Court Orders South Berkeley Problem House Boarded Up

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday December 07, 2009 - 12:59:00 PM

Responding to a motion filed by City Attorney Zach Cowan, a judge last week ordered a longtime South Berkeley problem property boarded up. 

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith ruled that 1610 Oregon St., a house belonging to Lenora Moore, must be secured and must remain closed for one year, beginning 30 days from the date the notice of closure is posted on the property.   

The house has been the subject of numerous complaints and lawsuits by neighbors and the city, alleging that drug activity has taken place on its premises.    

Cowan, who represented the city in Judge Smith's courtroom, said the city made the motion after Berkeley police, looking for evidence in a burglary case, served a search warrant at the property on Oct. 2 and found drugs and drug paraphernalia at the site. He said the building was currently occupied by Moore and various family members.  

Cowan said the court order was not an eviction notice since Moore owned the property. 

“They will just have to pack up and go somewhere else,” he said. 

Moore and her granddaughter showed up at Wednesday’s hearing, according to Cowan, and proceedings were over within 15 minutes. 

“The Moores agreed to a court judgment in April 2009," Cowan said, "under which their house was adjucated to be a nuisance, and prohibited from carrying out any kind of drug activity.” 

But that decision was violated when police officers found syringes loaded with heroine and cocaine inside the house during the October search, Cowan said, following which the City of Berkeley filed a Nov. 16 motion requesting that the house be boarded up. 

“It wasn’t just rolled up cigarette paper,” Cowan said. “It was more than that.” 

The motion said Moore lives at the house with “numerous members of her family and their associates, most of whom are known drug users and dealers”and that the Berkeley Police Department “consistently receives calls regarding unlawful drug and criminal activity at, and around [the house].” 

In 1992, 31 of Moore's neighbors filed a small claims lawsuit against her alleging that she had allowed her home to become a “focal point for the sale and distribution of narcotics.” 

Although Moore appealed, she lost and was ordered to pay $155,000 to neighbors. She later filed for bankruptcy and never paid the settlement.  

Moore was sued once again in 2006 and the courts ordered her to pay $70,000 to neighbors. 

Although neighbors did not show up at the hearing because they feared retribution, most were relieved by the judge’s decision.  

Cowan said former Mayor Shirley Dean, who worked to resolve the problem as mayor, had shown up in court with her husband to speak on behalf of the neighbors. 

Dean could not be reached for comment immediately. 

In an April 2006 commentary in the Daily Planet, Dean said that in 2000, the City Council had asked city staff to help Moore and her husband by providing them with services. 

“We were able to get the property repaired and cleaned-up for a while, but it didn’t last,” she wrote. “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, 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 sure hope this means the city will take responsibility for public safety issues and public nuisance issues instead of placing the burden on neighbors,” said one neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “[The city] wouldn’t do anything for a long time. They asked us to deal with it.” 

Osha Neumann, a Berkeley attorney who provided assistance to Moore when her neighbors filed a small-claims action, called the whole thing a “sad, difficult situation.” 

“The allegation was that the house was the center of a lot of drug activity,” Neumann said. “It was extremely complicated to figure out how much was actually related to her. She had a large extended family. There were several people who were always in and out of that place.” 

Neumann said Moore came to him while she was serving as the chair of the Ashby Flea Market. He recalled that Moore’s husband was disabled. 

“She raised a lot of issues,” Neumann said. “She was a grandmother who tried to deal with a complicated situation. It was tragic all around. There was no social solution to the issue.”