Last night, a West Berkeley home that has been the nexus for serious crime and drug dealing for 30 years was declared a public nuisance by the City Council.
The household at 1722 Ninth Street, owned by 77-year old Roberto Alcala, many of whose extended family live there with him, was described by local residents as “the neighbors from hell.”
The Council’s decision follows a recommendation made in February by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board not only to slap the home with a public nuisance order, but also to evict its inhabitants. The council chose not to have the house vacated, but instead imposed 11 conditions on the property owner in order to “abate the nuisance activity,” all of which need to be met within one month. These include eradicating illegal substances and unregistered guns from the property, eliminating excessive noise and applying for the permits necessary to demolish an illegal kitchen addition. (Read the full recommendation.)
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 Westside gang, Berkeley Police Department reported at the February ZAB meeting. There was a tacit acknowledgement last night that the situation had been allowed to fester for too long. “The City of Berkeley has been the codependent partner for 30 years. It’s time to end the relationship,” said one neighbor in the public comment at the council meeting last night.
Several of the home’s residents gave testimony to councilmembers, including Lisette Cooper, a grandchild of Roberto Alcala. “My grandparents are deserving of their place on Ninth Street,” she said.
Dave Ritchie, who described himself as working with Alcala as a mediator, said Alcala had filed to get stay-away orders for three of the people who have been causing “most of problems” at the property. He said his client would comply with all of the city’s recommendations except the one that called for demolition of an illegal addition. He said tearing down the structure would cost money Alcala did not have. Alcala, in his own remarks to the council, suggested there was an element of racism in the opposition to him and his family.
A number of neighbors spoke of their distress caused by living next to the Alcala household. “There have been three generations of drug dealing,” said one. “When we hear guns, it’s probably from the Alcala house.” “We want to live next door to a civilized family. Please do something about this,” said another.
Councilmember Linda Maio, whose district encompasses the house, praised those who chose to speak publicly about the issue. “It takes tremendous courage to come forward,” she said. People had been “afraid to step up”, when she held previous meetings about the problem, she said.
If any of the city’s conditions are violated, the owners will be liable for a fine of $500 per violation. Any substantial violation will result in the matter being set for a public hearing before the City Council at which it may determine whether to order the property vacated for a period of one year.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he felt one month was insufficient time for the household to meet the conditions, and suggested an amended timeline for compliance. Maio disagreed and said previous deadlines had been ignored. For councilmember Gordon Wozniak the deadline showed that the city meant business. “ZAB has been ignored in the past,” he said. “We don’t want to hear excuses.”
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