Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

Liz Cunningham to speak about her book, ‘Ocean Country’

Liz Cunningham
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Liz Cunningham was almost killed by a rogue wave while kayaking.

Just moments earlier she had been enjoying her ride on the open ocean, digging her paddle into the water to navigate the breakers off a California beach.

But the rogue wave pushed her down under the water. She was unconscious for a few moments, and then woke up to find herself upside down. “It was like being inside a water turbine, water rushing fast in all directions,” Cunningham writes in her well-received memoir Ocean Country. “This is really it,” I thought. “I’m going to die.”

Cunningham, who lives in Berkeley, didn’t die, but the wave injured her spine, leaving her partially paralyzed. The wave also took away more than her movement, which she eventually recovered. It took away the love she had for the water and the feeling of freedom it once gave her. … Continue reading »

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Eat, drink and be literary at Litquake’s food day

Anchor Brewery. Photo: Litquake
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Along with the explosion of food in the Bay Area, there has been an explosion of great food writing. This Sunday, Litquake, the annual eight-day-long literary festival that draws more than 800 writers, is holding a daylong event around the topic at Z Space in San Francisco.

Called Eat, Drink, and Be Literary: A Day-long Celebration of Books and Food, the day will feature numerous discussions on the Bay Area food scene and how we got here, as well as scrumptious snacks.

Participants can mingle with famous chefs, including Chez Panisse’s Cal Peternell, author of “Twelve Recipes,” Atelier Crenn’s Dominique Crenn, Flour + Water’s Thomas McNaughton, Cowgirl Creamery’s Sue Conley, Tartine’s Elizabeth Prueitt and Bay Area favorite Joyce Goldstein. Other food producers include Taylor Boetticher of Fatted Calf Charcuterie, Kathleen Weber of Della Fattoria, and Amy Guittard of Guittard Chocolate Company. … Continue reading »

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Capitelli says he didn’t get commission from house sale for Meehan, but will donate fee he was paid

Councilman Laurie Capitelli. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Berkeley City Councilman Laurie Capitelli said Monday that he never served as the real estate agent for Police Chief Michael Meehan’s home purchase and never split a nearly $30,000 commission for the deal, contrary to what was reported Friday by the Bay Area News Group.

When Meehan went looking to buy a home in Berkeley in 2010 — aided by a $500,000, 3% loan provided him by the city of Berkeley — he hired an agent from Red Oak Realty, a company in which Capitelli was once a partner with a 15% stake, but from which he had largely divested by 2009. That agent asked Capitelli some questions about whether Berkeley or a homeowner was liable for the upkeep of sewer lines and creek beds. After Meehan purchased a home in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, she paid Capitelli $5,925 for his advice, he said in a statement.

“I reiterate that I received no compensation whatsoever from Red Oak from the sale itself,” Capitelli said in the statement. “I have had no financial interest in the company for several years. I did not, as reported, split any commission on the sale. I did receive a $5,925 unsolicited payment for dealing with a variety of questions and issues forwarded to me by the agent, which arose during their search for a new home. To avoid any suggestion of impropriety I will nonetheless donate that fee to a local charity.” … Continue reading »

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Donkey & Goat workers face wine theft charges

Jared Brandt, who co-owns Donkey & Goat with his wife Tracey, stands by some empty barrels during the 2015 harvest. Three former employees of Donkey & Goat are facing charges in court connected to either the embezzlement or sale of stolen wine. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Two former employees of Donkey & Goat will face charges in court Tuesday that they allegedly embezzled as much as $70,490 worth of wine from the Berkeley winery.

Zachary Gomber and Morgan Hall have been charged with embezzlement and receiving stolen property. A third former employee, Kate Sylvan, faces charges of receiving stolen property.

Police believe the trio was involved with the theft and sale of 138 cases with 1,644 bottles over an extended period of time in 2014, according to court documents.

Gomber and Sylvan, who were boyfriend and girlfriend, were arrested Dec. 23 after Berkeley police did a stakeout and observed the pair loading three cases of wine from Gomber’s Richmond home into a car, according to court documents. Sylvan drove off with the wine and was arrested a few blocks away. Police recovered 33 bottles from her car, worth $1,320, and another seven bottles from under Gomber’s bed at a home on Santa Cruz Avenue in Richmond, according to a police affidavit. The wine was from Donkey & Goat. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley mail carrier Jack Karn retires after 38 years

Jack Karn, who has delivered mail to the 93705 zip code in Berkeley and Oakland for almost three decades, is retiring. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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For the last 28 years, Jack Karn has driven all around the 94705 zip code, delivering mail to 300 families in the hills. He has climbed up and down stairs, lugged packages, and slopped through rain and traffic.

Thursday, Oct. 1 will be his last day as a U.S. postal carrier, much to the regret of the people to whom he delivers mail. After 38 years with the postal service, Karn is retiring.

“It’s time for a change,” said Karn, 67, who lives in Berkeley. “I am ready for the next step.” … Continue reading »

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Sip and swirl: Oakland Urban Wine Trail launches

Oakland Wine Trails 
AlliedPRA Event | Campovida Tasting Room
Oakland, CA 

Drew Bird Photography
San Francisco Bay Area Photographer
Have Camera. Will Travel.
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Brendan Eliason saved his winery by going small – and local.

The founder of Periscope Cellars Winery, located in Swan’s Market in Oakland, Eliason was on track a few years ago to increase his production from 3,000 to 10,000 cases of wine annually. Since Eliason only made $10 to $12 profit on a case of wine, he thought he needed to go big to succeed.

But Eliason hated his race to get bigger. He also realized he wasn’t making much money.

So, in 2011, after moving his winery from Emeryville to Oakland, Eliason cut back to making just 500 cases of wine a year. He stopped selling wholesale and started selling his handcrafted wines by the glass at Deep Roots, the wine bar he owns in Swan’s Market. Now he’s small, he’s nimble, and couldn’t be happier.

“I didn’t become a winemaker to sit in a cubicle all day and make spread sheets,”said Eliason recently while holding his six-month old daughter, Minna, at the launch of the new Oakland Urban Wine Trail. “Now I have a small neighborhood winery. I live six blocks away. All the wine that is served comes from a one-mile radius. The opportunity to sell directly to my neighbors and community is appealing.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley cannabis dispensary selection proceeds, despite mayor’s suggestion to stop process

Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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A plea by the chair of the Medical Cannabis Commission to reinstate his application for Berkeley’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary was ignored by the City Council Tuesday night, but council members did vote to slightly jigger the selection process.

The City Council voted 6-1-1, with Mayor Tom Bates voting no and City Councilwoman Lori Droste abstaining, to expand the fourth round of the selection process to include six dispensary applicants rather than five. (Councilman Max Anderson was absent.) The applicants will now hold public hearings to communicate with the various neighbors who might be affected by their plans.

The vote came after an unexpected motion by Mayor Bates to stop the selection process altogether, and to wait until 2017, after the 2016 election, when many believe there will be a ballot measure to legalize marijuana throughout the state.

“I don’t see why we need a fourth dispensary,” Bates told the council. “It’s likely it will be on the ballot in 2016. My strong advice would be to postpone this decision until after the November 2016 election and see where we are. If it fails we can revive it. If it passes, the issue is moot.” … Continue reading »

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Bedbugs found in Berkeley library; North Branch closed

North Branch Library
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The North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library was shuttered Friday morning after officials discovered bedbugs in three different areas of the branch.

Bedbug-sniffing dogs identified the possible presence of bedbugs in the downstairs men’s restroom, underneath the desks of the public computer area, and in a chair in the reading room. No books or library materials appear to be infected, according to a press release from the library administration. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley medical cannabis commissioner faces fraud and extortion charges

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The former chair of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission (MCC) is scheduled to appear in federal court today, Sept. 23, to face extortion, fraud and money laundering charges connected to his dealings with cannabis dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland and Las Vegas.

Daniel Rush, who used to serve as the executive director of the cannabis division of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 until he was fired in August, and who still sits on the MCC, faces more than 70 years in prison and a $1.27 million fine if convicted of the 15 counts with which he is charged.

In one of those counts, Rush, 55, is alleged to have offered special treatment to one of the applicants for Berkeley’s fourth dispensary spot. In exchange, Rush “demanded a well-paid job” from the applicant, according to the indictment filed Sept. 17 in federal court. The applicant is only identified in court papers as “Company A.”

Rush’s indictment has intensified criticism of Berkeley’s dispensary selection process by some applicants who had already been disqualified. But Zach Cowan, Berkeley’s city attorney, said the process was not tainted by Rush because he had nothing to do with the early stages of the selection process.

While Rush sits on the MCC, he has not played an active role in winnowing down the applicants to a smaller list, said Cowan. Rush has also promised to recuse himself in the future from any discussion or decision about the fourth dispensary, he said. … Continue reading »

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Suit against zoning board’s Tregub resolved after apology

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The president of the Berkeley Property Owners Alliance has dropped a libel lawsuit against Igor Tregub, a former candidate for the Rent Stabilization Board and a current Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner, ending three years of controversy.

Sid Lakireddy and Tregub resolved the lawsuit after Tregub agreed to apologize for sending out an inflammatory email during the 2012 election linking Lakireddy to crimes committed by his uncle, Lakireddy Bali Reddy.

Tregub recently emailed the apology to his mailing list — to the same people who received the controversial email during the election.

“On October 18, 2012, I made a fateful mistake,” Tregub wrote. “The intent of this email is to apologize to a valued member of the Berkeley community who was rightly upset by my printed words.

“In the midst of a heated campaign for reelection, I mistakenly made inaccurate accusations about the President of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, Sid Lakireddy. I wrongly connected him to crimes committed in the 1990’s by one of his uncles, Lakireddy Balireddy, that had absolutely nothing to do with Sid.” … Continue reading »

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With ‘Beautiful Sin,’ Berkeley filmmaker tackles Costa Rican reproductive rights controversy

Andrea Bianchi and her husband Alberto Moreno, and their children Camila and Alejandro, are one of the three families the documentary Beautiful follows for a decade. Bianchi and Moreno were one of several couples who took the Costa Rican government before an international human rights court to fight that country’s ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF), a fertility treatment in which doctors create embryos in the lab. Costa Rica is the only country in the world that has outlawed IVF. Photo courtesy of Azul Films
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Gabriela Quirós, a Berkeley documentary filmmaker, spent 12 years making Beautiful Sin, which will air on KQED TV, Sunday Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. The film tells a surprising Latin American reproductive rights story, one with resonance for the United States.

In 2000, anti-abortion activists, with the help of the Catholic Church and a U.S. group, won a legal case that banned in-vitro fertilization (IVF)  in Costa Rica and gave the embryo legal rights. Beautiful Sin tells a cautionary tale about what can happen when a religious ideology such as the “personhood of the embryo” becomes law by following the decade-long story of three couples struggling with infertility. The couples take the Costa Rican government before an international human-rights court to demand the right to use IVF. Costa Rica is the only country in the world that has outlawed the fertility treatment, in which doctors create embryos in the lab.

Berkeleyside caught up with Quirós to ask her about the film. … Continue reading »

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Number of books weeded from library system under dispute

The Board of Library Trustees officially appointed Sarah Dentan, far left, as acting interim library director on Sept. 10. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The new acting interim director of the Berkeley Public Library pledged Wednesday night to reinstate some of the input and authority that librarians and staff lost under former Director Jeff Scott — but one of her staff members also suggested that the total number of items weeded out under Scott’s authority may have been closer to 19,000 rather than the 39,000 widely reported.

At a Berkeley Board of Library Trustees meeting, Sarah Dentan presented a report about the collections management process – a report that Scott was scheduled to present until he abruptly resigned on Aug. 31.

Dentan characterized the weeding process as more considered and thoughtful than has been portrayed by a group of former and current librarians. They have led a series of protests in the past few months to bring attention to what they saw as “draconian” book weeding. Along with City Councilman Kriss Worthington, they also raised questions about Scott’s truthfulness. For many weeks, Scott insisted that only 2,200 books had been weeded. However, after Worthington visited Scott in his office in mid-July and, with a few keystrokes, pulled up a list that showed that 39,000 books had been weeded, Scott acknowledged that the higher number was accurate. His change of tune made many, including members of BOLT, lose confidence in him. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley library director Jeff Scott was not a ‘good fit’

Berkeley’s Central Library on Kittredge Street: its collection is being weeded and not everyone is happy and how it’s being done. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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Berkeley Library Director Jeff Scott was not forced out of his job but decided to resign after a conversation with Abigail Franklin, the chair of the Board of Library Directors, in which they both agreed he was not a “good fit” for the position, according to Franklin.

Franklin went to see Scott, 38, on the morning of Thursday Aug. 27, the day after a contentious BOLT board meeting in which some Berkeley residents called for Scott’s resignation because of his clumsy handling of a book-weeding process at the central library, and what they perceived as his untruthfulness, among other issues. That was the first time Franklin had had a chance to talk to Scott after the BOLT board held a closed session to consider accelerating the evaluation of Scott’s job performance. Scott took over as library director in November 2014 and hadn’t been scheduled for an evaluation for another few months, but the controversy prompted BOLT to bring up the issue earlier than expected.

“I’ll use his words when we were having one of our final conversations,” said Franklin. “He just admitted this probably wasn’t a good fit. I agreed.” … Continue reading »

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