Berkeley city leaders were out in force Wednesday evening to meet with a community still reeling from the seemingly random, senseless murder of 35-year-old Adolfo Ignacio Celedón in their neighborhood earlier this month.
Mayor Tom Bates, as well as Police Chief Michael Meehan, representatives from BART and several senior city officials were on stage at the Black Repertory Group Theater on Adeline in a gathering hosted by Councilman Max Anderson, who oversees the Adeline corridor. On the agenda: public safety in the area, as well as other ways the neighborhood could be improved.
About 100 people, including neighbors, community leaders, friends of Celedón and his fiancee, Amber Nelson, as well as residents of nearby north Oakland were in attendance. The meeting began with a moment’s silence for Berkeley’s four homicide victims so far this year.
Speaking about the Celedón murder, Chief Meehan said he was hopeful the case could be solved. He reported on the overhaul of the police department that he has instigated since arriving in Berkeley nine months ago. He also stressed the importance of community vigilance and pro-active behavior in relation to crime. “There are 129 Neighborhood Watch groups in Berkeley and they are very effective,” he said.
Capt. Erik Upson from the Berkeley Police Department conceded that the neighborhood in question was targeted because it is on the border of two cities. “Criminals are aware of the weakness a border creates and they use it to their advantage,” he said. Both police officers spoke of the work that is being done to improve collaboration between the Berkeley and Oakland police forces — including making their radio communication more compatible.
Several community leaders in the audience spoke of their concerns and actions they were taking to improve safety. They included representatives from the East Lorin Neighborhood Association, the Halcyon Neighborhood Association and Sam Dyke from the local Merchants’ Association. Councilman Kriss Worthington also spoke later in the evening.
Each of the panelists gave a short presentation. Mayor Bates spoke of how anxious he is to do something about Adeline Street. “It’s so forbidding and difficult to cross,” he said. City Manager Phil Kamlarz said investing in the area was by definition limited given the tough economic situation. However he was hopeful that developments such as the new Ed Roberts Campus, which is due to open in January 2011, would help boost the district.
The city’s economic development manager, Michael Caplan, who has lived in the area for 22 years, said he was encouraged by the recent influx of new businesses, such as Flacos and The Other Change of Hobbit bookstore. He spoke of the Community Walk-Through which drew around 40 people on Aug. 18, and which resulted in a long list of concerns — from broken water covers to illegal dumping — that are now being addressed.
Andrew Klough from the Public Works department and Sue Ferrara from the parks department reported on ways their teams are working in the community.
Other concerns raised by participants included the prevalence of liquor stores and pigeons, the lack of a blight ordinance in Berkeley for single family dwellings, recent parking meter modifications which are seen by many business owners to be detrimental, and the increased fear among young people in particular to be out in the area on foot or on bikes.
Charlene Washington from councilmember Max Anderson’s office says a follow-up community meeting is planned in three to six months.