Housing contract negotiations between La Quinta Inn, city of Berkeley result in termination

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Clashes over a contract between the city of Berkeley and La Quinta Inn led to its termination Thursday, ending the hotel’s potential of providing rooms for the city’s homeless community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

La Quinta Inn was to provide 113 beds at its 920 University Ave. location to homeless individuals as part of the city’s effort to provide a safe environment that enables proper social distancing measures during the pandemic.

“This was a very disappointing development considering how much time the County and the City had put into making it work,” said city of Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko in an email. “Ultimately, it was the right decision for our clients, our staffs and the community.”

On April 27, hotel owner Peter Khatri emailed Alameda County expressing concerns over the deal, and negotiations began to break down, according to the termination letter sent Thursday from the county to Khatri. The letter alleges that Alameda County staff and city of Berkeley representatives were refused access to various areas when they attempted to visit the hotel two days later.

Khatri denied this claim, however, and said his manager allowed the employees full access to areas of the hotel.

The county’s letter also alleges that five female Alameda County staff and city representatives visited the hotel again Thursday but were told they would not be able to use specific areas, including a breakfast room.

Additionally, the letter alleges that Khatri took one of the staff members to a separate room and refused the other members access when they became uncomfortable. Khatri stated in a letter to the county, however, that while he did meet with one of the employees separately to discuss the use of the breakfast room, the door remained open and both parties consented to the encounter.

The county’s letter further alleges that later, Khatri also refused to email a female county employee on account of her gender and insisted on only speaking with male county employees.

Khatri denied these claims as well.

“I am very offended by your statement that I have engaged in sexism against any of the county employees or representatives that I had dealings with,” Khatri said in his letter. “I work with many women in my business and this is the first time anyone has made this allegation. … To the extent anyone believed that I was being sexist, that was not my intent and I have already apologized if any comment I made was perceived in that manner.”

According to Chakko, the city was prepared to move residents of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project shelter to the hotel, with city staff ready to provide medical intakes and wellness checks. Forty-eight residents had been tested for COVID-19 and were to be moved in by Friday, Chakko added.

Now, the city has to rely on other accommodations, which include 18 trailers, a four-unit house owned by the city and county-run hotels in Oakland, according to Chakko.

“I am deeply disappointed that the agreement to accommodate unhoused individuals at La Quinta Inn has broken down,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in an email. “I remain committed to continuing our efforts to ensure the health and safety of our most vulnerable members of the community during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.