By Frances Dinkelspiel
On Aug. 28, an armed assailant tried to steal the car of a security guard assigned to the Berkeley home of UC President Michael Drake.
Around 11:15 p.m., the guard was parked near the president’s house on Claremont Boulevard when the confrontation happened, a neighbor said.
Two men in a light-colored car pulled up, one leapt out holding a gun and shattered one of the guard's windows.
The carjacker ordered the security guard to relinquish his vehicle, the guard later told the neighbor.
The guard, who was waiting to start his shift, drove forward but was stopped by a tree in front of the president’s home.
The guard leaned on his horn to catch the attention of another security guard nearby, but that guard did not respond.
"He was calling for help by honking," said Lovedeep Singh, who lives nearby. "The other security guard didn’t do anything."
The would-be carjackers then rammed the security guard’s car a few times before driving off, according to the neighbor.
"I heard a car horn honking and honking and then a crash," said Rev. Bruce O’Neill, the rector of St. Clement’s Episcopal Church at 2837 Claremont Blvd. He lives right by Drake’s home. "The car (of the carjackers) crashed and backed up and crashed again."
They fled southbound on Claremont in a white car, possibly a Honda Accord, according to emergency dispatches reviewed by The Scanner.
The security guard told O’Neill that his gun was in his trunk. The guard has since been reassigned to another location, said O’Neill.
Officials from UC's Office of the President (UCOP) and the University of California San Francisco Police Department, which handles security for UCOP, did not respond to numerous inquiries from The Berkeley Scanner about the reported carjacking attempt.
UC president's home in Berkeley has been repeat target
The attempted carjacking comes almost four months after someone sprayed the president’s house with racist and violent graffiti May 15. Police are investigating that as a hate crime.
During a five-week strike by UC graduate students in late 2022, someone smashed a window and climbed over the high wall in the back of Drake’s home, although the actual house was not breached.
A housing protestor also spray-painted a slogan on the house in April 2022. In March, UC erected a black metal fence around the front of the house to provide more security for Drake.
These security breaches prompted the Board of Regents to consider moving Drake out of his $6.5 million Julia Morgan-designed home in one of Berkeley’s most upscale neighborhoods to a $13 million home in Piedmont.
The regents voted earlier this month not to move Drake, even though the money would have come from private donors and not the public, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Read more about crime near UC Berkeley.
When he first moved in, Drake held a "beautiful party," to introduce himself, according to a neighbor who asked not to be named.
People in the neighborhood say they have welcomed the president and his family, but say it hasn't always been easy.
The person or people who spray-painted racist and violent graffiti on Drake’s house in May also sprayed 01-06-21 on the fence of the neighbor, who lives around the corner from Drake.
Once that happened, it was as if a wall went up, according to the neighbor.
He reported the graffiti referring to the attack on the U.S. Capitol to Berkeley police. He tried to talk to Drake’s house manager but was rebuffed.
He said he began to feel the power and obfuscation of the entity — the University of California system.
"We’re collateral damage," said the neighbor. "It’s weird having them as neighbors. It’s weird to have this monolithic thing that I can’t communicate with. It’s odd."
A resident a few doors down from Drake's home put up a (slightly inaccurate) sign to distinguish his house from that of the UC president.
It reads: "ATTENTION: This house does not belong to the president of UC Berkeley. Please Do not disturb."
Despite the occasional disturbances, the neighborhood supports the Drakes and is glad to have them there, O’Neill said.
Frances Dinkelspiel is an award-winning journalist and author of two best-selling books, Tangled Vines and Towers of Gold.