City Council unanimously votes to foreclose on vacant Telegraph lot

Berkeley City Council voted eight to zero in a closed session Tuesday night to initiate a nearly $641,000 foreclosure on a Southside lot that has been vacant for more than 20 years.

After years of hearing complaints about rats, noise and trash accumulating in and around the lot — located at 2501 Haste St. on the corner of Telegraph Avenue — the council held a special meeting to decide whether to seek litigation against the owner of the lot, local business owner Ken Sarachan.

Sarachan, who owns several Telegraph businesses — including Rasputin Music and the building across the street that once housed Cody’s Books — addressed the council during the public comment period prior to the closed session. He also submitted a personal letter addressed to Mayor Tom Bates voicing his frustration with the city.

“If I have to defend myself in court, it will be a great effort,” Sarachan said at the meeting. “I would rather work on rebuilding Cody’s.”

Sarachan cited the city’s inability to communicate what is required of him as the reason for the delay in developing the lot. City staff hold that much of the delay has been caused by Sarachan, according to Wendy Cosin, interim planning director for the city.

“We’ve reached the end of the line,” Bates said in an interview after the meeting. “We’ve given Mr. Sarachan every opportunity to move forward, but he hasn’t for various reasons … we hope we can work it all out.”

The total amount of the foreclosure on the lot is $640,957.39. This includes the $503,034 deed of trust for the property, as well as a nuisance abatement charge of $137,923.39.

“Hopefully this will scare him into doing what he needs to do,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington in an interview after the meeting. “Or it could just make him angry.”

Shortly after the Berkeley Inn, which had occupied the lot for more than 80 years, burned down in 1990 and was subsequently demolished at the city’s expense, the nonprofit Resources for Community Development tried to partner with the city to buy the property.

RCD and the city intended to turn the space into an affordable housing unit with retail space for Amoeba Music beneath, but when the nonprofit’s option to buy expired, Sarachan bought the property for $800,000 — a move that many saw as intending to thwart the expansion of Amoeba, which is located across the street from the lot.

Sarachan was told that the city would waive the lien attached to the property — incurred when the city was forced to demolish the ruins of the Berkeley Inn after it burned down — under the conditions that he build affordable housing and a public toilet on the site, according to Worthington.

“We thought that would be enough incentive to get something accomplished, but many years later there’s still nothing there,” Worthington said.

Although Sarachan could not be reached for comment after the council voted, he wrote in his letter to Mayor Bates that he would “spend all the resources necessary to provide a maximum defense of the contract in court.”

For many community members and businesses along Telegraph, the city’s decision is welcomed but long overdue.

“I suspect it will be a while before we see anything happening (at the lot), but I’m thrilled that a coalition finally got together to get something done,” said Amoeba Music owner Marc Weinstein. “I think it’s going to be good for everybody, including the property owner.”

“I suspect it will be a while before we see anything happening (at the lot), but I’m thrilled that a coalition finally got together to get something done,” said Amoeba Music owner Marc Weinstein. “I think it’s going to be good for everybody, including the property owner.”

Adelyn Baxter covers city government.