It is hard to believe that Councilmember Max Anderson actually said that the action taken by 14 neighbors in Small Claims court regarding 1610 Oregon St. involved a “revenge motive.” But, there it was in the April 18 Daily Planet, in a news story about the appeal brought by 1610’s owner against the judgment the neighbors had won in January in Small Claims Court which awarded $5,000 to each of the neighbors. The news story reported that the owner’s appeal had been dismissed by Superior Court Judge Wynne Carvill.
Judge Carvill wrote in his statement of opinion that the owner “has been on notice for well over a decade of the problems surrounding 1610. She had, and continues to have, a duty to abate that nuisance.” There have been multiple police actions near, on and in the property. The police even testified in court that they visited the owner prior to their actions to warn her to clean up the problems or they would have to take action. As mayor, I tried to deal with the problem when the city brought an action coordinated across several city departments to clean up the property in 2000.
The City Council at that time directed staff to provide the owner and her husband with services to assist her in any way possible. We were able to get the property repaired and cleaned-up for awhile, but it didn’t last. I attended and testified in the Small Claims Court hearing in January, and I attended both days that the appeal was heard in Superior Court during this month.
Let’s make no mistake. The problems experienced at 1610 Oregon and flowing out from that property touch each and every one of us in Berkeley no matter where we live. Unfortunately, there are other 1610s in our community and that number will increase the more we close our front doors and delude ourselves into believing that what we are reading about is just a problem for an unfamiliar South Berkeley neighborhood in Council District 3. Recognizing that this is a city problem is the first step in finding real solutions. If members of the City Council can’t understand that, the community should make sure they get the message and get it soon.
The situation on Oregon Street represents the failure of our city to provide the protections that are rightfully and normally expected by residents any where and any place. When a city fails to provide those protections, it is undeniable that that neighborhood and its residents feel as if, and are in fact, being treated as if they were disposable. In this case, the record screams with accounts of murders, shootings, two small claims processes in which the court ordered judgments totaling somewhere around $200,000 to the neighbors, two appeals of those small claims judgments which were upheld in favor of the neighbors by Superior Court judges, police actions, drug dealing and possession arrests. There is absolutely no doubt that 1610 is a problem. In the most recent court appeal, the owner of the property herself legally admitted that her property did indeed constitute a nuisance!
I agree with those who maintain that those in need of services from the city should have them. The owner of 1610 has been offered services for many years, stacks of files have been created, to no avail. After years of problems, neighbors have been driven to seek the only other course that is open to them, Small Claims Court. All they want are the things that every resident wants no matter where they live—to be able to walk down the block, to sit on their front porches, to allow their children to walk to school or have their friends over, to stand in their front yards and chat with their neighbors on the sidewalk, to have yards free of condoms and syringes.
Instead of help from the city what they got was death threats after they filed their Small Claims action and criticism playing the race card all the way up to the City Council. Neighborhoods need action not talk that ‘we’re working on it,’ press conferences, press releases or promises. The essential task before the city is as clear as it can be: 1) declare 1610 Oregon a public nuisance; 2) take all necessary action to abate the nuisance, including instituting and collecting fines for continued violations; and 3) enact a process that will ensure that no other residents will have to face the fear, terror and disruption that the people around the 1600 block of Oregon have had to live with for years.
The essential task for the community of Berkeley residents no matter where you live is to support the neighbors of 1610 and to press the City Council to take action. The best way to do this is simply to write the council at 2180 Milvia, Berkeley 94704 or send an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a simple action, but an effective one if enough of us do it!
Shirley Dean is the former mayor of Berkeley.