Bebo Turman describes the household at 1722 Ninth Street in Berkeley as “the neighbors from hell.”
For more than 30 years the home, near Virginia Street in west Berkeley, has been a hotbed of criminal activity and civic non-compliance, according to testimony given by Berkeley police and staff at a hearing of the Zoning Adjustments Board last Thursday. There have been more than 40 criminal-related reports, including cases of illegal weapons possession, drug use, theft, using the house to trade in stolen goods, public drunkenness, and excessive noise, according to BPD officer Cesar Melero.
It is the “nexus for drug activity in the neighborhood,” said one police officer.
Fifteen people with Alameda County criminal records have used the house as their address of record, and some are associated with the city’s notorious West Side gang, said Sgt Peter Hong.
The testimony about the goings-on at 1722 Ninth Street prompted the Zoning Adjustments Board to declare the house a public nuisance on February 23. The board will now recommend that the City Council order it to be vacated.
The owner of the property, 77-year old Roberto Alcala, defended himself at the hearing. Acknowledging that there were problems, and that he had “kicked out” two of the grandchildren who lived in the four-generation household, Alcala asked for more time from the city and help mediating with certain family members.
“I know that some family members are in trouble with the law and it causes stress, worry and pain to us and undue stress on the neighbors,” Alcala said. “But things are going to get better.”
But neighbors did not seem inclined to give Alcala another chance. Tom Turman, an architect who has lived on Ninth Street for 38 years, said he and his wife Bebo Turman had endured verbal assaults, thefts, and noise disturbances. He showed the ZAB Board a clear plastic bag full of items, including syringes and drug paraphernalia, which he said had been dumped into their backyard.
City zoning officer Nathan Dahl said inspections revealed that the owner of the one-story single family house at 1722 Ninth Street has been cited for numerous building and zoning violations over the years, including using uninhabitable attic space for bedrooms, using an illegal kitchen and building an illegal dormer.
Tom Turman told Berkeleyside: “I have talked to Roberto on many occasions over the years and offered to help — that’s my preferred way — but the problems persist.” Addressing the board, he said: “How is it that we are 20 years down the line and nothing has been done? [The Alcala family] did buy a house, but not a neighborhood.”
Other members of the Alcala family also spoke at the hearing. Esmeralda Chavez, a grandaughter of Roberto Alcala who said she had lived for 19 years in the Ninth Street home, said many false accusations had been made at the hearing. “Various members of the house work, there are toddlers there. We wouldn’t do anything to harm children,” said the young woman, who mentioned she was pregnant.
Alcala said his 81-year old wife who lived in the house had suffered a stroke and was in need of constant care.
Board member Deborah Matthews said it was one of the most painful hearings she had heard. She said she believed the family needed healing time and to learn to live in the community, but that action should be taken “before something terrible happens.”
Sophie Hahn, also on the board, questioned why it had taken so long for the issue to be tackled. “I’m annoyed that there is a sense of urgency now and it’s come to ZAB when the city has not done anything effective. I feel it’s been dumped on our lap,” she said.
Toya Groves was the only member of the board to vote against ZAB’s recommendation to the Council. “I don’t want to see an elderly couple ejected from their home,” she said. “This family is also a victim and a Berkeley family.”
Mention was made several times during the hearing of the case of 1610 Oregon Street, an epicenter of Berkeley’s drug wars for more than 20 years, whose owners were finally evicted in 2010 after four court battles, a grand jury investigation, and finally, an injunction won by the city of Berkeley declaring the house a public nuisance.
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