‘Sunlight never gets a fair hearing’: Berkeley residents fight zoning decisions

Vivian Roan/Staff

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In the span of four hours, Berkeley City Council heard presentations regarding three separate development proposals, during which one developer was accused of evading permit fees, one Berkeley resident presented on the value of sunlight and another developer complained of libel and “bamboo trespassing.”

During Tuesday evening’s special meeting, the council heard a variety of complaints, as the three housing permit applicants clashed with other community members and the council over appeals for building permits.

Listed on the official meeting agenda were three appeals regarding decisions by the Zoning Adjustments Board, or ZAB, on three different housing permits. ZAB had approved housing permits for two of the applicants and denied the third — City Council convened Tuesday night to hear the appeals to all three decisions.

Back to ZAB: 1436 Campus Drive

Nga Pham and Maxim Noginov were among the property owners who appeared in hopes of overturning the decision to deny them permits for a proposed house on their lot, 1436 Campus Drive After hearing from all parties, the city decided to return the case back to ZAB for reconsideration.

During public comment, neighbors of Pham and Noginov’s property raised concerns regarding privacy and traffic — some pointed out their concern that the proposed house would be used as a short-term rental or Airbnb instead of a single-family residence. To add to the drama of the night, Pham and Noginov’s neighbor Fred Schlachter — who spoke during public comment against the development — said the couple is suing him for libel and “bamboo trespassing,” which was confirmed to be true.

Pham said the city has not done its “due diligence” in assessing the validity of these claims made by neighbors. The two added that the ZAB codes and guidelines were unclear, which they alleged is why their application was denied. Pham also expressed that she believed that the city and neighbors were racially profiling them.

Back to ZAB: 1446 Fifth St.

Berkeley residents also spoke out against the approved development of four family homes on 1446 Fifth St., asking the council to refer the case back to ZAB for reassessment.

City council members, including Sophie Hahn, alleged that the developers were attempting to avoid an additional fee required for condominiums, so the council supported the appeal and voted to send the approved application back to ZAB for reconsideration.

Approved for construction: 2334 Jefferson Ave.

For the sake of his home’s sunlight exposure, Berkeley resident David Ushijima filed the appeal in order to prevent his next-door neighbor from adding 5.5 feet in height to her house. Ushijima presented a powerpoint of pictures to the council and alleged that the height increase would block direct sunlight from entering his house.

Despite Ushijima’s complaints, the City Council decided to affirm the ZAB’s decision, allowing neighbor Hilla Abel and her husband to go forward with their expansion plans.

“Sunlight is actually more important than view when it comes to comfort in your home,” Ushijima said. “Sunlight never gets a fair hearing.”

Sophia Brown-Heidenreich covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.