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Court takes Berkeley’s side in Mitch Kapor home case

Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor-Klein.
Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor-Klein

Update, Sept. 24, 2015: After the Supreme Court’s May ruling, detailed below, the state’s Court of Appeal (First Appellate District) reviewed the issue of CEQA exemption once more, having been remanded to do so by the Supreme Court. On Sept. 23, the Court of Appeal issued its conclusion “that sufficient evidence supports the City’s conclusion the project is categorically exempt from further CEQA review.” The court also denied the latest appeal by the Berkeley Hillside Preservation group. “We therefore affirm the trial court’s order denying appellants’ petition for a writ of mandate,” it wrote. Read the full decision.

Original story: The California Supreme Court has left intact a ruling limiting environmental review of large single-family homes, such as the one philanthropist and Lotus Development Corp. founder Mitch Kapor and his wife Freada Kapor-Klein applied to build at 2707 Rose St. in North Berkeley.

The decision, which was released on May 27, was the latest development in the Berkeley Hillside Preservation vs City of Berkeley case that has been in and out of court since 2010 when Kapor was given approval by the city of Berkeley to build a 6,478-square-foot home (with a 3,394-square-foot garage) on the sloping Rose Street lot.

Catch up on Berkeleyside’s full coverage of the Rose Street case.


Arguments have centered over whether Berkeley should prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project — for which single family homes like this one are exempt unless unusual circumstances can be proved.

New-pic-of-Kapor-house
A model of the home the Kapors applied to build on their property at 2707 Rose St. Image: Donn Logan Architects

A state appellate court ruled in 2012 that a report was needed because of the possibility of significant environmental impact, but the state’s high court disagreed in a 5-2 ruling on March 2, 2015.

The Berkeley Hillside Preservation Group asked the Supreme Court for a rehearing of its case. It filed its petition on March 18.

The Supreme Court recently appointed two new justices — Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Leondra Kruger — following two retirements, and the group was hoping a reconsideration of their arguments might bring a different result.

The group has argued that the proposed North Berkeley home, designed by Berkeley’s Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, is exceptionally large and also in a landslide zone. That, and the fact that construction of the home would, they say, require extensive work to widen the roadway, amounted to unusual circumstances requiring environmental review.

But the court denied reconsideration, with only the two previous dissenters, Justices Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Goodwin Liu, voting for a new hearing.

Kapor is currently engaged in various Oakland-based initiatives such as the Level Playing Field Institute and the Kapor Center for Social Impact. The organizations support underrepresented students in higher education, as well as young entrepreneurs, with a focus on people with low incomes and in communities of color. The couple has a home in Oakland’s Jack London Square as well as in Healdsburg.

Related:
State Supreme Court upholds Berkeley’s decision in Mitch Kapor’s bid to build a home in the city (03.02.15)

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