City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot

The city council is foreclosing for payment of $640,000 in liens on 2501 Haste Street. Photo:Frances Dinkelspiel

The Berkeley City Council last night voted unanimously to file for “non judicial foreclosure” on the long-vacant and desperately blighted lot on the corner of Telegraph and Haste.

The action means that property owner Ken Sarachan will have to pay off liens on the property or the site will be auctioned off at the Alameda County courthouse, with the proceeds used to pay the city and the remainder paid to Sarachan. With interest, the total liens come to $640,000.

“It’s like foreclosing on a mortgage,” said City Attorney Zach Cowan.

Sarachan, who also owns Rasputin Records, Blondie’s Pizza, the old Cody’s Building and the retail development at 2350 Telegraph, bought the Telegraph and Haste property in 1994. The city agreed to forgo the existing liens on the site if Sarachan developed it, setting an initial deadline in 2004. He also acquired the adjacent properties to the east and north of the site, raising hopes that an ambitious project could be developed on the site. But despite years of talks and what local Councilmember Kriss Worthington terms “not-quite-defined projects”, nothing concrete emerged.

“There’s been building frustration for a long time,” said Worthington. “There have been deadlines and new deadlines and new deadlines. I’ve wanted the city to have a strong position to force action to happen.”

In a letter to Mayor Tom Bates (PDF) and in a statement at the public comment session before last night’s closed meeting, Sarachan put the blame for the delays on the city’s planning department. He said he had a project ready but had been stymied by city staff. He concluded: “Tom, I am only one person. I would rather spend my energy and time finishing the remodeling of Cody’s Books and working on the revised plans for the Berkeley Inn Site.”

The non judicial foreclosure requires the property holder to clear the liens, not to submit a proposal for development of the site. But Worthington said that he hopes Sarachan is spurred to submit a full development proposal. “I think the city council would be enthusiastic,” he said. Worthington said the so-called A Team — a group of interested parties in the Telegraph district whose names all begin with “A” — have said they would lobby the council to approve a development by Sarachan if serious plans were submitted prior to the foreclosure. The “A Team” includes representation from the student government and local business owners.

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  • Rachel A.

    Glad that there is finally some movement on this and I credit Berkeleyside for being a local forum where this issue gained traction.  I look forward to it continuing to be a place where additional long-stagnant-issues in Berkeley get some attention.

  • Magnificent! Kudos to everyone on the City Council for moving forward with this issue.

    Sarachan clearly has the money to pay off these liens, as evidenced by his ability to continue buying more properties. The City was more than fair when they offered him a way to clear his debts if he developed it and gave him a 10 year deadline. Anything that happens now is Sarachan’s own fault.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that Berkeleyside has had an impact on this issue.  I’m also glad that this is a place where the more moderate among the City’s population (I also believe the majority) can debate and have an impact on some of the important issues Berkeley faces.  It seems that it happens all to often that it is primarily the more extreme and minority voices are heard and responded to by City government.  Perhaps this is a sign of change.

  • Charles_Siegel

    It was a mistake to give him ten years last time.  If they reach a settlement this time, there should be a much tighter deadline. 

  • deirdre

    I agree.  Also, I am relieved that I can forego my plan to rent a rat costume and wear it as I parade back and forth in front of the property.

  • skeptic
  • Nick Mamatas

    “Tom, I am only one person. I would rather spend my energy and time
    finishing the remodeling of Cody’s Books and working on the revised
    plans for the Berkeley Inn Site.”

    Gee, if only there was some extant method of getting someone else to perform labor on one’s behalf. Perhaps he could find one or more people, and feed and house them in return for some of their time and energy. Perhaps if he doesn’t have sufficient couch space and food in the fridge, our man could exchange labor for money via some contractual method…

  • Annoyed

    I have a prediction:  Sarachan has instructed his attorney to file a lawsuit against the City.  In about a year or two, our spineless City Attorney and Council will pay Mr. Sarachan for his attorney fees and inconvenience, and all will remain the same.  It’s apparently a business model that works:

  • Thanks, Berkeleyside.  It looks like your journalism instigated city council action on this lot.

    I am glad to know about the terms of the city’s agreement to forego the mechanics lien in 1994. A ten year deadline seems long to me.  It shouldn’t take ten years to come up with a plan and start building but that’s the agreement that was entered into in 1994. I get that.

    Why did the city do nothing from 2004 to 2011?

    It’s weird, isn’t it, that one person can ham string a community’s quality of life?

    I’m glad the city has done something but as Annoyed predicts, I also predict that Sarachan will use attorneys to drag this thing out some more.

    I would sure like to understand Sarachan’s motivation for his choices.

  • 1dianebaker

    I think that Berkleyside can take a bow on this–it was the forum on businesses in Berkeley where the blight that this lot brings to Telegraph was raised that got this ball rolling!

  • PJ

    And maybe an actual, tangible development proposal.

  • JudgeBork

    It was the Forum on Businesses in Berkeley that threatened to sue the City that got the ball rolling. I am sure Berkeleyside can take credit for bringing together the largest collection of self-righteous, disconnected from reality types of readers in the city. fascinating captain!

  • “…self-righteous, disconnected from reality types of readers…”

    Such as yourself, I take it?

    I’m interested in hearing more about the Forum on Business in Berkeley’s threats of lawsuits against the City. Got any links to more information about that?

  • Judge Bork, I do not know to what you are referring. The owner of Amoeba Records talked about the vacant lot and the rats at the Berkeleyside business forum and Berkeleyside did a video and story on the problem. The Forum did not to threaten to sue the city. As for your characterization of our readers, well, I am sure everyone can see that for what it is.

  • EBGuy

    Any odds makers out there?  Want to handicap which will come first: A building on this site or the ‘organic’ (earthquake resistant) soundwall at Aquatic Park?

  • Geech


  • libraterian

    This should be delicious;  A savvy, well heeled property owner versus a coalition of kids who think a real estate development would make a really cool class project plus the city’s senile social policy makers (still living in mom’s rent controlled basement.) 

    And what about Rat Rights? Are we so specieist we blatantly deny them their basic muroid dignity?

  • LongTimeBerkeleyResident

    ” A savvy, well heeled property owner versus a coalition of kids”

    You obviously have never met Sarachan.  He himself is like a kid who never grew up.

  • libraterian

    If he was any more savvy, he’d own all of Telegraph, not just a huge chunk of it.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I noticed today that Sarachan was having a 25 cent sale in the store next to this vacant lot – selling a large number of books, CDs, and posters for 25 cents each. 

    This makes me speculate that maybe he is clearing out old inventory that he was storing in that building, so he can go ahead and develop the combined site. 

  • BH

    Ha!  Awesome comment. 

  • Jennifer

    Google “Ken Sarachan.” Lots of interesting stuff, including past business deals and the fact that UC architecture students drew up a bunch of proposals for the site last summer.

  • Jennifer: We have written extensively about this property owned by Ken Sarachan, and published the article you refer to where Cal architecture students came up with “visions” (rather than real proposals) for the Telegraph lot. Read it here:

  • probusybody

    I would LOVE IT if the Ecology Center or some Campus group would install and maintain a community garden for Food Not Bombs or some other group that feeds the hungry and homeless

  • Marie Louise

    It is astounding to read that the City Council / Worthington may still be thinking about giving Sarachan another chance was he to submit a “serious” proposal after he has been dragging his feet for 8 years! I would like to see a bit more business savvy and common sense here….