By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
All Art Maxwell wants for the holidays is some peace and quiet.
Problem is, the Berkeley man lives next to a playground. For years, he and his wife, Mimi Chin, have waged a low-level battle against those who break the rules at the Becky Temko Tot Park on Roosevelt Avenue.
Dogs, loud noise, pot smoking kids, and people having sex on the grass at night are on their list. Those things make them miserable.
But parents of children who use the park say Maxwell goes way too far in his attempts to get his peace and quiet.
And now the couple's battle is in the hands of the Alameda County District Attorney's office, which will decide if one of several recent complaints to police by park users will result in Maxwell being charged with violating a restraining order obtained against him three years ago by 29 Berkeley residents who use the park.
The restraining order against Maxwell was granted for such alleged antics as threatening children with arrest, screaming at children and their moms, playing obscene rap music and generally scaring people. He is barred until Dec. 19 -- when the order expires -- from entering the park, playing music outside his home and coming within five yards of anyone listed on the restraining order. He is also barred from screaming or glaring at anyone who uses the park.
Since the order was issued, a move that stuck Maxwell with $7,500 in attorney's fees, parents say Maxwell stopped most of the overt harassment, but continued harassing them in more subtle ways.
Michael Eisen lives a couple of blocks away and has two children ages 5 and 1 who use the park. He said Maxwell recently approached him outside the park with a video camera in one hand and a phone in the other and was using the devices to describe Eisen's appearance as if he were reporting him to the police.
"I said 'go away, we have a restraining order against you,'" Eisen said. "It freaked my kids out. The kids all know there's this mean man who lives next to the park, so they are afraid of him. The police have never done anything and there's no solution in the offing." Eisen admitted that the new Art Maxwell is not as bad as the old.
"He stopped blasting loud music into the park and screaming at the kids, but now he's doing things like throwing things against the fence and raking the concrete with a metal rake," said Eisen, "It's successful because he scares the kids. The restraining order is expiring and I'm afraid he's going to return to his old ways."
Maxwell and his wife tell a different story, one that includes the horrors of living next to a city park and dealing with a group of obnoxious parents the couple says are bullying them and making things up because they dislike them.
"The only escalation I'm aware of is that more than one person has come into the park and repeatedly violated rules, including bringing dogs and coming in at night and those are attempts to provoke me," Maxwell said. "They're foolish, because it doesn't work."
Maxwell said "dope smoking by Berkeley High truants" and sex acts in the park at night have him constantly on edge adding that what he does in his backyard while people use the tot lot is well within the law, he said.
"Several people have tried to have me arrested for trimming my hedge, raking my driveway, cutting scrap lumber and sanding my deck," Maxwell said. "If evidence existed, police would have arrested me for violating the restraining order and they have not."
He said people are fabricating stories about him because they simply don't like him.
"To those people who dislike me so much, I say God bless you and happy holidays," Maxwell said.
Maxwell's wife said the people who use the park are constantly irritating her family.
"I think these people feel entitled that the park should be there to do whatever they want," Chin said. "I think these people are grown up bullies. In three years I have documented 350 nuisances. These are all things that happen in all parks. But this is a very small park, shoe horned in among four homes."