The city council is foreclosing for payment of $640,000 in liens on 2501 Haste Street. Photo:Frances Dinkelspiel

The Berkeley City Council last night voted unanimously to file for “non judicial foreclosure” on the long-vacant and desperately blighted lot on the corner of Telegraph and Haste.

The action means that property owner Ken Sarachan will have to pay off liens on the property or the site will be auctioned off at the Alameda County courthouse, with the proceeds used to pay the city and the remainder paid to Sarachan. With interest, the total liens come to $640,000.

“It’s like foreclosing on a mortgage,” said City Attorney Zach Cowan.

Sarachan, who also owns Rasputin Records, Blondie’s Pizza, the old Cody’s Building and the retail development at 2350 Telegraph, bought the Telegraph and Haste property in 1994. The city agreed to forgo the existing liens on the site if Sarachan developed it, setting an initial deadline in 2004. He also acquired the adjacent properties to the east and north of the site, raising hopes that an ambitious project could be developed on the site. But despite years of talks and what local Councilmember Kriss Worthington terms “not-quite-defined projects”, nothing concrete emerged.

“There’s been building frustration for a long time,” said Worthington. “There have been deadlines and new deadlines and new deadlines. I’ve wanted the city to have a strong position to force action to happen.”

In a letter to Mayor Tom Bates (PDF) and in a statement at the public comment session before last night’s closed meeting, Sarachan put the blame for the delays on the city’s planning department. He said he had a project ready but had been stymied by city staff. He concluded: “Tom, I am only one person. I would rather spend my energy and time finishing the remodeling of Cody’s Books and working on the revised plans for the Berkeley Inn Site.”

The non judicial foreclosure requires the property holder to clear the liens, not to submit a proposal for development of the site. But Worthington said that he hopes Sarachan is spurred to submit a full development proposal. “I think the city council would be enthusiastic,” he said. Worthington said the so-called A Team — a group of interested parties in the Telegraph district whose names all begin with “A” — have said they would lobby the council to approve a development by Sarachan if serious plans were submitted prior to the foreclosure. The “A Team” includes representation from the student government and local business owners.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...