KPFA HQ in Berkeley. Photo: Siciliana Trevino
KPFA’s future is less hazy than it was last week, due to a loan offered to its parent company. Photo: Siciliana Trevino

Update, April 10, 2:35 p.m. Pacifica, which owns Berkeley’s KPFA, has reached a settlement with Empire State Realty Trust, the radio network announced Friday.

Pacifica did not reveal the settlement amount, but said, in a press release, that the agreement relieves the network of $1.8 million in back rent and fees owed to the owner of the Empire State Building, and releases station WBAI from the final two years of its lease there. Pacifica plans to move the New York station to a new transmission facility.

The settlement is good news for KPFA and the other Pacifica stations, which were all named in the Empire State Realty Trust lawsuit. The real estate company could have seized any of the stations’ assets, though Pacifica secured a loan that bought the network some time at the eleventh hour.

Update, Jan. 12: The Pacifica National Board voted to accept an approximately $2 million loan from supporters of the radio network Thursday night, according to outgoing interim director Bill Crosier. The loan, which must be paid back within a year, should allow the network to pay off its debt to real estate company Empire Realty Trust and keep its stations on air while Pacifica continues to seek out a longer-term loan. There is still a small issue that has to be worked out with Empire Realty Trust, Crosier said.

The board also named Pacifica’s new interim director, Tom Livingston of Livingston Associates, described online as a public media search firm. The firm will work to find a permanent director in the next few months, said Crosier, who had volunteered for the position with the understanding that a successor would soon be appointed.

Original story, Jan. 10: Supporters of the Pacifica Foundation, which owns Berkeley’s KPFA station, have offered the radio network a $2 million loan, likely averting an immediate financial crisis that threatened to take some stations off the air.

Pacifica’s interim director, Bill Crosier, said the network has received “verbal commitments,” but no details in writing yet, from supporters of KPFK, Pacifica’s Los Angeles station, offering a short-term loan. Crosier said the Pacifica National Board expects to receive loan documents and vote on approving the loan within the next week or so.

Some members of KPFA, Berkeley’s longstanding listener-supported, progressive radio station, feared doomsday when a judge ruled in favor of a New York real estate company looking to collect close to $2 million in back rent and fees from Pacifica. New York station WBAI has long been unable to pay its rent to the Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT), which owns the Empire State Building, where WBAI’s transmitter is located. Since 2005, the station’s lease has included a 9% annual increase. According to KPFA board members, the director who signed that lease is no longer alive.

The fall 2016 judgement allows ESRT to seize Pacifica’s assets, if the $2 million is not paid off. The California stations are vulnerable, since the company filed its lawsuit in all the states where Pacifica operates. Monday was the first day ESRT could take action against KPFA and KPFK, after a mandatory waiting period concluded.

Crosier, who said he was speaking for himself, not on behalf of Pacifica, said it’s doubtful ESRT will act now, since the company knows the loan is likely to come through this week. If ESRT did begin seizing assets, the network would immediately file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which would halt the collection anyway, Crosier said.

The interim executive director is among some national board members — as well as the majority of KPFA’s local board — who have wanted Pacifica to file for bankruptcy for a while, to buy the network more time to restructure and pay off its ESRT debt, as well as the millions more in debt the network owes. The majority of the national board, however, believes such drastic measures not needed, and voted last week to pursue a loan instead.

Crosier said the KPFK supporter offer will likely be a three-month loan, intended to provide immediate relief so Pacifica can pay ESRT.

“But we still have to worry about the longer-term issues,” he said.

Pacifica has a loan broker looking at potential lenders for a longer-term loan. But Crosier is concerned the network won’t be able to procure anything with decent terms, due to its debt.

Pacifica board members also have a history of infighting and disagreement, credited by many on KPFA’s local board with the length of time it took the network to decide how to address the ESRT issue. New national board members are selected each year.

Despite the ongoing financial crisis at Pacifica, KPFA listeners might be able to breathe a sigh of relief once the ESRT judgement is paid. The station itself is financially healthy, and doing better than it has in years, according to its management and staff.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...