Page One

City Fines Bring End To Arbor On Acton By RICHARD BRENNNEMAN

Friday June 10, 2005

While many who live near the corner of Acton and Addison streets see it as a neighborhood delight, city officials see it as a code violation. 

And so the homemade framework of metal pipes enclosed in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that supports the flowering shrubbery that overhangs the sidewalk at 2185 Acton St. is headed for the chop by noon today (Friday). 

“For those of us in the neighborhood, it’s a sad day,” said Bill Trampleasure, who lives a block away. “We’ve really enjoyed it.” 

But for City Code Enforcement Supervisor Gregory Daniel, it’s just the latest chapter in the troubled relations between officialdom and the residents of what some have dubbed “the hippie house.” 

Owner Asa Dodsworth looks and speaks more like a flower child of the sixties than a typical Berkeley homeowner, and the house contains one of the city’s few remaining collectives. 

Residents and volunteers are part of Food Not Bombs, the group which provides fresh, healthy meals for the homeless in People’s Park. 

Thursday morning, two members of the collective were busily chopping up vegetables as a reporter interviewed Dodsworth about his latest run-in with the city. 

“Because the city owns the sidewalk, they issued a citation because they don’t permit any encroachment on the public right of way,” he said. “The city guy who came said he’d been here before, and he called it the ‘hippie house’ and fined me $500.” 

By this week, additional citations had brought the total fines owed to $2,000. 

“2185 Acton has worn out its get-out-of-jail free cards,” Daniel said. “The history of code problems goes back to May 2003.” 

The list of citations reflects the inherent conflicts between counterculture and bureaucracy. 

Among the violations Daniel cited were composting bins in the strip between the sidewalk and street, construction materials piled in the front yard, shopping carts in the front yard, schoolbuses and campers parked on the street and people living in the back of a truck. 

“It’s just wild,” Daniel said. 

One of the offenses involved a truck parked across the sidewalk while volunteers sorted through food for the homeless meals. 

Dodsworth said he sees a certain irony in a complaint coming about a program to feed the city’s homeless. 

“The city recently gave an award to Food Not Bombs, and if the city really wanted to show its appreciation, they’d give us money so we wouldn’t have to rely entirely on private donors,” he said. 

Neighborhood resident Nora Honbo was strolling under the arbor Thursday when Trampleasure asked what she thought about the arbor. 

“I like it,” she said. 

When told that the city had ordered its demise, Honbo asked “Why? If it’s not a danger, why should you have to take it down? The worst thing that can happen is that some leaves could fall on you. Do you have a petition?” 

A petition did exist, but the long list of signatures was no avail when it came to the city codes. 

Daniel said the metal arches violate three separate sections of city code. 

“To me, it’s simple,” he said. “Yes, it’s nice. It’s green. But you can’t go taking over public property. We gave him ample time. It’s not like we just came up and body-slammed the guy.” 

Colorful Tibetan prayer flags adorn the fence next to the arbor, and a small contemplative shrine offers a moment’s psychic retreat from the mundane world. 

Further down the fence is a poster about missing woman, along with a collection of buttons—including one proclaiming that “Bush is the only dope worth shooting.” 

The population at Dodsworth’s house is declining as some members of the collective are moving to a new home on King Street that will house a vegetarian collective. 

“It has been kind of messy,” Dodsworth acknowledged. 

Still, he said he has no plans to abandon his dream of a collective home. 

Meanwhile, faced with the heavy fines he can’t pay, Dodsworth said the arbor is coming down before the city’s noon deadline today.  

“I spent 45 minutes with him yesterday, and I told him that if he took it down we’d work on the penalties,” Daniel said. 

“I talked to Councilmember Darryl Moore and the guy from the city, and they said they’ll drop $1,500 of the fines and help me appeal the other $500 if I take it down. So I will,” Dodsworth said. 

Even though Dodsworth is taking responsibility for the arbor, he acknowledges that he didn’t build it. 

“A guest put up the bracing about a year ago,” he said.