The city filed a notice of violation against Berkeley’s “so-called” chess club — an arrangement of tables and chairs that meets daily at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street. The club’s setup encompasses the private property of Rasputin Records and the surrounding sidewalk area.
Assistant to the city manager Peter Radu stated in an email that the club’s tables and chairs are “encroaching” upon the public’s right of way by being on the sidewalk.
“We began researching the extent to which the tables and chairs are permitted on the private property at this corner,” Radu said in the email. “In the course of our research we found that this type of use of property (at the Southwest corner of Telegraph and Haste) is not permissible under the property owner’s current use permit — a zoning code violation.”
The chess club’s director Jesse Sheehan stated that Rasputin Records, the property owner in question, allowed the club to utilize its private property.
Sheehan says that the city’s concerns feel “targeted,” and that it was unfair for the owner of Rasputin Records to be held liable for any zoning code violations.
“We’ve been operating on the sidewalk for two and a half years without citations,” Sheehan said.
Radu added that the club has been subject to numerous nuisance behavior concerns, which Sheehan denies, stating that the club has not been cited for any disturbing nuisances.
“There’s been multiple calls from one tenant who lives behind Rasputin. So for noise, according to the lieutenant of the Berkeley police, he said he had no problem with us other than the noise violations that continue,” Sheehan said. “People do create noise. We create noise, we listen to reggae pretty loudly. But according to the commercial space, we can play music until 9.”
Radu stated that the city has attempted numerous times to reach out to the property owner and have a conversation about the chess club but have not been able to “nail down a meeting location and format.”
Sheehan, on the other hand, alleged that he had reached out to council member Rigel Robinson numerous times regarding the violation.
Sheehan added that he is anxious that the city’s complaint could be the first in a wave of targets towards the club, especially given the fact that they have cited the property owner Rasputin Records, who Sheehan said has “no affiliation” with the club outside of letting the group use their private property.
According to Sheehan, this is not the first time the club has been negatively impacted by initiatives. Previously, he alleged, the club had been disturbed by the construction of advertising kiosks.
In the meantime, Sheehan says that he is complying with the city by moving the club’s setup off the sidewalk. However, Sheehan stressed that he does not want the club to be limited to private property, but to reclaim public space.
“There are several other dormant buildings on Telegraph Avenue that I would like to see some chess tables in front of. So that’s the discussion,” Sheehan said. “As we grow in popularity and need more and more tables, I would like to feel free to move those tables to the sidewalk. If somebody with a wheelchair would like access to one of our tables. I’d like the opportunity to move it out to where they’re comfortable on the side of the sidewalk.”