BSC Looks To Prevent Overdoses In Co-Ops

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The Berkeley Student Cooperative has issued a systemwide call to action in order to address mounting concerns over incidents of drug overdoses.

A Jan. 14 letter sent to nearly 1,300 students explained that the organization faces claims for damages by family members of former Cloyne Court resident John Gibson, who suffered brain damage from a drug overdose last spring.

The letter - written by the co-op's board of directors' Community Harm Reduction Outreach Committee - also says Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande would advocate "severing any formal collaboration with the BSC by terminating all four UC leases," including Cloyne, Fenwick, Rochdale and Convent houses, should another drug overdose occur.

Le Grande did not respond to requests for comment.

Due to concerns cited in the letter, the BSC is holding a meeting of its entire membership Feb. 26 to discuss the direction further overdose prevention measures should take.

The co-op has fallen victim to several other drug-related incidents that drew legal action throughout its 77-year history. In 1989, the now-defunct Barrington Hall was sued by neighbors citing the RICO Act - a federal law meant to combat crime organizations - and was eventually closed due to alleged trafficking.

The suit, which was heard in the California Northern District Court, alleged that members of Barrington collectively agreed to allow drug dealing to take place within the house, with at least 19 members engaging in sales, according to court documents.

Another group of neighbors sued the co-op in 2004, citing drug dealing at Le Chateau. The house was eventually closed as a result of the suit, but was replaced by Hillegass-Parker House in 2005.

As a result of the two incidents, the cooperative spent about $200,000 in each case for remodeling, vacancy and legal fees, which in turn caused a room and board rate increase of $672 per year from 1989-90 to 1990-91 and $654 from 2004-05 to 2005-06.

As a nonprofit organization, the BSC's room and board rates rise and fall with operating costs, vacancies and other factors including lawsuits, according to Jan Stokley, co-op executive director.

"Our organization is 100 percent self-supporting, and all costs are borne by member rates," she said. "We are a very bare-bones organization."

Financial documents detailing BSC's current debt show the co-op is paying off $20 million in loans taken out in 2007 to fund seismic retrofits - a cost that contributes to higher room and board fees.

The letter suggests that the potential loss of Cloyne's lease and its nearly 150 boarders would result in a $637 fee increase per year to accommodate the loan's repayment, not including possible rate increases as a result of damages from Gibson's case.

BSC President Daniel Kronovet, a former employee of The Daily Californian, said it is important for co-op residents to remember that larger houses such as Cloyne partially subsidize smaller houses to accommodate for their lower membership.

"It's crucial that we educate our members on the BSC's delicate and complex situation and how the actions of individuals can negatively impact the entire community," he said. "This is a co-op. In the end, we're responsible for each other."

While the lawsuit concerning Gibson's overdose is pending, the co-op has already taken steps toward preventing similar incidents.

Christine Shaff, communications director for the UC Berkeley Department of Facilities Services, said the department was pleased that Cloyne complied with a September request to hire a live-in manager to help monitor drug activity.

The co-op also adopted a Community Harm Reduction platform at a Dec. 9 board meeting, stressing a tripartite strategy for dealing with drug incidents that focuses on referring students to university and community resources for treatment.

"Unfortunately, the phrasing of the (Jan. 14) letter gave some people the impression that we have a strict zero-tolerance policy," Kronovet said. "That's not actually true - our policy is much more sophisticated and ultimately relies on a committee of students to arbitrate on a case-by-case basis."

Stokley said education, such as that taking place at the co-op's planned meeting, is crucial to their continued success.

"Under Daniel (Kronovet's) leadership, the BSC is having a very healthy and engaged dialogue about an issue that affects not just us, but all student housing," she said.


True Shields is the lead courts reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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