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 Berkeley students Elise (left) and Zaynah (wearing backpack) meet Willard neighbors Grace Christie and Jill Hutchby at last weekend's block party, designed to introduce residents and students to one another. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Since we're neighbors, let's behave
Campus, students, and Southside residents unite for peace (and quiet)

| 14 September 2005

A new task force made up of students, Berkeley residents, and city and campus officials is taking steps to make the neighborhoods near campus more welcoming and peaceful for both permanent residents and students who live there.

Recurring problems between longtime residents and the constantly shifting tide of students - mostly over late-night noise and alcohol-related problems - prompted Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to form the task force last spring in the hope of improving student-neighbor relations, especially in the area south of campus where many students live.

"The campus, the city of Berkeley, and the neighbors had worked for years on these issues," says Associate Chancellor John Cummins, who chaired the group. "The problem was a lack of overall coordination and communication among all the parties. The task force overcame that problem and achieved remarkable buy-in on everyone's part."

Neighborhood residents agree.

"Very often, we just don't know each other. If we did, we'd treat each other with more kindness and respect," says George Beier, president of the Willard Neighborhood Association. Twenty years ago, Beier was a student living just two doors down from his current house.

"The trick is the social interaction. This is the first time the neighborhood association has worked directly with the students," Beier continues. "There are good people on both sides of this issue."

In the past, complaints - which tend to peak in the first few weeks of class and continue throughout the year - were handled on a case-by-case basis. But noise- and alcohol-related problems have increased over the years, prompting the need for a coordinated strategy.


A yard sale figured prominently in the afternoon's activities. Working in concert with the campus and the city, all stakeholders in Southside quality-of-life issues have begun to put cooperative strategies, formulated during the summer, into action this fall. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
"It was time to sit down and really do something," said Irene Hegarty, campus director of community relations. "We want to work with all the stakeholders. This is not just a student issue, a community issue, a health issue, or a police issue - we all have an interest in this."

After dozens of meetings between participants, the task force announced its first steps, which have begun to be taken this fall:

. A new "welcome to the neighborhood" brochure was hand-delivered to all residents of the Willard area - a focal point for student-neighbor problems in the past - and to students in private housing near the campus. The brochure, "We All Live Here," includes good-neighbor tips, emergency contact information, garbage and recycling pickup information, a list of municipal codes and fines for loud and unruly gatherings, and other useful information.

. The campus is funding two student interns as "goodwill ambassadors" to the Willard neighborhood. The interns will serve as liaisons between the student residents and the neighborhood association and be a resource for everyone in the neighborhood.

. On Sept. 11, the Willard Neighborhood Association held a yard sale and block party at Willard Park for new neighbors to get to know each other in a fun, friendly environment.

. University Health Services has created a "safe party" website (partysafe.berkeley.edu), which offers before-, during-, and after-party tips on how to be a responsible host.

. City and campus officials have increased coordination, such as city police notifying campus officials when students are involved in off-campus alcohol-related infractions, which allows the dean of students to follow up with student disciplinary action, if needed.

. The Willard neighbors have formed a crime-watch group, inviting students living in the neighborhood to participate.

. A letter has been sent to south-campus property owners and landlords, letting them know about the task force and its goals and inviting them to help by maintaining their properties and observing city regulations.

. Parents of UC students will be informed of the initiative through the campus's Cal Parents website and newsletter.

The task force was also able to play a critical role in supporting funding for the AlcoholEdu program, an online alcohol-education program now required for all incoming students, and for campus police to add resources to combat alcohol-related infractions. It also backed the addition this year of campus-sponsored evening activities during Welcome Week, designed to encourage students to attend these alcohol-free events instead of seeking out parties in the Southside neighborhoods.

"The task force represents a true partnership between the university and the city, working with the community and the neighborhood to make things better," says Jim Hynes, assistant to the Berkeley city manager. "We want to get ahead of the curve by getting good information to the neighbors and the students so we're defining expectations up front instead of just coming in with enforcement."

A key factor is having the students involved, Hegarty says.

"Students are not only participating, but helping to lead the effort," she notes. The task force includes student representatives from the Greek community, the Associated Students of the University of California, the co-ops, and the residence halls.

"We're really excited about this program. We think it's going to be very beneficial for the campus community," said Sharon Han, external-affairs vice president for the ASUC, noting that it's part of her job to make sure there's a good relationship between students and their neighbors.

"We have to work together to make sure there's a safe and welcoming atmosphere," Han says. "Although we're only here for four years, it's our home."

Other neighborhood groups are interested in joining the task force and tailoring the program to the issues in their neighborhoods, Hegarty says.