South Berkeley neighbors ask city for help to improve

About 30 South Berkeley residents came together Wednesday to ask the city for help to make several changes in the neighborhood. Photo: Emilie Raguso
About 30 South Berkeley residents met Tuesday to ask the city for help to make several changes in the neighborhood. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Several dozen South Berkeley residents and city staffers came together Tuesday night to brainstorm about how to make three key changes in the neighborhood.

Residents, who met at MVMNT Studio at 2973 Sacramento St., asked the city to help lead the charge to calm traffic and fix stormwater drainage problems at California and Julia streets, and address a blighted building on Sacramento that many said they feel is keeping the local commercial district from flourishing.

Residents have been working for roughly two years to come up with these priorities and document existing problems. In addition to neighbors and city staff, several local business owners came to the meeting, as well as Councilman Max Anderson, the representative for the district.

Residents familiar with the problems described California and Julia as a dangerous intersection that needs more stop signs or some other kind of traffic calming measures. The intersection is known to flood even in minor storms. Residents asked the city what they needed to do to find money to help address these issues.


City staffers, including City Manager Christine Daniel, encouraged residents to apply to get in the queue for projects set to receive money to deal with traffic problems. Staffers noted a limited city budget allocation for infrastructure improvements, but said the city’s Public Works Commission is set to begin holding hearings May 2 about how to spend Measure M money — related to watersheds and streets — which will free up more resources.

Residents also said a blighted building at Sacramento and Julia streets, owned by Gregory Toler, is a major cause for concern. The property has been vacant and in disrepair for 30 years. The city manager said internal family dynamics related to the owner had posed a stumbling block for change, despite repeated efforts by the city to try to encourage a sale.

But two attendees at Tuesday’s meeting said it was the city itself that had posed the biggest challenges to change in relation to the property, calling it “a failure of leadership.”

Meeting moderator Tania Carlone, who lives in the neighborhood, said that, whatever happened in the past, the group would be better served to focus on coming together to create change rather than dwelling on past perceived failures. Residents asked the city for help to coordinate future planning and neighborhood outreach efforts. The group agreed to hold a follow-up meeting to flesh out the details.

Some attendees said, with Tuesday’s meeting, they could feel momentum building to help make the necessary changes, and that they hope neighborhood energy will continue to grow moving forward.

Former Berkeley City Councilwoman Carole Davis Kennerly, who lives in the district, said the neighborhood has a long history of grassroots efforts that current active neighbors can reference and draw on to build their movement.

“There’s a tradition in South Berkeley of trying to tackle problems in a different way,” she told the group. “What I’ve experienced is that people rolled up their sleeves and tried step by step to do something to make a difference.”

She noted past efforts to remove the tracks on Sacramento, and highlighted the work of William Byron Rumford, a local pharmacist-turned-activist who fought discrimination in health and housing policies on a national stage.

“We’re going to grow. The meetings will get larger and larger. And if we use certain kinds of language to bring more people in, we will be much more successful,” she said. “We need to respect the work that has gone on before. If we don’t have our act together as a community we almost lose before we start.”

Learn more about the CalJulia neighborhood group at http://caljulia.wordpress.com.

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