Mobility Systems might have to relocate because Warehman Development needs the space as a parking lot for a Kaiser office building. Photo: Tony Hicks

One would think William Fryckman would be happy that Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board last month denied Wareham Development’s application to raze his business for a future Kaiser parking lot.

But the owner of Mobility Systems at 1010 Carleton St., a former chief of staff for two California state assemblymen, knows local politics well enough to know his battle isn’t over.

“I have zero confidence that I will be operating at this facility at the end of the year,” said Fryckman, who has specialized in converting vehicles for disabled drivers since 1989.

Fryckman’s landlord, Wareham Development, wants to raze the business as part of its plan to build a 61,000-square-foot medical building at Parker and 10th streets. The facility, designed for Kaiser Permanente, would include adult family medical services, pediatrics, a pharmacy, mental health care, and other outpatient services. It will create 135 new jobs, according to Wareham.

In December, the city council approved a zoning change that converted part of the parcel from MULI, or mixed-use light industrial, to C-M, or commercial. That change was needed, Wareham officials told council members, to make the project feasible.

The proposed Kaiser Permanente medical office building: Aerial view from San Pablo. Image: Gould Evans

Wareham will include 115 parking spots for patients, as well as 46 bicycle spots, on site. It also planned to provide staff parking for 123 cars on the Pardee Block, bounded by Ninth and Tenth streets and Carleton and Pardee streets. That entails tearing down eight one-story buildings on the block, including the one housing Mobility Systems.

ZAB denied the request to demolish the buildings. Some commissioners expressed concern that converting a parcel that now houses businesses to a parking lot is not the best use of land in West Berkeley. Despite denying Wareham a place for a parking lot, ZAB also told the developer it still had to comply with the city of Berkeley’s parking requirements in order to get its use permit for the medical complex.

Wareham Development has appealed ZAB’s Jan. 24 decision. The City Council will hear the appeal on April 30.

“The detriment of removing eight old single-story industrial and storage structures at the Pardee Block, which are at or beyond their useful life, is far exceeded by the benefit to be gained by the addition of a medical office facility at 2621 Tenth Street,” Christopher Barlow, the project developer for Wareham, wrote in Wareham’s appeal.

Wareham had long warned tenants they would have to eventually move

Barlow told the City Council in December that all the tenants have known for a long time that they would have to move. A request by City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf prompted Barlow to offer to extend the tenants’ leases even longer, to Oct. 31.

One tenant, Titan Commercial Wraps, which places plastic advertising wraps on commercial vehicles, told council members that it was not aware of the time constraints. That company’s lease expires on March 31, 2020.

The sign outside Berkeley Smog. Photo: Tony Hicks

One of the previous four tenants on the site, Berkeley Smog Only Test Center, has already moved four blocks away, to San Pablo Avenue, according to a sign left on the building. Another of Fryckman’s neighbors, automotive repair shop SAAB Replay, is also planning to clear out. The business has not yet found a new space.

“We just don’t know yet,” said SAAB manager Andy Roche. “They already sent us a notice saying we had to move in 120 days.”

Like Fryckman, Roche said he doesn’t have much faith in the permanence of the zoning board’s decision. “(Wareham) is going to get it,” he said. “The people with all the money get what they want. Wareham has so much power. We don’t have power. They have the tax money.”

Wareham is one of the larger developers in Berkeley and has built or remodeled numerous building for scientific uses around the city. It is also a generous donor to numerous civic causes. So is Kaiser Permanente, which just donated $150,000 to Berkeley’s new homeless navigation center on Second Street, the Pathways/STAIR project.

Fryckman, who worked for North Bay assemblymen John Dunlap and Alfred Siegler during the ‘70s, said he’s been trying to relocate for two years. He said the city wants to get rid of “greasy fingers” businesses from the area around San Pablo Avenue.

“They don’t think it presents well,” he said, indicating the work area outside the waiting room in which he sits.

Fryckman, who has four employees, said he leased another location in Berkeley, where he sold scooters, but use restrictions kept his auto modification work back on Carleton Street. Now he’s back to one location and looking to move by October.

“I’m really concerned that we have to move out of Berkeley,” said the 71-year-old, who has gone through three landlords at the site, including former Oakland A’s great Reggie Jackson. “Change always happens. I’ve seen it coming for two years. People who are in a position of authority are too busy to deal with the human side of change. There’s obviously a place to move Mobility Systems if we all put our heads together.”

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the city wants small businesses to succeed in Berkeley. When businesses get evicted, the city’s economic development staff tries to help them relocate. That will happen should the council approve Warehman’s appeal, which he said was filed Feb. 4.

Fryckman said he’s “probably looked at 15 places the past two years and spent $40,000 trying to adapt that other place.” He speculated he could end up anywhere from San Leandro to Richmond, but Berkeley is where many of his clients reside, and where he wants to stay. His said he doesn’t have much competition, even regionally, when it comes to professionally adapting vehicles for disabled drivers.

“We’ll survive and we’ll find a place,” he said. “We might be 20 miles away from this community, and that’s hard. Where we are right now is the epicenter of where the people are who need me.”

Tony Hicks is an East Bay native who spent 22 years working for Bay Area News Group, covering crime, education and the city of Berkeley. He also worked in the features department of the Contra Costa Times,...