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West Berkeley to city: help us

By Devona Walker Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday July 02, 2002

Approximately 30 residents of west Berkeley met with police and city officials Monday night to request the city’s assistance in dealing with an increase in speeding, crime and drug dealing in the neighborhood. 

“The best way to keep a kid away from criminal activity, in my opinion, is to give them a job,” Berkeley Youth Alternatives Development and Policy Director Kevin Williams said. 

Event organizer Rachel Crossman said that drug dealing in west Berkeley has increased dramatically in the last few months. Residents have noticed heightened attention from the Berkeley Police Department, but what neighbors want more of are activities for at-risk kids, said Crossman and other people in the room. 

“If the kids are in trouble, there needs to be more activities for them,” said Sydney Vilen, a six-year resident of The Strawberry Creek Lodge in the 1300 block of Addison.  

Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, Neighborhood Services’ Michael Caplan, Berkeley Police Department’s west Berkeley Area Coordinator Erick Upson and Executive Director of the Police Activities League David Manson were also at the meeting. 

Vilen said that senior citizens living at the lodge have been mugged, which is unsettling. But her chief worry is the city’s decision to close down Berkeley Adult School pool six months each year. 

Several other residents agreed, adding their concern over several underutilized parks and facilities where youth could congregate in structured environments. Rosa Parks Elementary School is not accessible to the public often enough, either, residents said. 

“Rosa Parks after it was renovated was closed off to the kids n the neighborhood. It’s beautiful now but now the kids can’t use it,” Crossman said. “What do we have to offer these kids in terms of constructive, supervised activities.” 

In turn, Dean said that she would make sure that the park became more available to the community. 

“I will unlock the gate myself. Then I will lose the lock and the key,” Dean said. “We want your neighborhood to look like, feel like and be like everyone — you and the city — cares about it.”  

Dean spoke frankly with the group about the violent crime surges in various sections of Berkeley. She said the police department currently faces several challenges, and that she is hoping the new personnel would not lose sight of the department’s history of effective community policing. 

“Crime is up and we need to deal with that. We’re not Oakland yet, but the point is we don’t want to be,” Dean said. 

In addition to an increase in crime, the community wanted to know why there are not more city sponsored, supervised alternatives for at-risk youth. One resident even commented that she would like to see creative sentencing proposed for juvenile crime. For example, a youth might be forced to take part in Berkeley Youth Alternatives if caught stealing a car. 

BYA is a nonprofit group that tries to connect at-risk youth with employment. It is working in coordination with the Police Activities League in attaining a gang prevention grant.  

Dean and Caplan offered a city web site that could serve as a clearinghouse for summer activities for youth. They also offered there support as the community moved forward with making concrete demands from the city that ranged from traffic calming devices to better outdoor lighting of recreational areas.