Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Story of 2133 Parker Street

2133 Parker as a duplex with a garage.

2133 Parker as a 19 bedroom, no garage 3-unit group house.

From the LeConte Neighborhood Association:
 2133 Parker: From Family Home to Group Living Accommodations by Gale Garcia

In January 2009, 2133 Parker Street was put up for sale after 50 years in the same family. Built in 1903, the house had been remodeled into a  duplex in the 1920s, and covered with asbestos shingles in 1953 – it was not pristine. But it had many historic features, including a lovely high-peaked hipped roof. Most importantly it was a family home with a back yard in a historic neighborhood that had been scarred by the building boom of the late 1950s through early 1970s.

Many neighbors, myself included, attended the open house for 2133 Parker. The realtor told us that several families had made bids on the property. It sold in early spring. I later learned that it was purchased by Ali Eslami, the developer who is planning a major expansion of the landmarked Obata Building at 2525 Telegraph Ave.

Sadly, construction began on the house late in 2009, with no notice to neighbors whatsoever. Construction isn’t quite the right term – destruction is more like it. The interior was gutted completely; the wooden windows were torn out. When workers began to remove asbestos shingles with no precautions, I contacted the Planning Department. My concerns about the asbestos were ignored, while workers proceeded to remove every fragment of material from the walls and roof except for the framing.

In March 2010, I learned that garage removal requires a Use Permit, meaning neighbors should be informed of the proposed removal. The basement garage at 2133 Parker Street, seen by neighbors during the open house in 2009, was well on its way to conversion into living space. With the basement becoming a residential floor, the structure was now three stories.

On Friday May 14, before a long weekend for City staff, workers began building a room-sized box surrounding the peak of the roof. The peak was then removed and a huge shed dormer sprouted from the back of the box. Thus, a fourth floor was born (fourth floors are not legal in R2A zones).

On Tuesday May 18, a city inspector checked to see if the fourth floor was in the plans that had been approved. It was not. The inspector issued a stop work order for the illegal fourth floor. Although exterior work on the fourth floor ceased, I could see workers continuing construction within the new floor. Clearly the owner believed it would be approved. The city inspector as much as told me that Planning staff was expected to approve the fourth floor.

A flurry of emails ensued between Planning staff, and many neighborhood members. Two neighborhood associations sent letters to Planning Director Dan Marks. The gist of the letters and emails was that the project should have  required a public hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board because there were several violations of the municipal code, including:

• Addition of a fourth story in violation of a three-story limit

• Conversion of garage to living space without a public hearing

• Inadequate parking for Group Living Accommodations [Note added: 19 bedrooms, no parking spaces]

• Demolition without a demolition permit

• The applicant was clearly creating Group Living Accommodations (not legal in R2A zones) by creating three units with a total of 19 bedrooms

Why was the applicant able to perform alterations with such a heavy neighborhood impact – without notice to the neighbors? It would appear that Planning staff simply accepted Mr. Eslami’s claim that the garage had previously been eliminated with City approval, even though his architect’s plans for the existing structure labeled the area: “garage”.

Interestingly, a friend has been attempting to work with the system to get permits to alter a small accessory structure on her property, and had to jump through hoops, including testing for asbestos even though there was no evidence that her structure contained it.

I suspect that some applicants to the Planning Department are simply more equal than others, and that the favored ones just happen to be . . . developers. If any CNA readers have had interesting experiences with the Department while trying to alter their property, or have observed outrageous favors bestowed on certain privileged persons, please give me a call at 841-5055 and tell me your story.

As a result of the strong neighborhood response to the project at 2133 Parker, a true stop work order has been issued, and construction has been halted until the applicant restores the garage or receives a variance to eliminate it and acquires a Use permit for the fourth floor addition. If he had believed from the start that he would have to obey the rules, perhaps he would not have purchased this property. Sadly, a family home is gone forever.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Letters concerning these issues should be sent to Greg Powell, planner at the City of Berkeley
(, and copied to Dan Marks (

( Leconte Neighborhood Association)

To: Greg Powell

Cc: Dan Marks
Debra Sanderson
Gregory Daniel

Dear Mr. Powell,

At a recent meeting of the LeConte NA several of our members expressed concerns about the remodeling project at 2133 Parker Street. It is our understanding that portions of this project are currently red tagged, and that the site may pose health risks to the community. We are requesting that all construction work on this project be stopped immediately and that this project be set for a public hearing before the ZAB.

Our concerns are as follows:

FIRST: Failure to use proper safeguards in the removal of asbestos shingles.

We have been informed by a LeConte member that several months ago a complaint was addressed to the Planning Department regarding the failure of workmen to use proper safeguards in the removal of asbestos shingles while working on this project. It is our understanding that no action was taken on this complaint.

The City of Berkeley should have IMMEDIATELY notified the nearby neighbors of the health risks posed by asbestos particles recklessly released into the atmosphere by what seems to be improperly trained and unsupervised workers, and the City of Berkeley should have IMMEDIATELY taken action to contain the contamination to the site.

The negligent failure of the City of Berkeley to act has unnecessarily exacerbated the health risk to the residents of LeConte and to those who have passed by the project.

The LeConte NA Board requests that the City of Berkeley immediately inform the residents in proximity to the site of the potential dangers posed by the asbestos contamination, immediately secure the site so that no additional contamination is released, and take immediate steps to cleanse all properties that may have been harmed by the asbestos particles.

SECOND: Failure to comply with Stop Work Order.

Although a stop work order was issued by the City of Berkeley on this project, the workmen disregarded the stop work order and continued construction activity on the portion of the property that was the subject of the stop work order.

It is our understanding that the owner of the subject property may have a history of disregarding the BMC and stop work orders, and that this behavior was known or should have been known to the City of Berkeley zoning officer overseeing this project.

The LeConte NA Board feels that the City of Berkeley has been negligent in overseeing the work on this project and requests that no additional work be allowed on this site until sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that all future work will be in compliance with the BMC, and that all stop work orders will be obeyed.

THIRD: Project exceeds development standards for R-2A zoning.

The current plans show the property being converted from what had been a single family house into group living accommodations with 19 rooms designated as "bedrooms" that could potentially be occupied by 38 students. This is clearly in violation of BMC Section 23D.32.020, which reads as follows:

"Purposes -  The purposes of the Restricted Multiple-family Residential (R-2A) Districts are to: D. Permit only that intensity of use which will be compatible with existing low density residential structures and will not be detrimental to the immediate neighborhood. (Ord. 6478-NS § 4 (part), 1999)."

And, in violation of BMC Section Section 23D.32.070 B. Development Standards:

"The following minimum lot sizes shall be required: 2. No more than one Group Living Accommodation room shall be allowed for each 800 square feet of lot area. One additional Group Living Accommodation room may also be allowed for any remaining lot area which may be less than 800 square feet, but not less than 500 square feet in area."

Based on our rough calculations this parcel is no larger than 5,400 square feet and is limited to no more than seven group living accommodation rooms. The project plans exceed this limit by at least twelve group living accommodation rooms.

The LeConte NA Board requests that all work on this project be discontinued until the  matter of excessive group living accommodation rooms can be considered by the ZAB at a publicly noticed hearing.

FOURTH: Inadequate parking for group living accommodations.

The violation of the parking requirement is particularly outrageous.

BMC Section 23D.40.080 A. Requires:

Parking -- Number of Spaces

A lot shall contain the following minimum number of Off-streetParking Spaces:

Table 23D.40.080 "One per each five residents, plus one for manager"

At a minimum this project should require at least one parking space for every five potential residents and one additional parking spot for the manager. This project should have a minimum of NINE parking spots, yet it currently has ZERO!

The LeConte NA Board requests that all work on this project be discontinued until the matter of inadequate parking can be considered by the ZAB at a publicly noticed hearing.

FIFTH: Conversion of existing garage to living space without proper permit or required public hearing.

Several LeConte residents toured the property when it was recently offered for sale, and have stated that there was a functional garage. The garage is now in the process of being turned into additional living quarters.

This conversion eliminated the only parking space on the property and it was clearly outside the authority of the zoning officer to authorize this conversion without first setting the matter for a public hearing before the ZAB.

The LeConte NA Board is requesting that the garage be rebuilt as it previously existed and that this matter be set for a public hearing before the ZAB

SIXTH: Addition of fourth story in violation of three story limit.

Additional rooms are in the process of being constructed above the third floor and below the roof. This is the portion of the property that was the subject of a stop work order. It is the understanding of the LeConte Board that the stop work order has been disregarded and that work has continued in flagrant violation of the stop work order.

BMC section 23D.32.070 Development Standards states:

"C. Each Main Building shall be limited in height as follows: Main Building - three story limit"

And, in the same section continues with the requirement that the third story have a six foot setback from adjoining lot lines.

The main building on this site is already at the maximum height allowed by the zoning code and fails to meet the side setback requirements at the third story.

The LeConte NA Board vigorously opposes ANY enlargement of the roof on the excessively large main building on this site, and requests that no living space be constructed above the third floor, that the roof be returned to its pre-existing dimensions, and that this matter be set for public hearing before the ZAB.

SEVENTH: Failure to comply with the purposes of the zoning code.

BMC section 23A.04.030 states:

The purposes of the Zoning Ordinance are to:

"B. Promote and protect the public health, safety, peace, morals, comfort and general welfare by regulating the location and use of land, buildings and structures for residential, commercial, manufacturing and other specified uses to encourage the more appropriate use of land and a compatible and harmonious relationship among land uses.

C. Provide for the appropriate intensity of development of land and buildings by regulating the establishment, density and change of uses and by regulating the construction of buildings and additions and the size and coverage of lots.

D. Provide for adequate light and air by limiting the height, bulk and size of buildings and requiring building yard setbacks from property lines as well as separations between buildings.

E. Provide for adequate usable open space, off-street parking and off-street loading spaces for specified land uses by requiring certain reservations of land and structures for such purposes, and by regulating the number, placement and location of such spaces and areas."

Clearly the project is NOT in compliance with the purposes of the zoning code. The public health has been and continues to be compromised by the asbestos contamination, the peace and comfort would be continuously disturbed by the addition of up to 38 residents in what was formerly a single family home, the project is not compatible and harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood consisting mostly of single family homes, it exceeds the appropriate intensity of development, the expansion of the roof would cause substantial harm to the surrounding properties by taking away light and air, and removing the single parking spot so that there will be ZERO parking spots to accommodate up to 38 residents is an insult to the requirement that adequate parking be provided for.

In sum the project seems to serve no one but the developer, with an unacceptable cost being forced upon the existing residents in the community. Therefore the LeConte NA Board again makes another request to have this project submitted to a public hearing before the ZAB to determine whether the project meets the purposes of the zoning code.

EIGHTH: Referral of Applications for AUPs to Board.

Section 23B.28.030 states as follows:

"If in the judgment of the Zoning Officer an application for an AUP has special neighborhood or community significance, he or she may schedule the matter for public hearing before the Board, in which case the Board shall review and act upon the application in the same manner as it acts upon other Use Permit applications. In such cases the applicant shall pay a fee for the public hearing, as set by Resolution of the Council."

It is the position of the LeConte NA Board that ALL of the matters stated above have special neighborhood and community significance and warrant a public hearing before the ZAB including those matters that the zoning officer may feel are discretionary. The significance to the community has been overwhelmingly demonstrated by the numerous discussions that have taken place among the members of several neighborhood associations. The numerous and extreme character of the violations this project brings to the BMC makes this project - unquestionably - one that should be presented to the ZAB.

NINTH: Necessity to re-evaluate the methods and procedures of the Planning Department.

The project at 2133 Parker Street is only one of many that have in recent years made their way through the Planning Department with clear and substantial violations of the BMC. The failure of the Planning Department to halt work on these projects or to stop work when violations are plainly evident has caused great harm to many Berkeley neighborhoods. Clearly there is a need for the planning department to review their methods and procedures and to take action to ensure that these types of errors do not occur again.

At this point we feel it is proper for the LeConte NA Board to request that the Planning Department inform us what steps will be taken to correct the flaws in your process.

          Karl Reeh, President, LeConte Neighborhood Association

(Neighborhood concerns)
Dear Mr. Powell,

My husband and I are living at 2119 Parker Street, Berkeley 94704.  I have owned our house for 55 years and we are both in our eighties.  Several months ago we noticed the gutting and construction at 2133 Parker.  We noticed that the house was taking every inch of the lot and there was no garage.  We were appalled to find out that this house will have 19 bedrooms and no parking.  This used to be a fairly quiet neighborhood but the idea of another slumlord renting that many bedrooms with no parking  means that people like us and our guests will have a harder time finding spaces to park.We find this an intolerable situation. How could the city let the construction go that far without noticing the illegalities of this building?  We will fight as hard as we can to prevent this to happen.

The irony is that in our case we have been forced to get a number of permits with strict requirements to get our over 100 year old brown shingle house retrofitted which would save the city a lot of money by preventing the house to collapse and creating a huge fire hazard. We have cooperated with the city in every possible way even though it has been expensive with long processing delays. We are both living on retired incomes but agree that the inspections have been warranted.  What we cannot understand, however, is that a group of developers can manipulate and lie to go that far in producing a giant dormitory which probably will be used for student housing. Some of the renters undoubtedly will have cars which will have to be parked somewhere.

Please place on your mailing list so we can be notified of any decision or change that will happen at 2133 Parker Street.  We are prepared to go to meetings and do everything we can to stop this idiotic and misleading use of a transformed residential house.


Dan and Andree Julian
2119 Parker Street
Berkeley 94704

Dear Mr. Powell:
I have lived at 2123 Parker Street for more than 20 years. I recently learned that the former duplex at 2133 Parker Street has been converted into a 3-unit building with 19 bedrooms. This building could be rented to more than 40 people! There is not a single off-street parking space for anyone. The previously existing garage has been replaced by another floor of 6 bedrooms. When everyone is home in the evening and weekends, there is often not a single parking space on this block. Does anyone want to see a house on their block changed into housing for 40 people with no provisions for parking a single car? How did our planning or building department allow this to go forward? I am almost ready to add 15 bedrooms to my house and move (but I probably wouldn't be allowed to)!
There is a website which clearly shows the pre-existing garage which was illegally removed.
I hope you and your department can address my concerns, and those of my neighbors as well.
Thank you.

Michael Chinn