At a heated Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) meeting, residents of the Ashby neighborhood packed the second floor of Old City Hall chambers Thursday night with tales of their local liquor store.
“No liquor, littering, loitering, public urination,” read makeshift signs in the hands of over a dozen who were at the public hearing to urge ZAB to declare Black & White Liquor at 3027 Adeline St. a public nuisance.
During the first half of the meeting to decide the fate of Sucha Singh Banger’s business, neighbors told harrowing tales about vomit and other bodily fluids left behind on their properties by those whom they claimed to be patrons of the store.
“On at least 10 occasions I have splashed bleach onto my front door and literally gagged as I watched bodily fluids wash down the street,” said Susan Bell, addressing the board. She said disturbances, as well as “frequent and obscene” assaults affiliated with the store ultimately caused her to move from her nearby apartment.
Laura Boles, who lives around the corner from Black & White, says she finds homeless people sleeping on her front steps and back yard, with containers of alcoholic beverages in their hand. She says she calls the police twice a week because of loud fights near the liquor store.
“We don’t consider this store to be a good neighbor,” said Dawn Rubin, who added that Banger’s place is a magnet for crime in the area. She wishes he would take more responsibility for the conduct of his patrons, including drug deals she has witnessed in front of Black & White.
“It is his responsibility to be aware,” she said, “not ours to complain to him.”
Gregory Daniel, code enforcement supervisor for ZAB, urged the board to declare Black & White a nuisance. He said the excessive police calls for service to 3027 Adeline St. have pulled officers away from other areas in Berkeley, endangering the overall safety of residents.
“We’re not just talking about the quality of life near Black & White,” he said. “[This is] creating problems as far north as campus.”
The public hearing was called after the Zoning Adjustments Board received dozens of complaints from neighbors about lewd conduct around the store. Many of the reports say those incidents disappeared when the store was closed for renovation after an arson fire ripped through the building.
But a diverse crowd of Banger’s supporters came out in numbers to refute their neighbors’ complaints.
Martin Vargas, a postal worker who serves the South Berkeley area, led the speakers against declaring the liquor store a nuisance.
“Welcome to South Berkeley,” said Vargas in response to Banger’s opponents, saying the problems of homelessness and alcohol use are inherent in the area. He called on the city to provide public restrooms around the BART station to avoid public urination and defecation. As for the excessive trash reported around the site, Vargas attributes it to the 30,000 vehicles which pass by on Adeline Street every day.
Marian Jones, owner of an antique store on Adeline Street, blamed the nuisances on the mentally ill and on foot traffic from BART, not on the liquor store’s patrons. She praised Banger’s business, saying, “I feel safer that [Banger] is there, and I wish he would stay.”
After hours of public testimony and debate among the board, Banger’s opponents nearly got their wish. Members of ZAB were on the verge of voting to declare the store a public nuisance, with suggested remedies allowing for continued operation. But the remarks of Banger’s attorney, Jerome Marks, convinced the board to put off the vote until the next ZAB meeting in order to give Banger sufficient time to investigate the feasibility of the proposed remedies.
Among the board’s proposals was a year-long probationary period, in which store hours would be limited to 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Banger would be required to stop selling single-shot containers of liquor, single beers, as well as all fortified beer and wine.
In addition, the board wanted Banger to set up outdoor lighting fixtures and video cameras (which he says he has already done), use Black & White-branded paper bags, and hire a security guard to help monitor the area.
The board asked that Banger train new employees to control lewd conduct at the store, and that he himself mind the store until closing at least two nights a week. During the probation, there would be a six- and 12-month evaluation, and Banger would meet with neighbors every two months to discuss concerns.
The long list of conditions that would allow Black & White to stay in business seemed to dizzy Banger after the meeting.
“It’s going to be tough on me,” he said, outside the chambers.
ZAB members said they expected to vote to declare the liquor store a nuisance, with the proposed remedies, without much deliberation at their next meeting on Jan. 12, 2006.