Welcome to Berkeley Mr Kapor: Appeal is voted down

Software mogul Mitch Kapor can crack open the champagne. At last night’s City Council meeting Berkeley’s council members voted to reject the appeal on his approved application to the Zoning Application Board to build a new home in our city. His plan for a contemporary, 6,478 sq ft house at 2707 Rose Street now has the green light.

The item was passed 6 in favor, 2 against and one in absentia. Commenting on the long, divisive debate that preceded last night’s meeting — which has been extensively documented on Berkeleyside — council member Linda Maio said that in her 20 years of serving the city, it was the first time she had seen immediate neighbors be so supportive of a land-use application – while other neighbors, who lived further away, were being so vocal about the project’s detriments.

Council member Susan Wengraf, who said she lived within 800 feet of the proposed new home, said she hoped the wounds opened on the issue between warring neighbors would heal soon. “Delaying the motion would delay the healing,” she said. She also spoke about the “celebrity” factor, saying: “This application is not about the ‘who’ but the ‘what’.”

Council member Laurie Capitelli said as the proposed home was not on a ridge line, would not block views and would go unnoticed from many points nearby, so he was standing by the ZAB decision.

Opposing the motion, council member Kris Worthington cited the issue of absent story poles (discussed in our comments over the past few months) and a letter from the Landmark Preservation Commission which he felt should have been given more consideration. He said he believed there were several mistakes in the application.  Council member Jesse Arreguin also voted against the motion saying he didn’t feel he had enough information to make a decision.

Several comments were made about the appealing aspect of District 6, the part of north Berkeley where Mitch Kapor, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, and his wife Freada Klein may soon live. Mayor Tom Bates said: “It must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet”, and cited “all the Phds” who lived there.

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  • lifelongberkeleyan

    Rachel A.,

    My concern for this issue is the same I have in many recent civic debates: The demagogy starving Berkeley into a coma seems to be weakening. Wherever signs of awakening appear – the science labs retained, the sport center at the stadium now under construction or the Kapors fighting NIMBYism – me and my dog will be there.

  • s z underwood

    Hi Rachel:

    Thanks for your insightful question. For my part, I have absolutely no stake in the outcome of this particular project. I am not, per se, a proponent of the current design. I was the one attempting to broaden the discussion in order to see if we (as a community) could establish any patterns in these recurrent development or redevelopment battles which support the thesis that erecting a large new house for example in place of an old ramshackle structure on a private lot as the Kapors propose to do or a sprawling religious sanctuary like Beth El or a new shopping market like BBW or a pseudo-high-rise (like the so-called Gaia building) etc. actually leads to the many detrimental impacts which opponents of these projects ceaselessly and predictably warn us about (often in an extremely shrill and belligerent manner).

    Almost every new project in Berkeley entails costly litigation, years-long delays, a tortuous approval process and bitter internecine feuding (note the hapless fate of the old Iceland structure inter alia). I wonder to what extent these obstructionist tactics are warranted and defensible? It may not be apparent to everyone, but someone is paying dearly for all of these complications and delays. Tax payers, our beleaguered and underfunded university system, religious communities, developers, entrepreneurs, merchants, home owners and builders all foot the bill for every EIR, law suit, hearing, appeal, reappeal etc. All of these social costs to our collective may be a worthwhile price to pay if we can demonstrate convincingly that the mostly familiar and repetitive objections of serial anti-developers are borne out after the fact. I am still waiting for some type of evidence…

    I do have a passionate stake in seeing Berkeley revitalized and regenerated. I think this community is stuck in an awful malaise and torpor which inhibits positive growth and change. As others have noted on this forum, the anti-development sentiment, for the most part, is a fundamentally protectionist, reactionary and conservative one – the polar opposite of what Berkeley supposedly embodies. I would like to see a more reasonable and rational process developed which would actively promote Berkeley’s renewal as our housing stock ages, our commercial and communal infrastructure decays and crumbles.

    A truly “progressive” community is one not only open to dynamic change, but actually actively pursues new opportunities for growth and development. Just as we in Berkeley can clearly perceive that many communities in the so-called “Bible Belt” who style themselves as moral guardians are anything but that, I would likewise suggest to you and anyone else reading this that Berkeley is fooling itself (and others) by assuming the mantle of being “progressive”. Many of us who have lived here for a long time know better and we refuse to be silenced or marginalized any longer.

  • Cliff Magnes

    Rachel A.: I too am surprised by how compelling this debate has been (not just in this posting, but ever since mid-January when the Kapors revealed what they had been secretly planning for over a year). I often wonder what the ratio of lurkers to posters is on issues and stories like this. Only your webmaster knows for sure.

    You spotted it in one, I am a neighbor, and this project impacts me directly. Not sure where the pissing match is, but it’s not puddling up at my feet (oh, is it BRT?).

    For the record, I have no other personal, professional or political (or any other kind of) connection with the Kapors or any member of their team, but I do think Firefox is a better browser than IE.

    Thomas Lord: Wow, that was one of your better postings. Very introspective and refreshing.

    I think most of your response was to Rachel A., but I will just make some brief comments about 2707 from your posting. I too am not in the NOPE (not on planet earth) category on the Kapor project, I just believe that my back yard is not the place for it. Yes, that’s what I said, not in my back yard, not in any of our back yards. NIMBYism often refers to things in people’s back yards that they and everyone else benefit from, but they don’t want to have to be next to. Like power lines and nuclear waste dumps.

    I think I would benefit much more from someone who fell in love with the existing house and wanted to fix it up and live in it again, but the Kapors have a better idea: Tear it down and build a monster house. This is the future of the Berkeley hills, boys and girls. Everything is about to get supersized.

    I think Mr. Kapor is a swell guy, too, he and his team spent half the time in front of the ZAB selling that sizzle, because there was no steak (at least that’s what we thought at the time, now we’ve learned that the steak was rotten through and through). I just don’t think he’s been a very good neighbor so far. It’s in his interest to allow that lot to continue to be a public nuisance, an eyesore and a fire hazard. So that’s what it is. Other people have made different choices about how to steward their land for the brief time they own it.

    I used to think that his core group of “immediate neighbors”, were good neighbors, too, but I have been forced to question that recently, and THAT is what has caused the divisiveness in the neighborhood.

  • Cliff Magnes

    s z underwood:

    Well THAT makes a hell of a lot more sense than your previous posting. When you put it like that, your concerns make a lot more sense (in my own humble opinion). Seems to me that this would have been a good way to broaden this discussion in the first place.

    I have a huge personal stake in THIS project, but that only puts me on the same footing as the four “immediate neighbors” (they have disputed this point).

    I think a better process would be an EXCELLENT start. Something along the lines of, oh I don’t know, a general plan. Something that had been worked out over years with many opportunities for citizen input and careful consideration by all stake holders before being adopted by the council, and which would guide development. What about that idea?

  • Cliff Magnes

    s z underwood,

    (If this posts twice, I may have erred by putting the berkeleyside website in the website field.)

    Sorry to post three times in a row, but with honest respect, why waste your 4:51 posting on the small group of people still following the 2707 issue? (No offense to the unknown number of people still following this here).

    If this is a broader issue that you would like to put before the entire community, your well written (latter) posting, with only some minor editing, would make an excellent stand alone article for the entire Berkeleyside audience. Then other’s could comment on the larger issue (it’s deductive, s z, not inductive). After all, as the tag line says: “Berkeleyside is Berkeley, California’s news site.”

    A brief quote from the “About Berkeleyside” tab (above):

    “We don’t aim to be comprehensive (yet), but we want to show the extraordinary diversity of people, issues, events, food and environment in our city on the Bay.

    If you want to contribute to Berkeleyside or just have some ideas you want to share, please let us know, and read through the Notes for Contributors below.”


  • lifelongberkeleyan

    Berkeleyside…per the above.

    A suggestion for enlarging this discussion on planning process from limited interest to all consuming general imperative with tragic recent precedents –

    1. Read this excerpt from David L. Kirp’s “Almost Home: America’s Love-Hate Relationship with Community, Princeton University Press, 2000 see: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s6796.html

    2. Note that according to ‘city-data.com’ Berkeley issued 15 single-family new house construction building permits in 2008, see: http://www.city-data.com/city/Berkeley-California.html

    3. Also note that in the two year period following the Berkeley/Oakland Hills firestorm “…1,368 building permits had been issued for the 2,777 residential sites that had burned…” see: http://www.csulb.edu/~djeffrey/hazards/human_impact.html

    4. The hazards for North Berkeley Hills remain basically unchanged, see: http://proceedings.esri.com/library/userconf/proc95/to200/p175.html

    Fire or quake, or, fire and quake, history and science claim it’s inevitable. 2,777 new houses, 15 building permits granted annually equals 185 years of citizen review.

    Should we be concerned?

  • Uh, lifelongberkeleyan, aren’t you being a bit fast and loose with your numbers there? Are you making a joke?

    2,777 homes were lost in Oakland.

    In Berkeley, 69 homes were lost. (This per your link #3.)

    By 1993 (again, per your link), 39 permits had been issued to rebuild some of those 69 homes.

    Again, per your link, a third of the combined group of Oakland and Berkeley owners decided not to rebuild. We don’t know exactly how many of those were in Berkeley but using the 1/3 number, we estimate 23.

    Thus, in the case of Berkeley, 39 out of a statistically expected 46 permits had been issued within two years of the fire. That’s about an 85% build rate compared to the expected number.

    Per your link, 2,777 homes were lost in Oakland. At the same 2/3 expectation rate, we would expect about 1,851 rebuilds. In Oakland there were 1,368 permits by 1993. That’s about a 74% build rate compared to the expected number.

    So, if what you were trying to prove is that in the aftermath of a disaster Berkeley’s process will obstruct rebuilding less than Oakland’s process – you’ve provided some circumstantial evidence for that conclusion. Even though Berkeley gets a good grade the question is probably moot because in the aftermath of a large disaster in which thousands of Berkeley homes are lost, the process for rebuilding would likely not be business as usual.

    You pose “185 years of citizen review. […] Should we be concerned?” It’s remarkable how with a straight face you got to that 185 years.

    To answer your question, though: yes, we should be concerned. The abuse of statistics preying on an uncomfortably high level of mathematical illiteracy in our society is a cause for concern, absolutely.

  • Cliff Magnes

    To lifelongberkeleyan:

    What a great comment … on an article s z underwood may or may not write for berkeleyside to a wider audience about a broader issue (and maybe as you said “the truth and Berkeleyans like [him] shall set [you] free.”)

    Meanwhile, here on what you called Cliff’s Bluff and I call Cliff’s Point, we’re commenting on “Welcome to Berkeley Mr Kapor: Appeal is voted down.” Having eliminated the false analogies, let us return to Casa Kapor, and the true analogies.

    I will restate my question: If you want to compare apples to apples, why not do an EIR? Why is everyone so afraid to get the facts out before this is built, instead of after it’s too late? I’m willing to bet that the EIR resolved many of the competing statements of the proponents and opponents of some of these larger projects that you are concerned about, as well as helped to mend fences between neighbors.

    Picking up the frayed thread of your earlier posting I would be honored to be remembered as someone who helped to preserve this neighborhood.

    After the quarry shut down right next to and above the proposed Casa Kapor, it was neighbors, working with the city, who turned it into a magical park, the Glendale-LaLoma Park. You can get there off of Laloma, you can walk from the front door of 2707 Rose St. in less than 5 minutes, or you can climb up the secret path from Shasta (currently being restored by the BPWA, see below), but either way, there is a great view of the lot that is being proposed for development from the viewpoint at the edge of the park.

    At the turn of the last century (the 19th to the 20th) another group of neighbors urged developers and City planners to lay out streets to follow the contours of Berkeley’s hills, with “footpaths above and below [with] connecting steps for pedestrians.” These footpaths, formed by easements on private property (like sidewalks) were used for many decades, but eventually become overgrown and nearly forgotten until four local heroes formed a group that would eventually become the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association. They helped to map, restore and maintain these paths, including the one up to Glendale-LaLoma Park.

    When developers threatened the hillside just downstream from the beautiful house that was built over Codornices Creek at 2645 Shasta Rd. http://www.acme.com/jef/creeks/codornices/ neighbors banded together to buy the land to prevent further development on this hillside. Now the new developers at 2707 Rose have labeled it a “park” on the maps site map submitted by the Kapors, but it is in reality owned by a 501(c)(3) foundation that holds that land in trust to prevent any further development.

    I did not start any of these organizations, I provided no leadership, but I am proud to be associated with 2 out of 3 of them. If I am able to contribute to preserving our unique neighborhood by preventing this awful shoe box from being built, I would be proud to be a part of that effort.

    Not Cliff’s Bluff, not Cliff’s Point. But not Kapor’s Folly, either.

  • Cliff Magnes

    Welcome to our new audience coming to Berkeleyside from The Berkeley Voice to compare the pictures of the old 3D model on this page to the new 3D model that has been prepared and is on the front page of the Friday, April 30, 2010 edition.

    The article is here: http://www.insidebayarea.com/my-town/ci_14980085

    Paraphrasing my comments on the new model, a picture really is is worth a thousand words. It looks like Don Logan and Marcie Wong commissioned a new 3D model of this monstrosity!

    Compare it to the old model shown on this page by going to

    The picture is captioned “Above photo shows model fo the proposed 6,400 square foot home,” does that mean that the 3,394 square foot ten car garage is not shown? I also see that the Laloma structure is gone, so we have no comparisons to the height of the roadway, or the height of the handrail, which were such important parts of the representations made by the developers to the neighbors, the ZAB, and the city council.

    Look at all those trees! Of course, this is the view of the house that the proponents have said you would have to be 60 feet above Shasta to even see, but look at all of those trees! My, that IS an improvement. Also mossy green instead of blinding white, and it looks like that third floor has been well disguised. with a new wall and some vegetation. Also a small triangular screen, if I’m not mistaken. You see how valuable neighborhood input can be? We haven’t stopped this project, but we’ve already improved the model, and planted dozens of new mature trees!

    Unfortunately, if this horrible office building/K-Mart “house” ever gets built, it will NOT look like this. The trees are the big give away, compare them to the landscaping plan submitted to the City of Berkeley by going to http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=48944 (2010-01-28_ZAB_ATT2_2707 Rose_Project Plans and Applicant Statement).

    If this thing gets built (and I think it’s an even bet it won’t), I will take a picture from this point of view and for comparison. I’m going to do some more analysis to see what’s wrong with this picture, but I think I’ve caught at least a few of the biggest misrepresentations, but I’m sure I haven’t caught them all.

  • s z underwood


    Thank you for your approbation and for your suggestions which I sincerely appreciate and will take under advisement. I do think your earlier intuition that this thread was becoming a little wearisome and pointless were more on the mark, but I understand you are animated by a strong current of outrage about this project (“monstrosity” … “horrible office building” etc.).

    As you doubtless know, the area in which you live was devastated by a wildfire in 1923. I am guessing therefore that most of the rebuilt homes in that area are fairly uniform in design, scope and style. However, there are some newer, more incongruous homes and there are also some properties which are very architecturally distinct.

    I don’t know if you recall the novel or the film, “The Shining”, but there is a memorable scene near the end where Jack Torrence looks at an old photo captioned “Overlook Hotel, July 4th Ball, 1921” and spots himself in the foreground.


    Just to humor us, I would like you to imagine yourself back in the mid-1920s for a moment and confronted with plans to build near your house either the Hume Castle on Buena Vista Ave.


    or the so-called Temple of Wings


    Given your present mindset, do you think that you would have supported either of these projects as a good fit for the neighborhood?

    Even if we accept that Cliff’s Point promises to be an eyesore (which I agree with, BTW) is Berkeley a place which can accept a dose of modernism or just the odd, incongruous entity? Is the spirit of conformity, continuity and convention so strong now in Berkeley (the “home of free spirits”) that we can’t tolerate in our midst some architectural novelty, diversity and innovation? Will the Cliff Magnes of 100 years from now seek with equal passion to landmark Casa Kapor and preserve it as a “unique and irreplaceable part of our architectural heritage” when some new owner wants to tear down and start over?

  • Cliff Magnes

    OK, I see there is a slightly larger version of the picture at http://www.insidebayarea.com/portlet/article/html/render_gallery.jsp?articleId=14980085&siteId=181&startImage=1 but it is a very low resolution picture, so that’s how I missed the fact that the LaLoma roadway IS still there, it’s shielded by new mature trees … on the public roadway below.

    It appears that the Kapor project has now expanded to incorporate more of the street, but it is difficult to tell because of the slight difference in the angles of the two pictures, and due to the “age enhancement” of the trees.

    How exactly is that street going to be abandoned and subsumed into the Kapor project as shown in the new model? Will it be a public park, like the pocket parks required in other large developments in recent years? Don Logan did reference doing some landscaping with city permission, but if they are proposing to incorporate public property, I would think that is one more argument for an EIR. http://berkeley.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=629 time reference 1:51.

    Also, it is difficult to tell with the perspective of the two dimensional picture, but isn’t the building taller than both the roadway AND the handrail on LaLoma? Didn’t the applicants specifically say it wouldn’t be? And that it wouldn’t be visible from the road above? Not visible because of the new trees being proposed, or not visible because of the angle of view from the roadway? Either way, it looks very visible to me.

    Don Logan said they would be “three to eight fee below” either the road above or the handrail height (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s referring to the handrail height), which would make it 1′ above or 4′ below the Laloma roadway, but I’m not seeing it in the picture. Same link as above, time reference 1:53.

    I’m also getting tired of seeing the same old view of this thing as it mutates. This is a three dimensional model, and Don Logan himself said that this was “an artificial view … you would have to be hanging 60 feet above Shasta to see this view” (time reference 1:53). So let’s see some realistic pictures of what it will look like from the front, from the back and both sides. It’s a 3D model! Just rotate it and show some realistic views. Why are they always showing the artificial views, and dismissing the critics who will have real views?

    What’s with all the confetti on the roof? Are those supposed to be leaves in the fall? Trees in the spring of 2030 with leaves from the fall of 2029? Also, the new picture of the model does not show the entire property all the way down to Shasta, as the old one did.

  • JNG

    “I’m also getting tired of seeing the same old view of this thing as it mutates.”

    My feelings exactly about the alleged “discussion” of the merits.

    This continues to degenerate into a strained attempt to find legal fault with the project simply because there is a clear and now less veiled aesthetic bias.

    Since repetitiveness seems to be a virtue here, let me repeat as well: its their house to live in, and it meets the code requirements, as agreed by the citizens of this city who are in charge of such affairs. I suggest you get over it already and move on to the next cause.

  • lifelongberkeleyan

    This post is not in response to, nor directed at, any previous poster on this thread. If no new poster responds, please just ignore it.

    Repackaging my earlier post for wider consideration…

    Here’s a test to identify latent property rights conflicts which may be clouding your judgement on the Kapor project…

    Read the excerpt from David L. Kirp’s book. Two pages, essential for anyone living in the North Berkeley hills. It’s a cautionary tale of how others dealt with a disaster we will (not may) be facing when (not if) the quake and fire come. Most pertinent to our discussion is the account of how suddenly commitment to a unique community and irreplaceable historical environment was swept away in a flood of insurance settlements. – http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s6796.html

    How is this relevant to the Kapor House debate?

    This thread (and the many letters submitted to the city in opposition to the Kapor House) suggests similar commitments are deeply and widely held near 2702 Rose St. and somewhat beyond.

    If that’s true, why not act now to eliminate even the possibility of individual greed defacing these hills. How? Simply by voluntarily entering into legally binding agreements with your neighbors to restrict your post apocalyptic homes to their current size and appearance. The reward, beyond virtue itself, could come as pre-approved post apocalypse building permits, dramatically shortening your families dislocation.

    If the sound of that makes you nervous.
    If you’d like to keep your options open.
    If you think change might improve things.
    If you think you better ask your adult kids first.
    If you think “Hey it’s my property, what would I do with some real dough from the insurance”.

    Then you may be more sympathetic to the Kapors than you think.

  • EBGuy

    It looks like Don Logan and Marcie Wong commissioned a new 3D model of this monstrosity!
    I’m not really sure this is a new model; I think it’s just the old one and they added color to the house and ‘aged’ the trees using rip and replace. Plinth, what plinth?

  • Ckiff Magnes

    s z underwood:

    I’m serious, you need to write this up as stand alone article for people to comment on. Look how much people want to comment on this general topic, yet we’re just a few people gnawing on the bones of the Kapor project.

    I am aware that the area AROUND the area in which I live was devastated by the great fire of 1923, my family lived through that fire. Our house survived, and so did the existing house at 2707, yet houses just blocks away burned to the ground. The area wasn’t as built up at the time, but many of those jewels (some of them diamonds in the rough like 2707) are still here.

    Not all of the houses in our neighborhood fell to the fire, that’s part of what makes it so special. So your guess is incorrect, the homes in my immediate neighborhood were not all rebuilt. There was a big building boom in the 20s that filled in most of the empty lots, with the final boom in the 50s and 60s on the less desirable lots.

    You are correct that there are some newer, more incongruous homes. Two of them are right next to 2707, and are the least vocal of the four supporters of the project that signed off on the plans. You see, that is all part of the dynamic. Once you’ve built an ugly monstrosity, the argument against other ugly monstrosities is harder to make, because you’ve changed the standards of the neighborhood. It’s a slippery slope from LaLoma to Shasta, in more ways than one.

    My grandparents lived here when Hume Castle and the Temple of the Wings were built, and my family knew both families and went to parties there. My mother took dance lessons at The Temple of the Wings and loved the house and the family. Given my present mindset, yes, I would have supported both projects, as my grandparents did.

    Your point about whether Berkeley is “a place which can accept a dose of modernism or just the odd, incongruous entity, and whether the spirit of conformity, continuity and convention so strong now in Berkeley (the ‘home of free spirits’) that we can’t tolerate in our midst some architectural novelty, diversity and innovation,” is a good one.

    Not that it is entirely relevant, but it is worth noting, since you ask, that this isn’t novel, diverse or innovative. It’s Bauhaus worker housing that belongs in an office park, supersized shoe boxes, section 8 or Motel 6, it’s K-Mart or Wal-Mart on Rose. Just my opinion, but there it is. Not that design review is part of the approval process, but since there have been so many violations of the approval process, it’s just one minor factor.

    I think the real question is will my grand children, or great grand children, who may still be living in our family home 100 years from now ever seek to landmark Casa Kapor and preserve it as a “unique and irreplaceable part of our architectural heritage” when some new owner wants to tear down and start over?

    I wouldn’t think so, but you never know. They grow up and make up their own minds, and maybe by then things will be so bad in this neighborhood that people will want to preserve as a monument the “house” that started it all.

  • Wow. “Ckiff”, now.

  • Cliff Magnes

    Thomas Lord,

    I noticed that, too. Not sure how that happened, but once again probably my fault, typing too fast. It’s really me, though.

    What do you think of lifelongberkeleyans’ last post? I think those are valid issues, and worth commenting on, and will do so later.

    Just my first take after a quick read is that if there was a way to voluntarily enter into legally binding agreements with my neighbors to restrict our post-apocalyptic homes to their current size and appearance, I would do it.

    I think it’s a great idea, and more of an argument for saving 2707 Rose than it is for tearing it down and starting the supersizing before the apocalypse arrives. Especially if it meant pre-approved post apocalypse building permits! What a deal! I think an even better model for our concerns is what happened in the Oakland Hills after the fire. Very sad.

  • Cliff (“the real”?),

    You asked what I thought of the proposition of a legally binding agreement regarding reconstruction after a disaster. I think that lifelongberkeleyans’ post-catastrophe thought experiment is kind of a cheap rhetorical trick that has nothing to do with the Kapor project. I think the proposition of such a legal arrangement among owners is unrealistic on technical grounds (i.e., would be hard or perhaps impossible to construct in any solid way, even if all of the owners agreed). I also think that if the hills were to burn flat we should consider the option of not rebuilding there at all.

  • lifelongberkeleyan

    re the post of 3:39 –

    I’m no Aesop (or Kubrick either), nonetheless, for those needing clarification of my intent see:


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