The owner of the building housing Saver's erected a fence last week to make passageway from the Strawberry stores into the parking lot more difficult. Photo: Julia Scheeres
The owner of the building housing Savers Thrift at 1414 University Ave. erected a fence last week to make passageway from the Strawberry Walk stores into the parking lot more difficult. Photo: Julia Scheeres

In the latest salvo in a long-running fight over the rights to a parking lot, the owner of a building at 1414 University Ave. has installed a fence between the Savers Thrift parking lot and a string of businesses known as Strawberry Walk.

Palo Alto’s Berkeley Bazaar Partnerships (BBP), owner of the building that houses Savers Thrift Store, installed the fence on May 1. BBP’s first attempt to install a fence on April 15 was thwarted when Cecile Isaacs, the owner of the Strawberry Walk complex, asked the contractor to produce a city work permit. The contractor did not have one, and left.

The new fence worries business owners, who fear it cuts off an easy means of escape during an emergency. If a fire erupted or an earthquake struck, people would have to walk through the fenced-in area to University Avenue rather than get outside easily through the parking lot.

“We feel a little trapped in here right now,” said Richard Taing, the owner of Dollar Depot on Strawberry Walk.

Taing says many of his elderly customers live at Strawberry Creek Lodge on Addison St. and used to be able to walk through the lot directly into his store at the north end of the complex. Now they have walk further to get around the fence.

Taing is trying to get Berkeley to come out and assess whether the fence was installed properly. He has collected about 25 signatures for an “Inspection for Illegal Construction” form, he said.  A police officer told him, though, that no city permit is needed if a fence is lower than six feet high.

The Berkeley Fire Department came out Wednesday to inspect the fence after someone who rents an office on Strawberry Walk complained she was having difficulty accessing her work space because she is on crutches, Taing said.

Business has dropped off every since BBP has been asserting its rights to the parking lot, he said.

The parking lot at 1414 University Ave. before the fence was installed. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
The parking lot at 1414 University Ave. before the fence was installed. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Customers of Strawberry Walk used to routinely park their cars in the lot that sits between 1414 University and 1432 University Ave. When Andronico’s grocery store shut down in late 2011, that arrangement ended. BBP filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court against Isaacs, contending the lot belonged to them alone.

Isaacs, who bought the Strawberry Walk building in 1994, thought that prescriptive easement — rights to a property due to continued use — granted Strawberry Walk the rights to the lot. A judge disagreed and said Strawberry Walk did not have a right to use the parking lot.

“The property has always been owned by Berkeley Bazaar Partners, and we never had an agreement with Strawberry Walk for parking or use of our lot,” BBP’s Joyce Yamagiwa said in October.

The battle heated up after that. BBP painted the spaces in the lot, declaring they were for Savers Thrift customers only. During construction, BBP put up a fence between the lot and Strawberry Creek stores, but the judge ordered the company to take it down during the legal battle.

Update 2 pm: City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who represents this section of town, sent an email this afternoon to City Manager Christine Daniel asking her to look into the construction of the fence.

“The fence does impede access to the disabled and emergency access out of the shops on Strawberry Walk,” wrote Arreguín. “Are there ADA or fire code issues here that would require that the fence be removed? There is no egress at all except I believe at the ends of the parking lot.”

“While I recognize that the owner of 1414 University Avenue has certain rights regarding the use of their property and the issue regarding shared use of the lot is a civil matter between both parties, I find this action fundamentally unfair to the customers of Strawberry Walk, many of whom are my constituents,” wrote Arreguín. “I don’t know whether this fence conforms to legal requirements but there seem to me to be ADA and egress issues and I hope the City can look more closely into this.”

Parking lot war heats up (04.16.14)
Excitement and concern mark opening of Savers Thrift (11.15.13)
Neighbors angry at parking restrictions at old Andronico’s (10.01.13)

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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...