And it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood – NOT


I got to spend four hours at the City Council yesterday. What fun. If I had to go into politics I would blow my brains out first.

But I digress….

Why was I at the city council, I imagine you wondering. (Okay, I am delusional, but we all knew that already.)

Well, because my residentially-zoned neighborhood has been infiltrated by developers who buy houses and turn them into mini-dorms. Well, actually, mostly turns them in mini-Greek system party houses. Cos, you see, frats and sororities have more members than they can fit into those fancy houses up on Greek row. And the parties they give up on Greek row are monitored by UC, so they can get in trouble over drunken brawls and rapes and underaged drinking and the like. But in off-campus houses….

So, for example, around the corner from me is a former four bedroom single-family house. At some point in 50s it was two flats, but for the past fifty-odd years it was just one family in there. The local Slimelord bought it and put in NINETEEN bedrooms in three flats, telling the planning office it could still be rented to a single household. And the planning office – about which more – said they couldn’t argue with that. Why would he lie?

They did make him take out yet two other bedrooms, because he had done additional unpermitted work to put them in while he was in the middle of the planning process. He did, though, still manage to add an illegal fourth floor by calling it a mezzanine. Oh lolz.

He already has a half a dozen of these things scattered around Southside. So the local neighborhood knew what they were facing as soon as he bought the place. He started off working on the house without any permits; he ignores stop work orders; etc., etc.

The neighborhood has fought him every inch of the way, and both the Planning Office and Zoning people have kicked it up to the City Council, who have now delayed it yet another month while they natter on about whether or not the frat rats who moved in in August are a single household or not….

The tenants came by to testify, all very scripted, about how they are all fourteen (plus another four or five, I was getting confused by this point) of the bestest friends ever and they all went out apartment hunting together…. Which got kind of tangled up since it ends up six of the fourteen signed the lease before setting up the Facebook page for the rental which (evidently) which recruited the other eight who signed more than a month later.

And they sweetly explained how there have only been three parties on record that have brought out the police. (In part because the police don’t come.) The ones they turned up for were like at 2am with literally A HUNDRED kids out on the street drinking and shouting. Because it is min-frat row over there.

So squeeky clean whiney little business students explained that they have dodgeball teams and do a Good Work every month and are all fourteen of them the bestest friends ever and they are a household and not a group living situation and so no one ought to mind. (The other four, five? are separate bestest friends, in a household downstairs.)

So why does this bother me? I mean, except for the fact that I can hear their parties from a block away? Well, for one thing the house next door is being fitted up for resale by another developer. The neighborhood go on top of him, and luckily the thing is landmarked so he is more restricted than by zoning alone. But he was all set to rent it to multitudes of students (who had their frat sign stored in the house in July) before we all zapped the city on him. (“He’d been going to get around to permits, he just wanted to get started first….”)

The motivation for all this skullduggery? Well, these little brats are paying through the nose for all this. Slimelord is pulling in over $15,000/month (!) in rent from that house. For that amount they could easily rent two or three houses, but people tend to care about houses. Slimlord gets his deposits and doesn’t care at all. So what they are getting is a total lack of any accountability. They are up a Greek system party house in the middle of an R-4 zoned block.

So, basically they had the whole neighborhood aroused mob – lacking only pitchforks and torches – testifying. (Including me!) i pointed out that while the current lot of students may indeed by lovely people (NOT) and the best of friends, that doesn’t mean five years from now those nineteen bedrooms will be any kind of single household. Having a nineteen bedroom house on Parker Street is a travesty, no matter whether everyone eats dinner together or not. Oh and they’d said they told all the neighbors beforehand about the parties. So I said I’d been asked by their neighbor (who had already spoken and so could’t again) to tell the council no one had told her anything. And I added that telling the neighbors you will have a party doesn’t mean you are allowed to break the laws concerning noise and drinking. No get out of jail free card there. Ah well.

So now it’s up the the City Council, who are at least elected, as opposed to the Planning office who are hired minions of a sort. Ah yes, the Planning Office. Some brilliant plan back in the 80s set up the Planning Office to be funded by fees. So it is completely Developer Heaven over there. They have never met a plan the didn’t like.

Including the agenda item before ours. It’s a big project to do all sorts of mixed use commercial/residental nearby on Shattuck Avenue. It’s going to be all very green and have affordable housing. Affordable, btw, means charging more than I do for my rentals. And, did you know that developer-ese for “green” means you put it on the bus line and then not plan for any parking? Srsly.

But it will have to be pretty darn green to overcome the fact that it is located on top of an un-remediated TOXIC SITE. A fact the developers appear to have left out of their information packet, and that the planning office somehow failed to notice. Even though it is on a state list of such sites. And there is, legally, supposed to be a checklist in the information the packet including the question: is this site on the toxic list, yes or no. And the checklist wasn’t there. Which the planning office somehow missed.

Nor, apparently,  was such a checklist contained in the information on an already completed housing project up at Telegraph and Ashby. (As pointed out by our local Housing Saint person, who spends her time attempting to keep the city honest. Hopeless as that might be.) Somehow the Planning Office people didn’t notice that information was missing either. And there are kids living on top of it now. Oh well.

Le Sigh.


16 responses to this post.

  1. Ugh. That’s horrible. I’m really dumbfounded and at the same time, not totally surprised because of all the money involved. Farking greedy developers.
    What are you going to do if it keeps sliding downhill?


    • At this point there is still a fight to save the area, and I think it may be pulled out of the flames.
      If not, well, there are options.
      Our house is actually a duplex, and we could split it up and rent it out and live somewhere else on the proceeds.
      Not really wanting to do that, though.


  2. That is just awful. I have to wonder at times if developers have a conscious.

    Our neighborhood turned out in full force when a developer was trying to get a permit for a ‘Section 8’ apartment building right next door to us. Lucky for us he was denied, but he just changed locations and the next neighborhood was not successful in fighting the developer off….because the developer played the ‘discrimination’ card.

    I hope you are able to fight your demons off. There just isn’t any reason to allow housing like that in a family oriented neighborhood.


  3. This is interesting. When I was living in Minnesota, there was a Cambodian family living in a three-bedroom, two-bath house around the corner from us. The neighborhood was zoned for single family homes, and they were indeed a single family. The owners were a couple with three children of their own; the husband’s elderly parents, plus his two brothers and their families also lived there, for a grand total of 14 people. They were quiet and took care of their property; no one ever paid much attention to them, until one day someone in the neighborhood complained that they violated city ordinances about the number of people who could live in so many square feet of housing. We suspected the complaint came from this one old couple who were blatantly racist, particularly against Asians (the husband claimed he was wounded at Pearl Harbor, though that was never proven). But the city went after the family with the full force of the law, and finally drove them to sell the house. The buyer was a notorious slumlord, who promptly turned the house into a rental. From then on the place was inhabited by, in sequence, four bartenders who partied every Sunday (it was their day off), a couple who threw their trash all over the front lawn, and finally a meth dealer who contaminated the house with toxic chemicals and made it unfit to live in. The city had to condemn the property and tear it down, at taxpayer expense.

    I suspect even the city of Berkeley would not tolerate the developer’s antics if he wasn’t renting to privileged white kids. We are not a “post-racial” society, no matter what the cultural critics say or whoever is in the White House now.


    • The neighborhood association types are pretty upbeat about the meeting.
      I think we’re going to get some more specific guidelines for planning and zoning types, if only because the council has been hearing from us for months, and they want to get back to worrying about the military calling hardware with Indian names, and having positions about oil pipelines and the like.
      Which is fine with me, as long as they get around to my problem too.
      My only real worry is whether we can get the current batch of things squashed.

      We did succeed with the houses next door to me – poor copycat developer suffered from having a neighborhood up in arms over Sleezylandlord #1, so he hasn’t gotten away with much.
      All he wanted to do was illegally modify two historically-landmarked buildings, adding another three or four bedrooms each, and turn the (landmarked) carriage house into more housing, none of it with permits.
      In the hopes of flipping them quickly to whoever would pay him top dollar (I’m looking at you, Sleazylandlord!), while assuring the neighbors that they would be bought by families.
      Oh,and tried to move a frat into one of them while work continued on the other.

      But it’s alright, he’s a regular church-going good ole boy from North Carolina, and brings his wife and baby to every meeting.
      Keeps making me think of that guy in the Music Man, only more shark-like.


  4. Well, nobody’s complaining about two or three properties I know of that have multi-generational Indian families in them.
    These places, like the Asian family you describe, keep the places up (better than I manage) and no one really cares.
    As we wouldn’t care so much about these set-ups if they weren’t so awful as neighbors.
    (I’m not kidding about 100+ party-goers out in the street on weekends! Loud and drunk.)
    Yeah, I suspect if they were ethnic or hippies and were this obnoxious, they would get their parties shut down faster by the cops, who seem to have an underlying sympathy for young loud and entitled.
    The landlord is maybe Pakistani?
    He didn’t speak, having brought along generic SlimeyLawyer mouthpiece.


  5. Yikes. I hope you can make the beurocrats (sp?) see some sense!

    /Come to think of it, our neighbours in Australia probably percieved us as a frat of some sorts – 12 students (7 nationalities) living and partying in the middle of a suburban street…We *did* limit ourselves quite a bit, though – but I’m sure they were happy to see us go – until the next batch brought in by sleezy landlord showed up…


    • There’s a difference between frat-organized stuff and normal people partying.
      This is a student neighborhood, and we’re basically all okay with normal student stuff.
      I have students in a backyard apartment right now.

      Yeah, they have the occasional party for their friends, but – you know – so do I.

      But I suspect that your parties didn’t consist of HUNDREDS of wandering drunken undergraduates and underage high school students milling about for a block in every direction at 2am.
      They list events on Facebook and Craigslist and people come and call their friends, and so on.
      As I say, I’m a block away and around a corner, and not only do I hear them but it is overpoweringly loud here.

      When the main Greek houses do this, the campus cops are around monitoring things.
      And if it gets out of hand, there are repercussions.
      I suspect that is why they want to move the action down here.


  6. Posted by geologywoman on November 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Get ’em, L! I think you should make their lives as miserable as possible. Film them drunk and stoopid and put it on youtube and send a link to the mayor. Set up sprinklers on the lawn if there is one and turn it on whilst they are partying outside. Put superglue in the doorlocks. And more goodies. If you need ideas, email me.


  7. Posted by geologywoman on November 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    OO-ooo-I forgot. Put an advert on craigslist free stuff and the address. LOL
    I live vicariously through the lives of others. ; )


    • I suspect that things like that will be happening soon if the situation doesn’t get better.
      There is a lot of anger.


      • Posted by geologywoman on November 19, 2011 at 2:19 am

        Where I used to live it was life in hell for the people when this same thing happened with the frat houses. I felt so sorry for them. And the rubbish in the front yards! Beer cans and bottles, chip bags…then there was big trouble, one of the frat houses had a party and a woman was raped.


  8. Ugh. This is so frustrating and aggravating. 19 f*ing bedrooms??? What a creep. And there are hundreds of creeps like that for every town with a college. Makes me want to kick some ass!


  9. Makes me glad to live in a town that only has a community college — at the other end of town. I’ve lived in a college town and urk. I always loved summer when most of them were gone.


  10. I have to say that – despite mostly liking students and the university – that there is this deep relief, say between Christmas and New Year’s, when the place is quiet and empty.

    But this isn’t the university, it’s the city bureaucracy that’s being stinky.
    Motivated, of course, by the prospect of exploiting students.


  11. The joys of living in a college town. I live at the very edge of the student ghetto here. It is bearable, because most of the neighboring houses are post-war bungalows instead of Victorian behemoths. That means, the house next to me only has 4 college boys living in it, instead of 2 dozen, like many of old houses in the heart of the ghetto. It’s gotten so fucked up. When I was in college, I lived in an old Victorian converted to apartments, but it was FOUR single bedroom apartments in a 2500 sq ft. house. As opposed to a rabbit warren of cells. I wouldn’t settle for just the city council meeting. Folks in your neighborhood need to be calling them every day until they decide in your favor.


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