Public Comment

Is the Parens Patriae Power Dead at UC Berkeley?

By Sheila Holderness
Thursday September 18, 2008 - 09:41:00 AM

I live on the 2600 block of Benvenue Avenue, southside of campus. Most students who cause hell in our neighborhood seem to be young men who think it their right to live here for their undergrad years and drink, dope, play loud music, dump their raw garbage on the sidewalk, have parties that spill onto the streets. Frequently, they are in an athletic program at Cal. 

For example, a house on my block was rented to Cal crew team members last year. Their rationale for loud parties, obnoxious behavior, and slobbiness (all of which crept onto our sidewalks, street and homes)? “We have to get up early to practice crew; then we go to class, then come home to sleep—so on weekends and some evenings, we get to party. Deal with it.” 

Rumor has it that these young masters of the future left five-digit damages to their rental house. Not a rumor—but a fact—is that they used a pellet gun (a felony in California) inside and outside the house until Berkeley police were informed. 

What these young masters don’t factor into their reasoning is that most in the neighborhood work for a living, raise their families, are pretty tired after midnight and don’t have the luxury of partying on weekends. 

Do the young masters realize that not all of us are strapping, healthy young people? Do they even consider that some of us are elderly? Some of us are ill? Some of us have young children? 

Can we persuade Cal to establish a serious program for all student off-campus living issues? Can we rely on Cal to inform these immature young people that it is not OK to act immaturely while they are at Cal? 

Yes, we can. 

Can Berkeley bill the university for the colossal mess these students create? (Many of the permanent—and elderly—residents who live on my block sweep the sidewalk, pick up liquor bottles, hose off the vomit and pee left by the students after one of their parties, as well as pick up their everyday litter.) 

Yes, we can. 

Can we file to collect documented damages in small claims court—against the absentee landlords who say, “There is nothing I can do”? 

Yes, we can. 

Can we get the Health and Safety department’s ear to help with absentee landlords? (I’ve seen four-legged rats eating spilled garbage in front of a couple of Benvenue houses.) 

Yes, we can. 

Do students ever consider that the concern of campus neighbors extends beyond our personal plaints? That a lot of us cringe at the dangers that might befall these students, or because of these students? 

We regularly see underage kids reeling around Benvenue and nearby streets—dead drunk. We’ve seen them get behind the wheel. We’ve seen very young girls, inebriated, alone, crying, confused. We have seen fights. 

Because we live in Berkeley, near the UC campus, must we neighbors stifle our yearning for a clean, peaceable, respectful living environment? Must we not question student behaviors and UC’s responsibility? 

I had a daughter. She was in a grad program at UCLA. She went to a rooftop brunch a couple of years ago. I cautioned her—that morning—to not drink and drive. She said she was walking. (I had become inured over the years to the notion that alcohol and young adults go together—are the norm—or maybe I would have said more.) 

A Berkeley police officer rang my doorbell that night. He was there to inform me that my daughter had fallen backwards from a five-story rooftop and died that afternoon. 

Did I ask the coroner what her blood-alcohol level was? No. It might have been high, or it might have been low. I don’t care. Once your beloved child is dead, there is no reason to ask any questions. 

Sheila Holderness lives in Berkeley’s Southside neighborhood.