Art Maxwell, who lives next to the Becky Temko Tot Park, has been in a verbal war with parents and their children over noise levels in the park for nearly a year.
Parents say that Maxwell curses at their children and makes them cry, plays loud music outside while they use the park, videotapes them, and dishes out menacing stares at those who offend his peace and quiet.
Maxwell contends that park users are violating the city's noise ordinance and he is just trying to get some rest following a painful spinal cord injury in February.
But Alameda County Superior Court Commissioner Jon Rantzman sided with parents in granting them and anyone who uses the park a three-year restraining order against Maxwell. He also was barred from entering the park and must pay $7,500 in attorneys fees.
The order prohibits Maxwell from coming within five yards of any of 29 people named in the order and anyone using the park. He also is barred from playing music outside his home and can only play it inside with the windows closed.
Maxwell told the commissioner that the city was not enforcing its own noise ordinance and that he was within his right of free speech to scream at people, but Rantzman did not buy it.
"Mr. Maxwell, it is a park and when you moved in it was already there. When you move in next to a park, there is going to be noise," Rantzman said. "If you think the park is a nuisance, you can petition the city to have it shut down, but you cannot enforce your own version of the law to try to keep the park quiet."
Maxwell offered an explanation of his behavior and an olive branch.
"Yes, I knew there was a park there, but when I got a second spinal cord injury after a co-worker dropped a 50-pound box on my head, my mind and body were not able to withstand the noise," Maxwell said. "I allowed my pain to spill over into anger. My threshold for pain was beyond my abilities, and for that I apologize."
Earlier this month, Maxwell was cited for disturbing the peace on a citizen's arrest, but the district attorney declined to prosecute it.
Park users pleaded before the Berkeley City Council earlier this week to take legal action against Maxwell, but the council made no decision.
Maxwell called Thursday's hearing a "strange twist on love thy neighbor" and insisted that he bears no animosity toward his neighbors.
After the hearing, Keslie Stewart, the mother of a 2-year-old who uses the park and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said Rantzman "really got it."
"This is a tot park," she said. "These are just little kids. The judge did the right thing."
Maxwell, however, continues to think people in the park are breaking the law.
"I made a legitimate noise complaint, and it was swept under the rug," he said. "You can't get Berkeley to find fault with itself."
Reach Doug Oakley at firstname.lastname@example.org.