After 20 years of allowing the vacant lot on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street to sit idly — collecting trash, attracting rodents and becoming an eyesore on Southside — the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to foreclose the property. It’s about time.
We are glad that the city has finally taken action, but officials should have intervened much sooner. Likewise, the owner should not have let the property become so disgustingly neglected. Not only did this create a virtual dump on Telegraph, but it also prevented others from developing the lot.
The lot was originally home to the Berkeley Inn, but fires destroyed the building over 20 years ago. Telegraph business owner Ken Sarachan later bought the building under an agreement that the city would waive the lien attached to the property if he built affordable housing and a public toilet. That never happened.
Sarachan blamed his delay in development on the city’s inability to communicate what is required of him. But because he did not take initiative, he left the lot to languish for too long. Students have walked past this property for years, marveling at its contrast with the otherwise dense and active Telegraph business district. The lot has tremendous potential but has instead degraded into a run-down patch of grass.
The city played a part in allowing for this waste of land. While Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district includes the lot, has recently taken steps to address the issue, we don’t understand why he allowed the property to remain in such a dilapidated state since he was first elected to the council in 1996.
We urge the city to make real progress as soon as possible. We recognize that a litigation process could be lengthy, but the time and effort would be worth the cost.
In deciding how to develop the land, officials should consider the original intent to use the land for affordable housing, but they should also be open to other productive and effective options. After all, 20 years have passed since initial plans were made. A public forum could gauge what the community currently wants and needs, and we urge students to contact their council member to express their priorities.
Above all, we want to see the property contribute to Southside’s vibrant atmosphere.