Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

Memorials begin for 11 people connected with Berkeley who died in Oakland Ghost Ship fire

Highwire Coffee on San Pablo Avenue will be holding a memorial at 4 p, for two employees who died in the Oakland warehouse fire. Donna Kellog is on the left and Em Bohlka is on the right. Photo: Highwire Coffee Facebook page
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Highwire Coffee at 2049 San Pablo Ave. will hold a memorial at 4 p.m. Tuesday to remember two employees who died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire on Friday night.

Donna Kellogg, 32, and Em Bohlka, 33, both of Oakland, worked for Highwire, which has stores in Oakland and Berkeley. (Kellogg was also a barista at Flowerland on Solano Avenue). They were among the 36 people who perished when flames ripped through the warehouse that had been converted into an arts space.

“We lost two lovely, vibrant members of the Highwire family to the Ghost Ship fire on Friday,” the company posted on its website. “We’re devastated, and pulling together to support each other in this time of loss.”

The East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest will also hold a memorial for another Berkeley-connected victim of the fire. The festival, which will be held Saturday at the David Brower Center, will commemorate Ara Jo, 29, a visual artist and one of the festival’s main organizers, according to Sharon Coleman, a poet who teaches English at Berkeley City College. She had worked on the festival with Jo in recent years. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley lawyer on the secret to avoiding lawsuits

Lainey Feingold
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Lainey Feingold is a long-time Berkeley resident, a disability civil-rights lawyer, and an author. She has worked with the blind community for more than two decades to increase access to information and technology. Feingold, her co-counsel, and clients have negotiated deals with Bank of America, Major League Baseball, CVS, the City of San Francisco and dozens of others – all without filing a single lawsuit. Now she tells the story of how that happened – and how others can use her method — in her new book, Structured Negotiation, a Winning Alternative to Lawsuits.

Berkeleyside recently caught up with Feingold to learn more about her work and her new book.

 What is Structured Negotiation and why did you want to write a book about it?

Structured Negotiation is a way to resolve legal disputes without lawsuits. I’ve used the process for 20 years so I know that it is capable of achieving great results. My cases focus on digital and information access for blind people – things like accessible websites and mobile applications, talking prescription labels, accessible pedestrian signals, and Talking ATMs. But the process is suitable for other types of claims as well. The method is cost-effective, builds relationships, and avoids so much of the conflict and stress that is part of a typical lawsuit.

Lawsuits play a very important role in society, and they are an important tool in any advocate’s toolbox. I wrote my book to offer advocates and lawyers another tool. … Continue reading »


Could Premier Cru sale help wine counterfeiters?

Some of the hundreds of empty wine bottles that will be auctioned Saturday. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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An expert in wine counterfeiting is trying to put a stop to parts of the auction of the assets of Berkeley’s Premier Cru, concerned that the empty bottles and original wooden wine cases on sale could be used to flood the market with fake wines.

Don Cornwell, a Los Angeles attorney who said he worked with the FBI on the fraud case involving Premier Cru’s owner, John Fox, and who is well known in the  anti-counterfeiting world, has reached out to Premier Cru’s bankruptcy trustee, the U.S. Trustee, the FBI, and the auctioneer to stop the sale of hundreds of high-end empty wine bottles and crates. He started his campaign Thursday after reading Berkeleyside’s story on the auction of Premier Cru’s assets, set to happen at 11:00 a.m. Saturday.

“It is critically important that the empty bottles and empty wine boxes NOT be sold – particularly as to the oldest or rarest wines,” Cornwell wrote in an email to Dan Clar, whose Dan Clar Auctioneers is conducting the sale. … Continue reading »

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At Premier Cru auction, a peek into major wine fraud

The interior of Premier Cru's retail store. Dan Clar Auctioneers will sell off the contents of the Berkeley business on Saturday. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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John Fox, the former owner of the wine store Premier Cru, who has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, certainly lived the high life.

When he entered a guilty plea in federal court in August, Fox admitted he had stolen at least $20 million from his clients over the years by selling ‘phantom wine.’ He also admitted he spent $5 million of his clients’ money on race cars, nice homes, golf-course memberships, a college education for his daughter, and $900,000 on young women he met online.

Now, the contents of the Premier Cru office and warehouse at 1011 University Ave. are set to be auctioned off on Saturday, and they reveal other luxuries the 66-year-old man indulged in. The auction, which starts at 11 a.m., will also provide the public a chance to peek at parts of Fox’s lifestyle. Previews are Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 Read the back story about Premier Cru on Berkeleyside.

The former wine merchant had a full-size workout room connected to his spacious office, complete with a treadmill, rowing machine, bicycle, weight machines and free weights. Fox also had a ProTee golf-simulator, worth thousands of dollars, that allowed him to practice his swing while looking at a wide screen and imagining he was on a world-renowned golf courses. … Continue reading »

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Kate Harrison begins campaign for District 4 Council seat

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The race to replace City Councilman Jesse Arreguín formally began Wednesday when Kate Harrison held a press conference in front of old City Hall to announce her candidacy for the District 4 seat. She was surrounded by a group of officials and activists who had helped elect Arreguín to the mayor’s office, a move that ushered in a more liberal City Council.

Arreguín, on his last day as the District 4 City Councilman, introduced Harrison, who has served on the Housing Advisory Commission, the Parks Commission, the Waterfront Commission and is a co-founder of the Berkeley Progressive Alliance.

“Kate is an experienced public policy professional,” said Arreguín. “She is overqualified to be on the Berkeley City Council having worked for (San Francisco) Mayor Art Agnos, having served as a consultant for not just cities but counties and nations. She has a wealth of public administration experience and will hit the ground running as an effective representative for District 4 and for Berkeley.”

Ben Gould, a UC Berkeley graduate student who ran for mayor in the November election, has also said he will run for the District 4 seat and plans to make a formal announcement soon. City Councilwomen Susan Wengraf and Lori Droste have endorsed Gould, who also chairs the Community Environmental Advisory Commission.

Brianna Rogers, a UC Berkeley student who also sits on the Children, Youth and Recreation Commission, had also been thinking about running, but she said Wednesday that she thinks she should focus on finishing college instead of launching a campaign.

The special election to replace Arreguín happens on March 7. … Continue reading »

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State files legal action against Library Gardens contractor

A balcony at Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley collapsed Tuesday, killing six. Photo: David Yee
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A state agency is seeking to revoke the license of the construction company that built Library Gardens, where a fifth-floor balcony sheared off on June 16, 2015, sending six young people to their deaths and seriously injuring seven others.

The California Contractors State License Board filed a formal accusation Tuesday against Segue Construction stating that the construction company “willfully departed from or disregarded building plans or specifications, and willfully departed from accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike construction,” according to a press release.

Read more on the June 16, 2015, balcony collapse.

The legal document essentially states that Segue, which hired subcontractors to build and waterproof the balconies at 2020 Kittredge Ave., did not follow the building plans for the apartment complex. Segue neglected to use pressure treated wood on the joists holding up the balcony that sheared off and instead used an inferior composite that was expressly prohibited in the plans and did not wrap the wood in a waterproof membrane, according to the legal document. … Continue reading »

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Storyteller Joel ben Izzy has new book on Hanukkah (or Channukah or Chhhanukah or Chanaykayah)

Joel Ben Izzy
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Joel ben Izzy has been regaling audiences around the globe for years with his delightful stories, many with a Jewish twist. A graduate of Stanford University and a long-time Berkeley resident, ben Izzy brings humor and pathos to the tales he spins. He has performed and led workshops in 35 countries (he is also a story consultant, helping companies and organizations better tell their own stories), and his six recorded story collections have garnered numerous awards.

Ben Izzy wrote his first book, The Beggar King and the Secret to Happiness, after he  unexpectedly lost his voice, threatening his career. Now he has written a fictionalized prequel of sorts geared to middle-school kids 10 and over. (Although it is a fun read for adults, too). Ben Izzy will be talking about Dreidels on the Brain all around the Bay Area in December (just in time for Hanukkah, which is spelled every which way in the book) with his first appearance Thursday at Books, Inc. in Berkeley at 7:00 p.m. Berkeleyside caught up with the author before his book tour began.

You have been a teller of stories for more than 30 years, mostly in oral form. You wrote one book for adults, The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness. Why did you decide to write a book for kids over 10?

For one thing, I love telling stories to kids that age, when there is so much at stake. I wanted a chance to go back to that time, when I was miserable and confused, wondering whether I should believe in magic or miracles or anything at all.

Dreidels on the Brain is also something of a prequel to my first book. The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness is a memoir, set in modern times, based on the true story of the journey that began when I awoke from surgery to discover I could no longer speak. That book included a couple forays into my childhood and the stories of my family — my mother’s smile, my father’s inventions and my grandmother’s insanity. Readers told me they wanted to hear more, the story behind the story.

Technically, Dreidels on the Brain is a novel, or perhaps a “fictionalized memoir.”  Because it’s set in 1971, when I was 12, it’s now considered “Historical fiction.” Oy! I was going for “Hysterical fiction,” but what can you do? … Continue reading »

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Laurie Capitelli steps down after 12 years on City Council

Councilman Laurie Capitelli speaking at a press conference held in Berkeley  Monday to report on how the soda tax was working. Photo: Melati
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City Councilman Laurie Capitelli was born in Berkeley but moved away at a young age, only to return to attend UC Berkeley. He never left, raising his children here. He worked as a real-estate agent for Red Oak Realty for decades and got involved in the public sphere in 1996.

After running for mayor and filling out dozens of questionnaires, Capitelli declined Berkeleyside’s request to answer some written questions because he said he had ‘questionnaire fatigue.’ So Berkeleyside sat down with Capitelli on Monday to ask him for his parting thoughts as he leaves the City Council after serving 12 years. His Council seat representing District 5 was won by Sophie Hahn.

Capitelli seemed relaxed and at ease over coffee at Philz Coffee on Shattuck Avenue. Even though he had lost the mayor’s race (City Councilman Jesse Arreguín defeated him by a 47.4% to 33.6% vote), Capitelli said he was proud of his campaign and thankful for the endorsements he had received. “I don’t dwell on things,” he said. “I am a big believer in having no regrets.”

Capitelli said his loss was the result of “a perfect storm.” U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Arreguín mattered more than Capitelli initially realized, he said, as it gave those disappointed at not being able to vote for Sanders for President a “proxy.” He also thought there was some fatigue among residents about the rate of development in Berkeley, but pointed out that Berkeley has not built much housing in the last 35 years and “we were just catching up.”

As for Arreguín’s win, “the general mood in the country was voting for change,” said Capitelli. “I think they are going to get it.” [Both in the U.S. and Berkeley.] He also said that Arreguín is a professional politician who has never held any other job and spent four years gearing up for the mayor’s race. “Jesse is a politician. I don’t mean that in a negative way. He worked the last four years on the coalition that elected him. That was not something I had a desire to do.”

Tonight will be Capitelli’s last City Council meeting and he doubts he will hold public office again. He started his political career as a member of the Planning Commission in 1996. He then went to the Zoning Adjustments Board in 2000 and was elected to City Council in 2004.

The following answers are curated from some notes Capitelli made and the Berkeleyside interview. … Continue reading »

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New mayor seeks cooperation, also higher developer fees

Jesse Arreguin will take over as Berkeley mayor on Dec. 1. Here is is at PIQ during a Berkeleyside interview on Monday. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Developers with projects in the pipeline can expect to be asked to provide more affordable housing and a stronger community benefits package before being approved, Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguín said Monday during a far-ranging interview with Berkeleyside.

Now that the self-described progressives have the City Council majority (see below for more details) the “previous approach” to development will change, he said.

“I do think the voters wanted a change,”Arreguín said at PIQ on Shattuck Avenue. “That’s one of the reasons I was elected by such a large margin. One of the issues I heard throughout the city of Berkeley was a concern about the major demographic changes, the changes to the character of the place, long-time businesses being displaced, the scale of development.”

“I think the voters of Berkeley want more equitable, responsible growth,” he said. “That is not to say everything is going to come to a grinding halt. We need to create more housing so, certainly, under my administration, we are going to encourage the construction of transit-oriented development in Berkeley.”

Currently, developers must make 20% of their market-rate units affordable or pay a $34,000 in-lieu fee into the Housing Trust Fund or a combination of those things. (Up from 10% and a $20,000 fee earlier this year.) Arreguín said that the nexus study Berkeley prepared on the amount developers could afford suggested that a 25% rate for affordable housing was feasible and he planned to push for that. However, he insisted he still supports the Downtown Area Plan and has no plans to push to revise it.

“We are not going to have a moratorium on development in Berkeley,” said Arreguín. “Things will still get built in Berkeley, but it’s going to be a very different dynamic. I know builders are concerned that we are going to undo the Downtown Plan, that things are going to come to a halt. That’s not the case at all.” … Continue reading »

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UC Berkeley police investigate election-related hate crime

Watching election2016 on Sproul Plaza Nov. 8, 2016. Photo: Ted Friedman
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A man in his 50s who went up to Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley while election returns were playing on a screen Tuesday evening shouted racist and homophobic phrases at two students, according to the University of California Police Department.

The man then spat at them with spittle landing on one of the students. UCPD is classifying this as a hate crime.

The two students, one male and one female, were watching the election returns around 6:40 p.m. when the man yelled at them, according to police. … Continue reading »

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Fight involving Measures DD and U1 is costliest in election

Election 2016 campaign lawn signs. Photo: Pete Rosos
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The political action committee for the Berkeley Property Owners Association has steered more than $892,540 in donations to defeat Measure U1 and promote Measure DD, two competing measures that would raise the business tax on rental units.

Perhaps none of their numerous mailings and posters, however, has prompted more comment than the one with a picture of Donald Trump.

Starting last week, signs with Trump’s picture and the words “Stop Tax Loopholes for Developers Like Donald Trump: Vote No on U1” have appeared on telephone poles around Berkeley. Numerous readers wrote to Berkeleyside about the signs.

In an ultra-liberal bastion like Berkeley, equating a ballot measure with the Republican nominee for President is a shorthand way of saying the measure is reprehensible.

Both measures would raise the business tax rate on rents, but one (U1) would raise the tax by 166% while the other (DD) would raise it by 39%.

The intent of both measures is to get money for the Housing Trust Fund to help build affordable housing. Measure DD would generate about $1.5 million a year whereas Measure U1 would generate about $3 million a year. Both measures would put the funds into the General Fund but would distribute the money differently. Measure DD would establish a specially-formed citizens’ committee that would recommend how the money is spent to the City Council. Measure U1 would have the existing Housing Advisory Commission make recommendations to the City Council on how to spend the money. There is no legal requirement that Berkeley spend the money on affordable housing – an aspect of U1 that its opponents trumpet – but the Council has pledged that the money will be used for affordable housing. (The entire Council has endorsed U1) … Continue reading »

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Berkeley kids perform flash mob dance for Hillary Clinton

Hillary Pantsuit flashmob
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Kids from Berkeley and Richmond took to the streets during Sunday Streets on Oct. 23 to perform a “Hillary Pantsuit Power” performance.

“We thought having a first women president was very important and that we should celebrate that,” said Tessa Rose-Scheeres, a student at Washington Elementary School whose mother, the Berkeley writer Julia Scheeres was among the parent organizers. Tessa helped choreograph the dance, which drew dozens of spectators at the end of Sunday Streets. The dancers were mostly from Washington and Cragmont Elementary School. … Continue reading »

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Longtime BHS math teacher drowns in Russian River

Heidi Boley. Photo: InnovateEd (Featured)
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A long-time Berkeley Unified School District employee drowned Friday when the canoe she and two friends were riding in overturned on the Russian River near Healdsburg.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department found 69-year-old Heidi Boley in the river under some tree limbs around 1:30 p.m., according to a press release. She was airlifted to shore but could not be revived. She was wearing a life jacket.

Boley and her two friends had set out earlier in the day in an inflatable canoe southwest of Healdsburg, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The river was moving fast but was not treacherous, according to the paper. Somehow the canoe accidentally overturned. Boley’s two friends managed to swim to shore. They alerted a vineyard worker that their friend was missing and he called authorities.

Charles Burress, spokesman for BUSD, released a statement from the district: “We are deeply saddened at the loss of long-time BUSD employee, Heidi Boley.” … Continue reading »

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