Critic of Berkeley library bond issue files more lawsuits

The North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library recently reopened after a $5.9 million remodel. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The woman who was the only named member of the group in a citizen’s lawsuit against Berkeley’s use of library bond funds has filed a number of lawsuits against her critics.

Judith Epstein, who is part of Concerned Library Users, has filed suits in the Alameda County small claims court against Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore, Pacific Union International, and Julie Nachtwey, a realtor for Pacific Union, according to court documents. The suits all claim that Epstein’s reputation was sullied because of comments the defendants made. Epstein asked for as much as $10,000 in damages, according to court documents.

“Moore made the following false and defamatory statement to the Berkeley Times about those of us who were suing the city of Berkeley over the illegal use of library funds,” Epstein wrote in a declaration to the court. “This placed me in a false light before the public. It was part of a campaign of harassment, bullying, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress with the purpose of trying to get us to drop the lawsuit.”

The comment Moore made that Epstein refers to is: “If you look at the composition of those people suing the city, it becomes very clear that there is a strong racial element.”

An Alameda County Court judge is scheduled to hear the lawsuit on October 9.

Moore declined to comment on the matter.

Epstein’s lawsuits against Pacific Union and Nachtwey were dismissed on April 6. A judge ruled that Epstein was not entitled to collect any damages as a result of an email Nachtwey sent from her Pacific Union computer to friends and colleagues.

Nachtwey’s email discussed the Concerned Library Users’ lawsuit and said “a handful of obstructionists want to KILL THESE projects.”

Concerned Library Users, which says in court documents it is a group of about 35 people, filed a lawsuit in September 2010 against Berkeley to stop the demolition and rebuilding of the south and west branches of the public library. CLU said that the $26 million Measure FF bond fund to redo the city’s four branch libraries only permitted the remodeling, not the tearing down, of the branches. CLU urged the city to remodel the two branches, even hiring architect Todd Jersey to come up with plans for the West Branch, originally built in 1923.

The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library is currently undergoing demolition. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Library officials said Jersey’s plans would be too expensive and there was no viable way to preserve the South branch library. They pushed instead for two new structures.

New Libraries Now, a group that was formed to counter the argument against CLU, sponsored a rally outside City Hall in April 2011 to support completely rebuilding the two branches. Members of the group, which included city councilmembers Darryl Moore, Max Anderson and Linda Maio, pointed out that those buildings were in sections of town with large African-American populations and intimated there was some racial prejudice behind the lawsuit.

Berkeley and CLU settled the lawsuit in Sept. 2011. The City Council voted to pay $100,000 into a fund to preserve historic buildings in Berkeley’s south and west neighborhoods.

Before that, in December 2010, the city and CLU reached a partial settlement of the lawsuit when the city agreed to repeal an ordinance that only required the libraries to get a use permit, rather than a variance, when remodeling the branches. CLU had contended the city needed to do an EIR to pass that new law. The city agreed to the settlement.

Berkeley also paid $24,000 in legal fees to Susan Brandt-Hawley, the attorney for CLU.

Epstein, who opposed the library’s use of electronic RFID devices on books, has participated in other lawsuits to stop projects in the past, most notably one against the city and commercial realtor John Gordon.

A group called the Elmwood Neighborhood Associations, of which Epstein was a member, filed a lawsuit against Gordon and Berkeley to stop a large restaurant from going into the old Wright’s Garage building on Ashby Avenue at College Avenue. The group contended that the city did not put the project through the proper environmental review before issuing a permit. The lawsuit was settled and Gordon let his restaurant use permit lapse.

Related:
Berkeley settles contentious library lawsuit [09.06.11]
$1 million for branch libraries; lawsuit pending [12-1-10]
Berkeley reaches partial settlement with library critics [12-15-10]
Debate on future of two city libraries sparks concerns [4-14-11]
Rally planned to bring attention to library lawsuit [4-25-11]
Berkelyans rally to move forward on library renovations [4-27-11]
Library architect apologizes to Berkeley [6-22-11]

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  • The Sharkey

    Someone who uses the courts system to bully people into doing what they want complaining about being bullied? Priceless.

  • Lhasa7

    Today in front of the Shattuck Peet’s I was bullied by people collecting signatures on an anti-bullying petition. Only in Berkeley.

  • Hyper_lexic

    I’m not sure if talking to the Berkeley Times qualifies as a public statement…I suspect very few people have read it.

  • Guest

     I never even knew it existed!

  • Chris

     I couldn’t have put it better myself!

  • joshua a

    Be careful Sharkey, that comment might have just cost you $10,000. 

  • Berkeley Resident

    What a waste or resources…..

  • Bruce Love

    Opponents of CLU spread fear that CLU’s suit would delay the projects so badly that some might not happen at all.   Then no such thing occurred.

    Brandt-Hawley once again exposed and helped to correct bad governance by elected and appointed officials in Berkeley.  The legal victory over the zoning code change is one that future generations can thank her for.  You know, she doesn’t always win her cases against Berkeley but she does pretty well.   Bad governance in Berkeley has not only given her plenty of work but even helped her reputation for winning cases that establish important precedents.   Sure, we Berkeley tax-payers paid her fees on this outing.  It’s not a lot of money and we should probably thank her for helping encourage our electeds to, you know, follow the law and stuff.

    Judith was subjected to all kind of defamation in multiple forums — including, as I recall, Berkeleyside comment forums.   It’s in this context that I think her suit against Moore is justified.

  • cranky

    If Ms. Epstein’s rep was sullied, she brought it on herself with a series of nutty lawsuits. CLU-less indeed!

  • Charles_Siegel

    It would have been nice if the discussion of the library project had focused on the issues, without off-the-wall accusations of racism. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    There are people who use the court system to bully others – people (or corporations) with deep pockets who file SLAPP suits to intimidate their opponents and exhaust their financial resources.

    That is obviously not what happened in this case.

  • Skeehopkins

     wait – DOES it exist??

  • cranky

    Have you noticed that people in Berkeley are pretty quick to play the race card?  It’s sobering, and not really in keeping with our much-vaunted liberalism. I think it’s more NIMBY-ism, possibly classism, with a side dish of RIFID paranoia…

    that said, i hope that the new from the ground up libraries are wonderful; i dearly love the Main Branch and the new No. Berkeley Branch too.

  • The Sharkey

    Trying to exhaust financial resources is not the only way that the courts system can be used for bullying purposes. The repeated use of lawsuits to stymie development, for instance, would be another way.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The word “bully” is commonly used when some bigger, tougher person is trying to intimidate some smaller, weaker person.

    That is why a SLAPP suit is bullying.  And that is why this suit was not bullying.

  • ChrisSy Mamma

    Here’s a woman who purports to be concerned about the library, but then instigates what some might call a ‘nuisance lawsuit’ which ended up costing the city money in legal fees and god knows what else when libraries are already cash strapped as it is–and she SUES and costs the city more money as a result?

    What a moron. Maybe she was only trying for publicity and wouldnt have accepted any cash settlement or whatever, but she did end up costing the city money. There. I said it three times.

  • The Sharkey

    The idea that bullies are always larger or stronger than those they bully is a common misconception. In reality, a bully is anyone who uses “a form of aggressive behavior manifested by the use of force or coercion to affect others.

  • The Sharkey

    I don’t think she’s looking for publicity. From what I’ve seen most news outlets and Berkeley residents seem to have a very negative opinion about what she’s doing.

  • Bill

    Yet, our city council keeps getting elected – so it’s good governance?

  • Charles_Siegel

    That is a partial quotation from Wikipedia.  The full quotation is:

    “Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior
    manifested by the use of force or coercion to affect others,
    particularly when the behavior is habitual and involves an imbalance of
    power.”

    In this case, we all know who had the imbalance of power in their favor.

    Dictionary.com gives a more accurate definition than Wikipedia. 

    Bully: A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

    That is the way the word is conventionally used. There is an old proverb saying that “a bully is always a coward” (look it up in the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs), precisely because bullies pick on people weaker than themselves.  

  • The Sharkey

    Particularly, but not always.
    Weaker, but in what way?

    Though a “larger” entity, could a City that is forced to spend money and time responding to all lawsuits (even if they are found to be without merit and dismissed) be considered “weaker” than a citizen who can continue to draft such lawsuits any time the whim strikes them?

    Just because a definition is closer to what you think it ought to be does not make it more accurate. Your definition, and the ones you cite, come from an older understanding of what bullying is, and who can be classified as a bully. If you’re interested in the subject, do a little Googling. There’s some very interesting information about the subject out there.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I have read about bullying in the schools.  It generally involves a bigger kid picking on a smaller kid or a group of people picking on one person who is an outcast. 

    In this case, who was the group doing the bullying, and who was the lone outcast being picked on?  I doubt if you can provide a link to a case of bullying that involves one kid picking on a large group of kids.

    In this case, the single citizen who spoke for the lawsuit obviously was much weaker than the bullies who opposed it: their bullying forced her to drop the lawsuit (accepting a very small settlement), and the building is being constructed.

  • EBGuy

    Measure FF: Shall the City of Berkeley issue general obligation bonds not exceeding $26,000,000 to renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements at four neighborhood branch libraries
    I think one can say that the voters were manipulated to vote for this bond.  I’ll leave it to the conspiracy theorists as to how deliberate that manipulation was.  Given the current trajectory, I can’t say I mind this bit of manipulation, but I certainly can understand how some of the electorate didn’t like being lied to. 
    All’s well that ends well… or something like that.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    I’m no fan of “Concerned Library Users” since I want a new West Berkeley library, but I have a larger question.

    Why is it that Charles_Siegel is the only person to have a post here that shows even an inkling of disgust over a city official allegedly using the “race-card” instead of addressing a dispute on the merits of the facts? I wish Darryl Moore had commented on this story to either confirm or deny he made the comment. As a resident in District 2, I’m now left to wonder if Darryl Moore made sees me as a vocal constituent, or as a pain in the neck “white guy.”

    This doesn’t sit well with me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=828188289 Emily S Howard

     There’s a reason for that.

  • tenjen

    I have not followed this very closely, and I can’t quickly find the text of the lawsuit or the particular arguments CLU and BAHA advanced for preserving the South and West branches. (Except for this: http://berkeleyheritage.com/berkeley_landmarks/branch_libraries.html). But I have to admit I’m mystified by the initial lawsuit. I wish we could preserve and restore all historical structures, but it simply can’t be done. You have to weigh costs and priorities. Philistine that I am, I don’t really see that either of the demolished branches had truly unique architectural value. Yes, the wording of Measure FF doesn’t specifically say “demolition,” but they are getting brand new libraries built to code, so I don’t really see the problem. So now we’ve had a costly suit by a small group of NiMBYs, and ugly words between citizens and councilmembers, including the inevitable race card (shame on Moore, Anderson, and Maio). Just disheartening all around.

  • Freddie G

     What all of this says to me is that it’s time to replace Darryl Moore on the City Council. He’s become a comfortable incumbent, and he stopped representing the community a long time ago. He provided the crucial 5th vote to pass the very flawed West Berkeley Plan and sold his neighborhood out in the process.  Now, he’s acting like he’s above the law. Okay, Moore is not the only Council representative who does that. We passed Measure FF, and they decided to defy it. They don’t answer to anyone. A bunch of them have terms ending in November, and it’s time to think about replacing them all – Mayor Bates and Council people Max Anderson, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf, and Darryl Moore. We deserve so much better than what we’re getting from these people!

  • Toni Mester

    As a neighbor and fellow constituent of District 2, I too am concerned about this issue. For the record, Darryl Moore has asked me twice to endorse him, and I have twice refused. I am on good terms with Darryl but we do not agree on development and zoning issues, and I have not been able to influence him despite my good record serving the City on the waterfront and the Bayer agreement. I have arranged meetings with him and other constituents that got absolutely nowhere. Does he play the race card? Yes, sometimes he does, but mostly the suggestions are implicit. I don’t think that Darryl intends to be intimidating, and if he did, he picked the wrong person. Ep decided to respond to an explicit charge, and she can be stubborn. I don’t think those libraries were worth saving, but CLU believed that a principle was at stake, that the voters should be informed about demolitions. That’s a worthy argument. At any rate, WB, if you’re a white guy be a proud one and stand up for who you are. By the way, who are you?

  • The Sharkey

    Again, you fall back on the narrow, old definition of what bullying is and completely ignore the way in which the City is held hostage by lawsuits from “concerned groups” like the CLU.

    Oh well. You can lead a horse to water, and so on.

  • Ahn

     I like what you said so much! Very good! This Berkeleyside seems so mean-spirited. The people who run this web site should be ashamed of what they allow, including the story at the top of the page. I am new to Berkeley, and I don’t think I like it very much. Yes, many people here are bullies, as we can plainly see, and maybe Berkeleyside is their home.

  • Freddie G

    Hi Toni. I’m an employee of a small business in West Berkeley, and I live near downtown Berkeley. I don’t know you, but you sound very well-informed and intelligent. You would be a great Council person. You should run. The best way you could influence Darryl Moore would be by replacing him.!

  • Toni

    Thank you very much Freddie. You are not the only person who has urged me to run for the City Council in District 2.  But  I am going on 69 and have been working non-stop for forty years. I want to retire, not take on another high stress job. And so if you wish to replace Darryl, you should look for a younger person. Many believe he is vulnerable, and District Two would be a great opportunity for an up and coming Democratic politico to start his or her career.
    Back to the library lawsuit, one of the residual results will be a reluctance of the electorate to vote for future bonds for fear the money will be used for another purpose than what was on the ballot. That will be a problem for the City Council, which is now studying what to put on the November ballot to raise money.

  • acceptreality

     I don’t know about the reluctance of the electorate to vote for future bonds for fear the money will be used for another purpose–look what happened to the recent school bonds. The previous bond, Measure AA, promised to build new classrooms at BHS. No new classrooms, but we have a transportation facility and a new locker room and a new stadium, none of which were ever mentioned on the ballot measure. And no audit of the monies, even though it was promised and BUSD tried so hard to call an attestation report an audit. Even so, our citizens voted for Measure I, which doesn’t even bother to state which projects will be built and extends the bond duration to 50 years, an unheard of length of time for school bond measures. Go figure.

  • Freddie G

    Now that you mention it, I would be less likely to vote for another bond measure now that I know COB can use the money just about any way it wants. The dirty tricks that went on with the libraries make me think that COB can’t sell a bond if it tells the truth. Yeah, Darryl Moore deserves to be sued. He acted badly and he needs to man up and face the consequences.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

     I’m on the next block over. Next time I see you, I’ll say hello, but you know me by sight after all of the neighborhood watch stuff in previous years.

  • lori

    Oh, you think that bullying didn’t happen? You should hear what happened to me.  I live in district 3, and I always thought I had a good relationship with Max Anderson my council representative till he found out I was on the side of the Concerned Library Users. He called me, I thought to discuss  a disability issue I had called his offices about. He started screaming at me about C.L.U. implying that I was racist. I’m a disabled person and in a lot of pain and Max knows that. I should have hung the phone up, when he wouldn’t let me get a word in, but I was so stunned that I waited until he had finished yelling at me. Max knows how hard it is for me to get around. His office invited our district to a community engagement meeting about the library lawsuit. Although I was in pain, I went, because I voted for Measure FF and I wouldn’t have if it had said that they were going to do demolitions. I wanted to be heard. But Darryl Moore stood at the door and wouldn’t let me in. I can tell you that’s intimidating for a disabled person. Max wouldn’t stand up for me. They only let a few people in. There was Linda Maio and Linda Schacht and a few others. When people who might have opposed demolitions showed up to be part of the “engagement”, Max, Darryl, and the Lindas ran away. A reporter from the Berkeley Daily Planet followed them to Linda Maio’s house.http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2011-03-16/article/37515?headline=-Community-Engagement-Meeting-on-Berkeley-Library-Lawsuit-Becomes-Private—By-Steven-Finacom I came to a city council meeting, to bring all of this up, as I thought Max should recuse himself because of his prejudices. He interrupted me again, trying not to let me finish my 1 minute “speech”. I have never seen an elected representative behave so disgracefully before.  

  • Artie Sanchez

     

    You probably do see the worst of Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
    We try to teach our kids not to be bullies, but it’s allowed and even
    encouraged on Berkeleyside due to the anonymity.  I see that Sharkey still doesn’t have the
    courage to state his or her real name for the record.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

     Ellie, During the past two years Berkeleyside has reached out to Judith Epstein repeatedly, sending her emails and requests through her various attorneys, asking for an interview. Epstein has never agreed to an interview with Berkeleyside.

  • Nobot

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    Been watching this.

    There’s no excuse for the way Max Anderson treated you. Most
    council members stopped caring about disabled people after Dona Spring passed.

    You should know that Max didn’t start that whole phony
    racial thing about the libraries. That was invented by that white woman you
    mentioned. Max just went along with it.

    Everyone got hurt. You. Judith. CLU. Our
    community. We were used by powerful people who manipulate our community for
    their own gain. The rest of the time they don’t care what happens to us
     

  • Lori

    I know since Dona’s death the disabled have had an extremely hard time. There is one thing I’m not quite sure about–which  woman that I mentioned, started the phony racial issue? Linda Schacht or Linda Maio?

  • Nobot

    It was Linda Schacht. She got a couple older folks from the black community to front for her. It makes me angry because I see real racism everyday that doesn’t have to be invented. It’s hard enough to get people to be aware of what’s really happening.   When people use  racism for personal gain, it makes it harder for the rest to be taken seriously.

  • Ellie

    Yes! And speaking of integrity (or lack thereof), it’s very clear to me now that Frances Dinkelspeil misrepresented  her reporting of this story and its”facts” in her response to me. I’m very disappointed in Frances Dinkelspeil and Berkeleyside for not having the integrity to apologize for their misleading comments, headlines and story. (Even my youngest child knows enough to take responsibility for his actions.) How do you expect anyone to trust your blog, if you don’t own your mistakes and correct them?