Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

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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Kriss Worthington to run for mayor of Berkeley

Berkeley councilmember Kriss Worthington
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City Councilman Kriss Worthington has decided to run for mayor, a move intended to use try to use the ranked-choice voting system to install a progressive as mayor.

Worthington said he decided to run after long discussions with City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, one of the council’s three progressive members (along with Worthington and Max Anderson) who declared his candidacy for mayor in October. Worthington and Arreguín intend to ask their supporters to vote for both of them – which they hope will deny City Councilman Laurie Capitelli a majority of the votes.

“Numerous people have been asking me to run for many, many months,” said Worthington. “I have wanted to defer to Councilman Arreguín, who has been actively campaigning. He recognized that my being a candidate would be a positive thing.”

Ranked choice voting has an immediate run-off system to ensure that a candidate will be selected in that electoral cycle. If no-one gets a 50% + 1 majority, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. The #2 and #3 votes from that candidate are re-tabulated. The process continues until a winner emerges. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley actor Matt Ross can do more than scowl

Matt Ross has written and directed 'Captain Fantastic' which opens Friday in Berkeley. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Matt Ross had a smile on his face. Maybe it was no surprise, as he was at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco for a long string of press interviews about his movie, Captain Fantastic.

The smile, and accompanying open demeanor, are not how most of the world usually sees Ross, who lives in Berkeley. He is best known for his roles as Gavin Belson, the competitive and ruthless tech tycoon on the hit HBO TV show, “Silicon Valley,” and Albie Grant, the controlling Mormon polygamist who represses his homosexuality in HBO’s “Big Love.” Both of those parts require Ross to purse his lips and scowl — a lot.

But the world is now about to see another side of Ross, one that brings out his smile. Although he is a classically trained actor who went to Juilliard, Ross has been writing movie scripts and making short films since he was 12. His first feature movie, 28 Hotel Rooms, was decently received. Captain Fantastic has been enthusiastically embraced. John Seal, Berkeleyside’s film reviewer, called it “frequently excellent (if periodically absurd).” This reporter loved the film for its intelligent and unpredictable script. Ross won Best Director in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival in July.

Ross will be doing a Q&A in Berkeley this Friday, July 22, after the 7:05 p.m. screening of Captain Fantastic at the California Theatres on Kittredge Street.
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Crime

Man stabbed in neck at People’s Park

People's Park
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An unidentified woman stabbed a 57-year-old man in the neck Monday around 5 p.m. at People’s Park, according to the University of California Police Department.

The Berkeley Fire Department took the man to a local hospital where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, said police.

No arrests have been made.

Police believe the suspect and the victim knew one another based on a statement the victim made to an uninvolved individual.

The victim has refused to cooperate with police.

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Berkeley may soon have 6 cannabis dispensaries

Cannabis
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Two months later, the council is on the verge of approving another two new dispensaries, which means Berkeley may soon have six places to buy medical cannabis.

The rapid turnaround came in part because city council members were so impressed by the presentations made by the six finalists vying for the fourth spot, said City Councilman Kriss Worthington. He said the presentations were “compelling,” and the applications were very different from one another.

 “The council was reluctant until they saw the depth and breadth of the applications,” said Worthington.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage of medical cannabis.

Adding another two dispensaries will also add to the city’s coffers. In 2014, the existing three dispensaries contributed $638,938 in taxes, according to a staff report. Another three dispensaries would almost certainly generate several hundred thousand dollars in taxes annually. … Continue reading »

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Police end manhunt in Eastshore Park for man with a rifle

Berkeley Police don bullet proof vests to search for a man reportedly walking through the Marina with a rifle. Photo: Terri Kay
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Update: 6:55 p.m. Berkeley police have just issued a Nixle alert to say the search for a man reported to have carried a rifle into Eastshore Park has ended. For the last six and a half hours, Berkeley police, the East Bay Regional Park District police, and the California Highway Patrol have been looking for a man in a yellow shirt who reportedly took a rifle over the pedestrian overpass over I-80 and walked into the park. All roads leading into the park and next to the park have been reopened. The EBRPD police took control of the search in the afternoon and made the decision to end the manhunt, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, who was the acting watch commander on duty Tuesday night. … Continue reading »

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Hotel developer seeking $11M+ in Berkeley tax rebates

2129 Shattuck Ave.
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Update: Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night approved the occupancy tax rebate, with eight votes in favor and one abstention (Councilman Max Anderson). There was heated public comment that the rebate was an unnecessary giveaway to the developer, but city staff and councilmembers said their independent analysis had concluded the rebate was essential for the project. “In the end, the economic benefit to the city is significant,” said Councilman Jesse Arreguín. “We cannot lose this opportunity.”

Original story: Saying that it might not get construction financing unless its rate of return improves, the company slated to build a 16-story hotel at 2129 Shattuck Ave. is asking Berkeley to rebate as much as $11 million in fees.

Center Street Partners wants the city to provide “financial assistance” equivalent to the amount it will pay in permit and impact fees. To achieve this, the company is asking that Berkeley rebate half of the transient occupancy taxes (TOT) the hotel pays the city for up to eight years. With inflation, that could amount to around $13.1 million, according to city staff.

City staff, citing Berkeley’s desire for a hotel with its economic benefits, is suggesting to the City Council that it accept this financing deal. Even if Berkeley agrees to rebate about $1.5 million in TOT taxes each year, the hotel will still be a financial boon, according to Michael Caplan, the manager of the economic development program. The City Council will take up the proposal at tonight’s meeting. … Continue reading »

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Cal student missing after Nice attack; other students injured

Nick Leslie, a Cal student who reportedly is missing after Nice attack. Photo: Facebook
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Nick Leslie, a UC Berkeley student studying abroad, is missing after the Nice truck attack, according to news reports.

Leslie, who grew up in Del Mar but who was originally from Italy, was along the promenade when a French-Tunisian citizen drove a truck through crowds of people who had gathered to watch fireworks, killing 84.

“His uncle Fabio Bottini is checking hospitals in Nice to try to locate him and is in contact with his mother back in California,” Continue reading »

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Shop Talk: Belli Osteria, Collector Art Shop, more

The interior of the now-shuttered Belli Osteria. A new Italian restaurant with a pizza oven will soon open in the space. Photo: Belli Osteria
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BELLI OSTERIA SHUTS DOWN After four years of serving exquisite pasta such as homemade black ravioli, pasta with clams and other Northern Italian fare, Belli Osteria, at 2016 Shattuck Ave., has shut its doors. Paul Oprescu, a Cal alum who majored in American history, opened the gem of the restaurant in Oct. 2012, right next door to the extremely popular Comal. “I had decided, some time ago, to go back to teaching and focus on my personal life, Oprescu told Berkeleyside in an email. He tacked a sign up on the front windows sending his regards to loyal customers. “Thank you for four wonderful years.” Oprescu sold the business to Steven A. Dumain, an Italian-American from New York, and Alessandro Uccelli, an Italian from the northern part of Italy. The pair will open reopen as an Italian restaurant soon with a wood-fired pizza oven, wrote Oprescu. … Continue reading »

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UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks under investigation

University of California Chancellor Nicholas Dirks speaks to attendees at a vigil for student Tarishi Jain, in Berkeley, on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. Jain, 18, was among 22 people killed during a suspected-ISIS terror attack at a cafe in Bangladesh. Photo: David Yee
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UC is investigating allegations that UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks misused public funds by working out in the campus gym without paying membership dues, used a personal trainer for free, and sent that trainer on a family trip with money that was not his own.

Rachael Nava, the UC system’s chief operating officer, sent Dirks a letter April 11 informing him that a whistleblower complaint had prompted her to launch an investigation. The news was first reported in the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
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Record price set for older Berkeley apartment building

This 1968 building at 2737 Fulton St. sold for $3.85M, making each unit worth $458.000, a record in Berkeley for structures built before 2000, according to real estate insiders. Photo: Google Streets
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An eight-unit apartment building at 2537 Fulton St. recently sold for $3.825 million, making the individual price for each apartment – $478,125 – the highest in Berkeley for buildings constructed before 2000, according to those involved with the deal.

The Kuwait Real Estate Company, also known as AQARAT, sold the building in late May to an undisclosed local buyer who paid all cash, Guy Nesdale, a partner in the private equity firm, Empire Square Group, which manages some of AQARAT’s assets, told RegistrySF.com.  AQARAT is one of Kuwait’s largest real-estate companies, and the first to have shares traded on the stock exchange, according to its website.

“The price escalation in the local Berkeley market made this an opportune time to divest of property,” Fahad Al-Shamlan, vice president for investments and acquisitions at AQARAT, said in a press release. The release also said the sale was record-setting. … Continue reading »

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Low-flying plane to take photos of UC Berkeley this weekend

Creative Commons/Rennett Stowe
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If you see or hear a plane flying low over the UC Berkeley campus this weekend, don’t be alarmed.

The UC Berkeley Real Estate Mapping and Drawing unit has hired a company to make a highly-detailed topographic map of the campus. The plane is taking aerial pictures of the campus, the hills east of the campus, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

To get detailed photos, the small plane will have to fly repeatedly over the campus at about a 3,000-foot elevation. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley’s street repair policy is flawed

Joseph Poirier thinks Berkeley should install curbs like these around tree roots rather than cutting away the roots. Photo: Joseph Poirier
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Recent maintenance projects in the LeConte neighborhood have left me critical of Berkeley’s municipal street repair priorities. This past April and May, on both Derby and Parker streets, Berkeley has intentionally sacrificed decades-old street trees in order to repair small amounts of asphalt.

Municipal street repair teams, in re-leveling small areas of asphalt pushed up by tree roots, have excavated and ground up the root structures of a number of sizable street trees. The practice is well-intentioned: It is meant to repair ruptured and heaved asphalt and distended curbs. The prioritization of asphalt over decades-old neighborhood street trees, however, is flawed. … Continue reading »

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