City Council declares 17-bedroom residence public nuisance following neighborhood complaint

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FEBRUARY 02, 2012

The neighbors of 2133 Parker St. have finally gotten what they wanted.

The threestory, 17-bedroom residence currently houses 19 UC Berkeley students, much to the chagrin of neighborhood families who have been waging a months-long effort to get the students out.

“Our second day of living here, we were just moving things outside, and an elderly couple came up to us and … were asking very probing questions,” said Nicholas Hu, a UC Berkeley senior who lives at the Parker St. residence. “We were very sincere, but the conversation turned quickly, and they told us they didn’t want us here and didn’t want this property built in the first place.”

Following months of neighborhood conflict, Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday night to declare 2133 Parker St. a public nuisance and require that the landlord reduce the number of bedrooms to seven.

“Form and planning follows function,” said Councilmember Max Anderson at the meeting. “(The landlord) created a living arrangement that maximized students living there without taking into consideration impact on the neighborhood.”

According to Tuesday’s City Council recommendation, on Aug. 11, 2011 the city’s Zoning Adjustment Board determined that the residence exceeded the density allocations allowed in Berkeley zoning laws.

Section 23.D.32.020 of the Berkeley Municipal Code — which is referenced in the recommendation — says multiple-family residential districts like the one where the residence is located “permit only that intensity of use which will be compatible with existing low density residential structures and will not be detrimental to the immediate neighborhood.”

“This developer is skilled at finding ways to take advantage of and use every capacity of the zoning ordinance,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. “Limiting the amount of floor space ratio to bedrooms has never been done in Berkeley, so now we are trying to limit the construction to 5 or more bedrooms.”

Capitelli said that prior to the Tuesday meeting, the city’s residential density zoning laws only addressed lot coverage and square footage of the property, allowing any number of bedrooms to be built in the type of residential district where the property is located.

According to a Nov. 15 City Council resolution, “in February 2011, the City issued a building permit that permitted the completion of a 5-bedroom, 2-bath dwelling on the ground floor, a 5-bedroom, 2-bath dwelling on the second floor, and a 7-bedroom, 3-bath dwelling on the third floor.”

Karl Reeh, president of the LeConte Neighborhood Association, which published a blog post about the neighbors’ issues with the residence, said that though the current tenants have been issued noise violations that may have led to the public nuisance resolution, the crux of the issue is still that Eslami built 17 bedrooms without proper notification to surrounding neighbors.

“Since they moved in last fall, there was one major incident where police came, and there was partying … there may have been even 100 people,” Reeh said. “They got a second warning so they couldn’t have parties for three months — the neighbors were very upset.”

The issue, according to Eslami, begins and ends with “political bullying,” in which powerful members of the community have consistently been putting pressure on the city to change longstanding rules.

“There is a portrayal that I have done things illegally,” Eslami said. “We did everything by the book … we got the permit; we got occupancy cleared — if you go to the city attorney’s office, that speaks for itself.”

City Council proposed an amendment to the current residential density zoning laws Tuesday night that would make it so no more than 60 percent of floor space in Restricted Multiple-family Residential Districts can be designated to bedrooms.

Eslami said he plans to file a lawsuit against the city now that the property has been deemed a public nuisance, because the amendment involving the number of bedrooms did not apply to Eslami when he first began renovating the property.

Anjuli Sastry covers city government.

FEBRUARY 03, 2012