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

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  • Joseph Morris

    I live nearby and would be interested in attending future meetings. How would I find out about them?

  • emraguso

    Check out the blog and Yahoo group — I’ll add a note into the story about that —

  • JustWondering

    Anyone else hear gunshots in South Berkeley last night around 11:30? (neighborhood near Longfellow School.) Surprised to not see a story about that……

  • emraguso

    We can certainly ask police about it. If you hear something like that please send us a note at, or post on our Facebook page ( That makes it much easier for us to check with police. We need your eyes and ears. :)

  • bgal4

    > “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.”

    How about past successes that these folks now benefiting from?

    Honestly, that statement confusing “real’ with “preceived” failures sound like politics and at the same time avoids the relevant issues of failed administrative practices and an inadequate blight ordinance, the basis for the 35 year long Toler property fiasco. This meeting took place in the the former B-Town Dollar store, closed down through a nuisance abatement action, demanded by the former ROC neighborhood group. This ” new group” could learn from our experience and knowledge in which we challenged the city to make significant reforms in their methods, departing from the practice of pitting residents against problem owners and instead make the case based on city documented data and staff testimony.

    Richmond Chief Magnus has significantly reduced violent crime by implementing several operational reforms, including closer alignment of code enforcement with problem solving policing, a smart move which represents best practice in community policing. ROC neighborhood group,SBCPC, Alcatraz Ave neighborhood assoc and Lorin Safe advocated for such reforms during a series of meetings with city officials 2002-2009. Oakland employs the services of their code enforement dept and Neighborhood Law Corp for administration and legal action against problematic property owners, blight, drug nuisance, illegal pot clubs etc.
    And finally, Magnus and the RPD have taken the rare step of consolidating city code enforcement and abatement divisions into the police department in order to better facilitate cooperation, under the
    so-called “Broken Windows” theory of policing, of which Magnus said he’s a “huge proponent.”

  • bgal4

    There has been an uptick in shootings lately, in some incidences it was teens after school.

  • sigh

    Sigh- Obviously you were not at the meeting and even cherry picked the comments to criticize.

    1) MVMNT studio space and the replacement of the dollar store was specifically identified as a sucess of past community groups with the city. Not the CalJulia group.

    2) The failures Carlone was referring to were in specific and exclusive reference to the 2951 Sacto property (aka The Toler Property), this group seems to be about acccepting the baton, and building on the past. There have been success and there are continuing and new problems.

    But don’t let those things stop your attempt to poison a good thing instead of honestly reaching out Laura. That is just the way Berkeley politics work: Assume bad intent on the other side and let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

  • bgal4

    Taking credit was not the point, reread and if you still don’t pick up what was being emphasised try asking what I was referring to about changes to the code enforcement process, it would be fine with me if you asked in a respectful way.

    If you are going to put my name out when i did not, please sign yours

  • sigh

    We’ve never met and I rarely read berkeleyside. I guessed who you were by the tone and content of your comment alone. If you are concerned about folks knowing who you are perhaps you should consider changing your tone. I wouldn’t know you if I ran into you on the street. I say this out of earnestness. Foks know who you are because of how you comment and respond. I was honestly surprised you thought/thinkon’t know who is commenting in this fashion. Really.

    I never expressed confusion about the code enforcement suggestion you made. It sounds reasonable. Unfortunately it followed two paragraphs of nit picking.

    If you expect folks to act respectfully you should afford them a similar amount by not writing “new””precieved”(sic) and “real” as well as specifically identifying in a single sentence paragraph about past neighbborhood group successes were not identified when, in fact, they were. These things lack respect.

  • The_Sharkey

    “…I rarely read berkeleyside.”

    It’s always seems odd to me when someone starts a comment with an obvious lie and then expects other people to keep reading.

  • bgal4

    This is an off topic personal remark that I request be deleted.

  • sigh

    Nope I was not the person who was mean to you at that meeting. Again we’ve never met I know who you are by repuation alone.

    I am not trying to be willfully mean. I am trying to help you see how others perceive how you comment. I think you could be more effective with the good ideas I believe you have. That’s it.

  • bgal4

    no thanks.

  • sigh

    I agree editors please delete all my comments.
    If you need verification check the email address.

  • guest

    It’s always seems odd to me when someone starts a comment with an obvious lie

    This is a baseless personal attack. And now bgal4 and The_Sharkey have successfully driven away yet another Berkeleyan.

  • bgal4

    stop the nonsense, try to contribute substance

  • southberkeleyres

    I don’t see Bgal attacking your neighborhood group or trying to poison a good thing. There are a lot of South Berkeley residents who have worked very hard to get obstructionists and negligent city employees to do their job. There’s also city employees who would like to see other employees work harder to fulfill their duties. The fight to get Brother’s Liquor Stores closed, to get the Traffic police center moved away from Adeline, getting BTown Dollar stores closed came from residents who put a lot of time into meetings, writing letters, making phone calls, strategizing etc. Our Malcolm X Elementary Schoolyard was closed after school and on weekends for years until neighbors made noise and asked for what the residents and children would demand and expect at any other Berkeley school neighborhood.

    Over 30 years as a blighted property is an epic failure on the part of many. I hope we can all work together on remedies for the Toler property and M and H Liquor store where a clerk repeatedly bought stolen cell phones. Let’s acknowledge that it may take several approaches to finally have some resolution. I called in the Toler graffiti to Code Enforcement thru 510 981-City just prior to Mr Toler’s latest paint job. I’ll be calling in to ask that the use permit for M and H be revoked as well. These are two barriers to economic development in South Berkeley.

    Glad to see the Cal-Julia group up and running, we can use your energy. resolve and commitment.

  • The_Sharkey

    Claiming that you “rarely read Berkeleyside” yet can instantly recognize specific posters based on their prose style and know their identities?

    Well, maybe you and I have different definitions of “rarely.”

  • bgal4

    Epic is the right word.

  • Fed Up

    Holy crap. Did anyone click on that link above that shows “the blighted building on Sacramento”? That’s a pretty good summary of the miserable state of that corner and how it drags down everything around it: .

    I sure hope something comes of this. That building is a total disaster.

  • wheeler57

    I’ve lived in South Berkeley since 1980, and I can tell you this building has always been a mess. The city should be ashamed to have allowed this situation to go on for this many years.