Several animal rights groups came to Berkeley City Hall to protest a city eviction notice issued last month to the Berkeley Animal Rights Center, or ARC.
Dozens of people stood on the steps of City Hall holding signs that read “Respect free speech” and “Keep Berkeley progressive” while speakers expressed disagreement with the city’s decision. ARC alleged that the eviction notice is a political effort to shut down the center because of its connection to animal rights activism.
“The City’s interest is that tenants comply with lease terms,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko of the eviction notice in an email. “Whether a tenant is willing to comply with its lease terms is up to that tenant.”
Chakko did not comment on specific allegations against the city in his email.
But Argie Hill, a fourth-year UC Berkeley student and ARC press representative, alleged that the city issued the eviction notice in retaliation against ARC for the actions of its affiliates, such as a recent protest by Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights group that works with the center, at Chez Panisse.
“We should have the right to say (animal abuse is) not okay,” Hill said.
Hill said the city’s actions surprised them because they thought they were on good terms with the city. He claimed that although ARC has worked to meet all the demands laid out in the notice, the city is allegedly still pushing for eviction.
Hill alleged that the city is targeting them specifically and said ARC was cited by the city for its use of lockboxes, even though other tenants in the area were not.
For ARC, the protest is not simply about the eviction but also against the disenfranchisement they feel they are facing from a city they say is refusing to communicate with them, according to Hill.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who attended the protest and spoke at the event, said he was surprised by the severity of the city’s response as well as its use of the outside law firm, Burke, Williams, & Sorensen, LLP.
“Normally in real estate situations you ask people questions before you make accusations,” Worthington said. “This outside attorney letter states all these (violations) as facts instead of allegations. … The letter is full of unsubstantiated accusations.”
Worthington added that he has asked the city for a report as to why it took this approach in its action toward ARC.
“We want to work with the city,” Hill said. “We want the city … to continue communication with the ARC.”