City Council Focuses on Responses to Suspected Residential Drug-Dealing

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Despite years of frustration felt by some Berkeley residents, the City Council said last night that it was appropriately handling what neighbors call extensive drug dealing at a house on Oregon Street.

In a unanimous vote last night, the council said they agreed they could be doing more to combat houses where drug-dealing is suspected but said some of the actions recommended by a Civil Grand Jury were inappropriate.

In July, the jury declared that the city had "failed to follow through with all possible measures to eliminate this drug house problem."

The jury's report was a response to a Berkeley resident who complained that the city had been "derelict in its duty" in using state law to shut down a controversial house at 1610 Oregon St.

In a letter approved by the council last night, City Manager Phil Kamlarz and Mayor Tom Bates said they thought the city could have done more to deal with the property in 2005-06, when 31 residents sued the owner of the house in a small claims court.

"The city does not dispute that it could have followed up more aggressively at that time," the letter reads.

In the July report, the jury recommended that the city use the same practices to fight drug-dealing at residential locations as it does at commercial locations.

But in the letter, Bates and Kamlarz stated that for the most part they had already taken steps to combat residential drug-dealing. They also wrote that they were concerned that by following the jury's recommendations, they could unintentionally harm other homeowners.

"These long-standing policies represent a balance between the rights of individuals to live in their property and the needs of the community," the letter states.

The City Council will consider some of the jury's recommendations more fully this spring.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he hoped the a discussion of the jury's recommendations will eventually make it easier for residents and police to crack down on drug houses.

"I hope the grand jury report will inspire the city to be a lot more effective," he said. "I think there is a greater role (for the city) now to take this seriously and get this resolved."

But South Berkeley community activist Laura Menard said the council's response was incomplete and did not fully answer all of the grand jury's concerns.

"Until (city officials) show they know how to be responsible with drug houses, I will keep pushing," she said.


Will Kane is the city news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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