Sunday, July 27, 2008

Can City Governments Be a Source of Blight?

Two fundamental purposes of blight ordinances are to ensure that property owners are maintaining their properties in a manner that avoids or eliminates a public health and/or safety issue and to ensure that property values and the tax base are maintained. As such, blight ordinances adopted by local governments require property owners to meet certain fundamental standards set by the community. Interestingly, while local governments are the enforcers of blight ordinances, they themselves can be the source of blight in a community.

Take for example the maintenance of local roadways which is the responsibility of local governments paid for by your tax dollars including property taxes, income taxes and federal gas taxes. The portion of Shattuck Avenue in North Oakland/South Berkeley between Ashby Avenue and Alcatraz Avenue is major thoroughfare/arterial and gateway to downtown Berkeley. It is heavily traveled by those either coming to downtown Berkeley/UC Berkeley to shop, attend the University or for employment. It is also used by residents of Berkeley/Oakland to access Highway 24 and downtown Oakland. Yet, this section of roadway has severely deteriorated to the point where it represents a public safety problem and detracts from the community, creating an appearance of neglect and blight. This section of the road is filled with so many ruts and potholes, that it is a significant public safety concern for bicyclists and motorists. In fact, it presents a significant liability for the Cities of Oakland and Berkeley to maintain an unsafe roadway and it costs taxpayers in the form of additional maintenance on their motor vehicles/bicycles. Clearly, the failed pavement is a result of the heavy use of the roadway as well as the pavement cuts made by utility companies over time to repair underground utilities in the right of way.

This issue was recently brought to the attention of the Berkeley Public Works Director, Claudette Ford, and Berkeley City Councilman, Max Anderson, by the Chair of a Neighborhood Association.

Ms. Ford stated in an email reply to the Chair, "The Public Works Department has received your email over the past few weeks [and] has been investigating what could be done to address your request. We are in total agreement that the section of Shattuck that you refer in your email is in bad shape, but given the other pressing needs it was not on our scheduled repair list at this time...we feel fairly confident that we will be able to do something to improve the overall condition of the street. As we get closer to the actual work date, you and others on the street will be getting notification from the city/contractor".

Apparently, Councilman Anderson also noted to the Chair at a Neighborhood Watch Meeting that the Public Works Department found the funding to repave the Berkeley portion of Shattuck from Ashby to the Oakland border. Councilman Anderson was instrumental in working with the City Manager and the Public Works Director to find a solution. Concerned residents are still working with Oakland City Councilwoman, Jane Brunner, and the Oakland City staff on repairs to the Oakland portion of Shattuck.

While we are happy to see that the City of Berkeley has plans to repair the failed pavement, it begs the question: do local governments have a fundamental responsibility to maintain their property? We think so. Both the City of Oakland and Berkeley get an F when it comes to maintaining its infrastructure, particularly local roads, and they are on our blight watch list. Rather than having to wait until members of the community complain, local governments should be pro-actively assessing their properties and infrastructure and budgeting appropriately for their repair and maintenance. This is what is expected of private property owners. Why shouldn't local governments be required to meet the same standards? Budget priorities are the responsibility of our locally elected officials.

We will keep you updated on the repair work...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Please Report Broken or Burned Out Street Lights

The following is from Karen Ivy at the Rockridge NCPC

"When I attended the City Auditor's meeting today on the audit of the Public Works dept., somebody brought up the issue of burned out street lights, and asked why Public Works can't be more proactive - they actually come out to fix dead street lights pretty promptly once they are reported, but somebody has to call the problem in. The meeting coordinator made a point I never thought of: Public Works staff don't work nights; and with city finances the way they are, we'll probably never have them working nights.

So - once more with feeling: if you see a street light out, call 615-5566 or send an email with details to pwacallcenter@.... They only fix them if we report them, and we're the ones who are around at night".

Karen Ivy
Greater Rockridge NCPC

North Oakland Effort to Remove Abandoned and Inoperable Vehicles

During the past several weeks, there has been a concerted effort in the North Oakland neighborhoods bordering Berkeley (bounded by the Berkeley/Oakland border, Telegraph Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Way/Adeline, and 59th Street) to identify and remove abandoned and inoperable vehicles. The City of Oakland Abandoned Auto Detail has responded admirably tagging and removing vehicles with a tremendous amount of professionalism and efficiency. So far 54 vehicles have been identified by members of the community as being abandoned or inoperable with the vast majority being on private property. Of the 54 vehicles 18 have been removed voluntarily or towed by the City of Oakland Abandoned Auto Detail. In some cases, tagging the vehicle was enough incentive for the property owners to repair the vehicles and return them to an operable status.

People often ask why is it important to remove abandoned/inoperable vehicles. Well, such vehicles contribute to the overall negative appearance of a community, creating a sense of abandonment and blight. In some cases, the vehicles can create a safety problem for curious children and pets. In other cases, the vehicles may be leaking oil, gas, brake or cooling fluids resulting in small, but significant hazardous materials spills. When abandoned or inoperable vehicles are stacked in a person's driveway, it eliminates off-street parking options and puts greater pressure for on-street parking spaces. Bottom line, it is against the law to maintain an abandoned or inoperable vehicle on public or private property. When you see abandoned/inoperable vehicles please do your neighborhood a service and report them.

In Oakland you can report Abandoned/Inoperable Vehicles to: Abandoned/Inoperable Autos on Private Property at 510-777-8538 Abandoned/Inoperable Autos on Public Streets at 510-777-8622 or 510-238-6030

In Berkeley you can reportAbandoned and Inoperable Vehicles to: Environmental Health at (510) 981-5310 and TDD (510) 981-6903, or send email to

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why are litter and illegal dumps problems?

This is from the National Center for Environmental Decision Making Research in the United Kingdom.

Litter and illegally dumped solid wastes pose risks to human health and the environment. Litter is transported into drains and commonly ends up in area rivers or bodies of water. Illegally dumped wastes attract flies and may leach into the soil and groundwater.

Litter and illegal dumping signal a lack of pride in the neighborhood. Illegal dumps are often symptomatic of a community's larger problems, such as overcrowding or illegal housing. Litter and illegal dumping behaviors pose challenges to decisionmakers tasked with controlling or reducing these intermittent, persistent problems. A nationwide 1996 survey reports that over the last three years, average local litter reductions have decreased and litter is increasing. The annual Photometric Index, which measures the distribution of litter at sites within a community. Keep America Beautiful found that overall 1996 litter reductions were less than 1995 reductions and significantly less than 1994 reductions. Most alarming is that this study was conducted in areas with active litter prevention programs, leading one to question whether nationwide litter is significantly increasing.

Although these problems occur nationwide, there is not a universally applicable, federal law that prohibits private individuals from littering or illegally dumping. The collection and disposal of solid waste is traditionally a function of state and local governments. The state laws each prohibit litter and illegal dumping, but the means taken by each state varies greatly.

Data on the volume of litter and illegally dumped waste is not uniformly documented. However, state budgets typically include funds for litter pick-up on state highways. Florida and Texas spend approximately $3 million each year, Kentucky spends $4.0 million each year, and the state and parish governments of Louisiana expend nearly $10 million each year on litter removal and illegal dump clean-up.

Local governments, the primary implementers and enforcers of both the state and local laws, are directly burdened by and must respond to litter and illegal dump sites. The local public works departments typically budget funds for litter pick-up and illegal dump clean-up. The City of Los Angeles spends over $4 million annually to clean up approximately 121,000 tons of trash at illegal dump sites. The District of Columbia's Department of Public Works spends nearly $1 million each year cleaning up illegal dump sites. The City of Berkeley, California cleans up approximately 160 tons of illegally dumped items each year at a cost to the city's taxpayers of over $100,000. A City of Philadelphia study determined that illegal dumping activities cost the city $5 million dollars annually.

Nationwide taxpayers are unnecessarily spending over $200 million dollars each year to pick up litter and illegally dumped solid waste, which could be properly disposed of and managed in the solid waste management system.

Why do people litter and illegally dump?

Keep America Beautiful, a national litter education and prevention organization has found that people litter for three reasons:

* they lack a sense of ownership,
* they believe that someone picks up their litter, or
* the area is already littered.

Rapid growth, increasing mobility, and improper disposal habits cause the existence, proliferation and accumulation of litter.

Seven typical sources of litter include:

* household trash collection and placement for curbside collection,
* commercial waste dumpsters,
* loading docks,
* building construction and demolition activities,
* vehicles traveling with uncovered loads,
* pedestrians, and
* people in motor vehicles.

Twenty percent of litter is generated by people in motor vehicles and pedestrians. Contrary to what one might think, only about twenty percent of litter is attributable to rural and urban areas.

Illegal dumping is due to the lack of convenient solid waste management services and disposal facilities, the price to use those services and facilities, whether local governments are authorized to require residents to pay for and to use the services and facilities. Multiple factors create variations in illegal dumping incidents. A community or private hauler without a permitted municipal solid waste landfill will gain access to a vacant property and dump on it. In other cases, a private property owner seeks to profit by opening his land for dumping construction debris, old appliances, or tires for a lower fee than the municipal landfill. Private landowners may also seek wastes to be dumped as fill on the property.

Research indicates that socioeconomic factors are not an adequate predictor of illegal dumping. Some individuals will chose to engage in illegal dumping despite the convenience or efficiency of the collection and disposal services. A study of the costs and benefits to illegal dumpers found that, the cost of legal disposal must be decreased and the cost of illegal dumping penalties must be increased to reduce the volume of illegal dumping. Some possible socio-economic conditions that may influence illegal dumping are: type of community; demographics; population density; and the amount of spare, abandoned, or undeveloped space.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fight Graffiti in Berkeley

The City of Berkeley is committed to a clean and safe environment for residents, visitors and businesses. All acts of vandalism, including graffiti, are a sign of neglect. Experience has shown that when graffiti is not removed immediately, more follows. Quick reporting and eradication is the best anti-graffiti strategy.

The City works with private property owners, businesses, and residents to prevent and eliminate graffiti wherever it appears. That includes:

* Alerting private property owners to graffiti,
* Police surveillance and enforcement,
* Prevention and intervention programs, and
* Using public employees and private contractors to paint out graffiti on public buildings, utility poles and boxes, sidewalks and streets, and in parks.

What to do when you see graffiti

Preventing and cleaning graffiti is a community effort, and it is only by working together that we can keep Berkeley clean and safe. Residents can take the following steps to keep Berkeley graffiti-free:

* If you see graffiti on public property such as mail boxes, street signs, utility boxes, streets or parks, call the Public Works Department: 981- 6620

* If you see graffiti on private property, report it to Code Enforcement: 981-CITY

* If you see graffiti in progress, call the police non-emergency line: 981- 5900

* If you would like to organize a graffiti clean-up, call Neighborhood Services: 981-7071

* When reporting graffiti, you can help us by giving us a description of the location and the tag. Take a picture of it, if you can.

Gang graffiti and hate graffiti are especially offensive. They are associated with violence and are the City’s highest priority. Please call us immediately if you see hate or gang graffiti in Berkeley.

Click here to read about Private Property Prevention and Enforcement

Click here to read about Public Property

Click here to read about Finding and Punishing Graffiti Vandals

City of Berkeley Clean City Program

Apparently, the City of Berkeley has a Clean City Program...This in from a Lorin District Neighbor. Thanks Robin.

The spirit of cooperation and community responsibility is alive and well in Berkeley. The City that is known for it's community spirit and environmental concern is intensifying its efforts to inform and motivate residents and businesses to make conscious and positive choices that enrich and inspire the appearance and condition of the City's neighborhoods and business districts.

Clean City is a collective effort to:

Enhance the City's appearance,
Encourage business and property owner compliance
Enforce environmental and safety regulations.

Clean City maintains public property that provides a healthy, safety and convenience City for residents. In turn citizens must comply with health, safety and environmental regulations protecting roads, sidewalks, storm drains and the community's welfare.

Public Works and Clean City are working together with businesses, property owners and residents to make Berkeley a clean and comfortable community.


The community must become the eyes and ears of our joint effort to keep Berkeley clean.

The property owner, resident or business is responsible for keeping the area from the property line to the curb face free of litter, debris or safety hazards.

To report violations or request information please contact the following City department(s):

Public Works Customer Service (510) 981-6620
Berkeley Police Department (510) 981-5900
Toxics Management Program (510) 981-7460

To report graffiti or illegal dumping in progress call (510) 981-5900

You can help by fighting back. Work with your merchant or neighborhood associations to organize community paint-outs and community clean-ups against graffiti vandalism, illegal dumping, illegal posters and litter.

You can help by reminding and informing your residential or business neighbor that placing debris on the sidewalk and roadway reduces your ability to protect your property, safety and health. Encourage your neighbor to be a good neighbor.

1. Graffiti Abatement

Graffiti degrades the appearance of our residential and commercial areas. City crews remove an average of 150,000 square feet of graffiti in a year.

California Penal Code, Chapter 594 prohibits vandalism of real and personal property; fines up to $1000.

California Penal Code, Chapter 640 prohibits graffiti vandalism of governmental facilities and vehicles imposing fines up to $1000, community service up to 300 hours and up to one year in jail.

2. Illegal Dumping

Annually, 160 tons of materials, debris and waste are dumped on the streets of Berkeley. Clean up of illegal dumping cost Berkeley tax payers over $100,000 per year and increases the cost to maintain clean and healthy streets. One litter crew commits 22% of its time removing illegally dumped material. The yearly impact to the community is that Clean City is unable to provide litter service to 5,885 blocks in residential and commercial areas.

Violators can be imprisioned or fined up to $1,000 per day.

BMC Chapter 12.40 prohibits dumping on public and private property.

California Vehicle Code Section 23112 prohibits illegal dumping on public roadways.

California Penal Code Section 374.3 prohibits illegal dumping on public or private property.

BMC Chapter 12.32.030 prohibits illegal dumping of refuse in litter containers by any property owner, company or corporation.

3. Storm Drain Cleaning and Maintenance

Catch basins and storm drains divert rainwater from sidewalks, streets and intersections to the bay. When residents and businesses sweep and dump debris, cement and oil into the storm drain system it causes sidewalk flooding, dangerous driving conditions, and increases pollutants in the Bay. There are approximately 2000 catch basins and 4000 cross connection drains in the City of Berkeley. Illegal dumping and mishandling of litter, leaves and trash Public Works responded to 2500 emergency calls to clear flooded and clogged catch basins and storm drains. This effort cost the citizens over $200,000 per year.

Violators can be imprisoned or fined up to $250,000 per day.

BMC Chapter 12.40.010 prohibits property owners or anyone in charge of a building or property from allowing trash, debris or litter to be swept into the roadway, street or drainage system.

BMC Chapter 12.40.080 prohibits any person, company or corporation from throwing, depositing or dumping debris, litter or rubbish in public places.

BMC Chapter 17.20.050 states that no person shall throw, deposit, leave, maintain, keep, or permit to be thrown, deposited, placed, left upon any public or private place any trash, debris or litter that might be or become a pollutant that enters the storm drain system.

California Vehicle Code Section 23112 prohibits any person from throwing, depositing, placing or dumping any garbage, glass, paper, wire, rock, refuse or any substance likely to injure or damage traffic using the highway.

4. Illegal Posting on Utility and Lamppost

Utility poles and lamppost covered with posters create the appearance of a fragmented and decaying community. Cluttered poles must be cleaned before utility repairs begin causing delays in utility installation and repairs. Additionally, cluttered poles increase incidents of graffiti, litter and illegal dumping.

Violators can be imprisoned or fined up to $1,000 per day.

The Public Utilities Commission's General Order 95 prohibits placement of signs and posters on power, telephone, and cable utility poles.

BMC Chapter 20.16.010 (B) prohibits placement of signs and posters on city owned utility poles and lampposts that may represent a hazard to pedestrian or vehicle traffic.

5. Weed Abatement

It is the responsibility of property owners, business owners and operator to ensure that the public right of way fronting their property or business is free and clear of grass weeds, debris and any material that contribute to the poor, disorderly and unfit condition or appearance of the immediate and surrounding properties and community. Businesses, property owners and occupants should be aware that dumping, sweeping or blowing leaves, weeds, trimmings, and litter into the street or gutter is a misdemeanor and a violation of the California Vehicle Code.

Violators can be imprisoned or fined up to $1,000 per day.

BMC Chapter 12.40.010 prohibits property owners or anyone in charge of a building or property from allowing grass, weed, dirt, rubbish or any obstruction or material to accumulate from the lot line to the curb face and shall not allow such obstructions or material to be swept into the roadway, street or drainage system.

BMC Chapter 16.04.010 prohibits property owners or anyone in charge of a building or property from allowing the area from the lot line to the curb face to be out of repair or in any condition that would endanger persons or property passing or interfere with the public convenience.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Litter and Illegal Dumping

Have you ever noticed that some parts of South Berkeley and North Oakland are awash in litter? Take a really close look at Shattuck Avenue Between Berkeley Bowl and Alcatraz. It is a dump heap. Unfortunately, this is typical of our community. Although many in South Berkeley and North Oakland pride themselves on being environmentally sound and green, they do little to stem the tide of litter and illegal dumping, turning a blind eye. Eventually, much of this garbage makes its way into our streams and creeks and the San Francisco Bay.

Recently, while driving in Montclair, Rockridge, Moraga, Walnut Creek and Mill Valley, I took notice of how clean those neighborhoods/communities are. I was hard pressed to find litter and saw absolutely no illegal dumping. In South Berkeley and North Oakland, I can walk any number of places, anytime of the day or night and see the accumulation of litter and the remains of illegal dumpers.

Recently, one resident reported to me that on the 1900 Block of Harmon/65th Street she picked up three shoppings bags full of litter. This included used condoms, drug bags, cigarettes and cigars, alcohol containers, and fast food wrappers all from the local drug dealers who have taken up residence on the block.

The other day, while waiting at a stop light, I noticed a young African American man in a Cadillac Escalade roll down his window and toss out a piece of garbage. I pulled up and gently said, "Excuse me, I think you dropped something". He looked at me, laughed, and said "No I didn't, I threw it there". It's all about attitude. That is the key.

Due to socio-economic issues, we have a large number of residents who feel alienated and have no sense of ownership of their community. Consequently, they dispose of garbage and litter on the streets and sidewalks as a protest, feeling that it gives them some degree of power, that someone else will have to pick up their trash. Sadly, they don't realize that money spent picking up litter, sweeping the streets, and disposing of illegally dumped refuse could go to job training, childcare, parks, and any other number of services that could help lift people out of poverty and provide opportunities for advancement. The lack of respect for community is really a lack of respect for oneself and a protest against their standing in society.

Besides attitude, some suggest that the City of Oakland and Berkeley do not do enough to pick up litter, clean the streets and remove illegally dumped items. Some even go further and suggest that the lack of city services is due to racist or discriminatory policies--South Berkeley and North Oakland do not get the same level of services as North Berkeley, Rockridge or Claremont. Others suggest that other communities like Moraga, Walnut Creek, and Mill Valley have more more money and can afford more frequent street sweeping and litter control. Yet others suggest that we live in a more dense urban environment and consequently there will simply be a higher voume of litter. Others just choose to close their eyes and pretend it doesn't even exist while they wade through the urban refuse.

Packaging, our disposable culture, lack of education, fast food outlets--there is always something or someone else to blame. But what about personal responsibility? Garbage and litter are the direct result of individuals choosing to throw their trash and garbage on our streets and sidewalk. Perhaps we need to start with respect for self, respect for the community and personal responsibility along with a dose of accountability.

Help our community look clean, choose to pick up some litter and put it in its place, tidy up the sidewalk and gutter, and call the City of Berkeley or Oakland when you see illegal dumping taking place.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Grand Jury Report on Drug Houses in Berkeley

See page 45 regarding the Alameda County Grand Jury Report on Drug Houses in Berkeley. This has implications for blight issues in South Berkeley. Not only does this specifically address more aggressively pursuing drug houses, but the same rationale and logic can be applied to owner occupied, single family dwellings and issues of blight. It is time that the City of Berkeley get serious about blight by amending and reforming the blight ordinance to provide City staff with the tools it needs to assist neighbors and residents fed up with problem houses.