By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org Insurance payments for resident and business victims of a Nov. 18 Telegraph Avenue fire may be a long time coming as the building owners and their insurance company investigate who is to blame.
Many of the 68 residents of the building lost everything they owned and nearby businesses report sales are down between 50 percent and 75 percent since the fire.
If they are hoping for an insurance payout soon, they may be disappointed. The owners, Kenneth and Gregory Ent, their insurance company and their lawyer are still trying to determine who bears the responsibility for the fire that the Berkeley Fire Department determined started in an elevator control panel, said the Ents' lawyer, John Podesta.
|The building at Telegraph and Haste streets, at left, is a pile of rubble waiting to be cleaned up. (Doug Oakley/Staff)|
Podesta said the Ents have liability insurance, but he would not say how much.
In the meantime, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering loans to residents and businesses affected to get back on their feet.
"It could be that Paramount, the elevator company that had the maintenance contract for the building elevator, or the Ents are ultimately responsible," Podesta said. "Or it could be a part maker or PG&E who caused a power surge that threw the whole thing off. Or it could be a case where an insurance company says, 'This is ours, and we're going to step up to the plate.' "
Podesta said he and the owners are not "sloughing anyone off," they just need to find out who should take responsibility.
He said it's too soon to tell how much businesses in the area have lost because of roads that were closed and a sidewalk in front of the building that is still closed.
"The best thing they can do is keep in contact with us and make sure we have information about the claim," Podesta said. "It's going to take a while for a store to put together all the lost revenue. Hopefully, by the time the liability investigation is complete, that information is gathered and presented to deal with the claims."
At the same time, a recent declaration of the area as a disaster zone has opened the way for the U.S. Small Business Administration to offer the loans to residents and businesses in the area hurt by the fire.
The SBA has set up shop at 2539 Telegraph Ave. to take loan applications. SBA Spokesman Alex Contreras said since Thursday, the agency has given out five applications and one has been completed and returned.
The office will be open through Friday. It will be open again on Jan. 9 through Jan. 13.
Renters affected by the fire can get a $40,000 loan at 2 percent interest for 30 years to replace lost property. Businesses can get loans up to $2 million with a rate of 4 percent interest for property damage and economic injury.
Al Geyer, owner of a shop called Annapurna, which is two doors down from the burned building and who is director of the Telegraph Merchant's Association, estimates he lost $20,000 in sales so far since the fire. But he's not interested in a loan.
"Why would I want take out a loan? It's not going to help me," Geyer said. "If I got a loan, I'd have to pay it back."
Geyer said many business owners on Telegraph Avenue are reporting sales are down about 50 percent since the fire.
The owner of a store called Gifts of Tara, which is right next to the burned building on Telegraph, said sales were down 95 percent from Nov. 18 through Dec. 12 and is down 75 percent since Dec. 12.
He would only take a loan, he said, if it was offered at zero percent interest.
"If they wanted to offer real help, the loan would be no interest," said Tagudh, who said he goes by one name. "People see the fence in front of the building and all the rubble and it drives them away. If this continues for a few more months, I can't run this business anymore."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.