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We Have a Neighborhood Bully

Neighborhood bullying at an extreme scale

This is troubling, and frankly, a little anxiety-provoking.

Here's the situation: I live on one of Alameda's quaint little "courts." It is paved (more or less) and you can drive along it (in contrast to, e.g., Marti Rae Ct.), but it's technically a "private street"; it's not city-maintained, it's part of our titled property (each of us owns a little chunk of it), but it's an "easement," in that we have to allow limited, reasonable access to service and safety vehicles. Our (my neighbors and I) understanding, however, is that access encompasses "in and out," but not necessarily "through," and that we can take reasonable steps to hinder casual through traffic from drivers wanting to use the street as a shortcut.

Through traffic wasn't such a big deal when I moved in eight years ago this week, but the strangest thing has happened since then. All these small people seem to have appeared, almost like magic. At last count, among the eight families on the court, there are three children under 6 and one 10-year-old who would love to be able to play ball in the street, despite its plethora of really bad bounces. And, by the way, a few cats.

A few months ago, one of the new mothers had what turned out to be an inspired idea. She took this old, beat-up traffic cone she had, put a hand-made "no thru traffic" sign on it, and placed it at the end of the court.

I was skeptical at first, but I was increasingly impressed by the extent to which through traffic had been reduced. Apparently — even though, if you look at it, it's easy enough to maneuver around the cone — people feel it makes it just a bit too inconvenient, and choose instead to go the additional 100 ft. (and that's all it is) to the real intersection. But it turns out we seem to have a neighbor…

Somebody apparently disagrees with our opinion about our ability to abate traffic, but is too much of a coward to confront anyone in person. One night in June, the cone disappeared. The mother who placed it there originally found it, a few days later, in someone's pickup truck nearby. There are details here about which I am not entirely clear, but the cone was returned, and placed back at the end of the court. No action was taken, as the MWPITO was concerned about retaliation. (That's why I'm trying to be as vague as possible.) Then, at the end of June, the cone disappeared again.

That pissed me off. I don't have any kids myself, but I'm a "it takes a village" kind of person, and besides, I live here too. So I ambled over to Hawkins, the traffic sign place you can see off the freeway in Albany, and bought a new, official-looking cone and a little professionally-printed sign to go with it. I put my name and address on them, and added that removal would be treated as theft. I then called APD and requested an officer come by and take a report that I was, in fact, placing a cone and sign there for the purpose of traffic abatement and local safety.

Last night, late, I heard someone race down the court. This morning, we discovered the cone was gone. Worse than that, this reprobate, this gutless wonder, this weaselly coward (apologies to actual weasels), this nutless monkey, dumped spaghetti sauce on my neighbor's car and egged their porch. We called the police and made a report, but we had no hard evidence of the actual event. Yet.

I feel violated. I mean, my car wasn't hit, the cone's cost was minimal, but I feel almost as violated as my neighbor, I think. And a little scared. Not enough to keep me from doing something, however, if I can figure out just what to do. My first thought is to get another cone and sign; replacing it would feel defiant but might incite the nutless monkey to escalate, but I think I will. I don't know if any of us on the court are in a position to set up a camera; I'd love to do that.

We've been discussing more permanent solutions to the traffic issue, but that's not the point. It's one thing for someone to be rude and stupid, to see a traffic cone on a small street like ours with a "no thru traffic" sign and drive through anyway, no doubt thumbing his nose and enjoying the feeling of finally having beaten the system and gotten away with it, at least this one, trivial little time. Not much you can do about that, is how I feel, no point getting bent out of shape about it.

But it's something else entirely to steal someone's property, to deface and vandalize someone's car, to deface and vandalize someone's home. Their. Home. If this were Florida, we could legally shoot him.

We don't know who did this. Yet. Lucky for him, 'cause, y'know, some people think I'm nuts, but I know some people who are really crazy.

I'm just sayin'

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Jeff Mark July 13, 2012 at 06:33 PM
No disrespect meant to actual monkeys, either.
Robert Talarico July 14, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Hi Jeff, Many people feel like u do. I as well, " YOU ARE NOT NUTS ", GET A CAMERA, CATCH THIS PERSON
Jeff Mark July 14, 2012 at 02:11 PM
My neighbor's cars got hit again this morning. This time with actual paint, not spaghetti sauce. Police have been called.
Khandrola Dechen July 14, 2012 at 02:44 PM
1. set up a video cam - they are cheap enough. 2. Your NIMBYism brought thiis on : "I want to drive down YOUR street, but stay the (*&^ off MY street", attitude. We live in an overcrowded world, deal with it. 3. If you really love those kids, make them play in a park or other safe place ( see #2). Kids die from the "friendly fire" of their own family members backing out over them all the time. We are not living in Brady Bunch times - kids can't have the expecation of safety on any street.
romny July 14, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Gone are the days where children play in streets and when a car is coming yell "Car game off!", move to let the car pass, and once it does yell "Game on!" It's unfortunate that in these times people have become hardened and the sense of neighborhood is squelched. But i do wonder, why only this one particular neighbor is being hit? Not once but twice. Why not the entire street or at least a different neighbor? Is there something I missed or perhaps this has nothing to do with a little cone & sign? Perhaps something happened prior to the cone & sign that was the catalyst for something else? Seems like an awfully violent reaction (and a waste of food) in retaliation for a little cone and sign. Or, perhaps only have the sign out when the kids are playing? Yes, the offender is a coward. Getting a camera or perhaps brewing a strong cup of coffee and watching the neighborhood all night is the answer. Get some solid proof then when you have it bring the police in and confront the "Nutless Monkey" I understand it's thought of as a private street but what does the city say? Have you approached them about perhaps rezoning the street to make it an actual "no through traffic" street? If it really isn't a no-through traffic street what is to stop people from using it?
Jeff Mark July 14, 2012 at 03:44 PM
I see, so some drunk throws paint on a neighbor's car and paints obscene graffiti on their walk, and it's *our* fault? The extent of your sympathy is overwhelming.
Jeff Mark July 14, 2012 at 04:14 PM
This last incident has really scared my neighbors. They're afraid that even replacing the cone will be seen by the nutless monkey as a provocation and the next step is a baseball bat on their headlights, or possibly worse, and that even if we did firmly identify him and take action, he might retaliate later. So we've taken it away. Personally, this feels like capitulation, and I disagree tactically. But they're on point, so to speak, and it is their property, technically, so I'll save the cone until our next block party. Most of the comments so far have been reasonably thoughtful, so let me satisfy some curiosity. This particular neighbor put out the very first cone, and when that was removed, got into a contretemps with someone across the street who is apparently connected to the nutless monkey (see paras 4-6 above). Also, they're on the corner, and that's why (it appears) that particular neighbor is the target. We have been in contact with the city. The city, at least as far as traffic, street improvements, maintenance, etc. is concerned, has no interest and no real jurisdiction. It's not, technically, a "street". It's more like an alley; I speculate that when these houses were built (1925), it was intended to be a sort of "shared driveway", access to our garages (most since built over). They won't do anything. On the other hand, we can do pretty much anything we agree on. For various reasons, closing off the court entirely is not practicable.
Dana Carey, Ruby Bridges Parent July 14, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I am very sorry that you have to deal with such a situation. We are lucky enough to live on a street where WE CAN put a cone out and let our kids play. We live on a "No Through Traffic" street but have people drive in and turn around at least 30 times a day! We do have a neighbor who has tried to bully everyone, not just me, into getting rid of the cones--even to the point of just driving over them... Cursing at one of the 13 year olds and talking to me as if I was a child too... When this happened, I went to knock on their door, which they would not answer. But I had the intention to just talk patiently to them. A different tactic could be to start a neighborhood watch and INVITE THEM! We are doing this to see if we can somehow to break the ice. I am unsure if you can send messages via AP, but please do so. I can send you the APD contact person.
Jeff Mark July 14, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Thanks. If you're referring to the APD neighborhood watch coordinator, we know about it, and that's one of the things we're considering. What seems ironic to me is that I've always thought of this as a pretty safe neighborhood, all things considered. I'm having a little trouble wrapping my mind around the current situation. Indeed, it's not an issue of burglary, or street crime, or anything like that. It's a bully. Literally.
Jeff Mark July 14, 2012 at 04:32 PM
>> If it really isn't a no-through traffic street what is to stop people from using it? That's an excellent point. We were counting on people's sense of courtesy, to y'know, not use our (metaphorical) backyard for a shortcut. And in the vast majority of cases, it seemed to have that effect. If you needed to, it was easy enough to drive around the cone or move it aside. The added inconvenience was trivial, but enough, in most cases, to counterbalance the equally-trivial added convenience of the "shortcut". (Like I said, the "real" intersection is literally less that 100' away.) There were, and will be, some rude jerks, of course, you can't stop that (see paras 10-11). Like any pest, the best you can do is abatement. But I draw the line at theft and vandalism. Doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
Jeff Mark July 14, 2012 at 04:33 PM
No offense meant to actual historical Vandals, who have a really bad rep.
Michele Kuttner July 14, 2012 at 04:45 PM
"Kids die from the "friendly fire" of their own family members backing out over them all the time. We are not living in Brady Bunch times - kids can't have the expectation of safety on any street." and "Gone are the days where children play in streets and when a car is coming yell "Car game off!", move to let the car pass, and once it does yell "Game on!" It's unfortunate that in these times people have become hardened and the sense of neighborhood is squelched." I reject the notion that kids in Alameda can no longer safely play on their street. Do tragedies happen? Of course. Has life changed since the Brady Bunch era? You bet. One major change I see is that adults spend way too much time living in fear and overly sheltering their children. We've spent the last 18 years raising our kids in Alameda and much of their childhood was spent playing games on our street especially in the summer when the days are long and it doesn't get dark until a couple of hours after dinner. Parents on our street came up with rules like when you could cross our street on your own without holding a sibling’s hand. When my son turned 8 he got out of bed early, ran outside, looked both ways and crossed the street on his own because he was finally 8 years old and this was the day he had been waiting for. (continued if you want to read more)
Michele Kuttner July 14, 2012 at 04:46 PM
We constantly reinforced safety rules for playing in and around the street we live on and we kept our eyes open to make sure they were all following them. We did that because they were OUTSIDE playing basketball, rollerblading, making "potions" out of flowers in the gardens and more. We did not allow TV or computer use during daylight hours. Our kids had a great time and are now independent young adults finishing high school, in college and jobs who can think for themselves. They also talk about how much fun it was to grow up on our street and in a great town like Alameda. Keep up the good fight, Jeff, and you will love watching those neighbor kids growing up on your little street. I certainly treasure every single one of those memories.
virgo July 15, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Get a camera! That's ridiculous. I get really angry at disrespectful people who damage other's property. If it's a private road, then you guys should be able to block it off without being fearful of having your property vandalized. Growing up in the 1980's, we used to play in street all the time on Versailles. There would be an occasional car that we had to move for but it was pretty safe. You couldn't do that today. Cars go racing down the street even though there's a stop sign at both ends. My point is, I think it's great that you and your neighbors want the kids to be able to play in the street and since it's a private road, you have the right to keeps cars from passing through.
joel July 16, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Jeff want camera , I have a couples , they work on 24 volts free for you let set up place to meet joel
hobnob July 16, 2012 at 06:26 PM
get a video camera, place a few in cars (especially the car that gets hit) so you have it facing the cone and the cars getting hit at night. Then get some thumb tacks and nails and place them in the intersection and over the street during the night time. As to position them, you will know you can either damage the tires of the car that rolls around or the shoes', bikes, skate boards of the perpetrator. Of course, tell your neighbours that this is being done so they know where the booby traps are being laid out. As for the neighbour that is related to the vandal, you will have to sneakily do some of these things so that this person doesn't get tipped off. It's one thing to steal the cone, they are cheap and replacible, it's another thing to deface private property, for that I'd charge the culprit once I catch them.
Alamedian July 16, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Jeff, since you & neighbors own the street, can you permanently close one end of it, to basically turn it into a dead-end street? Emergency vehicles can still get in from the other side.
joel July 17, 2012 at 05:36 AM
Jeff I also have a couples of acid resistant , camera housing again free .
Kim Hilliker July 23, 2012 at 02:20 AM
I would recommend that the neighbor getting their car targeted invest in a car cover just for the time being. We had issues like this going on and the only thing that stopped them was to actually be watching, filming and calling the cops the minute it is done-otherwise the police will tell you that the person doing all this can drive through your street anytime they want as long as they are not violating a law. What we also did was to follow the car that did it(we have drivers that speed like you can't believe in a residential neighborhood) and after they parked we went up to the house and told the parents that the speed was in excess and then it stopped. Just be careful.
Florida Transplant May 28, 2013 at 01:52 PM
I love living on Alameda, but it has been my experience (and I moved here from Florida) that there are quite a few people on the island who are a little off center. I've had numerous run-ins with either neighbors or other islanders who do things to you that, anywhere else, would get you slapped. Example: At the shoreline park trails, where dogs are supposed to be on leash, I've had people's (unleashed) dogs rush my dogs and I (and we're all wearing our leashes) and chase us while we're jogging. Then, when I turn to try and block their dog from mine the owners actually yell at *me* for my efforts at keeping their dogs at bay! Typically when we're 10ft from the signs informing you of the leash law. Or the guy who, at the parking garage, felt that he could come up to my car and punch my window while I was parking for some traffic slight (be it real or perceived). I got out of the car to confront him and he took off running (literally, like his tail was on fire). No hoodlum, he, just some regular-looking middle aged man slamming on my car window and yelling at me for something (Im not even sure what). The latest adventure is my new neighbor. I moved and my dogs were in *my* backyard at 2pm on a Sunday. It was our second day and we were in the middle of moving and the dogs were scared and one was whining and howling. Well our neighbor comes up to my car as I'm opening my door, puts her hand ON my car door and leans in and gets in my face about my dog. This was my first time meeting her. I understand being annoyed by noise and such but there is an appropriate way to handle things.. And then, when I politely respond that I was sorry and would handle the dogs, she proceeds to follow up that with further harassment about how I parked in my driveway (mine, not hers). By then she could tell that she'd annoyed me. So, since I was annoyed (yet still polite, just cold and clearly uninterested in conversation) she called my landlord and told him she felt threatened even though I hadn't done or said anything rude or threatening! In Florida, (or hell, in Oakland) behavior like this is likely to get you seriously hurt. I've never seen people act as bizarre as they do on Alameda. Not without consequences. So, I can believe they'd steal your road cone and put spaghetti sauce on someone's car. I love much about the island, but there are some special people on it. Good luck.

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