Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

Pacific School of Religion to build 265-unit senior center

An overview of the senior housing planned for Pacific School of Religion's campus. Rendering: Solomon Cordwell Buenz
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The Pacific School of Religion is teaming up with an Illinois-based non-profit builder to construct 265 apartments for seniors on Holy Hill in Berkeley.

Mather LifeWays will build a “continuing care” facility that features apartments, a memory care unit, and nursing facilities for people at the end of their lives, according to Mary Leary, the president of the company, which is based in Evanston. The bulk of the units would be in five-to-six story buildings on PSR’s main campus along Scenic Avenue, with two six-unit buildings on Le Conte Avenue, she said. The units fronting Virginia Street would be three-stories high and constructed in a Mediterranean style to better blend into the neighborhood, she said.

The Mather in Berkeley, as the complex will be called, would be the first facility of its kind in Berkeley, and one that is sorely needed, said Leary. About 25% of Berkeley property owners are older than 55 , she said. Many professors from PSR, other schools affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union, and UC Berkeley move out of Berkeley after they retire because there are no senior centers to move into, said David Vásquez-Levy, president of the Pacific School of Religion.

“Almost none of our emeritus professors can stay in Berkeley,” said Vásquez-Levy. “That’s the case for a lot of our faculty in all our institutions. We are losing the opportunity to retain knowledge.”

The project would also return land to the tax rolls that is now tax exempt because it is used for religious purposes. … Continue reading »

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Feds file lawsuit over Berkeley’s main post office

Post Office Inspectors cleared protesters from the steps after nearly 17 months. Photo: Lance Knobel
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Berkeley’s attempt to limit commercial development of the Main Post Office conflicts with federal law and should be overturned, a lawsuit filed in federal court Monday by the U.S. Postal Service declares.

When Berkeley passed the Civic Center Overlay in September 2014, limiting the post office and eight other buildings to civic uses such as museums, libraries and performance halls, it violated the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution, said the lawsuit.

        Read about the fight surrounding the downtown Berkeley post office.

The law was “enacted primarily to prevent the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office,” according to the lawsuit. “The shape of the Zoning Ordinance confirms that it was designed to regulate the Berkeley Main Post Office rather than to preserve the character of a neighborhood in the City. Within a given block, certain buildings are included, while others are not.”

Before the overlay was passed, the Main Post Office could have been used for retail or high-density residential. … Continue reading »

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Eatsa in Berkeley automates the dining experience

Scott Drummond, the co-founder of Eatsa, outside the Telegraph Avenue branch. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The new automated eatery Eatsa on Telegraph Avenue will hold its grand opening Tuesday and its founders hope it will appeal to health-minded individuals in a hurry. As Nosh reported in July, Berkeley is the third Bay location for the unusual restaurant, which has two outposts in San Francisco, as well as one in Los Angeles.

Visitors who stop by the sleek restaurant at 2334 Telegraph Ave., about a half-block south of campus (in the former Crêpes A-Go-Go), can order vegetarian salads, bento boxes, burrito bowls and quinoa bowls with a variety of toppings and dressings from one of the iPad-equipped kiosks. And while they won’t see anyone making their food – the production process is a well-guarded trade secret – their order will be ready to pick up from glass boxes in just a few minutes. Alternatively, diners can order on an app and have their bowls waiting when they arrive.

“We have an incredibly convenient experience,” Scott Drummond, one of the co-founders, said Friday at a press preview. “People can get their food within two to three minutes. It’s all really flavorful, satisfying and super nutritious with a price people correlated with fast food.” … Continue reading »

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Premier Cru owner used coffee shop as hook-up HQ

John Fox, left, at the counter of a Fourth Street store with a young woman. Fox, who admitted to spending $900K to meet women online, drew attention because he showed up so often.
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John Fox, the corrupt owner of wine retailer Premier Cru, didn’t travel far when he spent $900,000 of embezzled funds on women he met online.

The lanky 66-year-old with fading red hair used to meet scantily dressed 20-year-olds at least two or three times a week at Artís Coffee on Berkeley’s Fourth Street, less than a five-minute drive from his offices at 1011 University Ave., according to observers.

Fox met the young women so frequently that workers in the neighborhood took note. Some of them even started to snap photos of Fox with various dates because they were curious how a middle-aged man connected with so many young women who looked 40 years younger than him.

“He picked up girls literally a couple times a week,” said one worker, who asked that his name not be used. “They were always really young. You never saw him with the same girl twice.” … Continue reading »

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Downtown BART plaza renovation work to begin soon

A rendering of what the renovated BART plaza will look like at night. Image: BART
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Work on creating a new, brighter BART plaza in downtown Berkeley will start any day now, and those using the trains or AC Transit can expect to find their usual entrances or bus stops changing over the next year.

When construction is completed in September 2017, Berkeley will have a BART plaza with a more open layout, better lighting, a signature glass awning, new bus stops, and places for special events, according to Matthai Chakko, a spokesman for the city of Berkeley. There will be screens displaying real-time arrival and departure times for BART trains and AC Transit buses, as well as better signage directing travelers to UC Berkeley and other locations of interest. The signature red brick rotunda will be gone.

The $7.6 million project, formally known as the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza and Transit Area Improvement Project, will also have bio-retention planters and landscaping that can treat on-site stormwater, according to a BART press release. Restaurants will have space for outside tables, which downtown business boosters hope will create a town square sensibility.

Read more about the BART plaza project on Berkeleyside.

“I think this is going to be really transformative for downtown Berkeley,” BART director Rebecca Saltzman told Berkeleyside in April. “The area right now is very congested. This will really open up the space and improve the biking and walking options to BART. I think this will really be a model.”

The BART Plaza at Shattuck Avenue and Center Streets serves 30,000 daily transit riders who use BART, AC Transit, and UC Berkeley Bear Transit Shuttle. The project is expected to “improve traffic safety and enhance the transit rider experience,” according to a Berkeley press release. … Continue reading »

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Premier Cru owner spent $900K on dates met online

Premier Cru. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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A seemingly contrite John Fox, his feet shackled and his hands cuffed, walked into a federal courtroom on Thursday and pleaded guilty to defrauding his Premier Cru customers by selling $20 million in ‘phantom’ wine over a five-year period.

Fox also admitted in a plea agreement that he embezzled about $5 million from Premier Cru starting in 2010 that he used to buy a house, pay his daughter’s college tuition, his family’s credit card bills, for memberships to two private golf clubs, and to purchase or lease numerous expensive cars, including Corvettes, Ferraris, a Maserati and several Mercedes Benz cars.

In addition, Fox said he spent more than $900,000 “on women I met online.”

              Read the back story about Premier Cru on Berkeleyside.

Fox said he first started cheating his customers in 1993 or 1994 when he created fake purchase orders for pre-arrival wines. Each year he increased the amount of phantom wine he pretended to order for his customers until it represented a “significant” amount of his business.

For his crimes, Fox probably faces a maximum of six and a half years in prison and is on the hook to pay $45 million in restitution. … Continue reading »

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UC Berkeley to build 10-story hotel at University, Oxford

UC Berkeley is in negotiations with a developer to construct a hotel on University Avenue and Oxford Street. Photo: UC Berkeley
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UC Berkeley is negotiating with a developer to construct a 200-room, 10-story hotel on the northwest corner of University Avenue and Oxford Street.

The university issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the project in 2015 and received seven responses, according to Christine Shaff, the communications director for UC’s Real Estate Division. The university narrowed that down to a finalist, with whom it is negotiating, she said. Shaff declined to release the name of the development group.

Cal wants a developer to build a single structure that abuts University and Oxford, stands 115 feet high and has about 200 rooms, according to the RFP. The university has requested the structure be an “upscale, full service or select-service hotel” with a public lobby, dining facility, meeting space and recreational space. The design and inclusion of those elements would depend, of course, on the design the development group comes up with, according to the documents. … Continue reading »

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Premier Cru owner will plead guilty to fraud

Premier Cru. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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John E. Fox, the embattled owner of the wine retailer, Premier Cru, will plead guilty to wire fraud in federal court in San Francisco on Thursday, one day after he turns himself into authorities.

Fox could face as much as 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for defrauding his clients – some of whom were among the most accomplished venture capitalists and investment bankers in the world. In an charge filed June 28, but only unsealed recently, the U.S. Attorney has charged Fox with intentionally defrauding his clients from 2009 to 2015.

        Read the back story about Premier Cru on Berkeleyside.

“John Fox did knowingly and with the intent to defraud devise, participate in, and execute a material scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses,” reads the indictment.

Fox had requested that the charges be sealed until closer to the arraignment because he was worried for his personal safety, according to court documents.  … Continue reading »

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2 open Berkeley City Council races draw significant cash

The retirement of Max Anderson and Laurie Capitelli's decision to run for mayor rather than for re-election in District 5 has created two open council seats. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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With the retirement of councilman Max Anderson, and fellow councilman Laurie Capitelli’s decision to run for mayor, there are two open seats on the Berkeley City Council this fall, which may explain the heavy fundraising going on.

Read more on the Berkeley 2016 election.

Below, a round-up of how the different candidates are doing in terms of raising those campaign funds.

District 5: Sophie Hahn / Stephen Murphy

Sophie Hahn, a lawyer, who has twice run unsuccessfully against Laurie Capitelli for the District 5 seat, and who has high name recognition because of those races and her position on the Zoning Adjustments Board, raised the most among her fellow District 5 candidates in the first six months of 2016. Hahn is seen as a progressive who would be closely aligned with City Councilmen Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington, and many of her donors are also their supporters.

Hahn raised $45,244 in this last campaign cycle, spent $6,437, and has $49,427 cash on hand — an amount significant enough for her to to do a number of district-wide mailings. … Continue reading »

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The mayor’s race is off and running: Where do campaign coffers stand?

Laurie Capitelli talks to prospective voters at a house party in July. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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In the last six months, mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli has raised $67,135 in donations, according to recently filed campaign finance statements. That’s almost 35% more than one of his strongest rivals and fellow city council member, Jesse Arreguín, who raised $24,858 in that same period for a total raised of $47,326. (Prior to Jan. 1, Arreguín had raised $25,007.)

Many of Capitelli’s donations have come from his fellow real estate agents, architects, developers, and engineers. He has gotten $250 donations from Mayor Tom Bates, and City Council members Linda Maio, Lori Droste, Susan Wengraf, and Darryl Moore. Some of his other contributors include Patrick Kennedy, whose development company Panoramic Interests was once busy in Berkeley but is now focused on San Francisco; William Shrader, Jr., head of The Austin Group, which just constructed Varsity Berkeley; Jim Novosel, an architect for L’Argent, a 12-story apartment complex planned for Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way, and Melinda Haag, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, among others. Capitelli has spent $14,132 and has $59,157 on hand. … Continue reading »

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Tom Dalzell: The man behind new book, ‘Quirky Berkeley’

Tom Dalzell, holding his new book, Quirky Berkeley, at the Homemade Cafe. There will be a book launch party tonight at the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Tom Dalzell has so many passions that he has to get up at 3:30 a.m. each day to attend to them all.

A highly regarded labor leader, a world expert on slang, and – in the last five years – the world’s strongest proponent of Berkeley’s quirk, Dalzell’s constellation of interests would exhaust a lesser man. But, at 65, Dalzell seems to be just gearing up.

His next act starts tonight, Monday, with the launch party for his new book, Quirky Berkeley, just published by Heyday.

The almost-pocket-sized tome is a compilation of how Dalzell has spent much of the past few years: walking around Berkeley, noticing the odd and interesting objects created by residents, and writing about them for his website, Quirky Berkeley, as well as for Berkeleyside. The $15 book, which seems destined to become an instant Berkeley classic, is full of colorful photos and probing insights into many of Berkeley’s most interesting quirks, including the Giant Orange House on Spruce Street, Buldan Seka’s large ceramic creations (also on Spruce), artist Mark Bullwinkle’s steel sculptures around town, Mark Olivier’s beach trash art, and Eni Green’s Doggie Diner head and other dachshund knickknacks on Harper Street. Dalzell also highlights the city’s many colorful mailboxes, benches, animal sculptures and sidewalk art.

     Read Tom Dalzell’s Quirky Berkeley articles on Berkeleyside.

“I am struck every time I walk in Berkeley by the plenty of the quirk that I see,” Dalzell writes in his introduction. “We enjoy a special kind of freedom in Berkeley, unbound by convention or conventional thinking, unafraid of change or what others may think. The quirky stuff is an outward and physical manifestation of that inward freedom.” … Continue reading »

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After 19 months, Elmwood Theatre finally changes marquee

The marquee of the Elmwood Theatre has been changed after 10 months. Photo: Joey Brite
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The Babadook is gone. So are Gone Girl, Boyhood, and Nightcrawler.

Nineteen months after Cal-OSHA informed Rialto Cinemas Elmwood that employees should not change the movie titles on the marquee until a safe way to do it could be found, the letters spelling out film titles on the marquee have finally been switched out.

A contractor removed the old titles on Monday. The Art Deco-style marquee now has a much more generic message: “Berkeley’s Independently Owned Movie Theatre. Great Movies and More,” reads one portion.  … Continue reading »

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How did Berkeley wine store accrue $70M in debt?

In December 2011, John Fox was all smiles as he held large scissors to cut the ribbon for the grand opening of Premier Cru's new retail store at 1011 University Ave. Photo: Premier Cru
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John E. Fox, the embattled owner of the bankrupt wine company Premier Cru, often liked to run his business close to the edge, according to interviews with former business colleagues.

To provide coveted wine to his international clientele, Fox was constantly on the prowl for wine bargains. This led him to strike deals with people selling wine on the “gray market,” outside the channels set up by many European wine houses.

And when Fox would order wines from legitimate distributors around the country, he would delay paying for his orders as long as possible, even though California law requires wine purchases to be settled within 30 days, according to one business associate. This delaying tactic angered so many people that many were gleeful when the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced in February it was investigating whether Fox ran a Ponzi scheme.

Read more about Premier Cru on Berkeleyside.

“There were a lot of smiles on faces when they heard that he was going down,” said Jim Elder, a vice-president of marketing and operations for The Sorting Table, a Napa-based wine importer and distributor. “There were a lot of smiles in the wine industry. He had screwed a lot of people, whether he didn’t pay them or always paid them late… To me, it’s karma.” … Continue reading »

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