Sign in vacant Telegraph lot asks Mayor Bates for help in development process

Stephanie Baer/File

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Ken Sarachan and the city of Berkeley have been entangled in conflict for years over the vacant lot on the northeast corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, which Sarachan purchased in the 1990s.

On Monday, a large sign appeared on the lot, making this conflict a bit more visible to the public. The sign congratulates Mayor Tom Bates on his re-election and asks for his help with a building application it claims has been “stalled in the planning process for months.”

“We are asking for your help to get things moving!,” the sign, which is signed “Ken and Kirk,” reads.

The problem is, Kirk Peterson — the architect mentioned by name on the sign and employed by Sarachan to develop building plans for the vacant lot — said he was not involved with the sign going up at all.

“I had no knowledge of this,” Peterson said Tuesday.

Sarachan, who owns other Telegraph Avenue fixtures like Rasputin Music and Blondie’s Pizza, could not be reached for comment. It is unclear if it was Sarachan who put up the sign on his property, although he has said in the past that building plans he has submitted to the city for the lot have been delayed in the city planning department.

Sarachan purchased the site back in 1994. On condition of buying the lot, Sarachan took on a lien of more than $600,000, incurred when the city paid for the demolition and removal of the remains of the Berkeley Inn, which burned down more than 20 years ago. The city later agreed to waive the lien if Sarachan developed affordable housing on the site. Nothing has gone up since he purchased the lot.

Sarachan and the city are now in litigation as the city attempts to finally foreclose on the lien and collect the hundreds of thousands Sarachan owes.

Current plans for the lot have been submitted, which the city is processing, Peterson said. While the sign claims that the city is stalling, Peterson said the planning process for projects such as this is typically lengthy.

“These things take time,” he said.

Jaehak Yu is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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  • Guest

    Sarachan is a lying scumbag. The guy has purposely left that lot vacant for 20 years as a giant F U to Amoeba (which was started by former Rasputin employees), all the while falsely claiming that the city council is blocking legitimate efforts to develop the land. Same reason why he bought the Cody’s building (also across the street from Amoeba) and let it turn into a decrepit unused eyesore. He’s a vindictive dishonest pos.

  • Carol Denney

    Ken Sarachan has tried repeatedly to replace both the retail and housing on that lot, and the city council turned him down. It is unfair for this article not to mention that fact.

    • Guest

      LOL. Are you saying that he’s been trying to do that for the past 20+ years? Of course not, he’s a parasite.

      • Carol Denney

        Yes, I am saying that. His original proposal replaced all the former housing units, included retail, and was named after a local housing activist hero. Get the facts.

  • Boo

    Sarachan is all talk and no walk. He’s a parasite on the city. He’s just trying to shift blame with this Mickey Mouse maneuver — I mean, he doesn’t even ask his guy if it’s okay to use his name? Punk ass bitch.

    • Seems to me that the highest and best use of that property, and also the now-vacant parcel right across the street, would be high-density student housing. The most eco-friendly too, considering how many commutes that could save.

      I imagine dorms or small studios in medium-rise buildings on opposite sides of Telegraph, with a flying cafe above the avenue connecting the two. It would be different, but the view from the cafe, looking right down the centerline of the counterculture, would be really cool.

      • Furloughed Adjunct

        Good idea Paul. There are plenty of available retail opportunities on Telegraph. What is needed are customers for retail, so student housing and/or small studios make sense. Like you say, highest and best use of property is needed for owner to pay the taxes that are assessed against anything built there or not.

        • Very much agree. Local retail needs more customers more than it needs more storefronts, especially with an ever-higher portion of sales going online.

          Actually, even better than two connected student housing units on opposite sides of Telegraph (at Haste): Merge the properties into a single parcel, making all of Tele north of Haste pedestrian-only.

          This could only happen in our lifetimes if U.C. buys both parcels and gets the usual state entity pass on local zoning processes, and the city cooperates by giving up the avenue’s vehicle right-of-way. Of course this also cuts the City out of the property tax, but my guess is that students spend enough money locally to make up for that.

  • Doc

    Skip the demand for low income housing. Build anything that helps save poor Telegraph.

    • guest

      Affordable housing is not low income housing. Affordable housing in Berkeley usually means housing for people earning 60% or less of the area’s median income.That’s working people. And affordable does not mean cheap: it just means the rents are at the lower, not lowest, end of the rental housing market rates and a good deal for folks who are able to get an apartment. In affordable housing, at least one person in the household has to have a full time job,meaning the units can’t all be rented to full time students. Not low income, not sliding scale rent: the rents are fixed at market rates but at the low end of the market. Affordable housing can be a good deal but it is not low income housing.

      Affordable housing properties do tend to accept housing vouchers to pay the rent but even tenants with housing vouchers tend to have jobs — their jobs don’t pay enoug for them to be able to only pay 33% of their income for rent in this community. People who work for low wages in Berkeley should have decent affordable housing they can afford by paying 33% of their income — their job income.

      Afford is so NOT low income, Doc.

      • I_h8_disqus

        Prime Telegraph Ave property shouldn’t be restricted to affordable housing. It should be used to generate as much taxable revenue as possible. We can place affordable housing in areas that are not better suited for retail. How does the city planner/city manager not point this out?