Monday, September 29, 2008

Proposed Mural for 55th Street Underpass

This is the proposed mural for the 55th Street overpass in North Oakland. The mural is being coordinated through Councilwoman Jane Brunner's Office. If you are interested in providing comments on the proposed artwork, please contact Geoffrey Johnson by October 23, 2008 at:

Geoffrey S. Johnson
Constituent Services & Legislative Aid
Councilmember Jane Brunner, District 1

Oakland City Council
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, 2nd Floor
Oakland, CA. 94612
(510) 238-7001 or (510) 238-7062
Fax: (510) 238-6910

The mural is an important first step in reclaiming the Caltrans underpass. The underpass is reportedly used for illegal dumping, drug dealing, prostitution, homeless squatters and other sundry activities. Creating a more inviting pedestrian oriented space with artwork may encourage members of the community to treat the underpass with greater respect.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oakland Setting Up New Prosecution Team

San Francisco Business Times - by Steven E.F. Brown

On Monday, Oakland’s city attorney will give details of a new crime-fighting program set up by the city and Alameda County.

John Russo plans a press conference Monday morning to introduce three criminal lawyers who will focus on “chronic non-felony crimes” in the city. The idea is to focus on lower-level crime that doesn’t always make headlines, but which creates and sustains a negative atmosphere in Oakland and encourages more and more serious crime.

Crimes listed by Russo’s office included disorderly conduct, illegal dumping and drug-related offenses.

Police have often explained this type of crime using the story of an empty building with one broken window. If the window doesn’t get fixed, soon all the other windows will be broken, too.

The so-called “special prosecution team” aims to discourage a flourishing culture of lawlessness that has long angered Oakland residents and businesses. After a string of invasion robberies of local restaurants and other businesses this summer, some restaurants took to locking their doors even during the hours they were open.

Oakland’s police department has three “area commands” and one attorney will be assigned to each command.

Mario José, one of the special prosecutors, speaks fluent Spanish.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Another View on the Berkeley Blight Ordinance

I recently held a meeting with several City of Berkeley Staff to discuss their progress (or not) on a number of complaints related to blight. Unfortunately, I came away a little more than frustrated with the City of Berkeley because I seemed to hear a lot of "we can't, it's not possible, the problem is too small, we do not have enough staff, if we enforce it in South Berkeley we would have to enforce it in the rest of the City, people would get upset if we enforced the blight ordinance, we can't have the Public Works Department clean the public sidewalk of overgrown weeds because everyone would expect them to clean the sidewalks in the rest of the City", and many suggestions more than once that the residents should clean it up themselves with offers to provide the equipment or that the residents should band together and sue the derelict property owners in court. There was little or no sense of ownership of residents' complaints.

It is evident that there are some serious resource, legal, and personnel problems with the City of Berkeley when it comes to addressing blight.

In order for the City to address blight in a significant and substantive way in South Berkeley, residents will need to advocate for: (1) Sufficient staffing of the Neighborhood Liaisons, Environmental Health and Code Enforcement Offices so that there can no longer be the excuse that there isn't enough staff to address blight issues; (2) Removal of Gregory Daniels as the Supervising Code Enforcement Officer. His approach in dealing with the public and his lack of ownership of code enforcement problems is notorious. The City has fielded numerous complaints about his behavior and his inability to work with the public, yet he continues to remain in his position of having significant public contact and continues to adversely affect the pursuit of code enforcement issues; (3) Direction from City Council through the budget process and work plans that the City Manager's Office and the City Attorney should evaluate and bring to the Council potential amendments to the Blight Ordinance and the Abandoned Vehicle Ordinance. The goal here would be to expand the Blight Ordinance to cover owner-occupied single family dwellings and to ensure that the Blight Ordinance can be triggered with only one of the recognized conditions of blight rather than 2, and to reduce the time frames for requiring property owners to deal with abandoned or inoperable vehicles; and (4) Developing some more transparent standards/protocols for determining when the City must enforce the blight ordinance. Right now there is far too much discretion that allows City Staff to simply blow off residents' concerns because they don't feel that a complaint is significant enough.

Having said that, I dredged up this letter to the Berkeley Voice dating back to December 3, 1992 regarding the blight ordinance. L A Wood, I am sure is well meaning, but in our opinion very misguided. One just has to go to South Berkeley and have a look around at the blighted properties and judge for yourself whether there is sufficient enforcement by City Staff. Arguments that blight ordinances eliminate free expression and traditional elements of the neighborhood are simply code words for allowing people to maintain their properties as dumps. It is exactly during difficult economic times that residents must take care to maintain their property for fear of declining property values. In this economic climate, the worst since the Great Depression, it is even more critical that the City step up its efforts to enforce the blight Ordinance. Otherwise, the City's lack of enforcement simply rewards the few scofflaws at the real expense and further loss of equity for property owners--yes hard working, law-abiding, tax paying citizens.

Read on my friends...

Anti-Blight Ordinance: Leave well enough alone
L A Wood
Berkeley Voice, December 3, 1992
The Voice received a copy of the following letter to Berkeley Mayor Lonnie Hancock and Berkeley City Council members.

I addressed the council with concerns over the proposed anti-blight ordinance. As a follow-up to my public comment, I am writing this letter to encourage you to vote NO on the adoption of the proposed anti-blight ordinance. Of course, I am not pro-blight, but I do recognize many of the difficulties and abuses surrounding this anti-blight program. Historically, Berkeley has avoided blight legislation. Over the last 20 years, the entire city has prospered without a working anti-blight ordinance. Our state and local building codes along with health and safety standards functioned to control blight. Why do we need more?

It was suggested to the council that if you were to answer the question, "What is blight?" you would most likely provide nine different answers. If there was one common response, it would be that of vacant buildings. The planning commission in the development of Phase 1 made first priority of these particular properties. Vacant residential properties are easily identified and hurt our neighborhoods. If indeed Berkeley, needs a blight ordinance, then focus this ordinance on the real problem: vacant properties. Limit this ordinance to Phase 1 only. Why do we need more?

The proposed anti-blight ordinance is directed at West and South Berkeley. Phases 2 and 3 of the ordinance amount to little more than a punitive city dress code. The subjective language and the board criteria will promote problems in both administrative abuse and public understanding. As a public, we have a right to fair and well defined laws that set our expectation of government. A just and open administrative process is less likely to arise from an ordinance so under defined and poorly structure. Over the years, this dress code will remove many of the traditional elements of our neighborhoods.

First the free boxes will be removed and then the community bulletin boards. Much of our city's front yard art will be abated along with individual expression. Berkeley doesn't need this predatory ordinance to control blight. In District 2 we have the highest number of Section 8 housing. This means that these properties undergo critical inspection before being certified, as do other Section 8s in the city. Rent control also contributes to the process of property management and review. Our city even has program assistance (soft approach) in blight prevention, "Christmas in April." It is all our existing programs that contribute to a relatively blight-free Berkeley in 1992. Why do we need more?

At a time when most city departments face personnel and budget reductions, the size of the Codes and Inspections department is due to increase. The anti-blight ordinance provides for funding and increased staff to fully implement the ordinance. This most recent attempt to create alternative funding to the general fund has an unfortunate consequence. It creates a conflict of interest where the Codes and Inspection department would be directly funded by those whom they victimize. A predictably larger department of Codes and Inspection will be armed with broader discretion and self serving motives (enforcing phase 2 and 3) as they feed on Berkeley property owners and perpetuate their own fiscal existence. Why do we need more?

The stated purpose of this ordinance is in part "to promise the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens..." The impact of anti-blight legislation on 'Berkeley's citizens will prove to fall short of this goal. The general welfare of many citizens will be put in jeopardy, especially those of us residing in South and West Berkeley. The council will set in motion a bureaucratic program that will harass and create economic hardship for many of its longtime citizens. Why do we need more?

The council could not find a worse possible time for the passage of such important legislation. The Planning Commission is somewhat in disarray as it winds up the last months of its term. Though the commission gave its initial support to the council, several commissioners expressed discontent over changes made later by the council to the final draft. The commission is not in any state to give further criticism. They did not even have a quorum to open their October meeting. Council is not in much better shape. With its term ending in November, a number of council members will not be around to see the implementation and impact of this ordinance. This anti-blight ordinance has a long-range design and should be entered into slowly.
The council has self-imposed a delay in the second reading of this anti-blight ordinance. I hope you will take the time to review these very important issues. At a time of acknowledged economic downturn, our city should be careful not to impose additional burdens on its citizens. Berkeley's community should be afforded some public input via a public hearing. As a devoted citizen to Berkeley, I urge that you vote No on this anti blight ordinance and yes to Berkeley.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Want to Help Design Murals for Caltrans Overpasses in North Oakland?

There will be a meeting on Thursday, September 25 from 7-8:30 at the North Oakland Senior Center to discuss the murals and improvements for some of the Caltrans overpasses (the street level portion) in North Oakland around 54th Street. These areas are attractive nuisances that promote illegal dumping, litter, graffiti and homeless encampments. The idea is to create an attractive area that the community is proud of and that creates a safe link between Temescal and North Oakland. This is a great opportunity for the community to come out in support of eliminating blight and promoting more attractive, pedestrian oriented links.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Oakland Police Partner with the Community to Remove Abandoned and Inoperable Vehicles from North Oakland

The We Fight Blight Team indicated earlier that one of its primary goals was to eliminate all abandoned and inoperable vehicles from a designated area in North Oakland. Abandoned and inoperable vehicles contribute to blight, present safety problems for children, and eliminate valuable off-street parking. During these difficult times in the real estate market, abandoned and inoperable vehicles as a component of blight also contribute to the downward spiral in real estate values. Communities punctuated by blight are less desirable as areas to relocate or live thereby directly affecting the demand and property valuations.

The We Fight Blight Team has partnered with the Abandoned Auto Detail of the Oakland Police Department to remove approximately 80 vehicles within just the past three months. The list below gives you an idea how widespread a problem abandoned and inoperable vehicles are within our North Oakland Community. The vast majority of theses vehicles were tagged and towed by the Abandoned Auto Detail. A very small percentage were removed voluntarily by the property owner and even a smaller percentage were made operable.

Jointly, the We Fight Blight Team attends lots of community meetings. We hear lots of negative comments about the City of Oakland and the City of Berkeley. Some local activists even go to great lengths to discourage others from partnering with City staff claiming that they are trying to keep the community in a condition of crime and blight through the City's inaction. Frankly, our experience is just the opposite. We have found that there are City staff that are interested in partnering with the South Berkeley-North Oakland Community to address the issues of crime and blight and want to work with respectful, thoughtful and positive people who appreciate the limitations and the opportunities the Cities present.

We want to personally thank Oakland Police Sergeant Steinberger who oversees the Vehicle Enforcement Unit of the Traffic Operations Sections for being responsive, dedicated and helpful to the North Oakland Community in dealing with abandoned and inoperable vehicles. Without his effort and that of his staff we could never clean up North Oakland of abandoned and inoperable vehicles. We are close to our goal of eliminating abandoned and inoperable vehicles in North Oakland and with the continued assistance of Sergeant Steinberger we are confident that we can reach that goal soon and begin to focus on blighted houses.

Successful reduction of crime and blight in South Berkeley-North Oakland requires partnerships and collaboration among various community groups, City staff and the Police Department. We are amazed at how effective we can be working as a small group. We can only imagine the success if all residents of South Berkeley-North Oakland could coalesce together under common values to fight blight and crime.

Abandoned/Inoperable Vehicles Resolved

533 Alcatraz. Tan Honda Accord. 2VWT643. Gone

541 Alcatraz. White Audi. 4SKG854. Side driveway. Gone

618 Alcatraz, Red Ford Sedan, 2LSJ014. Side driveway. Gone

570 63rd Street. Gray Chevy Van. 570 IJUT271. Front Yard. Gone

541 Alcatraz, White Audi 4SK6854 Gone

6518 Wheeler Silver Toyota Camry 2PPF885, Black Nissan PU 4K54304. Both Gone

600 61st (across from 609) behind the Asmarina Cafe, Silver Mercedes 2ELT706. Gone

Tremont Street, Brown BMW Gone.

65th Street, Camaro. Gone

Flints BBQ SUV Gone

735 Alcatraz. White Westphalia VW Van. No plate in side driveway. Gone

565 63rd Street, white Ford Futura, 1FKY160. Gone

636 63rd. Blue Honda Civic 1PEY331. Gone

659 63rd. White Toyota tercel EZ, 2NCE150, June 07. Gone

570 63rd, Grey Chevy Van IJVT271 Gone

Fairview/Berkeley two vehicles. Gone

727 Alcatraz. Abandoned, white Volkswagen Vanogan. No plate. Also White pickup behind Vanogan. Plate not visible. Side yard. All three Gone!!

658 63rds Street. Toyota Corolla, silver 047ZGL. Gone. Van behind it. Side yard/driveway. Both Gone

567 63rd, Brown BMW, Partial 683. Gone

636 Racine, 2 vehicles in Driveway. Blue Honda, White Van behind garbage cans. Both Gone

65th Street at Shattuck, Blue Chevrolet East Bay Smog Center, No rear plate. Gone

588 62nd Street. Blue Ford, IRZY023 on blocks and a second vehicle behind it. Gone

731 60th Street Blue toyota PU in side yard. Gone

5948 Racine. White Cadillac damaged front. Removed voluntarily

761-763 61st Street, White American Van, Side Yard under Bouganvillia. No plate visible. Gone

Between 581-577 must be 579 63rd Street (white house/blue trim), White VW passat. No plate. Also White sedan and red/orange sedan. All three gone

758 61st Street. Orange Saab Convertible with damaged front end at end of driveway. Removed voluntarily

664 62 Street, White Jaguar PRCSLRB. Gone

627 Alcatraz, White Camry 5NE6789, In front of it a Brown Sedan. Both Gone

668 Alcatraz. White Jeep. Side driveway. No plate. Gone

809 Aileen. White VW Truck, 3SEK837, Onstreet, Yellow VW Van, 5UFJ290. Gone

833 57th Street. Red VW No Plate. Gone

724 56th Street. Blue Volkswagon. No Plate. Gone

771 56th Street. Sedan on blocks with cover in front driveway. Gone

621 58th. Black Honda Accord. Gone

623 58th, White Ford, 2UZB587. Gone

767 59th Street, Brown Buick Sedan, 042YPB. Gone

5941 MacCall Red PU, behind blue blazer. Operable

651 Poirer Street, 300 Turbo, Brown Mercedes IFCP125. Gone

5926 Whitney. White Toyota PU, SD33785. Gone

5814 Dover Street (behind gate). Tan Sedan, no plate. Possibly Toyota. Gone

5832 Dover Street. Silver Honda, IMVY394. Gone

819 Arlington Avenue. Blue Volvo. No plates. Gone

818 Arlington Avenue. Blue Toyota. 5FXV749. Gone

822 60th. Grey Sedan, White Sedan in driveway. No plates. Gone

5930 Genoa. White VW Van in Driveway. No plates. Gone

5599 Genoa. Green Nissan, 3FCU030. Gone

843 56th (next door). Tan Acura Legend, 5XZC407, White Ford Sedan with Black Top. Gone

5520 Shattuck Avenue, Brown Sedan, American. In front of Garage. Gone

5414 Genoa. Green Datsun, 297AMH. Gone

707 53rd Street. Brown PU with couch in it at end of driveway. No plates visible. Gone

732 53rd Street. Silver Lexus. No plates visible. Gone

754 53rd Street. Onstreet. Blue Saturn. No Plates. Gone

830 53rd Street. Red Jaguar, 2XXW851. Gone

836 53rd Street. Red BMW 5DUG566, Tan Toyota 5CAP716. Both Gone

551 54th Street. Blue Toyota Celica GT., IFA5195. Gone

626 54th Street. Silver Honda Civic, 607YGG. Gone

639 54th Street. Red Toyota Sedan, 3BBC931. Gone

859 55th Street. Dark blue foreign sedan. 3SKB762. Gone

544 57th Street, Red Volvo sedan. No plates. Gone

583 57th Street. Brown/Yellow Ford Bronco, 4XLJ423. Operable

597 59th Street. Blue Toyota Van, 2TDF019. Gone

5942 MacCall Blue Volvo IRHL 989. Gone

607 55th Street. Blue Volvo, 3XWU882. Gone

750 55th Street. Blue American Sedan, 4YIK681. Gone

5715 MaCcall (onstreet). Saturn Station Wagon, 3RS6385. Gone

751 Aileen. Red Toyota PU with Camper Shell. Gone

A Tool to Fight Blight

Other communities share similar problems as South Berkeley-North Oakland. See the efforts below in this Connecticut community to address blight. A common theme is shared community values for maintaining properties and addressing blight and the notion that blight ordinances are largely complaint driven.

Posted by Shore Publishing on Aug 14 2008, 11:06 AM

By Becky Coffey, Harbor News Senior Staff Writer:


Living next to a property whose owner doesn’t share community standards for upkeep and cleanliness can be frustrating–your own property value could take a hit and it might affect outdoor enjoyment of your property. If the condition of the neighbor’s property is poor enough, it could even pose a public health hazard by attracting disease-bearing rodents and other animals. A proposed town blight ordinance would give zoning officials a new tool to correct these unsightly nuisances.

After several months of discussion, the town’s Board of Selectmen voted this month to set a public hearing for Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall for members of the public to comment on the proposed blight ordinance.

“Blight can devalue that property and adjacent properties,” said First Selectman Michael Pace.

Pace said that typically when owners are made aware of issues with their property–bushes that encroach too much on the sidewalk, debris in the yard, etc.–they will fix it.

“It’s about raising the consciousness of people,” Pace continued.

The proposed eight-page ordinance includes a definition of blight and obliges a property owner, lessee, or occupant to comply with the provisions of the ordinance once adopted. Also included is a description of the enforcement procedures for any owner found violating the ordinance’s provisions and of the appeals process for notices of violation.

To trigger enforcement of the ordinance if it is approved, a member of the public must file a written complaint about a blight condition. The written complaint must be submitted to the first selectman or his designee. If a subsequent investigation concludes that an ordinance violation has occurred, then the town would issue a notice of violation and serve it on the owner, his or her agent, or the occupant of the premises. The notice would include an outline of and timeline for the remedial action to be taken.

The ordinance also includes a provision to slap penalties on owners who refuse to comply.

Pace acknowledged that some are concerned about government telling people how to use their property.

For him, though, the ordinance has one, simple goal: “This is about being a good neighbor.”

The Board of Selectmen’s public hearing on the proposed blight ordinance is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Main Level Conference Room of Town Hall.

Defining Blight

The proposed eight-page ordinance provides a new tool for zoning enforcement officers to urge owners to correct blight conditions on their properties. Its main provisions include a definition of blight, a section describing the notice-of-violation process, an appeals process, and finally, a section describing penalties and enforcement procedures.

The ordinance states it is a “public nuisance for any person owning, leasing, occupying, or having charge or possession of any premises…in such a manner that any of the following conditions exist thereon, which shall be defined as blight:”

a) any structure which is dilapidated or open to the elements

b) premises with a structure for human occupancy where grass, weeds, or similar vegetation are allowed to reach and remain at a height of 10 inches or longer for a period of 10 days or longer, excluding certain flowers, fruits, and landscaping

c) dead or decaying trees that pose a hazard

d) more than one unregistered and “unstreetable” motor vehicles in the public view

e) property with any combination of three or more pieces of non-operational mechanical equipment, excluding licensed motor vehicles

f) property with accumulated debris or with landscaping that physically hinders or interferes with the lawful use of abutting premises or which blocks or interferes with a public sidewalk and/or private street or right-of-way or any road sign.