Berkeley required to pay $44K in housing development lawsuit

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A lawsuit filed by the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation, or SFBARF, against Berkeley City Council has been settled in a five-to-one vote, allowing for three housing units to be built in West Berkeley.

City Council voted Tuesday to settle the lawsuit, which will provide the original developer with the zoning permit to proceed with his construction and will cover up to $44,000 in attorney fees. The lawsuit, filed October 2016, alleged that City Council violated California’s Housing Accountability Act, or HAA, by denying a housing development at 1310 Haskell St. despite an approved zoning permit.

The petition, planned and funded by California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, or CaRLA, was also filed by SFBARF founder Sonja Trauss and Diego Aguilar-Canabal.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington stated that the settlement means that the city will be able to “save money on legal fees.”

The lawsuit started when residents complained and fought against the proposed development of three units with two stories, stating that the project would not complement the neighborhood. In July 2016, City Council overturned the zoning adjustment board’s decision to allow construction, going against the HAA, which states that a city or county cannot deny any housing project that is in compliance with zoning ordinances without evidence of a negative impact on public health or safety.

According to SFBARF and CaRLA member Brian Hanlon, the lawsuit was filed “three times over three little tiny houses.” Hanlon reiterated that CaRLA was not hired by the developer to represent them in court, and only wanted to reinforce the housing law.

“The rent is too damn high. … People for decades have been fighting efforts to building new homes,” Hanlon said. “It drives up prices and displacement, increases racial and class segregation. … Unless folks rise up and start organizing and don’t let multi-millionaire citizens take their paychecks, the situation will continue. At the root of it, it’s a political problem that needs a political solution.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Councilmember Sophie Hahn, Councilmember Linda Maio and Zoning Adjustments Board member Igor Tregub all declined to comment.

Sunny Tsai covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @stsai_dc.