It has stood on a block on Channing Way for most of the last four decades doing what wishing wells do best—making wishes of those in need come true.
Local legend has it the free box began in the charming tree-lined neighborhood of Channing Way during the ‘60s to keep alive the spirit of love and sharing, a receptacle for collecting clothes and other things that their owners have outgrown but might find use somewhere else.
The City of Berkeley however views the wishing well as an encroachment according to the city’s encroachment ordinance and as a “non-commercial decorative installation.”
In a May 16 letter to Ratzlesnatch Co-operative, in front of whose property the disputed structure is located, City Manager Phil Kamlarz wrote that the co-op could apply for an encroachment permit, but added that such a request would be denied, and therefore it needed to be removed or relocated within 30 days.
Councilmember Dona Spring, in whose district the well is located, said that Kamlarz had informed her that the matter was now in the hands of the City Council and the structure would not be taken down until the council made a decision at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I will be bringing this up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting and requesting the council to give the wishing well an encroachment permit,” Spring said. “I want the city to realize its responsibility to help facilitate something that helps hundreds of people in Berkeley. We need to support something that helps recycling and has so far been beautifully upkept by the surviving neighborhood.”
On Thursday afternoon, Berkeley resident John Lynch was signing a petition to save the wishing well at the site.
“Five hundred people have already signed it, and I hope the city hears our request before making a decision,” he said. “People come to Berkeley to live because of amenities like this—it is a great way to care for the local community. The wishing well is one of the reasons why I chose to live in this particular neighborhood. I have friends all over the world who know about this well. It will be really sad if it gets taken down.”
Wes Ikenchi, who has lived in the area for the last 25 years, said that most of his clothes had come from the wishing well.
“It’s an incredible resource for the entire community,” he said. “Mothers bring their kids here to pick up art and craft materials, Halloween costumes and so much more. It’s one of the things I appreciate about the city, it’s what makes Berkeley what it is.”
Barbara Cappa and Dan Lambart of the Well Wishers, an informal group that has been set up to petition to save the wishing well, feel that this is selective enforcement on the part of the city.
“It’s a place that really cuts across different barriers, races, and political views,” Cappa said. “It’s a place where people can meet one another and talk and get in touch with each other’s humanity ... It means so much to a lot of people, we just cannot let it be taken down.”
Lambert said that even if the group wanted to file for a permit, it could not afford the $1,000 fee.
“We have a letter from the Director of Ecology Action, Martin Borque, urging the council to support the wishing well,” he said. “It’s not just homeless people who use the box everyday—the neighbors use it too. Anybody can put things in it and take things out. Users themselves take responsibility to keep it tidy.”