May 16, 2012
By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
The owners of a 9th Street home in Berkeley may have to vacate it for a year and pay fines if they don't put a stop to the crime, drug dealing, fighting, loud music, and fireworks that have swirled about the home for the last 30 years.
The City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to prepare paperwork declaring the home at 1722 9th Street a nuisance and to draw up conditions for the owners to follow or be kicked out of the house.
The owners, Roberto and Ramona Alcala, also were told they need to tear down or legalize several additions to the house, including a kitchen in an outbuilding and two bedrooms in the main house city officials said were constructed without permits.
Six neighbors, who said they overcame their fear of retaliation to testify, said at the meeting that the criminals who come and go from the house have made their lives hell for over three decades.
"For 37 years we've lived next to the neighbors from hell," said Beebo Turman, fighting back tears. "We want to live next door to a civilized family. Please do something about this."
In a report to the City Council, Berkeley Police said 15 people with criminal histories designate the home as their residence and six are affiliated with West Side Berkeley, a gang with ties to Nuestros Familia, a California prison gang.
The report also said over the last 18 months the house and its occupants have generated at least 40 "criminally related reports." In 2010, police found computers in the house that were stolen from West Berkeley schools, the report said. Police said the house was the source of three arrests for guns and drugs in 2011, one in 2010 and one in 2009. And between 2009 and 2011 police have been called to the house three times for fireworks being set off, seven times for screaming and yelling, four times for loud music, five times for fighting inside and outside the house and eight times for people working on cars on the sidewalk.
"Because of the negative impact this house has had on the neighborhood, we're pushing for the nuisance abatement," said Berkeley Police Office Cesar Melero during Tuesday night's hearing.
But Lisa Cooper, who described herself as a grandchild of the Alcala's, said during the hearing that the city's action is unfair.
"I grew up in that house. They taught me good values," Cooper said. "My grandparents are well deserving of that place on 9th Street. We are part of the neighborhood whether we be from hell or heaven. We just come from different backgrounds."
Dave Ritchie, speaking for homeowner Roberto Alcala, said Alcala has agreed to conditions concerning crime and noise around the property and has already obtained stay away orders from three people at the house.
Berkeley City Councilwoman Linda Maio, whose district includes the house, said she is tired of the problems coming from it.
"I've been dealing with this for over 15 years," Maio said. "The very first time I got involved, the neighbors refused to have a meeting on the street because they were afraid, so we had to have the meeting at the fire station. So it takes tremendous courage for these people to come forward."
The City Council will meet on May 29 to formalize the resolution that spells out the cause for declaring the house a nuisance and the 11 conditions that must be met for the couple to avoid having the house closed for one year.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.