Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley city worker dies in garbage truck accident

Johnny Tolliver, who worked for Berkeley's Zero Waste division, died Monday after he was hit by a city garbage truck. Photo: Tolliver family
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[Note: The family of Johnny Tolliver Sr. has released a statement about his death. Scroll to the bottom of this story to read it, along with additional updates.]

The city of Berkeley worker who was pinned by a garbage truck in the Berkeley Hills on Monday has died of his injuries.

Johnny Tolliver Sr., who had worked for Berkeley for 25 years, died Monday, according to Matthai Chakko, a city spokesman. He was 52.

“This is obviously an incredibly sad day for the staff involved and the city as a whole,” said Chakko. “We want to be a support to his family and his co-workers.”

Berkeley has lowered its flags to half-staff in Tolliver’s honor, he said.

Tolliver’s death while on duty may be the first for a city worker who is not a police officer or firefighter, or at least the first in a long, long time, said Chakko. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s Premier Cru files for bankruptcy

Seven customers are suing Premier Cru, a wine retailer at 1011 University Ave., for not delivering wine they had purchases. Photo: Gordon Commercial Realty
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Update 1/19: The FBI is now fielding customer complaint calls about Premier Cru, according to spokesman Prentice Danner, after the Alameda County District Attorney’s office asked it to intervene. That does not mean the FBI has launched an investigation into the workings of Premier Cru, he said. The number to call is 510-808-2600.

Original story:

The customers of Berkeley’s Premier Cru who were hoping to get delivery of wine they paid for but never saw delivered are probably out of luck.

The wine company run by John Fox filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy on Jan. 8, claiming it had more than $70 million in debts but only $7 million in assets – most of it wine.

The city of Berkeley is one of the entities that might get left in the lurch. Bankruptcy court filings show that Fox – doing business as Fox Ortega Enterprises – owes the city $175,000, although the papers do not state why. Fox also owes money to the IRS, the Franchise Tax Board, and California’s Employment Development Department. … Continue reading »

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Human foot found on Berkeley BART tracks

Said Siciliana Trevino shortly after 2 p.m.: "Power out all over #Berkeley BART is still running - take a free ride from downtown!" The station is closed as of about 2:40 p.m.
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BART workers found a dismembered foot on the tracks in Berkeley Monday morning and believe it belongs to a woman who jumped in front of a train on Dec. 20.

BART officials briefly closed the downtown Berkeley station around 4 a.m. after workers found the right foot around 3 a.m., according to Jim Allison, a BART spokesman. The station reopened a short time later. Service was not delayed. … Continue reading »

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Café Clem revamps to cope with labor, food costs

Cafe Clem at 2020 Kittredge St. will reopen today after being close for three weeks. Photo: Café Clem
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For the last three weeks, patrons of Café Clem at 2020 Kittredge St. in downtown Berkeley have gone to the restaurant, only to see a sign on the door reading “Café Clem will be closed until further notice.”

Many worried that the much-loved restaurant was shuttered for good. But at 7:30 a.m. Monday, the café will reopen, something that the owner, Dorothée Mitrani-Bell, wasn’t sure would happen again.

Mitrani-Bell, who also owns the French restaurant La Note on Shattuck Avenue, shuttered Café Clem during the holidays to rethink its existence. The café, while popular, was under serious financial pressure. In fact, in September, Mitrani-Bell addressed the Berkeley City Council and said: “I can’t survive.” The recent rise in Berkeley’s minimum wage, coupled with increased wholesale costs, meant the cafe’s margins were not large enough, said Mitrani-Bell.

However, after mulling over the situation, Mitrani-Bell decided to revamp aspects of the restaurant, rather than close it. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s Savers Thrift Superstore to close on Jan. 16

Savers Thrift at 1414 University Ave. will close on Jan. 16, about two years after it opened. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Two years after it opened to fanfare – and controversySavers Thrift Superstore at 1414 University Ave. will shut its doors on Saturday, Jan. 16.

No-one from corporate headquarters would speak to Berkeleyside about the reasons behind the closure, but a spokeswoman confirmed the closure. The store manager said Berkeley has proved too expensive for the discount thrift store chain.

“The cost of doing business in Berkeley is not conducive for us,” said Reginald Batiste, the store manager. Savers wrote on a flyer being handed out to customers that “certain business conditions have made it necessary to permanently close the Berkeley store.”

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Berkeley’s Black Oak Books to close after 33 years

Gary Cornell, the owner of Black Oak Books, in the store. Photo: Black Oak Books
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Black Oak Books, which has had a presence in Berkeley for 33 years, is shutting its doors.

Gary Cornell, the math professor and entrepreneur who rescued the storied bookstore in 2008 during the recession and who is still subsidizing its rent, said the store no longer makes financial sense. Its location, at 2618 San Pablo Ave. near Carleton Street, does not draw enough foot traffic and sales have been generally flat the past six years (Although they did go up by 1% in 2015). In addition, Berkeley has raised its minimum wage to $11 an hour, with more increases to come, making it more difficult to run the business.

Read more stories about independent bookstores in Berkeley.

“I wish I could have kept it open,” said Cornell, 62. “But, in the end, you have to say it’s not working.”

The store will close at the end of January, he said. Until then, all the inventory at Black Oak Books — both new and used books — is 40% off. The store is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley school teacher shot in the face in Richmond

The car of the elementary school teacher who was shot in the face in Richmond on Saturday. Photo: Rodney Alamo Brown
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A 52-year-old elementary school teacher who was injured by a stray bullet in Richmond on Jan. 2 remains in the hospital in critical condition, according to police.

The woman, who teaches fourth grade at Berkeley’s Cragmont Elementary School, was shot in the face Saturday night as she was driving on Cutting Boulevard near 22nd Street a little after 6 p.m., according to Lt. Felix Tan of the Richmond Police Department. The woman was knocked unconscious by the shot and crashed her car, according to Winifred Hess, a friend. The teacher’s car crashed into another car, injuring a female passenger, said Hess.

“The victim was driving her vehicle with her partner on Cutting Boulevard when she was caught in gunfire between two individuals,” said Tan. “Unfortunately, she was in the middle of it. She was completely innocent.”

The teacher, who lives in Berkeley, is in critical condition, said Tan. However, she appears to be slowly improving, said Hess, who recently spoke to the teacher’s son and to her former husband.

“It’s getting hopeful,” said Hess. “She is able to respond.”

The teacher was on her way to pick up her teenage son when the shooting occurred, said Hess. … Continue reading »

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Mark Twain commemorative coin will help UC Berkeley

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Mark Twain is a gift that keeps on giving to UC Berkeley.

In October, UC Press published the third volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography. The first volume, which ran to 760 pages, was a runaway bestseller with more than 275, 000 copies in print. It came out in 2010 – 100 years after Twain’s death (The author, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, had ordered it not to be published until 100 years after his death).

Now the U.S. Mint is about to issue a Mark Twain commemorative coin in gold and silver, and a portion of the sales – which could reach $1 million – will go to the Mark Twain Project at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. … Continue reading »

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Man killed in fire after Berkeley firefighters were blocked from entering because house was crammed with stuff

A Berkeley man was killed in a fire on Acton Street on Dec. 27. Photo: Lee Fenyves
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A 78-year-old Berkeley man was killed in a fire Sunday morning and he might have died because he hoarded so much stuff that firefighters could not enter his home, according to officials.

The Fire Department was notified of a blaze in a home at 2817 Acton St. between Oregon and Russell streets at 4:47 a.m. on Dec. 27, according to Interim Deputy Fire Chief Donna McCracken. Flames were shooting out of the home’s windows when firefighters arrived at the scene.

The Fire Department received word that a person was still in the building.

“Fire Department personnel went into ‘rescue mode’ with the intent to enter, rapidly search and remove any victims they can locate,” McCracken wrote in an email. “However, crews were blocked from entering the building by excessive storage throughout the home, including up against the doors. Crews were eventually able to enter after much effort and locate the victim, who had perished.”

The man was Billy Carroll, according to the Alameda County coroner’s office.

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Berkeley finds fund to expand homeless services during wet weather

Volunteers from Night on the Streets Catholic Worker serve food to the homeless. Photo: Matt Werner
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Berkeley’s homeless population will now have more places to take shelter from the inclement weather after city officials directed extra funds to extend and expand shelter and outreach services.

The city has committed to opening a new overnight emergency shelter at the North Berkeley Senior Center and is working to expand the hours at two daytime drop-in centers, according to Councilwoman Linda Maio, who worked with an ad hoc group of homeless advocates in recent days to develop the plan (the updated list of city homeless services is here).

The extra effort means that there will be beds available the next few nights, including Christmas, according to JC Orton of Night on the Streets Catholic Worker, which runs a shelter during inclement weather. The First Congregational Church has agreed to open its doors on Christmas night, which it had not originally planned to do, said Orton. Berkeley is also opening the North Berkeley Senior Center tonight and Sunday for people to sleep in.

“The city came to the rescue,” said Orton. “The First Congregational Church came to the rescue.”  … Continue reading »

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Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses

The owners of Premier Cru, a high-end wine store on University Ave., have shuttered the shop. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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PREMIER CRU SHUTS ITS DOORS Premier Cru, the subject of numerous lawsuits over the alleged non-delivery of wine, has shut the doors of its retail store at 1011 University Ave. “We have transitioned to ONLINE SALES only,” reads a sign on the front door. “We apologize for the inconvenience.” The sign says to email to schedule a time to pick up past orders. The closure is only the latest blow for the high-end wine business owned by Fox Ortega Enterprises, a corporation formed by John Fox and a partner. Premier Cru moved its operations from Emeryville to Berkeley in 2011 and opened a 29,000-square foot, state-of-the-art wine shop designed by architect David Trachtenberg. Premier Cru sold wine through the store, but conducted much of its business through online sales. There is currently $130,000 in unpaid taxes on the building and it has been listed for sale. Gordon Commercial is offering the property, made up of three parcels and three buildings for $6.8 million (down from $7.5m). In late October, Berkeleyside reported that seven people had filed numerous lawsuits claiming they were owed more than $3 million. The plaintiffs all said that they had purchased wine from Premier Cru that had never been delivered. Since then, numerous disgruntled customers have come forward and contacted Berkeleyside and other news outlets to report similar issues. Others have filed additional lawsuits as well. The owner, Fox, did not respond to a request for a comment. Some unhappy customers have been given refunds. Andrew Matarese, a 25-year-old wine aficionado from New Jersey, received a $12,000 refund from Premier Cru shortly after Berkeleyside ran its article. However, other customers have been repeatedly promised refunds but have received nothing. … Continue reading »

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BART train runs over woman at Berkeley station

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Update: 3:30 p.m. The woman whom Berkeley firefighters rescued from under a BART train at the Berkeley station Sunday morning jumped in front of the moving northbound train, according to a witness. The BART driver did not see her before she jumped.

Erika Dumaine, 28, and her partner were on the platform waiting for a San Francisco-bound train when they heard a man yell, “She’s jumping!” They turned around and saw the northbound train come to a stop. They later heard the woman talking from under the train.

“It was really horrible,” said Dumaine. “My partner was really shaken up. There were sirens immediately. People were scared. They didn’t know what was going on. There was a guy yelling, ‘I can’t believe she jumped. I can’t believe she jumped,’ over and over. … Continue reading »

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Outpouring of concern for Berkeley ‘Toys for Tots’ brings in $8,400 in donations — so far

The 2014 Toys for Toys giveaway. Photo: Berkeley Police Association
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Update, Dec. 18: The Berkeley Police Association has closed its fundraising campaign because it more than exceeded its goals. The drive for Toys for Tots garnered $11,114 from 193 people in one day.

Original story, Dec. 17: Less than 14 hours after the Berkeley Police Association set up a fundraising campaign to raise money for a donation shortfall faced by the Toys for Tots program, about 150 people had donated $8,400.

And several children’s toy and game stores had stepped in and offered to help. Stephanie Sala, the founder of Five Little Monkeys on Solano Avenue in Albany, has offered to donate $1,000 worth of toys. Devin McDonald, one of the owners of Mr. Mopp’s toy shop at 1405 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, has offered a 15% discount for people buying toys for the program, which is overseen by the Berkeley Police Department. And Games of Berkeley, 2151 Shattuck Ave., will give a 15% discount Thursday and Friday to anyone purchasing toys for the drive. The game shop also plans to ship a delivery of toys to the drive itself.

“I received toys from TFT as a kid so it’s only fitting I give back,” Ralph Colby wrote on the Go Fund Me page after he made a donation.

One donor even contributed $1,000 to the fund. … Continue reading »

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