Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley Fire Department responds to small fire on Durant

The Berkeley Fire Department responded to an apartment fire Monday. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The Berkeley Fire Department responded to a call of a structure fire in an unoccupied apartment building at 2631 Durant Ave. around 5 a.m., according to Deputy Fire Chief Donna McCracken.

No injuries were reported, she said, and the fire was extinguished in just a few minutes. The fire began on the outside of a building and then made its way inside. The fire department is investigating the cause, particularly whether it was linked to an encampment of people experiencing … Continue reading »

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With Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich endorsements, Berkeley mayor’s race goes national

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich endorsed Laurie Capitelli for mayor today, a week after Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed Jesse Arrreguín for the same spot. Photo: Capitelli campaign
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National politics have entered the Berkeley mayor’s race.

On Sept. 8, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic Party presidential candidate, endorsed Jesse Arreguín for mayor of Berkeley, one of 100 local candidates Sanders endorsed around the country.

Today, Robert Reich, a former U.S. Labor Secretary and a UC Berkeley professor, endorsed Laurie Capitelli, calling him “a serious progressive.”

Whether the high-profile endorsements matter in the competitive mayor’s race remains to be seen. Mayor Tom Bates is retiring after 14 years in office and eight people are vying to replace him. In addition to Arreguín and Capitelli, who are both city council members, City Councilman Kriss Worthington is running. So are Ben Gould, a UC Berkeley graduate student, Bernt Wahl, the executive director of Brain Machine Consortium, Guy “Mike” Lee, a homeless activist, Naomi Pete and Zachary Running Wolf, a longtime Berkeley activist. … Continue reading »

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Get ready to sweat: 6 new high-end fitness centers are coming to Berkeley

An example of one of Cyclebar's "theaters." Photo: CycleBar
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Berkeley residents are about to get a lot more fit. Or at least have more opportunities to do so.

Four high-end sports facilities will be opening their doors this fall, as will a smaller boutique gym. A fifth national brand hopes to open in Berkeley in 2017.

The five, CycleBar, EquinoxCity Sports Club, Soul Cycle and Orange Fitness are all connected to national or regional franchises that promote state-of-the-art workout equipment, classes set to the latest music, videos, flashing lights and more. Bōld is a father-daughter venture that will feature Pilates equipment and the Lagree training method.

CYCLEBAR  The first to launch will be CycleBar, an indoor bike spinning center, which will open in October at 1929 University Ave., the site of the old Fred’s Market. CycleBar is one of a number of national spinning franchises with cult-like followings (Soul Cycle and Flywheel are others), and is growing at a rapid rate. The company, created by siblings Alex Klemmer and Bill Pryor, started in Boston in 2004. The duo started licensing CycleBar franchises in January 2015 and expect to have about 300 fitness facilities around the country by the end of 2016. … Continue reading »

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Semifreddi’s Café on Claremont Avenue to close

Semifreddi's at 3084 Claremont Avenue will close Sept. 30. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Semifreddi’s Café on Claremont Avenue, a decades-long mainstay for cinnamon bread, baguettes, hot panini, coffee and hot chocolate, will shut its doors Sept. 30.

Tom Frainier, Semifreddi’s president, said several factors led to the decision to close but that sales were not the problem. The lease was coming up for renewal and the rental rate was going up. On top of that, hourly wages are on the upswing.

“We decided it would be increasingly difficult to make money at that location,” he said. He added that it is getting harder and harder to find workers. “We looked at the future and how it’s going to progress. It’s going to be hard for independent cafés to make it long term.”

The closure leaves one Semifreddi’s retail outlet, on Colusa Avenue in Kensington. The Emeryville outlet on Hollis Street closed in 2009.

No employees will be displaced, Frainier said, because several were heading back to college anyway. Others left voluntarily because they did not want to work at the bakery’s Kensington café.
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Berkeley library board to hire new director from San Jose

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The Board of Library Trustees is poised to hire Heidi Dolamore as the new director of the library at their Wednesday meeting, a move they hope will start to quell more than a year of turmoil.

Dolamore is currently the assistant director of the San Jose Library, a position she has held since January 2015. She has worked in libraries around the region for 15 years, including stints in the Solano County Library, the Contra Costa County Library, and the San Mateo County Library, according to her LinkedIn page. If BOLT confirms her appointment, Dolamore will be paid $180,000 annually.

Dolamore will take over the five-branch system by the end of September, 13 months after the previous director, Jeff Scott, resigned under pressure after the controversial book culling process he oversaw called his integrity into question. Since then, a former Berkeley interim deputy city manager who was not a trained librarian, Beth Pollard, and the library’s #2 person, Sarah Denton, have overseen the library.

The distrust between some members of the library community and BOLT, which supported Scott’s decision to streamline the book weeding process by selecting four administrators to oversee it rather than the 25 librarians who used to participate, seems to have spilled over into the library director selection process.

As word got out that BOLT had selected a new director, various stakeholders claimed that it had not been an open and transparent selection process, even as some admitted they were not fully aware of the details of the process. … Continue reading »

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Opponents reach compromise on Berkeley minimum wage ballot language

Mayoral candidates Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguín butted heads Tuesday night over the minimum wage proposal. Photos: Mark Coplan
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The two sides that placed two different ballot measures regarding the minimum wage on the November ballot reached an agreement in court Thursday that will result in a strange-looking voter information pamphlet.

The supporters of Measure BB, which would have raised the minimum wage to $15 by 2019, and the supporters of Measure CC, which would have raised it to $15 by 2017, have agreed to eliminate their arguments in favor of their respective measures from the ballot. The “Argument in Favor of Measure BB” and the “Argument in Favor of Measure CC’ will now be blank. Both sides will also place identical rebuttals to the measures in the voter information pamphlet, according to City Councilman Laurie Capitelli.

The changes were requested – and accepted by a judge – because the City Council approved a compromise measure that went into effect Aug. 31, raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2018. The new law has made the competing ballot measures moot. … Continue reading »

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Courts weigh in on two of Berkeley’s ballot measures

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City Councilman and mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli has filed a lawsuit challenging wording in a ballot measure argument that links him to business interests.

In a lawsuit filed Monday against the Berkeley city clerk, Mark Numainville, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, and others, Capitelli is asking that parts of the ballot argument in favor of Measure CC, which would raise the minimum wage, be struck.

Measure CC is one of two ballot measures concerning the minimum wage now scheduled for the November ballot. Measure CC would raise the wage to $15 by October 2017 and was placed on the ballot by a coalition of citizen and labor groups and was supported by Thurmond, as well as Jesse Arreguín, Kriss Worthington, and Max Anderson of the Berkeley City Council. (Arreguín and Worthington are also running for mayor). Measure BB proposes to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2019.

The wording in the Measure CC argument states: “Measure BB was put on the ballot by Laurie Capitelli after intense lobbying by business groups.”

Capitelli contends that the language is “false and misleading,” because the council, not Capitelli himself, placed Measure BB on the ballot, according to the lawsuit. … Continue reading »

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After crash, Berkeley fifth-grader rides to school in style

Lillia Bartlow points to the fire engine arriving at her house to escort her to school on Tuesday Aug. 30. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
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Lillia Bartlow got to ride in style to her first day of fifth grade at John Muir Elementary School on Tuesday.

The 9-year-old, who was hit by a taxi in March while on a Claremont Avenue crosswalk with her mother after a PTA meeting at school, rode in a shiny red fire truck, courtesy of Engine Company 3 of the Berkeley Fire Department.

The unusual trip was arranged by the Berkeley Firefighters Random Acts of Kindness program, which also provided a pool membership at the YMCA this summer for Lillia and her mother, Khadija Bartlow.

See a photo slideshow of this morning’s BFD escort below.

Lillia said she was excited about the ride Tuesday morning as she waited for the fire engine to arrive. Before the engine pulled up in front of her family’s Ashby Avenue apartment, Lillie was dancing around, a huge smile on her face.

That was a huge difference from her homecoming from the hospital in March. The taxi that hit Lillia on March 8 broke both her legs. Rods were placed in her femurs and she had to use a wheelchair to get around, said her father, Darryl Bartlow. Her family at first feared Lillia would have to use a wheelchair for a year, but the girl, who loves gymnastics, was able to walk by June.
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Court considers challenge to Berkeley high-rise

James Hendry and Kelly Hammargren await the start of the court hearing on their challenge to the 2211 Harold Way project. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Two opponents of the 18-story apartment complex planned for 2211 Harold Way in downtown Berkeley made a case in court Friday that the approval of the 302-unit building should be revisited.

Kelly Hammargren and James Hendry appeared before Judge Frank Roesch in Alameda County Superior Court to argue that the environmental impact report for the building was so deeply flawed that the project should be stopped.

              Read complete coverage of 2211 Harold Way on Berkeleyside.

The packed hearing, which brought out many of the long-time opponents of the project, lasted four hours. Neither Hammargren nor Hendry had legal representation, and clearly struggled with how to frame their legal arguments. Hammargren, for example, asked to introduce a map delineating the area west of the project. She wanted to show how close Berkeley High School is to 2211 Harold Way as part of her argument that Berkeley and the developer should have considered the impact of diesel particulates from fuel exhaust on the high school.

The judge denied her motion because the map was not part of the administrative record, which includes 15,000 pages of documents from Berkeley’s consideration of the project, as well as notes, videos, and tape recordings from many of the 37 public hearings. The CEQA hearing could only focus on what was already part of the record, not other evidence, he said.

Hammargren, who has devoted more than two years of her life to stopping the project, often tried to persuade the judge using an argument she might have made in front of the Berkeley City Council. The judge repeatedly told her to stick to legal issues and not make political speeches. He also reprimanded audience members when they burst into applause after Hammargren made a point.

“This is a court of law,” said Judge Roesch. “We don’t applaud anyone. We don’t think that political speeches are very helpful in solving the puzzle.”

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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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