extending the building upwards two floors.” And if the ZAB does not agree to allow the two additional floors or the LPC’s decision is sustained? Are we to assume the building cannot be saved? Frankly, since most of the insides are currently torn out, one wonders if this isn’t the current plan.
 
7.      There is NOT “substantial agreement among all parties” as indicated in Ms. Rickles letter. There certainly was at one time. As I’ve noted earlier, we protested the liquor license and late hours (and fortunately won) and we were all looking forward to a two-story, neighborhood supported art house / café. It is simply inaccurate to say that there is “substantial agreement” on the “new” building: 4 stories, no additional parking, some 5-bedroom units, a 6-bedroom unit, reduction / elimination of the courtyards, etc.   As mentioned, agreement is made even more difficult to reach by Mr. Eslami’s wavering on his commitment to provide for the difference in the tenants’ rents in the year that they will be required to move out of the building for the renovations.  
 
8.       We shouldn’t quickly “re-vote” because we don’t like a decision.   We have an appeals process, and it works. Let’s go through the normal process and give all of us time to prepare our arguments. Let’s not let some behind-the-scenes arm twisting eliminate our chance for meaningful neighborhood participation. It takes a lot of effort for us to organize the neighborhood, and we need time to do that.
 
For one, I am still hopeful that an agreement that pleases al l parties is still possible.    Thank you for your consideration.
 
Sincerely,
Comments:
Tyan says:
Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 12:22 PM
Really enjoyed the wilfilde photographs on your website!WIll check out the other photos soon.We are regular customers at Burt`s GH and look forward to returning this spring.Keep up the good work!See you soon.Al
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