Court Upholds Berkeley's Decision to Revoke U-Haul Use Permit

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday April 04, 2009 - 10:50:00 PM

The California Court of Appeal upheld last week the Berkeley City Council's decision to revoke U-Haul's use permit for its San Pablo Avenue location. 

City officials announced the March 30 decision Friday, April 3 to the press and City Council members. 

The council revoked U-Haul's permit in October 2007. City documents indicate that the council declared the truck-rental business a nuisance after taking into account years of formal complaints charging the company with violating city law by parking more trucks on its lot than permitted and by allowing customers to park trucks in the neighborhood when returning vehicles after business hours. 

An investigation conducted by the city in 2006 revealed that U-Haul was "consistently parking as many as 30 of its vehicles on neighborhood streets adjacent to its property (sometimes blocking crosswalks or fire hydrants), and that it consistently had between 40 to 50 trucks on its property in violation of the permit's 20 truck restriction." 

U-Haul, the nation's largest renter of trucks and trailers, appealed the city's decision to the Superior Court in October, but the judge ruled in the city's favor at that time. 

In May 2008, the company sued the city for a second time, arguing that it should be allowed to stay open on environmental and civil rights grounds. 

But once again the courts sided with the city, explaining that the appellant had repeatedly violated the city's permit and failed to address neighbors' concerns in an appropriate manner, using "public rights of way for staging, and thereby expanded its business operations beyond the property in a manner contrary to the terms and conditions of the use permit." 

In an e-mail to city councilmembers Friday, Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan praised Deputy City Attorney Laura McKinney, who handled the case, for doing "an excellent job." 

"[I]n fact the decision was handed down only two days after oral argument, which is as fast as it gets, and indicates that based on the briefing and argument, the court felt the appeal had absolutely no merit," Cowan wrote. "We hope that this decision, once it is final, will speed up resolution of the city's case against U-Haul." 

Cowan also mentioned in his e-mail that the U.S. District Court last week dismissed what the city "suspects was a companion case," Lewis v. City of Berkeley. 

The plaintiff in this case alleged that "the revocation of U-Haul's use permit was part (the main part, apparently) of an alleged pattern of discriminatory practices by the city against African Americans." 

Cowan said the court dismissed the case for failing to "allege any facts that stated a claim."