A lot of cigarillos get smoked at the Lawrence Hall of Science. A lot of condoms get used, poppers popped, Jägermeisters quaffed. Not the activities you'd expect for a UC Berkeley-connected kids' interactive science center flanked by million-dollar Berkeley Hills homes, but hey. Because its plaza and parking lots command killer views, LHS is a late-night hangout spot. Litter — reefs of bottles, bags, wrappers, and rubbers — suffuses the otherwise gorgeous landscape. UCB groundskeepers are detailed to do daily cleanups, says LHS operations director Steve Mullin, "but because we're at the end of their route, they pretty much give us about as short a shrift as they can. That part of UC's infrastructure has been underfunded for years. Every UC facility's budget is right down to the bone, so we're kind of fighting an endless battle with the trash."
Litter extends outward from local schools like Hansel-and-Gretel trails of Coke cups and chip bags. Should you care?
Littering is illegal in every state. (Tennessee's antilitter laws are among the stiffest.) Crime spans a continuum, and complaining about anything milder than armed robbery in these deadly days makes you feel like an elitist crybaby. At what point on the continuum do you draw the line between call the cops and don't care, between victim and pain-in-the-ass?
"It's a quality-of-life issue," says Cookie Robles-Wong of Keep Oakland Beautiful, which is part of both the City of Oakland's Public Works Department and the national nonprofit Keep America Beautiful. "Everyone has the right to live in a clean, safe environment." She coordinates the city's Litter Enforcement Officers. Trained by Oakland police, the LEOs perform forensic investigations on trash piles, sifting through them for identifying clues, then citing and fining illegal dumpers whenever possible. Companies are the biggest offenders — East and West Oakland and Fruitvale are their favorite dumping sites, Robles-Wong says — but individuals are nasty little piggies as well.
"If something's dropped and not picked up right away, people will add to it, and if litter builds up, it appears that no one cares" about a site, street, or neighborhood, Robles-Wong says. "Thenceforth, it's a free-for-all."
Keep America Beautiful conducts extensive research into "why people litter," says KAB communications vice president Rob Wallace. "Often, they have this assumption that somebody will come along behind them and pick it up. And often, people feel no sense of ownership. Youth especially feel disenfranchised in society, so they feel no responsibility for maintaining the beauty of shared common areas."
Not Rocket Science
The Lawrence Hall's litter problem accompanies other crimes as well. Neighbors complain about nighttime noise, and recent graffiti along a concrete stairway included a scary scarlet sketch of a gun. The plaza's life-size fiberglass whale gets tagged too, says operations director Mullin. And what goes better with getting high than a great view? Not atypically, UCPD logs reveal four arrests for "marijuana activity" in an LHS parking lot on May 20; nine arrests on April 21, both around midnight.
A Hard Case
As a group of men — one of whom carried a metal case — boarded a bus outside Pittsburg BART station on May 18, the driver asked whether the case contained hazardous chemicals. According to a BART PD report, the man bearing the case "announced [that it] contained firearms that the group was going to use to shoot people." It wasn't true; it was just his reaction to what he felt was disrespect: "The suspect took exception to being questioned about his property and made the threat. Train service was temporarily delayed and bus service halted as officers converged on the scene and removed the suspect and his companions from the bus." The case contained neither chemicals nor weapons.
Hide and Seek
"This morning when I left home," writes a Rockridger to her neighborhood-watch group, "I noticed the empty flower pot just outside my front door moved to the side of its saucer. ... A few weeks ago when I came home I found my front door mat tossed to the side. I can't think of any legitimate reason for either of them to have been moved. This leads me to believe that someone is systematically looking for hide-a-keys." Saves them the trouble of smashing windows or kicking doors.
Diners Bite Back
All those recent restaurant robberies have sliced and diced any last remnants of sympathy for criminals hereabouts. According to an Oakland Police Department report, after stealing a woman's purse at 5th Avenue and 19th Street on May 19, a man "fled to a nearby restaurant" seeking refuge, "but was detained inside by citizens in the restaurant" until cops arrived to arrest him. Revenge is as sweet as our daily special, Boston cream pie.
Even the fistfights are funny in Martinez, whose May 17 police log notes a plaid-shirted aggressor wearing a "furry colorful clown type hat" arrested for attacking a man in "an 'I Love Beaver' shirt." Two days earlier, a Martinez resident called the cops to say that she'd just arrived home and "found a suspicious oil painting."
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