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Wrongful termination

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FEBRUARY 07, 2012

Just because something upsets you doesn’t make it wrong. Unless, of course, members of Berkeley City Council agree, as they did with the neighbors of 2133 Parker St. in their Jan. 31 decision to declare the 17-bedroom, student-occupied building a public nuisance after the city previously allowed its expansion and conversion.

In justifying its decision — which also ordered building owner Ali Eslami to reduce the number of bedrooms to five — the council cited an August 2011 Zoning Adjustment Board decision that determined the house to be in violation of residential density limits because it is “detrimental to the immediate neighborhood.” But surely a building will negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood if those residents who make up the community are locked in a mindset that condemned the structure long before anybody moved in.

More than that, the city cannot grant permits that expressly allow developers to proceed one way and then use the municipal code to disallow them later — the rules were the same during the permitting process as they are today.

And now the results of one neighborhood’s complaints could set a concerning precedent for the entire city. By caving to neighborhood politics and punishing one owner and his tenants, the council has invited others to do the same in the future.

Already, the council has proposed changes to its zoning laws in response to this situation, which would limit the amount of floor space that can be allocated to bedrooms. If the city needs to change its rules to make sure a building like 2133 Parker isn’t allowed, then the council’s justification for declaring Eslami’s building a nuisance is flawed.

Regardless of whether the municipal code changes proposed last Tuesday go into effect, leaving the window open for angry neighbors to band together, present a case to the City Council and prompt the uneven enforcement of housing density rules is both alarming and unacceptable. That is not how the law is supposed to work and must not become the norm.


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FEBRUARY 07, 2012