Cheese Board Chez Panisse celebration closed down early

Acting on a call from the public, the Berkeley police shut down a celebration at the Cheese Board on Saturday. Photo: D.H. Parks

The Cheese Board Collective marked Gourmet Ghetto neighbor Chez Panisse’s 40th birthday by serving free slices of its legendary pizza to customers on Saturday night. The celebrations were curtailed at around 10:30pm, however, after the police, acting on a call from the public, asked that crowds disperse and the party be wound down.

According to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt Mary Kusmiss, at around 10:00 p.m. a community member called to report a noise complaint consisting of a “loud live band” in the area of the 1500 block of Shattuck Avenue.

A patrol officer arrived at the Cheese Board at about 10:10 p.m., and determined that the “hundreds of people in the street” created traffic and community safety issues as they were blocking the roadway and walking in, and across, the street. Berkeley Municipal Code states that quiet hours begin at 10:00 p.m.

In addition to the noise and pedestrian violation and overall safety issues, the officers documented that many members of the celebration were drinking alcohol which is also a code violation, Sgt Kusmiss said. “In the interest of mitigating the other issues, the BPD supervisor and BPD officers chose not to engage in any alcohol enforcement,” she said.

While many people were cooperative, the close-down did not sit well with everyone. One disgruntled participant was Berkeleyside reader Frank, who wrote in our Comments section: “Free delicious pizza and excellent jazz to any and all who came to join the celebration! The spirit of the gathering was beautiful; people were gently dancing and smiling on each other with a sense of community pervasive in the evening air. This was as wholesome as it gets… the Berkeley police gradually squelched and finally shut down this peaceful, life-affirming gathering.”

Daniel Parks, who took the photo above, said he told a police officer there was free pizza at the Cheese Board if he wanted a snack, but his suggestion was not taken up. “He gave me sort of a sour look and said no thanks,” he wrote.

The police have asked the Cheese Board to alert them if they are planning such an event so they can offer their support, and that  in future the restaurant request the necessary special event permits.

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  • I agree completely, Ira. It really does sound like it could have been a lot of fun, and I really do wish that the Cheese Board had done things by the book.

    If they applied for and were turned down for a permit, I’d be very interested in finding out who turned down that permit application and why.

  • Rachel75

    Can someone please explain to me why it’s more dangerous to sit in the median than on the sidewalk? I have never understood this.

  • Anonymous

    To paraphrase Woody Allen, sitting in the median doubles your chance of a close encounter of the vehicular kind.

    Cars move faster and weigh more than people.  

    Using simple numbers for back-of-the-envelope calculations:

    1 car has mass equivalent to that of 10 people

    Car velocity is 10 time that of a person walking

    The force of car hitting you is 10 x 10^2 that of a person … or roughly 1,000 times impact.  Put differently, it’s the difference between a magnitude 8 earthquake and one of magnitude 5.

    When you sit on the sidewalk, you can be hit by people moving in different directions (and they can trip over you), but the row of parked cars shields you from the cars, trucks and bicyclists traveling down the road.


  • Duuuude

    You have both Oakland and SFO to choose from to get your bags on a plane and move to Spain or South America, or just start by not sharing responsibilities with your parents or roommates, or whatever you are calling them.  Heck, you could live in Antarctica and dance all night.  

  • Duuuuude

    We’re closer to Texas than S. America or Spain, so lets be accepting of people exhibiting their protected right to possess a registered firearm and join the late night party.  That way, who cares if kids are around right?  They shouldn’t live near downtown Berkeley.  Actually smoking weed with a gun strapped to your hip would be such a trip!  let’s be accepting of that too.  Why not film an adult film in the street with some collective help, kids should be in bed so is all copacetic.  Man, the 41st anniversary of Chez Panisse is totally going to rock.  If we’re all still unemployed, we can dance and stuff all night.

  • Duuuude

    Stop saying “bless”.  Who is blessing? You?  

  • Anonymous

    No matter how you slice it, pizza generates lots of comments on BerkeleySide.

  • Mike Farrell

    @ Iceland “an area that has no such space” Not exactly true; the very large and virtually unused median at Shattuck Place and Rose could have been such a spot. It won’t happen though because the local community naysayers fought Safeway’s original development plan so hard that Safeway’s response was “OK we’ll just do a remodel.”
    Earlier the same group fought any plan to remodel, change or use the 7 lane street  between Safeway and CVS.

    Originally Safeway wanted to extend a street facade with storefronts extending north of the crosswalk with the triangle. This would have created a human scale area with the potential to complete the Shattuck/Vine commercial area when the old Lucky Store site is redeveloped.

    Berkeley puts forward a progressive mask and seems to love to tell other communities and even nations how to do their business, but Heaven forbid there should be any change here.
    Don’t blame City Hall; “We have met the enemy……..” Pogo

  • John Holland

    I never suggested they weren’t within their rights!

    I simply implied that they suck.

    Both are true. Those are not mutually exclusive.

    Pro-tip: get a white noise generator. Our neighbors are pretty loud; and it masks the noise so we and our toddler can sleep. Quite handy in a college town. We stopped resenting loud people immediately and we are no longer the party-pooper busy-body neighbors spoiling everyone else’s fun because of our fragile sleep cycle. As parents of antisense in a college town we’ve learned to be realistic about our expectations regarding noise.

  • Gabereal88

    You’re a jackass.  Don’t tell me what I can & can’t say.  Bless.

  • OZ

    ” . . . like the deaths of the two women at the crosswalk alone there at Vine”
    When was this?  I’ve lived in that neighborhood for 25 years and don’t remember it.

  • f**kin’ people always complaining about lack of community and how people are so unfriendly and why are there so many vacant store fronts. I think Berkeley must be one of the hardest places to conduct small business. can’t even have a pizza party past 10 pm, it’s embarrassing. 

  • libraterian

    A classic chicken and egg problem. Which came first? Downtown clubs or Tizzelish?

  • If you want a pizza party where hundreds of people are going to be standing in the street, get a permit and have the road closed off.

    It ain’t hard.

  • Mike Farrell

    Well, the wall of parked cars certainly helps.

  • Median

     Your perspective was clear the first time you stated it.

  • Joan

    I never understand people eating pizza at the level of car, bus, truck exhaust. When I want an outdoor public eating experience I go to a place with seating sheilded from the street: e.g., Meal Ticket, Dona Maria, Sea Salt ….

  • Joan

    You’re the voice of reason and the source of good visuals. When we die you can sell our house.

  • whoever called in the noise complaint is a small minded loser.

  • Chrisjuricich

    While I don’t particularly care whether folks eat in the median of Shattuck around the ghetto one way or another, rather than bring up enacting more rules to protect people from ‘dangerous’ activities or ignoring children on the median near rushing traffic (even the cops don’t bother them) and forcing them to get certified as safe parents before having children ( how far is anyone willing to go to make this world safe by restricting behavior–and don’t get me started on helmet laws), it would be swell if there were a place for folks nearby to sit and eat in a pleasant, green environment like a park.

    All they’ve got is the median strip.

  • Chrisjuricich

    Hmm. Why not a barrier on the median solid enough to prevent most vehicles from doing the worst? Higher curbs? Metal fencing–not an engineer but it could work.

  • Chrisjuricich

    Tizzielish still wouldn’t like it even if the Cheese Board had gotten a permit; she would still be up sleepless but she wouldnt be able to complain–which she seems disposed toward.

  • Farmer Zeke

    Not to mention all the dropped pizza, tomatoes, drinks… that they are all sitting on while they and their food is getting drenched in car and bus exhaust! These are “University” students??? So much for “higher education”! 

  • Farmer Zeke

    And has anyone ever noticed the sign that looms just above them in the meridian? Something about it being illegal to be there, complete with the ordinance number and threat of fine or arrest! Are ANY laws, besides parking laws) enforced in Berkeley?

  • Farmer Zeke

    And has anyone ever noticed the sign that looms just above them in the meridian? Something about it being illegal to be there, complete with the ordinance number and threat of fine or arrest! Are ANY laws, besides parking laws) enforced in Berkeley?

  • Judith

    No, it is NOT silly to compare the way this event was shut down to the way peaceful political protests in this country have been and still are being shut down in the name of “order.” 

    The permitting system is frequently abused to suppress peaceful political protests. It’s really the same civil liberties issue, whether people are peacefully assembling to express joy or dissent. 

    And it’s not an outmoded, Vietnam-War-era concern.  Denial of protest permits was extensively used on protests against the Iraq war and on demonstrations during the Republican conventions of 2000, 2004, and 2008.
    The need for neighborhood quiet and order is also a legitimate one, but must ask ourselves what kind of legal and cultural priorities we want – what balance between expression and order – and whether our laws and law enforcement are truly expressing those priorities. I’m with the folks recalling the peaceful vibrant atmospheres they find in some other countries (none of them perfect, either, of course) and wanting a little more of that here, both politically and culturally. 

  • Yes, it is a silly comparison. Political protests are an important expression of free speech. Giving out free pizza to celebrate an anniversary has nothing to do with fundamental human rights.

    Do you have any evidence of abuse in the permitting process in Berkeley? Do you have evidence that the staff of the Cheese Board, which knew about this event weeks in advance, attempted to get a permit to have the street closed off and were denied? Street celebrations are allowed and encouraged in Berkeley, as long as they are done in a safe and legal manner. The party that the Cheese Board threw was neither of those things.

  • Judith

    Apparently they asked for a permit but it was denied. 

  • What is your source for this information?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you.

  • Judith

    Okay, The Sharkey, I agree that the First Amendment does not confer a right to party for purely social reasons, disassociated from political expression (see URI Student Senate v. Town of Narragansett), at least not until such time Beastie Boys are sitting on the Supreme Court. 

    But I think this is an interesting gray area, because the food and collective movements in Berkeley are definitely political, and the anniversary being celebrated has political implications regarding desired changes to the U.S. food system, even as it is also the anniversary of an upscale restaurant.It’s probably more productive to talk about this in terms of cultural norms, which is I guess is what noise ordinances are ultimately based on: whether or not this is a city where we want the cops bust up a sedate pizza and jazz gathering downtown at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, and how we would rewrite the relevant ordinances (or not) to strike a different balance than the current one.

    Agreed, we don’t know what really happened with the permits – you don’t know, either. As other commentators said, it would be interesting to know exactly what happened and why. That’s what journalism is (or was once) for, and now we’re looking at the limits of having these forums substitute for the expensive method of having a large staff of full-time professional reporters getting the facts.

    There is a definitely a disturbing uptick of late in the national tendency to crack down on harmless and even beneficial forms of expression & production while outrageous crimes committed at high levels go utterly unprosecuted. And of this tendency to be increasingly written into our laws and institutions and inscribed in our social norms, so that when the cops enforce it they are indeed within legal and community standards.  

    Whether this particular instance of cop cars busting up a gathering is really as much an incidence of that as it seems we don’t know. It may merely have an accidental similarity that serves as an unpleasant reminder of that very real tendency. 

    We also have a lot of HSPs  – highly sensitive persons – here in Berkeley, and highly sensible of their rights, too. This incident is perhaps as much or more a reflection of that local tendency. It seems to be a strange combination of both tendencies.

    It’s good that we’re talking about it, though. Some of us earnest and indignant, some of us snarky and waggish, but all of us paying attention. That’s what I like about Berkeley!