KPFA HQ in Berkeley. Photo: Siciliana Trevino
KPFA at 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Photo: Siciliana Trevino

The KPFA building at 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way won’t be heading to the auction block today, as previously scheduled, according to officials.

The radio station has not paid the $486,751 it owes in back taxes, but has started to correct the issue that led the Alameda County Tax Assessor’s Office to charge property taxes at a corporate rather than nonprofit rate, said Christina Huggins, the chair of the local KPFA station board. The next step in the process is to negotiate down the amount of taxes owed, which is in process, she said.

“The tax lien has been withdrawn for the KPFA building, so no auction,” Huggins said in an email. “The Pacifica National Board had supplied all the needed documents to complete the name change over a month ago.  Right now they are in discussions to lower the amount of taxes owed.”

The assessor’s office had put the building at 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way up for auction through the firm Back taxes were also owed on the parcel on Grizzly Peak holding KPFA’s transmitter. The auction was supposed to start today and continue until March 23. However, all auctions have been suspended because of the shelter-in-place order.

The Pacifica National Board hired the southern California law firm Alpert, Barr and Grant to “file all 16 overdue annual property tax filings for 2013-2020 for both properties and is updating the California Board of Equalization certificate for KPFA,”  said Tracey Rosenberg, who served six years on the local KPFA board and was formerly treasurer of the Pacifica Foundation board, in an email.

The KPFA board and staff disagree with the board and staff of the Pacifica National Board about which party is responsible for the non-payment of taxes. In 2013, the Pacifica National Foundation, which owns five radio stations around the country, including KPFA, changed its name. It did not record the new name with California’s Board of Equalization, which meant that California did not recognize the new entity as a tax-exempt nonprofit, said Huggins. KPFA did not pay taxes after that because it believed that if it paid the corporate rate it could never get the money refunded once the county recognized it was a nonprofit.

Rosenberg, who is a consultant to the board, said KPFA is to blame for the liens.

“We have reviewed the dates, and the initial missed filing deadline on 2-15-2013 which started this whole mess, was more than a month prior to any name change executed by the Pacifica Foundation, which did not occur until more than a month after KPFA originally defaulted,” she wrote in an email. “The name change filed on 3-19-2013 by the Pacifica Foundation did make the paperwork required to fix the problem after the fact more extensive, but it did not cause KPFA’s business manager to miss the annual property tax filing on 2-15-2013. That was simply an error by KPFA management (who also failed to file on 2-15-2011 and corrected it in 2012).”

This is just one of a number of financial issues with which Pacifica Foundation is grappling.

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...