The Salvation Army dissolved its Berkeley Board of Advisers last Tuesday, a few months after the board recommended the organization sell their University Avenue property to a nonprofit agency that would either develop a senior service center or affordable housing.
The Salvation Army’s facility at 1535 University Ave., near Sacramento Street, hosts social services such as church meetings and distribution of food and clothing vouchers.
The 27,500-square-foot property has been listed with Emeryville-based Cornish & Carey Commercial Realtors since December for $3 million. A Cornish & Carey Realtor said there has been a lot of interest in the property although he wouldn’t comment on whether it was from nonprofit developers.
The property is located in an area that has been identified by the City Council as preferred for housing development, which makes it highly attractive to developers who can pay high asking prices.
Regional Salvation Army representative Patty Brooke told the Board of Advisers during its Tuesday meeting that, effective immediately, the board was dissolved. The board, which consisted of five community members, has advised the Salvation Army on local social service issues for the last 15 years.
Salvation Army Capt. Douglas Reily and regional representative Maj. Eda Hokom, both of the army’s regional headquarters in Sacramento, did not return calls to the Daily Planet about the board’s dissolution.
It was unclear whether the move was connected to the sale of the building, though some board members suspected it was.
“It was abrupt and surprised everybody,” said former board member Bill White. “I was not prepared to hear what I heard at [Tuesday’s] meeting.”
White said he thinks the Salvation Army wants to sell the property for top dollar, which probably would mean selling to a for-profit developer who would be less likely to develop affordable housing or a social services oriented facility.
Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Rachel Ruppert has been on the Salvation Army Board of Advisers for 15 years. She said the Salvation Army lost a vital connection to the community by dissolving the board.
“It was very important to the Berkeley community to feel like the Salvation Army was connected to the area,” she said. “By disbanding the Board of Advisers ... the Salvation Army is losing the pulse of the community.”
Other board members included Peggy Casey, Barbara Garrett, Ove Whittstock and Berkeley police Sgt. David White.
Last March, the Board of Advisers recommended that the Salvation Army not sell the property and continue to maintain services at the location that many have come to rely on.
Furthermore, the board made a secondary recommendation that if they had to sell the property for financial reasons, it should sell it to a nonprofit developer who would develop either a senior services center or affordable housing on the site.
Councilmember Linda Maio, who represents District 2 where the property is located, said she would be surprised if the Salvation Army sold the property to a for-profit developer when there is such critical need for affordable housing in Berkeley.
“We have no idea why they’ve short-circuited the community process,” she said. “We’re dismayed because the recommendation the advisory board came up with would be totally consistent with the Salvation Army’s mission.”