Downtown Merchants Unhappy With ‘Riots’ at the Gaia Building

By Richard Brenneman
Monday February 09, 2009 - 01:57:00 PM

Downtown Berkeley merchants are tired of the Gaia Building—or at least the series of disturbances stemming from wild parties held there by the business owned by the building’s former owner and a partner. 

Downtown Berkeley Association President Mark McLeod made his sentiments clear to planning commissioners during Wednesday night’s meeting. 

At least three disturbances—dubbed riots by commissioner Patti Dacey—have resulted in massive police turnouts to the building. 

The latest on Jan. 30 was punctuated by gunshots and forced a temporary Friday night closure of the downtown BART station and blocked traffic on Shattuck Avenue. 

“That is without question a disaster for the downtown,” said McLeod. “Unfortunately is not the first time. It’s not even the second time. Someone has to step up to the plate so that something like that is not allowed to happen again.” 

The Gaia Building, the tallest structure built in the city for years, has been a focus of controversy since before the first shovel pierced the dirt. 

Patrick Kennedy and partner David Teece, a multimillionaire UC Berkeley business professor who is currently fighting a tax battle with the IRS over his business ventures, won the city’s approval to add an extra story to the building under the downtown’s cultural density bonus. 

Gaia tenant Anna De Leon sued Kennedy and the city in an effort to bar the private parties which constitute much of the activities in the space. While De Leon won her lawsuit, so far she hasn’t been able to force the city to keep private parties out of the building. 

Dacey said that the city contends that its enforcement of conditions placed on the Gaia management's use permit for the building is not required by law, but is discretionary. The Jan. 30 disturbance broke out after more than 100 gate-crashers climbed fences and forced their way in, and it took police about an hour to clear the scene. 

Fighting broke out, and at as many as eight gunshots were fired during the fracas as it spread to Shattuck Avenue. No one was injured by the bullets. 

At least 22 police officers were involved in quelling the melee. 

“It's not good for business when you have that kind of disturbance,” said McLeod. 

While Kennedy sold the building to Chicago real estate baron Sam Zell’s Equity Residential, Kennedy leased the cultural space in partnership with a local caterer. 

The Cancun Taqueria restaurant adjacent to the Gaia Building at 2134 Allston Way was forced to close during the disturbance, and De Leon reported that customers had called to say they couldn’t get into her jazz club, Anna’s Jazz Island, which shares an entrance at 2120 Allston Way with the space Kennedy has leased. 

McLeod is an owner of the Downtown Restaurant, located at 2102 Shattuck Ave.