A group of Berkeley residents has filed suit against the City of Berkeley for failing to act with due process when it approved the application, by Lotus founder and philanthropist Mitch Kapor, to build a new home at 2707 Rose Street.
The newly formed Berkeley Hillside Preservation group filed a petition in the Alameda Superior Court yesterday stating that the city had exempted the Kapor application from an environmental review that is mandated under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
“This application was approved without following environmental laws,” says Susan Brandt-Hawley, the attorney representing the Hillside Preservation Group which, she says, is made up of Berkeley residents, some of whom live close to the Kapor site. Brandt-Hawley says the group is asking that the court issue a peremptory writ ordering the city to set aside its approval of the project pending compliance with CEQA.
At the heart of the petition is the issue of grading. The group cites expert evidence from geotechnical engineer Dr Lawrence B. Karp which states that a grading study is necessary to ascertain whether massive grading and foundations would be required to prevent seismic lurching of the hillside lot. An environmental review would also consider impacts relating to demolition, traffic and aesthetics.
The plan by Mitch Kapor, who is also an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, to build a home for himself and his wife, Freada Klein, in north Berkeley has been dogged by controversy from the outset. This, despite the fact that many of the immediate neighbors of the proposed Rose Street site support Kapor’s proposal for a home there.
On April 27, Berkeley’s councilmembers voted to green-light construction of the home after rejecting an appeal against the January approval for the project by the city’s zoning board. The consensus was that the application was exempt from environmental review because it was for a single family home. The lawsuit points out that exemptions cannot be used when there is expert opinion that a proposal may have environmental impacts, and that the size of the proposed home — 10,000 sq ft when including a 10-car garage — means the project is not a typical low‐impact single‐family project.
In a prepared statement, Berkeley neighbor and co‐petitioner Susan Nunes Fadley said: “We worked arduously on our appeal to the City Council, focussing on issues of process and the unstudied impacts of this project. Now we look to the court to address them.”
Before this latest development, Kapor’s next step would have been to seek a demolition permit to take down the abandoned 1920s-era house at 2707 Rose Street. Should he decide to pursue this, Brandt-Hawley says the Hillside group will seek a court order to stop it.
Kapor’s attorney, Rena Rickles, said she was not in a position to comment.
Read all of Berkeleyside’s coverage of the Mitch Kapor home issue.