“How much is too much?”
The question lingered in the air as folding chairs were put away following what was described as an “action plan” meeting Saturday convened by Berkeley Councilwoman Linda Maio held at the Adult School in West Berkeley. Long-time residents joined young families, as well as a representative from the Berkeley Police Department, to discuss potential neighborhood changes following the March 15 shooting of a 28-year-old man on the corner of Delaware and San Pablo Avenue outside of Bing’s Liquors.
“I know you feel the same way I do,” Maio told an agitated crowd of approximately 40 neighbors who shared accounts of witnessing substance abuse, public defection and “sleaze” centered on a small strip of bustling San Pablo Avenue. “This is not new,” she said.
March’s incident marks the third shooting in the area in as many years. In February 2013, Zontee Jones, 34, was shot in broad daylight on Delaware Street and San Pablo Avenue. Six months later, on the other side of San Pablo at Delaware, Dustin Bynum, 24, was shot at close range in front of Bing’s Liquors.
In calling the meeting, Maio circulated several “action plan suggestions” that emerged from a previous meeting attended by Maio, a small group of neighbors and the police following the March 15 shooting:
- No parking (lengthen red curb painting) on south side of Delaware at the corner
- Removal of the bench at Popeyes on Delaware and San Pablo
- Security guard, funded by businesses
- Implementing police design recommendations
- Acquiring commitments from Bing’s Liquor and Popeyes
- Zoning Adjustments Board and city authority
Maio distributed a hand-out at the meeting that showed that there were 269 police calls within 500 feet of Bing’s Liquors in 2015, according to police data mapped by CrimeView. Of those, 103 calls were for “disturbance,” 38 for “trespassing,” and 11 for ‘assault.”
Neighbors have expressed concern that Bing’s Liquors, at 1801 San Pablo, and the Popeyes fast-food restaurant at 1775 San Pablo, are contributing to a culture of disturbance, substance abuse and crime by allowing transients and people who are drunk to sit and sleep around the premises. Maio said at the meeting that her office is working with Bing’s and the police to figure out ways to discourage loitering and substance abuse around the area. She also said she had called Popeyes to discuss the problem of homeless and drunk people laying around the property and the owner wouldn’t speak with her.
Berkeley Police Lt. Andrew Rateaver reported to the gathering that the troubled area’s most recent shooting was caused over a dispute about the color of clothing worn. However, no individuals involved in the shooting were affiliated with gang activity, he said.
Phil Allen, a West Berkeley resident since 1979, was not optimistic for the future of the neighborhood. “I really don’t think anything is going to change,” he told Berkeleyside. “In fact, I think it might take the killing of some ‘upstanding Berkeley citizens’ before something happens.”
Asked why he thought Saturday’s meeting had been called, he said: “I imagine that they see that a breaking point has to come.”
Many people in attendance at the meeting shared stories of witnessing “suspicious” people and behavior in the neighborhood. And both Maio and Rateaver were asked repeatedly what exactly the city was doing to clean up the streets.
“Are we creating an enclave for substance abuse and crime?” asked a father flanked by his young children, suggesting that perhaps alcohol should not be sold on the corner of Delaware and San Pablo.
Another neighbor shared his concerns about the increase of homeless car campers in his neighborhood, adding that his house was recently “ransacked” and his car stolen.
“Any crime is unacceptable,” said Lt. Rateaver, and detailed how police can better operate when civilians make calls when they see suspicious activity in the streets. “‘If you see something, say something’ outreach is seeing a big success.”
Rateaver explained that a combination of substance-abuse issues, “dormant” businesses and commercial establishments — like a vacant auto repair shop on San Pablo that is causing blight — as well as a culture of silence regarding the state of the corner, are all contributing to issues of crime and disorderly conduct in the area. He urged residents to “take ownership of that particular problem.”
Councilwoman Maio took public comments on the action-plan suggestions and faced backlash with regard to two ideas in particular: removing the bench at Popeyes and creating a “No Parking” red zone in front of Bing’s.
Maio took an unofficial vote on whether or not to remove the bench. Support for the bench’s removal focused on the fact that it is primarily occupied by inebriated people sleeping throughout the day.
“It is NOT a crime to sleep!” an older woman said indignantly, adding: “As a three-time cancer survivor, I need every bench I can get, and I’m not alone.”
Neighbors also expressed concern about getting rid of more parking spaces on San Pablo, adding that there was already a lot of red curb in the area.
The suggestion to “bring more life” into the neighborhood through cleaning up the streets and attracting businesses to fill vacant spots also prompted criticism. “You can paint it, you can light it, you can get rid of the shrubs. But ultimately, you’re going to have to get these people the help they need,” said one neighbor.
Maio frequently referenced Berkeley’s addiction treatment services that provide drug detox, outpatient care, substance-abuse counseling and language translation services to community members. She said that when the police get calls about drunken conduct in the area, they dispatch rehab service members along with the police officers who respond.
“Unfortunately, most of the time they do not accept our help,” she said.
Maio also told community members that if Popeyes didn’t start taking steps to quell the disorderly conduct and pubic intoxication on its property, she would involve the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board in a revocation plan that could impose board-mandated property regulations, and potentially revoke their business license.
“Our challenge is not being punitive while we go through with this,” Maio told Berkeleyside. “We all want to clean up the corner, and we will aspire to do that, but we have to have the full cooperation of the businesses in question.”
As neighbors filed out of the room still discussing the proposals among themselves, at least one person still felt frustrated at what he suspected would be a continuing lack of action. “I don’t want to wait for the next shooting for things to shape up,” said Christian Rauh, a local resident and father.
Other community members said they hoped to see a more diverse showing of Berkeley residents at the next neighborhood meeting. “I’d like to see a little more of the working class here,” Berkeley resident Tommy Escarceg told Berkeleyside. She hoped that some of the area’s day-laborer and Latino population would share their experiences with the community. But, she added, with many of that population undocumented, they might be reluctant to attend community meetings and seek help for substance-abuse issues.
“It’s not that they don’t want services. They just don’t trust them,” she said.
Maio told Berkleyside she hoped to organize another meeting at some point to continue the discussion.
Update: Man arrested after Berkeley shooting (o3.15.16)
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Berkeleyside blotter: Crime in Berkeley, Feb. 11-17 (03.01.16)
3 Berkeley teens injured, 2 seriously, in shooting (02.16.16)
Gun violence makes for busy weekend for Berkeley police (01.11.16)
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