softstoryBTU is very focused on Seismic Safety this summer. San Francisco passed a mandatory retrofit law that allows landlords to pass the costs of seismic upgrades to their tenants; it has been reported that the average rent increase there will be $900 a year! We won’t let this happen in Berkeley! Please join BTU by coming to our August 14 Potluck to learn how you can help.

The really good news at the first public hearing on retrofits, held July 25, was that the city has hired one staff member to deal with “Soft-Story Phase 2” – the retrofit law. Berkeley has not really enforced the 2005 rules (“Soft Story Phase 1”) in part because there has been no dedicated staff in the Housing department for this work.

Berkeley landlords had a huge turnout July 25, with their comments ranging from helpful suggestions to difficult demands. Several landlords pointed out that the city permit process makes it more expensive to retrofit by making their construction timeline uncertain and requiring additional safety work be done at the time the retrofit permit is issued. Many also claimed they can’t afford a retrofit and can’t get a loan to do one. The city has discussed creating a low-interest loan fund for owners who really can’t afford to make their buildings safer, but several landlords said they want to see a zero-interest loan from the city.

Most tenants who spoke talked about how they want their building to be safe, but believe any substantial rent increase would be a hardship. Some said they were willing to pay a little more rent if they could afford it. Tenants also spoke about fear of temporary relocation, but Rent Board speaker Matthew Siegel said few retrofits are expected to require relocation. Landlords said the law (Relocation Ordinance), which requires that owners pay a “rent differential” and other expenses for tenants who must temporarily move out, is unfair.

Currently, 109 buildings on the original unsafe list are now retrofit, while 18 have not even done the engineering report required under the 2005 law. There has been no city tracking of compliance with the required posting of warning signs, but BTU joined the Third Annual Day of Seismic Action and found many buildings lacked signage. No fines have been issued.

The Rent Board speaker said that agency would consider allowing costs to be passed through to tenants, so we intend to gather tenants to speak at upcoming hearings at the Rent Board (possibly AUGUST 26), Disaster and Fire Safety Commission (AUGUST 7), and the Planning Commission (SEPTEMBER 4).

July 25 Hearing:
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2013/07/26/berkeley-renews-focus-on-retrofitting-soft-story-buildings/#disqus_thread

Draft Legislation:
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Planning_and_Development/Building_and_Safety/Soft_Story_Program.aspx

No Signs Posted at Many Unsafe Structures:
Seismic Day of Action 2013 Report 

Related: Alameda renters got eviction notices from the new owners at Marina View Towers. Carmel Apartments will evict 84 families to perform seismic retrofits.
http://blog.sfgate.com/inalameda/2013/07/27/the-broad-brush-your-alameda-news-in-60-seconds-33/

Unsafe signOn July 2, the Berkeley City Council voted to postpone discussion of controversial changes to the Zoning law known as the Demolition Ordinance. We now have time to really influence the final form of this regulation.

Public outcry led the Council to make the wise decision not to move forward with the July 2 draft of the ordinance, which would be very bad for tenants. The Berkeley Tenants Union presented a petition with over 130 signatures. It is not too late to sign our petition:

https://www.change.org/petitions/berkeley-city-council-preserve-affordable-housing.

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, Sierra Club, East Bay Community Law Center and Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board also sent objections — their letters are linked under our July 2 post, below.

Council will now send the proposed changes to the law — which covers why and when residential buildings in Berkeley can be torn down — to the Housing Advisory Commission and the Planning Commission. The Council did not react to a request during public comment by Rent Board Chair Lisa Stephens that the Ordinance also be sent back to the 4×4 Committee. The 4×4 is where the changes have been discussed for the past three years – that committee is made up of four Rent Board Commissioners and four City Council members, including the Mayor.

The Housing Advisory Commission has already scheduled review of the Ordinance for their meeting on Thursday, July 11, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, MLK & Hearst, at 7 PM.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin also requested that staff report back to the City Council on issues raised by the public regarding the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Berkeley’s Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (NPO).

Torn windowPlease join us tonight, when controversial rules about tearing down rent controlled buildings will be before Berkeley’s City Council.

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, and Sierra Club joined with the East Bay Community Law Center, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, and 136 members and friends of the Berkeley Tenants Union to inform the City Council that proposed changes to the part of the Zoning Code called the Demolition Ordinance will be bad for Berkeley.

Council will consider changes TUESDAY JULY 2 but are likely to continue the discussion in coming weeks. BTU will present a petition with over 135 signatures at the meeting.

One major reason everyone is objecting: the Council majority wants to ask for a fee of only $20k for each rent controlled unit destroyed – but it costs $400,000 to build a new unit of affordable housing! So under this July 2 draft of the Ordinance, for every 20 rent controlled units lost, one replacement unit might be built many years from now. And what will happen to the tenants?

Below are links to letters from the other organizations.

Please join us TONIGHT – JULY 2 – at 7 PM

  • Say you support the Berkeley Tenants Union position on Item 17, the Demolition Ordinance.
  • State that no occupied units should be eliminated for any reason.
  • Emphasize that units emptied via the Ellis Act cannot be eliminated.
  • Ask that demolished empty units be replaced with permanently affordable housing.
  • Argue that this new draft will violate the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance.
  • Point out that a mitigation fee will not meet our housing needs soon enough.

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board letter
Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) letter
East Bay Community Law Center letter
Sierra Club letter
Berkeley Neighborhoods Council Shirley Dean letter

Your home could be next!
Your home could be next!

The Berkeley City Council is considering revisions to the Demolition Ordinance which would make it easy to tear down rent controlled apartments – if they are empty! This will lead to evictions and tenant harassment.

Suddenly on June 11, the Council voted to consider last-minute amendments to revisions of the Ordinance which are so substantial, they amount to a re-write of the draft.  If these changes are approved on July 2, the resulting ordinance will undermine rent control.

The proposed changes come directly from requests by developer Equity Residential – Berkeley’s largest landlord – and other speculators. Council will consider them despite the strong support from tenants, the Rent Board and the Planning Commission for the June 4 draft, which provided permanently affordable housing to replace empty units.

The most important thing you can do right now is get friends to

SIGN OUR ONLINE PETITION!

https://www.change.org/petitions/berkeley-city-council-preserve-affordable-housing

We also advise tenants to write to Council, and attend the meeting July 2. There is much at stake.

  • Say you support the Berkeley Tenants Union position on Item 17, the Demolition Ordinance.
  • State that no occupied units should be eliminated for any reason.
  • Emphasize that units emptied via the Ellis Act cannot be eliminated.
  • Ask that demolished empty units be replaced with permanently affordable housing.
  • Point out that a mitigation fee will not meet our housing needs soon enough.
  • Argue that this new draft will violate the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance.

Contact Berkeley City Council – please cc info@berkeleytenants.org
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Roster.aspx

Item 17 July 2, 2013 (bad amendments):
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2013/07Jul/Documents/2013-07-02_Item_17_Zoning_Amendments.aspx

June 4 draft changes (good compromise):
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2013/06Jun/Documents/2013-06-04_Item_24_Zoning_Amendments_to_BMC.aspx

1973 Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (still the law of the land)
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Rent_Stabilization_Board/Level_3_-_General/7.a.6_Very%20old%20copy%20of%20Neighborhood%20Pres.%20Ordinance.pdf

► This week’s fire at the Nash Hotel should remind us that the tenants from the buildings that burned on Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way in late 2011 are still fighting to get their due. Replacements for both buildings are winding their way through Berkeley’s permit maze, but the City’s rules exempt these buildings from any affordable housing fees UNLESS the landlord was at fault for the damage. Since it was reported that the fire alarms were disconnected at the Lakireddy-owned building on Dwight, and tenants at the Haste-Telegraph Sequoia building have a lawsuit against the owner, fault is still being investigated. The 2227 Dwight property was at the Zoning Board on Thursday June 13, but there has been no press coverage. The Zoning Board granted the owner’s permit.

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/east_bay&id=8575386

http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_23446113/tuesday-fire-at-downtown-berkeley-hotel-causes-at

► The Berkeley Housing Authority took back 14 rental assistance vouchers they had already given to low-income families, and suspended the list of those who can get Section 8 assistance in the future, due to funding cuts from the federal government:

http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/06/09/18738201.php

►As reported earlier, Berkeley Property Owners Association President Sid Lakireddy has filed a lawsuit against the four candidates for Rent Board chosen at the Tenant Convention in 2012. Another article on this lawsuit was published recently:

http://www.dailycal.org/2013/06/02/berkeley-city-officials-file-an-appeal-in-response-to-decision-in-defamation-lawsuit/

Everest Properties Vandalizes Its Own City Landmark
Everest Properties Vandalizes Its Own City Landmark

►A Lakireddy family property on Haste was also in the news:

http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2013-05-31/article/41107?headline=Everest-Properties-Vandalizes-Its-Own-City-Landmark–By-Daniella-Thompson

► Although the City Council considered revision to the Demolition Ordinance again on June 11, and the suggestions just keep getting worse for tenants and advocates of affordable housing, there were no news stories on the latest developments. BTU will post again when the Council calendars the next round of debate – it is expected for July 2nd. Several leaders are calling for Council to send the new draft back to the Planning Comission – since the proposal they approved wasn’t so much amended as replaced!! Video of the latest changes can be viewed on the City website – discussion started just after 9:45 PM on June 11.

www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Agenda_Index.aspx

► There has also been no news on the State of California investigation of fair election law violations by the faux-tenant slate, Tenants United for Fairness. When Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission issued the landlord-backed candidates the second-largest election fine in Berkeley history last month, FCPC stated that there is an ongoing investigation at the state level.

http://www.berkeleyside.com/2013/05/20/landlord-backed-group-fined-for-campaign-violations/

DemolitionThe Berkeley City Council is moving forward with changes to the demolition ordinance. The good news is that the Planning Department and the Rent Board have agreed on changes that almost make tenant activists happy. The bad news? Judging by comments made by Maio and Wengraf at the May 21 hearing on 2517 Regent Street, the pro-development Council majority plans to reject or water down the tenant protections the Rent Board and Planning negotiated.

BTU NEEDS YOU TO WRITE to the whole Council immediately!

We also hope you will come and speak on Tuesday June 4. Sometimes it seems it is harder for the Council to vote against the public when we are looking them in the eye.

  • Say you support the Berkeley Tenants Union position on Item 24, the Demo Ord.
  • State that no occupied units should be eliminated for any reason.
  • Emphasize that units emptied via the Ellis Act cannot be eliminated.
  • Ask that demolished units be replaced with permanently affordable housing.
  • Remind them that converting a duplex to a single family is still an elimination of a unit of affordable housing because of rent control. Ask that this type of demolition also be regulated and their impact on affordable housing stock mitigated.

If the Clerk gets letters or emails on Thursday the 30th, the correspondence will actually get delivered to Council before the meeting. If he gets them later than that, they get handed to our elected leaders at 7 PM, just before the meeting begins. If you write on Friday or Monday, please send them directly to each Council member as well as the address for the Clerk (see link below).

Contact Berkeley City Council:
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Roster.aspx

Council Item 24:
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2013/06Jun/Documents/2013-06-04_Item_24_Zoning_Amendments_to_BMC.aspx

April-28-BTU---02

In general, activists’ response led to deeper discussion of the issues but we need ALL members to respond to these action requests if we are to impact policy and decisions!

The Planning Department and the Rent Board have agreed on language for the Demolition Ordinance, thanks in part to public pressure from BTU members at the Planning Commission hearing last month!

However, our City Council is known for laying a brand new draft on the table at the last minute, so everyone should be prepared to both Write and Attend the Council Meeting on Tuesday June 4. BTU also has some concerns regarding legalization of duplexes that have been turned into single family homes without permits in the past decade. Watch this space for more info – it would be great if we can get letters to Council in advance since, for a change, we know this item is coming up.

Cracked foundation

At the public hearing on April 3, Berkeley’s Planning Commission reviewed a new draft of the ordinance that is far less threatening to tenants.

After an extremely brief discussion they decided that if Rent Board staff and planning staff can agree on language, the ordinance can be forwarded to City Council.

If there is disagreement, the Planning Commission will review on May 1.

Three BTU members came to the meeting and many more sent in comments by email.