Sign in vacant Telegraph lot asks Mayor Bates for help in development process

Stephanie Baer/File

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Ken Sarachan and the city of Berkeley have been entangled in conflict for years over the vacant lot on the northeast corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, which Sarachan purchased in the 1990s.

On Monday, a large sign appeared on the lot, making this conflict a bit more visible to the public. The sign congratulates Mayor Tom Bates on his re-election and asks for his help with a building application it claims has been “stalled in the planning process for months.”

“We are asking for your help to get things moving!,” the sign, which is signed “Ken and Kirk,” reads.

The problem is, Kirk Peterson — the architect mentioned by name on the sign and employed by Sarachan to develop building plans for the vacant lot — said he was not involved with the sign going up at all.

“I had no knowledge of this,” Peterson said Tuesday.

Sarachan, who owns other Telegraph Avenue fixtures like Rasputin Music and Blondie’s Pizza, could not be reached for comment. It is unclear if it was Sarachan who put up the sign on his property, although he has said in the past that building plans he has submitted to the city for the lot have been delayed in the city planning department.

Sarachan purchased the site back in 1994. On condition of buying the lot, Sarachan took on a lien of more than $600,000, incurred when the city paid for the demolition and removal of the remains of the Berkeley Inn, which burned down more than 20 years ago. The city later agreed to waive the lien if Sarachan developed affordable housing on the site. Nothing has gone up since he purchased the lot.

Sarachan and the city are now in litigation as the city attempts to finally foreclose on the lien and collect the hundreds of thousands Sarachan owes.

Current plans for the lot have been submitted, which the city is processing, Peterson said. While the sign claims that the city is stalling, Peterson said the planning process for projects such as this is typically lengthy.

“These things take time,” he said.

Jaehak Yu is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected]