The North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library recently reopened after a $5.9 million remodel. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The woman who was the only named member of the group in a citizen’s lawsuit against Berkeley’s use of library bond funds has filed a number of lawsuits against her critics.

Judith Epstein, who is part of Concerned Library Users, has filed suits in the Alameda County small claims court against Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore, Pacific Union International, and Julie Nachtwey, a realtor for Pacific Union, according to court documents. The suits all claim that Epstein’s reputation was sullied because of comments the defendants made. Epstein asked for as much as $10,000 in damages, according to court documents.

“Moore made the following false and defamatory statement to the Berkeley Times about those of us who were suing the city of Berkeley over the illegal use of library funds,” Epstein wrote in a declaration to the court. “This placed me in a false light before the public. It was part of a campaign of harassment, bullying, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress with the purpose of trying to get us to drop the lawsuit.”

The comment Moore made that Epstein refers to is: “If you look at the composition of those people suing the city, it becomes very clear that there is a strong racial element.”

An Alameda County Court judge is scheduled to hear the lawsuit on October 9.

Moore declined to comment on the matter.

Epstein’s lawsuits against Pacific Union and Nachtwey were dismissed on April 6. A judge ruled that Epstein was not entitled to collect any damages as a result of an email Nachtwey sent from her Pacific Union computer to friends and colleagues.

Nachtwey’s email discussed the Concerned Library Users’ lawsuit and said “a handful of obstructionists want to KILL THESE projects.”

Concerned Library Users, which says in court documents it is a group of about 35 people, filed a lawsuit in September 2010 against Berkeley to stop the demolition and rebuilding of the south and west branches of the public library. CLU said that the $26 million Measure FF bond fund to redo the city’s four branch libraries only permitted the remodeling, not the tearing down, of the branches. CLU urged the city to remodel the two branches, even hiring architect Todd Jersey to come up with plans for the West Branch, originally built in 1923.

The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library is currently undergoing demolition. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Library officials said Jersey’s plans would be too expensive and there was no viable way to preserve the South branch library. They pushed instead for two new structures.

New Libraries Now, a group that was formed to counter the argument against CLU, sponsored a rally outside City Hall in April 2011 to support completely rebuilding the two branches. Members of the group, which included city councilmembers Darryl Moore, Max Anderson and Linda Maio, pointed out that those buildings were in sections of town with large African-American populations and intimated there was some racial prejudice behind the lawsuit.

Berkeley and CLU settled the lawsuit in Sept. 2011. The City Council voted to pay $100,000 into a fund to preserve historic buildings in Berkeley’s south and west neighborhoods.

Before that, in December 2010, the city and CLU reached a partial settlement of the lawsuit when the city agreed to repeal an ordinance that only required the libraries to get a use permit, rather than a variance, when remodeling the branches. CLU had contended the city needed to do an EIR to pass that new law. The city agreed to the settlement.

Berkeley also paid $24,000 in legal fees to Susan Brandt-Hawley, the attorney for CLU.

Epstein, who opposed the library’s use of electronic RFID devices on books, has participated in other lawsuits to stop projects in the past, most notably one against the city and commercial realtor John Gordon.

A group called the Elmwood Neighborhood Associations, of which Epstein was a member, filed a lawsuit against Gordon and Berkeley to stop a large restaurant from going into the old Wright’s Garage building on Ashby Avenue at College Avenue. The group contended that the city did not put the project through the proper environmental review before issuing a permit. The lawsuit was settled and Gordon let his restaurant use permit lapse.

Berkeley settles contentious library lawsuit [09.06.11]
$1 million for branch libraries; lawsuit pending [12-1-10]
Berkeley reaches partial settlement with library critics [12-15-10]
Debate on future of two city libraries sparks concerns [4-14-11]
Rally planned to bring attention to library lawsuit [4-25-11]
Berkelyans rally to move forward on library renovations [4-27-11]
Library architect apologizes to Berkeley [6-22-11]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...