City drops eviction notice issued to Berkeley Animal Rights Center

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The city of Berkeley has dropped its attempts to evict the Berkeley Animal Rights Center, or ARC, from its current location, amending the lease to allow it to utilize its premises for exercise and other team-building activities.

The eviction notice, which was initially issued Sept. 30, 2016, was proposed by the city on the basis that ARC was breaking its lease by using the premises as a meeting location and event space instead of just as a retail and office space. The efforts to evict ARC were dropped this past week after Councilmember Kriss Worthington proposed an item to amend the organization’s lease to allow for these activities.

Zach Groff, a volunteer at ARC and spokesperson for animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, alleged that the eviction notice from the city was likely politically motivated, due to recent protests by animal rights groups.

Groff added that he does not know exactly what the political motivation would have been, but alleged that it may have been influenced by the growth of animal rights as a political force in Berkeley.

Groff said none of the reasons listed in the eviction notice were about practices that significantly affected tenants and landlords. Worthington added that he believed the grounds for the eviction notice were not satisfactory.

“It was one of the most bizarre things that I have ever seen,” Worthington said. “(ARC) was accused of violating their lease. … I read their lease very closely, and I didn’t think they were violations, but somebody somewhere interpreted it that way.”

Worthington alleged that, from his reading of the city’s zoning ordinance, he believed ARC was not explicitly barred from the activities that were considered violations of their lease. Worthington said the proposed amendment of the lease will make it clear that the city is aware of the center’s use of its space for exercise-related activities.

Exercise and meditation activities are standard operating procedures for nonprofits in the modern world, according to Worthington. The first reading of the item passed unanimously on the consent calendar.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email that the city is legally obligated to protect its property by ensuring that tenants abide by lease agreements. He added that the city was open to revising some terms of the agreement, and that the amended lease reflects these changes.

The amended lease permits film screenings, trainings, volunteer recruitment and appreciation parties, as well as team-building activities, such as exercise and meditation.

“We feel energized and excited that the city of Berkeley, Berkeley residents, Berkeley officials … all came around to recognize free speech,” Groff said.

Contact Ishira Shrivatsa at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @i_shrivatsa.