Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

As election nears, contributions and complaints mount

SEIU Local 1021 has donated $24,000 this election cycle to help candidates it supports. Its funds went into an independent expenditure committee that paid for this website.
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An independent expenditure group backed by one of Berkeley’s largest unions has poured $8,112 into Jesse Arreguín’s mayoral campaign, spending the funds on a website to promote his views.

The independent expenditure group is named the “Berkeley Working Families Supporting Arreguín and Worthington for Mayor, Moore and Bartlett for City Council, Tregub, Soto-Vigil, Murphy, and Simon-Weisberg for Rent Board 2016.”

SEIU Local 1021, which represents Berkeley’s library workers, clerical workers, maintenance staff, recreational staff and health workers has put in $24,000, according to campaign finance reports.

The group has also spent about $163 each on a number of candidates, including Kriss Worthington, who is running for mayor, Darryl Moore and Ben Bartlett, who are running for City Council, and Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Christina Murphy, Igor Tregub, and Leah Simon-Weisberg, who are running for rent board.

Thursday at midnight is another campaign finance deadline that might show where the rest of the funds have been spent. … Continue reading »

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The Berkeley Wire: 10.20.16

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Judge tosses out legal challenge to Berkeley high-rise

2211 Harold Way is one of several tall building proposals in the pipeline that must offer "significant community benefits" under the Downtown Area Plan. Image: MVEI Architecture and Planning
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An Alameda County Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied numerous challenges to the Environmental Impact Report prepared for 2211 Harold Way, meaning that construction of an 18-story, 302-unit building with 10,000-square feet of retail space and new movie theaters in Berkeley’s downtown can proceed – unless the decision is appealed.

In a 16-page ruling, Judge Frank Roesch denied the 15 claims Berkeley residents Kelly Hammargren and James Hendry had filed in January to stop the project. The two had filed separate challenges which were combined. Roesch conducted a four-hour court hearing on the challenges on Aug. 26.

In December, the city council approved the complex, which will be the largest construction project built since Berkeley adopted the Downtown Area Plan in 2012. Under the plan, density downtown was increased and Berkeley sanctioned the construction of seven towers ranging from 120 to 180 feet high. In exchange, developers were required to provide extraordinary community benefits.

City officials ordered the developer of 2211 Harold Way, HSR Berkeley Investments, to make a $10.5 million payment into the Housing Trust Fund, with another $1 million going into an arts fund. Habitot Children’s Museum, which will be displaced because of the project, will receive $250,000 of that money. The developer has also agreed to use union labor and to rebuild the Shattuck Cinemas. Berkeley applied a $6 million credit for the labor agreement and a $5.5 million credit for the theater. The developer will also have to pay into a streets fund and a childcare fund.

The first $2 million of that payment will be made when HSR Berkeley Investments obtains its building permit. Half will go into the housing fund then, and the other half to the arts fund. The developer will have to pay $3.5 million – or post a bond or otherwise guarantee payment – when it gets its occupancy permit.

‘The project team is pleased with the decision as it reinforces our perspective that the lawsuits were specious to begin with,” said Mark Rhoades of Rhoades Planning Group, which assisted Penner in the entitlement process. “The decision also reinforces the voters’ desires for the Downtown Plan as it is reflected in this project after more than 35 public meetings. The project team is currently in discussion on the next steps but the strength of the decision likely means that the project will move forward even IF there is an appeal.” … Continue reading »

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Real-estate interests spend $92K to help elect candidates

Mayoral candidates Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguín butted heads Tuesday night over the minimum wage proposal. Photos: Mark Coplan
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The political action committee of the National Association of Realtors has poured $92,486 into the Berkeley election in recent weeks, with almost two-thirds of that going to support Laurie Capitelli in his race for mayor.

The realtors spent $60,382 to send out flyers in support of Capitelli, whose main challengers are fellow City Councilmen Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington. Those two are running in tandem and are encouraging voters to rank them first and second on Berkeley’s rank-choice ballot in a bid to defeat Capitelli.

See all local 2016 coverage on Berkeleyside.

(Berkeleyside reported on Oct. 12 that the realtors had spent $36,342 in support of Capitelli’s campaign, but the group has since filed additional documentation.)

The National Association of Realtors Fund is considered an independent expenditure, which means the organization does not coordinate with the candidates’ campaigns. These groups are not restrained by Berkeley’s $250 limit for individuals.

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Real-estate interests spend big to defeat rental tax spike

Newer Berkeley by William Newton. Photo taken April 20, 2016
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Real-estate groups have spent more than $786,000 in the last few months to defeat a measure that would almost double the business tax landlords pay in Berkeley (Measure U1) and to support an alternative measure with a lower tax (Measure DD). The funds were spent on campaign literature, signature collection, campaign consultants and for professional services from lawyers and others.

The ‘Committee for Real Affordable Housing – Yes on Measure DD, No on Measure U1, Sponsored by Berkeley Property Owners Association,’ raised $417,038 in 2016 and has spent $496,000 so far in this election cycle, according to campaign finance records. A second group, the ‘Rental Housing Coalition, Yes on 10, Sponsored by Berkeley Property Owners Association,’ was formed to fight the city-sponsored business tax measure, U1. That group has spent $290,274 so far to defeat U1, according to campaign records.

Check out Berkeleyside’s Election Hub for a one-stop guide to the Berkeley elections.

In contrast, the group formed to promote Measure U1 and fight Measure DD, the ‘Committee for Safe and Affordable Housing,’ has raised $43,102, according to campaign records.

The huge amount of money contributed by at least 55 different groups – the bulk of them limited-liability corporations with addresses as their names – shows the high stakes at play in the Nov. 8 election. … Continue reading »

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Ruth Whippman: Why are Americans so obsessed with happiness?

Ruth Whipmann cropped
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For her new book, America The Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, Berkeley resident Ruth Whippman embarked on what is described on her website as “an uproarious pilgrimage to explore the American happiness machine, tackling both the ridiculous and the sublime.” We caught up with Whippman —  ahead of her conversation with Lauren Schiller at Berkeleleyside’s Uncharted: Festival of Ideas on Oct. 15 (tickets here) — to ask her more about what her research uncovered. 

What prompted you to write ‘America the Anxious’?

We moved to Berkeley from the UK in 2011. I was immediately struck by the fact that there seemed to be a real cultural focus on happiness here, almost an obsession— something that was very different from my experience back in the UK. In my first few months in the States I probably had more conversations about happiness than in the rest of my life put together, whether that was people worrying that they weren’t quite as happy as they could be, or evangelizing about the different methods they were trying out to become happier, such as mindfulness or positive thinking or various self-help techniques.

There seemed to be a real anxiety around the topic, with this constant feeling from people that there was this perfect ‘happy-ever-after’ out there for the taking that they weren’t quite managing to achieve. As a journalist, I was curious as to what was behind all this, so I started looking into it and found that there is a multi-billion dollar industry devoted to selling happiness in America and that it is growing all the time. Americans spend more time and money looking for happiness than any other nation on earth. But, despite all this effort, they rate as some of the least happy and most anxious people in the developed world. The book was my journey to understand why, and what was going wrong. … Continue reading »


With 28 days to the election, fundraising gap between mayoral candidates widens

Five of the eight people running for mayor wait before the start of the CENA/Bateman Neighborhood Association Forum. From left to right: Jesse Arreguin, Ben Gould, Kriss Worthington,  Laurie Capitelli, and Mike Lee. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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See update at bottom.

With 28 days until the Nov. 8 election, Berkeley mayoral candidate, and city councilman, Laurie Capitelli has more than twice the amount of cash to spend on the race than his fellow candidate, City Councilman Jesse Arreguín. And he has 15 times as much to spend as City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who is also running to replace outgoing Mayor Tom Bates.

From July 1 to Sept. 24, the reporting period of the most recent campaign finance filings, Capitelli reported that he raised $31,288, bringing the total amount he has raised since 2015 to around $104,000. He still has $76,700 on hand for the rest of the race.

Arreguín raised $19,461 in that same period, for a total raised of about $69,000. Arreguín has $30,375 on hand.

Worthington has raised $5,804 in that period and has spent $810, leaving him with $4,994.

Ben Gould, a graduate student running for mayor, raised $2,585 from July 1 to Sept. 24, bringing his total to $8,885.

Naomi D. Pete reported she had raised $85, but she did not write down who gave the donation. … Continue reading »

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10 Berkeley-connected films at the Mill Valley Film Festival

Actress examines a rare science fiction book by Johannes Kepler in the movie, Kepler's Dream, which will be playing at the Mill Valley Film Festival
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Berkeley writer Sylvia Brownrigg was 21 when she met her paternal grandmother for the first time. It was not an easy start, as her grandmother, a world traveler and famous book collector, was “frosty” and not easy to relate to. But, with time, Sylvia and her grandmother developed a close and lasting bond.

Elements of that relationship – with some significant changes – can be found in Kepler’s Dream, a movie that will have its film festival premiere Friday, Oct. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

The movie, produced by Sedge Thompson of West Coast Live fame, and directed by Amy Glazer, tells the story of an 11-year-old California girl who is forced to go live with her grandmother in New Mexico because her mother is sick and her father seems to want to avoid parenting. The young girl, Ella, played by British actress Isabella Blake Thomas, becomes captivated by a rare book written by Johannes Kepler. Its theft sets into motion a series of events that both challenges the family and brings them together.

The movie is based on a book that was  published in 2012 and written under Brownrigg’s nom de plume, Juliet Bell. Glazer, a local film director with whom Brownrigg hikes regularly, read the book and declared she wanted to turn it into a movie. The two wrote the screenplay with another pair of women.

“I am really excited it has come out,” said Brownrigg. “It has been a three-year project so it’s great to see it make its way into the world.” … Continue reading »

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Photos: It’s harvest time at Berkeley’s wineries

At Donkey and Goat Winery of Fifth Street, humans press the grapes. Photo: Erin Callihan
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The last few weeks have been busy ones for Berkeley’s eight urban wineries. It’s harvest time, so the winery owners have had grapes from Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado, Santa Barbara and other counties delivered to Berkeley. Some fetch the grapes themselves. Once they are delivered to the wineries, they are de-stemmed and crushed (either by feet or with machines). Then the grapes start their fermentation, which ends up (eventually) in wine.

Read more about wine and wineries in the East Bay.

The photos published here show the harvest in full swing. Be sure to try the wines from Berkeley’s wineries, which include Urbano Cellars, Eno Wines, Lusu Cellars, Eight Arms Cellars, Donkey & Goat Winery, Covenant Wines, Broc Cellars and Edmunds St. John. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley mayoral candidates square off about budget, homelessness and more

Five of the eight people running for mayor wait before the start of the CENA/Bateman Neighborhood Association Forum. From left to right: Jesse Arreguin, Ben Gould, Kriss Worthington,  Laurie Capitelli, and Mike Lee. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Five of the eight mayoral candidates gathered Monday night to air their views on how to lead Berkeley.

The Bateman Neighborhood Association and the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association sponsored the mayoral forum, which drew about 150 people to St. John’s Presbyterian Church on College Avenue. Each candidate got to make a three-minute opening statement (The candidates’ opening statements are interspersed throughout this story. See videos below). They then answered the same four questions. Three candidates – Bernt Wahl, Zachary RunningWolf, and Naomi D. Peet did not show up.

Sutter Health is moving its emergency and acute inpatient care to Summit Hospital in Oakland. The current Alta Bates facility is subject to 99-year agreement between the hospital and Neighborhood Associations. What actions would you take as mayor to influence the future use of Alta Bates and to make sure the 1983 agreement is enforced?

Ben Gould, a Berkeley native and graduate student at UC Berkeley, said the most important thing was to preserve an emergency room and acute inpatient services in Berkeley, but not necessarily at the existing Alta Bates. He would work with hospital officials who are reluctant to pay the costs for seismically upgrading Alta Bates to explore putting those services at Herrick Hospital site or even at UC Berkeley.

Kriss Worthington, who has been a city councilman since 1996, said he understands how to negotiate with Alta Bates/Sutter Health officials because Alta Bates used to be in his district and he has played a key role in recent years in negotiating compromises with them. When word broke that Alta Bates was going to close, one council member brought forward a measure saying, “Let’s consider what to do.” Worthington said he immediately amended that to say, “Let’s take a stand.” He also directed the interns in his office to examine cases around the country where citizens have stopped the closure of hospitals. He used some of that “winning language” in a recent council resolution, he said. Worthington said Berkeley needs to organize the region and get the councils and residents of Oakland, Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond involved in stopping the closure. “We are all going to be screwed if we let Sutter Corporation take away our hospital.” … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: The long and short of Cheryl Davila, candidate for City Council

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Cheryl Davila is running to represent her neighbors in District 2 and to defeat Darryl Moore on the Berkeley City Council in November. Cheryl happens to be really short — standing barely at 4’ 11” even wearing her cowgirl boots (she and I see eye to eye, politically and literally since I am 4’ 9”). Don’t be fooled by Cheryl’s stature because she is a giant on the issues we care about, locally and globally.

Briefly, before addressing the issues, Cheryl has won my support because of her personal qualities: honesty, modesty, her sense of responsibility to the community, and her reverence for culture—her own and the cultures of people around her. At all of her campaign events, she makes a place for music, dance, and poetry. The richness of cultural diversity in West Berkeley (District 2) surely will be upheld and protected if Cheryl is elected.

Cheryl is the height of clear thinking about the current housing crisis. She supports the bold idea of organizing in the Bay Area to repeal the state law, Costa Hawkins. (The law that now ties the hands of local authorities and activists from controlling spiraling rent prices). Cheryl’s most ardent supporters are discussing with her a plan to convene a regional conference of affordable housing advocates and grassroots organizers to initiate a formal regional (eventually statewide) movement leading to the repeal of Costa Hawkins. Many of the people I know support this idea. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley candidates outline their positions on the arts

Josh Kornbluth was the emcee for the evening. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Five Berkeley mayoral candidates and a slew of contenders for City Council gathered Wednesday evening at the Freight & Salvage to discuss their commitment to funding the arts.

The Berkeley Cultural Trust, a consortium of individuals from various arts organizations in Berkeley, put on the candidates’ debate. Its setting could not have been more appropriate: the building, which once housed a garage, now serves as the Bay Area’s premiere venue for folk and bluegrass performances. The Freight & Salvage sits on Addison Street in the heart of Berkeley’s Arts District, right across the street from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Aurora Theatre and the California Jazz Conservatory (which is expanding across the street).

Check out a round-up of more local election events coming up.

Years ago, this area was just another random block in downtown Berkeley, but it now serves as one of the most vibrant stretches in the city. When Mayor Tom Bates recently hosted a meeting of mayors from around the country, one of the most popular events of the conference was a tour of the downtown Arts District, according to Michael Caplan, the manager of Berkeley’s economic development department, who led the tours.

Berkeley has done a lot to ensure that dance, music, performance and the visual arts thrive. Earlier this year,  the City Council adopted a ‘1% for arts’ provision, which requires developers of new projects (except those in the downtown) to devote 1% of their construction costs to public art or pay an in-lieu fee. That’s on top of a similar 1.5% art requirement tied to public improvements and bond measures. In 2016, Berkeley will give out $389,00 in grants to various arts groups, a boost of $150,000 over recent years. Berkeley has also provided capital grants to places like the UC Theatre and the Kala Arts Institute.

Whether this is the beginning or the final shape of Berkeley’s commitment to the arts was a central question of the forum, which attracted around 250 people. … Continue reading »

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Equity Residential sells downtown Berkeley Acheson Commons property to Texas firm

Equity Residential once planned to redevelop a square block of downtown and construct 205 apartments in a development named Acheson Commons. Now the company is seeking to sell the project, along with others. Photo: Tracey Taylor
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The developer who wants to build an 18-story apartment building over the Walgreens at 2190 Shattuck Ave. will also be building a 205-unit complex along University Avenue.

Mill Creek Residential Trust has purchased the row of historic buildings along University Avenue between Shattuck and Oxford owned by Equity Residential and slated to become the Acheson Commons complex, although no construction ever started. The sale happened in mid-July. The price was not disclosed, but the assessed value of the various properties is more than $20 million.

Read more about the Acheson Commons project on Berkeleyside.

Mill Creek Residential, which has an office in Menlo Park but headquarters in Texas, plans to revive the stalled project and begin construction in early-to-mid-2017, according to Jason Overman, a director at Lighthouse Public Affairs, the firm Mill Creek Residential hired to handle its public relations. Construction will take at least two years.

“They were really drawn by how vibrant Berkeley is,” Overman said in an email. “It’s an incredibly dynamic city, and they’re excited to be part of the community. And there’s obviously a tremendous need for housing. They are excited to see this project through.” … Continue reading »

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