Category Archives: Real estate

Ohlone human remains found in trench in West Berkeley

Construction workers uncovered ancient Ohlone remains on March 29 while digging a trench in front of Spenger's Fish Restaurant at 1919 Fourth St. Photo: Wendy Kenin
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Update April 10: The developer of the Fourth Street site issued a statement to Berkeleyside through its publicist, in response to the original April 8 story:

“Jamestown is complying with local stakeholders, including the recommendations of the appointed Most Likely Descendent, in order to ensure the respectful and dignified treatment of the remains. In light of this discovery, Jamestown is performing further archaeological studies of the property and has enlisted a member of the Ohlone Tribe to monitor future excavation work. Construction will continue but all excavation work will stop until a monitor is in place. We are committed to the local community and protecting the traditions of the native peoples.”

Original story: Construction workers on March 29 uncovered what appear to be “pre-contact” Indian remains while digging a trench on Fourth Street near Hearst Avenue as part of the redevelopment of Spenger’s Fish Grotto and adjoining parcels.

Workers excavating adjacent to 1919 Fourth St. immediately stopped all work on the site and notified authorities, as required by the use permit, according to Matthai Chakko, a city of Berkeley spokesman. Jamestown, the corporate owner of the property, brought in an osteologist, or bone expert, who determined that the remains, which lay among shell midden — remnants of the ancient shellmound that sat for centuries in that area — were human. The Alameda County Coroner’s office later confirmed the finding.

“Because of the context with shell midden around it, and because we know that part of town contained shell mounds, we know it was a burial and it was human,” said Andy Galvan, a Chochenyo Ohlone Indian who is the curator of the Mission Dolores Museum in San Francisco and who often helps developers determine whether there are Indian artifacts on their properties. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley council votes to increase inclusionary housing

Many community members attended Tuesday night's council meeting, which was slated to focus on housing. Photo: Ben Gould
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Despite an ambitious agenda, the Berkeley City Council managed Tuesday night to vote on just one policy shift related to affordable housing after attendees became outraged at proposed agenda changes put forward early in the evening by Mayor Tom Bates.

Council voted 8-1 on the Bates proposal to increase the percentage of affordable units required in new projects from 10% to 20%, and to increase the mitigation fee developers can pay if they don’t want to build those units on site. Councilman Max Anderson was the lone “no” vote.

The fee per unit — for all units in a project — is set to increase from $28,000 to $34,000, payable when the certificate of occupancy is issued. There’s a temporary discount, to $30,000, for those who pay early, when the building permit is issued. The discount is slated to sunset after 18 months. Those who choose to build below-market-rate units on site can get out of the fee or pay less, depending how many units they build.

Council asked the city manager to come back with revisions to the existing affordable housing mitigation fee ordinance, which would also “expand the level of affordability” for the below-market-rate units. Currently, units must be affordable for households earning up to 50% of the area median income; the new proposal would add a second tier of units affordable to households earning up to 80%.

The idea behind the mitigation fee is to bolster the city’s Housing Trust Fund to help Berkeley build greater numbers of affordable units around town. To some degree, there is an ideological divide between those who believe developers should include affordable units on site, and those who want to boost the city’s own fund. Proponents of the fund say it can be used to go after grants and leverage the money to get more units in town than building on site — mixed in with private developments — would allow. … Continue reading »

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Chaos ensues after changes at Berkeley City Council

Many supporters of Youth Spirit Artworks came out to Tuesday night's Berkeley City Council meeting. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The Berkeley City Council had more than a dozen items regarding housing on Tuesday’s agenda. In what he described as an attempt to streamline discussion, Mayor Tom Bates suggested reorganizing the order of the items. The process quickly descended into chaos. See how the night panned out with our Storify overview, and also how the community responded to Berkeleyside senior reporter Emilie Raguso’s live updates of the meeting on Twitter. … Continue reading »

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City Council to focus on creation of more housing

For Rent signs on Spruce Street. Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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In the past five years, the population of Berkeley has grown 5.5%, but its housing supply has only increased 1.2%.

That discrepancy, coupled with an economic boom that has pushed highly paid tech workers out of San Francisco and into the East Bay, has sent housing prices higher than ever before. Berkeley’s median rent grew $400, or 12%, to $3,584 in 2015, according to a February 2016 Berkeley city staff report. That means a person must earn $143,360 to afford a median rent apartment, according to Mayor Tom Bates. The median price of a house to buy grew even more – up 15% – to $974,000, according to staff reports.

This housing crisis is prompting the Berkeley City Council to consider about a dozen separate housing-related items on Tuesday’s agenda, including one far-reaching item put forward by Bates that includes 13 separate sections.

“Our ethnic and cultural diversity is being eroded as low- to moderate-income households are displaced or priced out,” Bates wrote in his proposal. … Continue reading »

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Proposal to convert, expand UC Press building for offices

UC Press rendering. Image: DEVI DUTTA ARCHITECTURE, INC.
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Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board will consider a proposal Thursday that would see the UC Press building at 2120 Berkeley Way renovated into a modern 6-story office building with the addition of three new stories.

The proposal, submitted by the Rhoades Planning Group, with a design by Berkeley’s Devi Dutta Architecture, was originally submitted to the city in September and has been reviewed by the Design Review Committee.

The plan would retain the existing building, but “completely upgrade and modernize [its] interior while preserving the façade on the first three floors and adding three new levels above,” according to the project documents. The remodel of the former publishing house, which is located between Shattuck Avenue and Walnut Street, would create open floor plans, allowing for greater light, install new skylights, windows and building systems. … Continue reading »

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DA will not file criminal charges in balcony collapse case

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley (center) with office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick (right) and Chief Assistant District Attorney Kevin Dunleavy. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Update: Berkeley mayor reacts to the DA’s decision — see foot of the story.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley announced Tuesday that her office will not be filing criminal charges in relation to the June 16, 2015, balcony collapse in downtown Berkeley that killed six students, and left seven others with serious injuries.

The DA’s investigation has concluded that the primary reason the balcony collapsed was “water [that] had been trapped (or “encapsulated”) in the balcony deck during construction, leading to eventual and extensive dry rot damage.” There was insufficient evidence that “a defendant had acted with gross or reckless conduct akin to a disregard for human life,” the office said.

Read more on the June 16, 2015, balcony collapse.

This corresponds with the city of Berkeley’s investigation immediately following the accident which identified dry rot as the only contributing factor in the the collapse that happened in the early hours of June 16 at Library Gardens at 2020 Kittredge St.

The DA’s office announced it would launch a criminal investigation on June 25, after the city of Berkeley had completed its investigation. The city had said that forensic examination and laboratory tests of the balcony were outside its scope of review. The city subsequently ordered inspections and stiffened requirements about materials, venting and access in Berkeley buildings to ensure safer conditions. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley zoning board approves new 6-story building

The zoning board approved 50 new units on Durant on Thursday. Image: Kahn Design Associates
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A small clapboard house on Durant Avenue and surface parking lot on Bancroft Way in Berkeley are set to be replaced by a 6-story mixed-use building with 50 units and ground-floor retail after a unanimous zoning board vote Thursday night.

Commissioner Sophie Hahn called the project, from Kahn Design Associates, “an incredibly handsome building” that was “beautifully designed,” adding: “Thank you very much for bringing us a good project that we could approve so quickly.”

The project site sits mid-block between Shattuck Avenue and Fulton Street, with Bancroft to the north and Durant to the south.

It is set to include 413 square feet of ground-floor retail and garage parking for 50 bikes and 13 vehicles. The unit mix is slated to feature 10 studios, 30 one-bedroom units, two two-bedrooms and 18 three-bedrooms, according to the staff report.

A 3-story home on Durant, which was built in 1901, will be moved to 1940 Haste St. — about 3.5 blocks, or less than half a mile, away — to make room for the new building. The Haste Street parcel is currently a 10-vehicle parking lot.  … Continue reading »

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Critics question impacts of ‘Spenger’s parking lot’ project on Berkeley Fourth Street, Ohlone heritage

A rendering of what 1900 Fourth St. may one day look like. Image: TCA Architects
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Berkeley community and zoning board members had a chance Thursday to weigh in on what the environmental impact report for a large mixed-use project planned for 1900 Fourth St. should focus on.

The “Spenger’s parking lot” project has been in the works for years, with efforts ramping up in 2014 when project reps said they found no evidence at the site of a Native American shellmound created in West Berkeley by the Ohlone Indians.

Members of the public who came to share their views about the project March 10 with the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board said they were not convinced by that assertion. Some said the land where the parking lot is now should be purchased by the city and turned into a park to honor the history and culture of the Ohlone. The property at 1900 Fourth is a city landmark, dating back to 2000, within the potential boundaries of the West Berkeley shellmound. The exact location of the shellmound is unknown and has been a matter of much debate.

Other speakers Thursday questioned the scale of the project, and how it will fit in with the surrounding neighborhood, as well as traffic impacts, air quality and liquefaction. The lot is bordered by Fourth Street, Hearst Avenue, University Avenue and the railroad tracks running east of Interstate 80.

A sprawling complex is planned at 1900 Fourth, across from the historic Spenger’s restaurant, set to reach up to 5 stories, with 135 apartments and a 372-space parking garage open to both residents and the public. The project’s approximately 207,600 square feet are slated to include about 33,000 square feet of retail and restaurant uses. The property is owned by Ruegg and Ellsworth, a real estate group that co-owns the parking lot with the Spenger family, which sold its Fresh Fish Grotto years ago. Robert Ellsworth, a Berkeley native, is co-owner of Ruegg and Ellsworth. The developer of the project is BHV CenterStreet Properties based in Danville.

(A video “fly through” of the project, created by the architect and set to music, appears below.) … Continue reading »

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How Quirky is Berkeley? OMG quirkiness on McKinley

Quirky Berkeley in Berkeley Calif, on December 30th, 2015.
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In the beginning, 2233 McKinley Ave. was part of a 1960s commune, Dragon’s Eye. Michael Rossman, of Free Speech Movement fame, and Karen McLellan were central figures within the commune. The focus of the commune was educational reform.

Howie Gordon first came to the house on McKinley in 1969. He was a student at Antioch College, working for the Department of Labor in San Francisco on what Antioch called a co-op job. Work experience was part of Antioch’s vision of a well-rounded education.

Upon arriving in the Bay Area, Gordon visited a friend living at the McKinley house. As he arrived for the visit, a caravan of hippies was leaving the house for a weekend in Mariposa. He went along.  When they got to Mariposa, he was introduced to the joy and beauty of hippie culture. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley breaks ground on affordable housing project

Berkeley has a critical housing shortage and needs new developments, writes Mayor Tom Bates in an op-ed published on Berkeleyside. Seen here: a proposed building on San Pablo Avenue. Image: HKIT Architects
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On Tuesday, Berkeley broke ground on Harper Crossing, 42 affordable homes for low-income seniors at 3132 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (between Woolsey and Fairview) in the heart of the Lorin District.

The homes, which were welcomed across the board, from local residents through city officials, arrive at time when Berkeley is struggling with a significant lack of affordable housing.

Read more about affordable housing in Berkeley.

The $16 million project was also a long time coming.

“It has taken 20 years to get these homes,” Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said at a groundbreaking event held at the construction site Tuesday morning. Bates also acknowledged that the units represent only a fraction of what the city needs. “We need to be building all sorts of homes as we are facing a major crisis with home prices,” he said. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley considers ways to build more affordable housing

City Council members talk to Cynthia Kroll, ABAG’s chief economist, at a special meeting to consider affordable housing issues. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Transferring development rights to allow for taller buildings. Increasing the amount of affordable housing required for large developments. Offering developers a discount if they pay into the Housing Trust Fund at the beginning of the development process rather than the end.

Read more about Berkeley affordable housing.

These were some of the ideas tossed around Tuesday night at a special city council meeting held to discuss affordable housing. While nothing was decided, the meeting brought together a broad array of people involved in housing, from economists at  the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), to UC Berkeley professors specializing in housing and gentrification, to developers, consultants, affordable housing developers, Berkeley planning staff, and people involved with government subsidized housing. … Continue reading »

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402 Berkeley buildings found to need fixes after launch of inspection program spurred by balcony collapse

What appears to be rotting wood can be seen on the remains of the balcony that collapsed at the Library Gardens Apartments, in Berkeley, on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Photo: David Yee
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Inspections performed in Berkeley since last year’s deadly balcony collapse at Library Gardens found more than 400 buildings that needed work out of nearly 2,200 with weather-exposed elements, such as balconies, stairways, decks and landings, according to a city report released Wednesday afternoon.

The inspections were part of the city’s response to the Library Gardens tragedy last June, which killed six young people and seriously injured seven others when a fifth-floor balcony broke off a downtown Berkeley apartment building during a birthday celebration.

Council voted in July to require the inspection by Jan. 15, and every following three years, of all weather-exposed exterior elements in properties with at least three units. The city also stiffened requirements about building materials, venting and access to make inspections easier to do and allow for better airflow to elements that could be impacted by water damage and other problems.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage about the balcony collapse.

The Berkeley City Council is slated to receive an update Feb. 23 about the “Exterior Elevated Elements” (E3) program, which mandates the inspections. … Continue reading »

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Downtown Ace Hardware moving 2 blocks to Milvia Street

Ace Hardware will move to 2020 Milvia St. soon. Photo: Google Streetview
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Ace Hardware, which has been operating out of its space at 2145 University Ave. since 1945, will be moving sometime in the spring to 2020 Milvia St, just two blocks away.

Bill and Virginia Carpenter have to move their 16,000-square foot store because the building they are in is supposed to be extensively remodeled to make way for the 205-unit Acheson Commons apartment complex. (Equity Residential, which owns the entitlement rights to build Acheson Commons put them and its entire Berkeley portfolio up for sale last year, however.)

The Carpenters have been looking for a new space since 2012, even before the city council approved Acheson Commons in 2013. They almost moved into the old Andronico’s space on University Ave., but later decided it was not right for the store. Savers Thrift took over the space instead, but shut its doors in January.

The Carpenters wanted to stay in downtown Berkeley, where a version of the hardware store has been since 1895, said Bill Carpenter. … Continue reading »

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