Developers of 1900 Fourth St. to sue city of Berkeley over development process

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The developers of 1900 Fourth St., a site also known by many as the West Berkeley Shellmound, intend to sue the city of Berkeley if expedited development of their project is not approved.

The city of Berkeley issued a letter June 5 claiming that the proposal could not be approved because of the site’s pending status as a city landmark and that the proposal does not meet the requirements outlined in the Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee Ordinance.

West Berkeley Investors, the company proposing the development project, rebutted the city’s letter, stating that it will press charges against the city if the proposal is not approved by Sept. 4, which is 180 days after the proposal was first filed — the maximum amount of time permitted legally for the proposal to be pondered.

“The city has no ground on which it could legally refuse to meet its obligations under State law to do its part to help address California’s affordable housing crisis,” said Lauren Seaver, vice president of development for Blake Griggs Properties, a company partnered with West Berkeley Investors, in a press release.

West Berkeley Investors has cited SB 35 — a law that expedites the approval of development projects that guarantee 50 percent affordable housing — as evidence that the company is guaranteed approval.

1900 Fourth St. has been claimed as a sacred site by the Ohlone tribe for years. The United States federal government, however, does not formally recognize the tribe, which has led to complications with the Ohlone’s claim to the land.

Corrina Gould, an Ohlone activist and a co-creator of Indian People Organizing for Change, disputed the legitimacy of West Berkeley Investors’ claim that the land is not tribal property. She said it is “unfortunate” that the developers are still vying for approval to build on a “historic site.”

“The developer does not own the land. … (They) did an illegal dig without the permission of the Landmarks (Preservation) Commission and did not inform the city of Berkeley they were going go do that dig,” Gould said.

Seaver said that through extensive excavation, Blake Griggs Investments has proved the land is not a sacred site.

According to the city website on the Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee Ordinance, a construction proposal must have at least 20 percent of its units meeting the requirements to be considered affordable for the public, or else the developer must pay up to $37,000 per unit to bolster the affordable housing fund. The developers, however, claim 50 percent of their proposed units would be affordable.

“The project is not exempt from the Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee requirement because it does not provide 10% of the total units in the project at rental rates affordable to Very Low-Income Households,” said the city’s letter to West Berkeley Investors.

The city has nothing further to comment, according to city Planning Manager Steven Buckley.

“The City previously sent a letter to the developer with analysis of compliance with SB-35,” Buckley said in an email. “The applicant has now resubmitted more information, so we will be evaluating that in the coming weeks.”

Contact Jasmine Sheena at [email protected].