Demolition crews were preparing the site of 2441 Haste for partial demolition on Monday afternoon. Photo: Tracey Taylor

As demolition crews prepared to partially demolish the fire-ravaged building at 2441 Haste Street Monday afternoon, a group of former tenants of the building were planning to meet this evening to discuss securing settlements from the building’s owners and fixing damage from a fire which, they say, could have been prevented.

The demolition work will likely begin in earnest Tuesday. On Monday crews were doing the groundwork in advance of tearing parts of the structure down, including shoring up nearby retail spaces, putting protective matting on the sidewalks and removing parking meters.

Vehicle and pedestrian traffic is still restricted around the Telegraph-Haste intersection because of the danger posed by the unstable building, although cars can now take a left turn onto Telegraph if driving west on Haste.

The owners of the Sequoia Building, Kenneth and Greg Ent, were issued a permit last week to partially demolish the building, according to Berkeley’s transportation manager Farid Javandal. The plan is to take the structure down to 29.5 feet and brace the lower stories of the building with support beams. It will then be possible to create a pedestrian tunnel and open the streets to traffic again, said Javandal.

Damage is clearly evident on the Haste Street façade of the building which is deemed structurally unsafe

A group of former tenants, led by Katherine Kim and Hooman Shahrokhi, has expressed frustration with what they perceive to be poor communication from the Ent family. They also claim the owners were negligent in maintaining the building.

The group believes the results of the investigation into the cause of the fire should be released before any demolition work commences. They say they have been given no access to the building to salvage any of their belongings, while the landlords have. The fire investigation is ongoing, and investigators have been onsite, working with the contractor on getting access to parts of the building.

“We have seen the owners go into the building to retrieve cases of wine and paintings and we are concerned they may be tampering with evidence,” said Shahrokhi who lived in Apartment 45 with his roommate Milad Yasdanpanah who resided in the building for 13 years.

Shahrokhi said that, in 2006, he won a lawsuit against the landlord for electrical problems that caused a fire and damaged his laptop. “But the electrical problem was never fixed. With this kind of history, there needs to be a thorough and complete investigation before there is any kind of demolition happening,” he writes in a press release announcing Monday’s meeting.

There was also a fire in the same building on February 22nd of this year.

The five-alarm fire which began on November 18th, the biggest the city has seen since the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm, gutted the 1916 Sequoia Building and left 68 official residents homeless. There were no injuries or fatalities.

The tenants’ meeting is at 7:00 pm tonight at Wheeler Hall on the Cal campus. Councilmember Kriss Worthington, as well as representatives from the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, East Bay Community Law Center and Private Law Firms also planned to be in attendance.

Shop Telegraph: Help area recover from fire say officials [11.25.11]
The Sequoia Building: At heart of Berkeley’s rich heritage [11.23.11]
End of the road for an historic building? [11.22.11]
Friday’s fire “another hit in the face” for Telegraph Avenue [11.21.11]
“Largest fire since 1991″ leaves many locals homeless [11.19.11]
Devastating fire in apartment building, Haste at Telegraph [11.19.11]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...