Multiple readers got in touch with Berkeleyside on Friday night when they noticed what struck them as a bizarre occurrence: The late-night demolition of an apartment building near the UC Berkeley campus.
The 18-unit building, which used to stand at 2631 Durant Ave. west of College Avenue, has now been entirely removed by Peninsula Hauling. Scroll down to see videos taken Friday around 8:15 p.m. by Quirkeley’s Siciliana Trevino, and from Sunday evening once the work was nearly complete.
Several readers pointed out Friday that nothing had been done to mitigate dust; generally crews water down the area to do that. Saturday and Sunday, water could be seen on the ground.
Scroll down to read an update from the property owner. One person told Berkeleyside he was surprised to see the way the worksite was being managed Friday, noting the absence of “no parking” signs and a general lack of traffic control. “They don’t seem to have the sidewalks blocked off to pedestrians,” he said. “They also didn’t object to students walking onto the front of the property to take photos with their phones while the rear of a buildings was actively being demolished.” He continued: “Their dust mitigation was a guy with a leaf blower. Very hinky operation.” A representative of the hauling company told Berkeleyside on Saturday that the goal had been “to get out the way” before UC Berkeley’s spring semester begins Monday. He also said the hours had been picked to avoid too much scrutiny related to air quality or environmental inspectors.
Demolishing apartments next to old BAMPFA on Durant + College #Berkeley pic.twitter.com/Uk9Tx0iWGL — Siciliana Trevino (@iSiciliana) January 14, 2017
@berkeleyside pic.twitter.com/2jn3yxfQvt — #Berkeley (@Quirkeley) January 16, 2017
@berkeleyside pic.twitter.com/Bu3gligDwa — #Berkeley (@Quirkeley) January 16, 2017
OPHCA, the property owner, could not be reached for comment. (Update, Jan. 16, 7 a.m.: Scroll down to see comments from Orloff.) City attorney Zach Cowan said the city issued a demolition permit for the work.
The property has been somewhat of a battleground for former tenants, rent control advocates and the property owner, who sued the city last year over demolition fees. That case is ongoing.
The city’s zoning board approved plans in 2015 for a project demolition and rebuild, but multiple appeals were filed, including by property owner Cliff Orloff, who took issue with the city’s conditions related to the permits and property.
Orloff has said he plans to build a new 5-story, 56-unit residential building with 40 studios and 16 2-bedroom units. The project was designed by Stanley Saitowitz of San Francisco-based Natoma Architects. See project documents on the city website.
Jan. 16, 7 a.m. Berkeleyside reached Orloff by email late Sunday. He said, initially, demolition had been slated to happen later in the month but last week, on Thursday, the city issued a blight notice for the property. The notice included three days “to abate the problems with squatters breaching the building, graffiti, etc.”
Orloff said, when he went to the site Friday, “a squatter had used a portable saw to breach the plywood boards covering the building. The squatter was aggressive and when he refused to leave, he was arrested by the police for trespassing.”
Orloff said there have been many times he’s had to call police to remove squatters from the site, but that this was the first time an arrest was made.
Orloff said he realized Friday he would not be able to address the blight “except to remove the source of the problem, so I prevailed on my demo contractor to remove this blight before the start of City business on Tuesday so I would not be in violation and subject to very stiff fines each day the blight continued.”
Orloff said he was on site most of Saturday and that the crew had a water truck and was spraying down the dust. He said a traffic manager was there, too, and that almost 20 Peninsula Hauling staff worked together “in a well choreographed effort to make our deadline. This is a reputable and professional contractor, it could not be accomplished by an amateur.”