Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

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SAN FRANCISCO MIME TROUPE It’s summer. It’s park time, which means it’s time for the annual production of the Tony-award winning San Francisco Mime Troupe. This time, the acting ensemble takes on the question of education in its 57th production, “Schooled.” Who is it for and who pays for it? From their program notes: “Education. It’s like the weather: everyone has an opinion but nobody does anything about it. That’s how Lavinia Jones feels about her son Thomas’ new school, Eleanor Roosevelt High. Decades of funding cuts have resulted in old textbooks, crumbling classrooms, and underpaid teachers,  making Roosevelt exactly the sort of public school that has failed students time and time again. Isn’t it time for something… efficient? And efficient is exactly what Fredersen Babbit, from Learning Academy for Virtual Achievement (LAVA Corp.), promises to bring to the district. New Technology, remote learning, computer-generated teachers –LAVA promises to put the “virtual” in achievement! ” The Mime Troupe opens its 2016 season Saturday, July 2 at 2:00 p.m. at Cedar Rose Park at 1300 Rose St., near Chestnut. Music begins at 1:30 p.m. There will be a second performance, same time, same place on July 3. It will also play in Live Oak Park on July 9 and 10th at 2:00 p.m.and at Willard Park Aug. 20 and 21st. … Continue reading »

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Former councilman, civil rights crusader Don Jelinek dies

Don Jelenik
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Don Jelinek, a former Berkeley City Councilman, author, and a crusading lawyer who worked for civil rights in the South, represented the Native Americans who took over Alcatraz in 1969, and defended prisoners who survived the Attica Prison uprising, died June 24. He was 82.

Jelinek was one of Berkeley’s most visible progressive politicians, serving on the City Council as part of Berkeley Citizen’s Action coalition from 1984 to 1990. He ran for mayor against Shirley Dean twice, losing both … Continue reading »

Don Jelinek, civil rights attorney and former Berkeley city council member, dies

Don Jelenik
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Jelinek was one of Berkeley’s most visible progressive politicians, serving on the City Council as part of Berkeley Citizen’s Action coalition from 1984 to 1990. He ran for mayor against Shirley Dean twice, losing both times. In the first race in November 1994, Jelinek captured 49.2% of the vote against Dean’s 45.5%. That forced a runoff, which Dean won. Jelinek and his supporters blamed the loss on the December runoff date when most UC Berkeley students were out of town.

Even off the council, Jelinek exerted great influence in Berkeley politics. He was a frequent advisor to the five sitting BCA councilmembers, meeting with them frequently to strategize legislation, according to Kriss Worthington, who said he never would have run for election without Jelinek’s encouragement.

“Long after he left the council he was still an incredible resource,” said Worthington. “He combined common sense and progressive ideas to focus the loose knit coalition of progressive council members. He was a calm force for “Yes, do progressive things but do them in a smart way.” … Continue reading »

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Thief punches 94-year-old ranger at home, steals coin given to her by Obama

Betty Reid Soskin. Photo: Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park
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President Barack Obama has pledged to send a new commemorative coin to Betty Reid Soskin — who founded Reid’s Records on Berkeley’s Sacramento Street in 1945 and is the oldest full-time National Park ranger — after a burglar stole the one Obama gave her in December.

An intruder broke into Soskin’s second-floor apartment in Richmond around midnight Monday.

The Richmond Police Department said Soskin, who is 94, was asleep when she was woken up by an intruder in her bedroom.

“She tried to grab her cellphone to call for help but the suspect wrestled it away,” said Lt. Felix Tan of RPD. “The suspect then punched her several times in her face, causing her to fall to the floor.”

The man — described only as a man in his 20s with a thin to medium build — dragged her out of the bedroom and into the hallway where he punched her several more times. … Continue reading »

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The Berkeley Wire: 06.30.16

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Gilman Street underpass: For many, the poster child of Berkeley homeless camps

This man, who didn't want to give his name, lives by the Gilman underpass. He makes $30 to $40 a day  scavenging. He finds lots of food (people throw away a lot from Trader Joe's) as well as things like scooters, skateboards, etc. When Caltrans and Berkeley recently cleaned out the camp, he just went across the street and returned when they left, he said. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Bood’s home is a blue tarp on Eastshore Freeway, the frontage road right by the Gilman Street underpass. At 37, he’s been living on the streets for a few years, driven there by a break-up with a long-time girlfriend.

Bood scavenges for a living. He makes the rounds in Berkeley and El Cerrito looking for tossed food (a lot of people throw away food from Trader Joe’s, he said) and discarded clothing he can sell to Buffalo Exchange and other consignment stores. The area around his tarp reflects the way he makes a living: There are folding chairs, rugs, candles and flashlights, among other items.

Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, Berkeley police and city workers came to the area to clean it out about two weeks ago, June 16. They carted away garbage trucks full of debris. They also found more than 250 used hypodermic needles and bottles of urine, as well as feces and dead rodents.

Did the clean up have any effect on Bood and the rest of the people hanging out in the area?


“We gathered our stuff up, we went across the street and waited for them to leave,” said Bood, who did not give his last name. “Then we set back up.” … Continue reading »

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Would a homeless mayor in Berkeley make a difference for the homeless?

Mike Lee, who is running for mayor, at his "office" at Au Coquelet on June 22, 2016. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Guy “Mike” Lee sat at a wooden table in the back of Au Coquelet restaurant on University Avenue. His laptop computer was open in front of him, its cord stretching behind to an electrical outlet on the wall. Lee’s cell phone was also charging.

This spot serves as an office of sorts for Lee, 60, who is running for mayor of Berkeley. Lee is homeless, so every morning he travels from where he sleeps (which he won’t reveal – for safety reasons, he says) to coffee shops and quick-serve restaurants in the downtown, meeting people along the way.

“People come looking for me,” said Lee, who has a broad forehead, deep brown eyes and a long, wiry salt and pepper beard. “They check in at Starbucks depending what time it is. Generally Monday through Friday it’s Starbucks or McDonald’s. If they don’t see me, they’ll come down here.”

Lee only arrived in Berkeley on this go-around about a year ago, but in that short time he has emerged as a voice for the homeless, as well as a leader. He was part of the “Post Office Defenders,” the group that occupied a space next to the Main Post Office on Allston Way until it was shut down in April. He participated in Liberty City, the encampment outside Old City Hall last winter. Lee is active on Facebook and keeps up a steady stream of posts on his page, The Bum As Mayor?  He is also in regular communication with city officials and politicians. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley homelessness: A timeline from 1982 to 2016

A voucher used in the "Berkeley Cares" program of 1991
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Many people trace the roots of the current homeless crisis back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan. He came into office in 1981 with a mandate to cut federal spending. And cut he did. Early in his term Reagan halved the budget for public housing and even tried to eliminate federal subsidies for public low-income housing. The annual budget of $16 billion in 1979 went to just $1 billion in 1983. Reagan also did a number of other things that contributed to a spike in poverty. There was also a recession. By the mid-1980s, there were about 600,000 homeless people in the United States. Today there are from 634,000 to 1.6 million homeless in the U.S., according to various studies. In Berkeley, official estimates say were 834 homeless people as of January 2015, while advocates say there are likely more than 1,000.

Partial Berkeley Homelessness Timeline

1982 – People in campers set up a “Reaganville” encampment near the Marina.

January 1985 – Rainbow Village opens near the Marina (now Cesar Chavez Park). It was a half-acre plot for homeless people who lived in vehicles to park their cars for $30 a month. The city provided some rudimentary services such as a sink and running water. About 35 to 40 people lived at Rainbow Village.

See full coverage on Berkeleyside of the Berkeley Homeless Project.

Aug. 16, 1985 – Two “Deadheads” living at Rainbow Village were shot and killed. The bodies of Mary Regina Gioia, 22, of Schenectady, New York, and Gregory Kniffin, 18, of Wilson, Connecticut, were found in the bay. They had been beaten badly and shot at close range in the neck. Within a few days, Berkeley police had arrested Ralph International Thomas, another occupant of Rainbow Village, and he was eventually charged with the murders. He was convicted of the killings and sentenced to death. New attorneys later argued in court that Thomas’ defense attorney had not sought witnesses that could have helped his case and a federal appeals court eventually ordered a new trial decades later. Thomas, 59, died in jail in January 2014 while waiting for a new trial.

March 2, 1986 – Rainbow Village is shut down. The experiment lasted 13 months. … Continue reading »

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Homelessness in Berkeley: An overview

Man in People's Park on June 27, 2009. Photo by Danny Howard/Creative Commons
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It was such a novel idea that newspapers around the country wrote about it.

To help cut down on panhandling, Berkeley merchants would sell 25-cent vouchers in packets of four to customers, who could then hand them out to the homeless. This “comprehensive” strategy, said the Los Angeles Times, would let the homeless people who hung out on Shattuck and Telegraph avenues use the vouchers for bus fare, food, to take a shower or do laundry. With an estimated 800 people without permanent housing in town, merchants sold $1,900 worth of “Berkeley Cares” vouchers in just a few months.

“By all accounts Berkeley’s street people are already eating and even smelling better, and those desperate for hard currency to finance a drug habit are drifting elsewhere,” reported the New York Times.

The year: 2016?

No, it was 1991.

                  See full coverage on Berkeleyside of the Berkeley Homeless Project.

It’s been 25 years since the failure of “Berkeley Cares.” In that time, Berkeley has tried numerous ways to reduce the number of homeless people on the streets and minimize their impact on luckier citizens who may be dismayed by seeing men and women walking around or sitting on sidewalks with shopping carts full of stuff. … Continue reading »

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Landmark Claremont Court house on market for $5.45M

2840 Claremont Boulevard built in 1910, is on the market for $5.45M Photo: BHG
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One of the first houses built in Claremont Court is on the market for $5.45 million, marking it as one of the most expensive residences ever for sale in Berkeley.

The light-filled landmark home at 2840 Claremont Blvd. has eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, a large entryway, a formal dining room, a grand living room and a suite of servants’ rooms upstairs. Paul O. Teitzen, the president of the Bank of Santa Maria in southern California, hired the architectural firm of Hodges and Mitchell to construct the home, said Allen Hibbard,the listing agent for the home. He is with Better Homes and Garden Real Estate. The Teitzen family moved in in 1910, just four years after ground was broken for the Claremont Hotel (it opened in 1915) and three years after Duncan McDuffie and Joseph J. Mason started to subdivide the area bounded by Derby Street, Belrose Avenue, Claremont Boulevard, Claremont Avenue, the Claremont Hotel, Russell Street and Oak Knoll Terrace. It would become known as Claremont Court and was noted for the graceful gates that set off the subdivision. … Continue reading »

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Premier Cru lawsuit: Some customers to get refunds

premier cru longshot  exterior
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Six months after the wine store Premier Cru abruptly shut it doors, leaving thousands of customers without access to the wine they had purchased, relief may be on the way.

The bankruptcy trustee appointed to liquidate the wine company’s assets recently reached a settlement with a disgruntled patron that will allow many customers to recoup a portion of their investment — but only for pennies on the dollar.

The settlement affects about 4,800 customers but excludes another 2,300 or so who may not see any refunds. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley ‘Fat Positive’ festival seeks to smash stereotypes

virgie tovar
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A few days after summer begins, the Berkeley Public Library will launch a “Fat Positive Summer Festival” to address the cultural expectation that all people must be skinny and bikini-ready.

Put together with Virgie Tovar, an activist and one of the nation’s leading experts on body image and fat discrimination, the festival will take place from Wednesday, June 22 through July 6 at three Berkeley library branches.

The idea is to examine societal attitudes toward people who weigh a lot and to liberate them from the idea that their bodies are something to be ashamed of and changed, according to Jack Baur, the supervising librarian at North Branch, who helped organize the festival.

The events will include two lectures by Tovar — the first proved so popular that the library added a second — some short films, and readings and presentations by various writers and body positive activists.

“Each of the events in the festival pushes against the current cultural paradigm that seeks to pathologize and marginalize fat people,” Tovar said in a statement released by the library. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley balcony collapse tragedy: One year later

People comfort each other at a vigil at St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland, on Friday, June 19, 2015, for the victims of Tuesday's balcony collapse in Berkeley. Photo: David Yee ©2015
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One year ago today, Berkeley woke up to the horrifying news that a balcony holding 13 people had sheared off the face of Library Gardens, an apartment building in downtown Berkeley, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths.

News of the tragedy rippled through the world, as most of those killed were young Irish students who had come to the Bay Area on J-1 visas for the summer. Families who had sent their children off for three months of fun, work and American culture boarded transcontinental flights with heavy hearts to bring their children’s bodies home.

Read more Berkeleyside coverage of the balcony collapse.

From the earliest hours of the tragedy, questions arose about why the balcony had fallen off. Library Gardens at 2020 Kittredge St. had only been built nine years earlier. When reached by phone shortly after the calamity, John DeClercq, one of building’s original developers insisted to Berkeleyside that top-notch contractors and materials had been used.

But clearly something had gone wrong. The city of Berkeley conducted an investigation and concluded that the wooden beams holding up the balcony had rotted. The beams had not been properly waterproofed during construction, allowing water to eat away at the fibers. … Continue reading »

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