Bangladeshi American Scientist Loses Homes After Long Battle With City

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May 4, 2012

An eminent Bangladeshi American scientist who helms a non-profit organization attempting to mitigate the effects of arsenic in Bangladesh’s wells lost a 12-year battle April 30 with the city of Berkeley, to retain ownership of his homes.

May 4, 2012

An eminent Bangladeshi American scientist who helms a non-profit organization attempting to mitigate the effects of arsenic in Bangladesh’s wells lost a 12-year battle April 30 with the city of Berkeley, to retain ownership of his homes.

Property owned by Dr. Rash B. Ghosh – founder of the International Institute of Bengal Basin – was sold in Alameda County Superior Court to developer Robert Richerson, who is associated with Korman and Ng.

The parcel – two houses on one lot on the corner of Dwight and McGee, which Ghosh bought in 1992 — was sold for $265,000, far below the market rate for comparable properties in the area, which range in sale price from $465,000 to $685,000.

Citing numerous code violations, Berkeley housing officials declared the structures a “public nuisance” in 2001 and then seized the parcel in 2009, evicting Ghosh and his tenants. Ghosh was homeless for some months, living on friends’ sofas until he was able to purchase his current home, which also faces imminent seizure by the city.

Ghosh believes he has been unfairly treated by the city of Berkeley in his prolonged battle to keep his homes. “I’ve been defrauded all the way,” he told India-West, noting that he paid $160,000 in 2011 to a court-ordered receiver to bring the structures in compliance with the city’s housing codes.

“They made me do all the groundwork; I’ve had to sell so much property in Bangladesh to do that, and still I have lost my lifetime investment,” he said, accusing Berkeley housing officials of selectively enforced code violations against him.

“This house is stronger than any property in the vicinity,” Ghosh stated, alleging that he spent over half a million dollars to repair and maintain the property in the 20 years he has owned it.

Ghosh did much of the early work on canopy chemistry – the role of trees in offsetting carbon released into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming – and a doctoral dissertation at the University of Salford in Manchester on the pollution of Liverpool’s Mersey River.

The structure on Dwight Way also served as office space for the IIBB and housed a small, multi-denominational temple. The IIBB has been relocated to Ghosh’s new home.

Ghosh continued to pay his $5,000 monthly mortgage, even after he was evicted. He also continued to pay his property taxes.

Peter Smith, co-founder of the law firm Dhillon and Smith that specializes in real estate issues, told India-West that owners remain the owners of their property – even those in receivership – until a sale goes through. Therefore, Ghosh had to pay his mortgage and property taxes until this week’s sale occurred, to avoid foreclosure. The city was also allowed to bill him for repairs until the sale occurred, said Smith.

Ghosh’s attorney, Michael Sims, filed an 11th-hour application for a stay in the sale of the property, noting that his client was making attempts to comply with the city’s requirements for repairing the structures.

But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch nevertheless approved the sale to Richerson April 30, noting that Ghosh has had 12 years to make repairs required by city housing officials. He cut short a declaration from Nobel Laureate Charles Towne, who has supported Ghosh in his struggles against the city, noting that the inventor of the laser was “singularly uninformed.”

In his declaration, the 97-year-old Townes, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1964, wrote, “I have known Dr. Ghosh for many years and I am thoroughly impressed by his selfless dedication to the remediation of ground and surface waters throughout the world. He is a man of the greatest integrity who has dedicated his life to his cause.”

Towne alleged in his letter that the city of Berkeley was selling the property at “a sixth of its value, with little public notice, to a zoning board member, which may be a conflict of interest.”

No known staff member of Korman and Ng sits on Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board, but Miriam Ng, co-founder of the firm, who coincidentally lived in Bangladesh during part of her childhood, was appointed to Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in April 2011 by city councilmember David Moore.

The ZAB and the LPC have frequently collaborated on land use determination issues in Berkeley, including a proposal to tear down and rebuild two branch libraries last year.

Richerson subsequently closed escrow and took ownership of the property, but refused to comment on the sale with this publication. He has worked on a number of infill developments – use of land within a built-up area, used in smart growth or growth management – in Berkeley and surrounding cities.

Berkeley city deputy attorney Laura McKinney also would not comment on Roersch’s ruling.

Ghosh said he now plans to appeal.

Superior Court receiver Ben McGrew, who was paid $160,000 by Ghosh for repair work, told India-West, “This is one of the worst properties I’ve ever dealt with. The property inside is in deplorable condition, with unattached stairs and a lot of bootlegged work.”

“There were very serious structural deficiencies, including electrical wiring issues which had not been addressed by Ghosh,” stated McGrew, adding that Richerson would have to spend at least $250,000 to get the parcel to the point where it would meet city requirements.

Significantly, city housing officials wanted Ghosh to tear down an additional storey he had added to the Dwight Way structure without proper permits.

Reporters who examined the exterior of the property April 25 found it to be in appalling condition. While the house facing McGee Street bore external signs of recent renovation, including new electrical wiring, the structure abutting Dwight Way had many rusting appliances housed in its weed-choked backyard, which also stored rotting floor boards and other detritus. Gang graffiti adorned its façade.

But Ghosh’s contractor, Nick Saadi, told India-West that it would have been easy enough to fix all the issues the city had with the properties, which he believed were largely cosmetic.

“It is very unfortunate that he is losing his buildings. Here is a man who is 68 years old who has done some very important work in his life. We must help him,” said Saadi, adding that he has worked on homes in much worse shape where the owner has been allowed to retain his property.

The Berkeley City Council will hold a hearing June 8 to determine whether Ghosh should get back the $160,000 he paid to McGrew for repairs.


Courtesy: indiawest