Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

City Council to focus on creation of more housing

For Rent signs on Spruce Street. Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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In the past five years, the population of Berkeley has grown 5.5%, but its housing supply has only increased 1.2%.

That discrepancy, coupled with an economic boom that has pushed highly paid tech workers out of San Francisco and into the East Bay, has sent housing prices higher than ever before. Berkeley’s median rent grew $400, or 12%, to $3,584 in 2015, according to a February 2016 Berkeley city staff report. That means a person must earn $143,360 to afford a median rent apartment, according to Mayor Tom Bates. The median price of a house to buy grew even more – up 15% – to $974,000, according to staff reports.

This housing crisis is prompting the Berkeley City Council to consider about a dozen separate housing-related items on Tuesday’s agenda, including one far-reaching item put forward by Bates that includes 13 separate sections.

“Our ethnic and cultural diversity is being eroded as low- to moderate-income households are displaced or priced out,” Bates wrote in his proposal. … Continue reading »

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Malcolm X school tells community about possible child abduction attempt

A student at Malcolm X Elementary School may have been involved in a child abduction attempt. Photo: Malcolm X.
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UPDATE, March 17: Berkeley police issued a Nixle alert at around 12:45 p.m. with regard to the possible child abduction attempt described below. The alert details what the 9-year-old student says happened, and says the driver of the van was a black man in his 20s or older, with shoulder-length dreadlocks. The passenger in the van was described as a Hispanic man in his late 20s, 5 feet 9, with a thin build and dark straight hair. It remains unclear if the incident relates to a series of attempted abductions from last fall that involved a green minivan. Read the full alert.

ORIGINAL STORYMalcolm X Elementary School is on alert after a young girl reported that two men in a green van followed her to school on Monday, March 14.  One of the men got out of the vehicle and tried to grab her, prompting her to run away. The description of the van is similar to the description of a vehicle used in one of the five child abduction incidents in the fall.

Alexander Hunt, principal of Malcolm X, sent an email about the incident to the school community Wednesday afternoon, and said the Berkeley Police Department was investigating. According to Hunt, the young student left her home in the 2900 block of Harper Street around 8 a.m. to walk to  Malcolm X on Prince Street near Ashby Avenue.

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Shop Talk: French Hotel, La Botella Republic, more

The French Hotel has been sold to Prima Donna Hotels, which will remodel the rooms and covert the cafe into a bistro. Photo: Visit Berkeley
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NEW OWNERS FOR THE FRENCH HOTEL The three-story brick French Hotel on Shattuck Avenue in the Gourmet Ghetto has long been a favorite spot to get an espresso or latte. Now the hotel has a new owner/operator that is planning to renovate the 18-room hotel, make it more upscale, and convert the coffee shop into a bistro. It will be renamed SenS Hotel and Bistro Berkeley. Dean Banks, the associate vice president and director of operations for Prima Donna Hotels, which purchased the property, said standards will be kept high and customers shouldn’t worry, even though the source of the coffee will change. (The hotel and café had been owned and run previously by David “Sandy” Boyd, who operates a number of other coffee shops through his Emeryville-based company Espresso Roma) “It’ll be the same,” said Banks. “I doubt people will taste the difference.” The hotel operator plans to bring in high-quality coffee and add soups, sandwiches, and other menu items, he said. Prima Donna Hotels, which is owned by Michael W.N and Shirley N. Chiu of Los Gatos, will renovate the rooms and decorate them in an east-west style similar to the hotel it operates in Bali in Indonesia. The hotel group also operates the Residence Inn by Marriott in Livermore. It just sold three hotels in Portland, OR, and is building another hotel in Indonesia, said Banks. Watch for the temporary banner out front announcing the new name change. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley fourth-grader hit by taxi; parents call for better crosswalk lighting

A fourth-grader was struck by a car Tuesday on a crosswalk on Claremont Avenue and suffered two broken legs. Photo: Kevin Chang
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A fourth-grade girl from John Muir Elementary School was hit by a car Tuesday night in a crosswalk on Claremont Avenue that parents have long complained is poorly lit and needs the city’s attention.

A car struck the 9-year-old girl as she and her mother were crossing Claremont at Claremont Crescent, right in front of the school, according to an email sent out by John Muir’s principal, Audrey Amos. Both of the girl’s legs were broken and she was treated at a local hospital.

According to Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats, police received multiple 911 calls about the collision at 7:40 p.m. The woman and her daughter were walking west in the crosswalk when a taxi driver traveling north on Claremont hit them. Coats said both the mother and daughter were injured, but that the girl’s injuries were more serious. Both were taken to a local hospital for treatment. The driver stayed at the scene and was cooperative, and was ultimately cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Neither drugs nor alcohol appeared to be a factor in the crash.

The accident happened right after a PTA meeting, and has renewed calls for lighting at that crosswalk. The Berkeley Police Department pays for a crossing guard to help students across Claremont before and after school. But many children participate in the after-school program and there is no one to help them cross the street around 5:30 or 6 p.m. when it is dark. Claremont Avenue is four lanes across with a speed limit of 25 mph.
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Premier Cru owner had penchant for expensive cars

John Fox, the owner of Premier Cru, holds up his hand at the Feb. 24 meeting of the company's creditors and pledges to tell the truth. He then proceeded to take the Fifth Amendment 50 times. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The embattled owner of the Premier Cru wine business who filed for bankruptcy has declined to provide information about his own financial status because it might affect the FBI criminal investigation into his business dealings, but court records show that he has a taste for fine cars.

   Catch up on the Premier Cru story.

During the last two years, presumably while his business racked up $70 million in debt, John Fox leased a $199,264 2014 Ferrari, as well as a $90,000 2016 two-door Corvette ZO6 with a 650-horsepower engine, according to court documents. Fox stopped making his $2,206 monthly payments on the Ferrari in November, and the company that owns the car, Ferrari Financial Services, is trying to get it back. Wells Fargo Bank is also asking to repossess the Corvette. There will be hearings on those motions on March 16 and March 30. … Continue reading »

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City Council moves temporarily to school board building

BUSD board room Photo Google StreetView
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The Berkeley City Council is packing up and moving its meetings.

Tonight will be one of the last times that council convenes at Old City Hall, at 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way – at least for a few months.

Starting March 15, council will meet in the Berkeley Unified School District boardroom at 1231 Addison St. behind its HQ at 2020 Bonar St. It is part of a two-and-a-half-month pilot program through May 31 to see if the school headquarters is an appropriate place to convene.

The City Council has been looking for a new meeting space since 2011 because its current space, in the Maudelle Shirek Building, is dilapidated, too small for large crowds, and not seismically safe. In addition, there aren’t many toilets and the elevator doesn’t always work, restricting access to the second-floor chambers. … Continue reading »

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The Berkeley Wire: 03.03.16

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Customers confront owner of bankrupt wine store

John Fox, (left) who co-owned the now bankrupt Premier Cru wine store, came to a creditors' hearing with three attorneys, including Dean D. Paik, his criminal defense attorney (standing to the right f Fox) Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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John Fox, the embattled co-owner of the wine retailer Premier Cru, faced some of his long-time customers at a creditors’ hearing in Oakland on Wednesday. But rather than explain how his Berkeley company went bankrupt, leaving $70 million in debts and only $7 million in assets, Fox took the Fifth Amendment more than 50 times.

If Fox’s criminal lawyer, Dean D. Paik, had had his way, Fox would not have even stayed around to assert his right to take the Fifth. Before the proceedings began, Paik asked Michael G. Kasolas, the bankruptcy trustee, and Mark Bostick, the trustee’s attorney, if his client could leave because he had no intention of answering any questions.

“There really is no point in having him sit here,” said Paik, a former federal prosecutor who now specializes in defending white-collar criminals. “What is his obligation to appear here? He isn’t the debtor. The debtor is a corporate entity.”

                                        Read more on the Premier Cru story.

Paik then expressed concern that Fox would receive a “public flogging,” at the hearing.

Bostick responded: “If you feel a corporation can file for bankruptcy and no one has to show up, you are mistaken.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s Nabolom Bakery to reopen Monday

Aron Ford (left) will share baking duties at the new Nabolom Bakery. Here Ford and Julia Elliott discuss  details about the bakery. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Julia Elliott hasn’t been getting much sleep lately as she prepares to re-open Nabolom Bakery which shuttered in August 2015 after nearly 40 years operating in the Elmwood.

For the past few weeks, Elliott and her business partner, Sabra Stepak, have been on overdrive as they stripped away decades of grime from the space at 2708 Russell St., refurbished old but reliable baking equipment, updated the electrical systems, painted, and worked with two bakers to perfect recipes long loved by the community: cinnamon twists, cheese Danishes, challah, multigrain bread, and peanut butter, chocolate chip, and Snickerdoodle cookies, among other goods.

“Who sleeps?” Elliott, 48, said on Monday shortly after placing a large order with the rep from Challenge Butter. “I am working on two hours of sleep a night.”

The push is necessary because opening day is Monday, Feb. 29, at 7 a.m. … Continue reading »

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Former Berkeley High student, 20, dies in auto accident

David Ponce Garica, known as Tony, in 2012. Photo: Facebook
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Services will be held today and tomorrow for David Ponce Garcia, also known as Antonio or Tony, who died in a car crash Feb. 17 in an unincorporated part of Alameda County near Pleasanton.

Garcia, 20, attended Berkeley High School. He was killed when he pulled an illegal U-turn on Stanley Boulevard around 1:30 p.m., according to a CHP officer in the Dublin division. Another car traveling eastbound on Stanley Boulevard could not stop in time, broadsided Garcia’s car, and pushed it into a guardrail. The car caught on fire, killing Garcia.

There will be multiple services for Garcia, according to a sign posted at his mother’s store near Cole Coffee on College Avenue. There will be a Velación, or wake, from 4-8 p.m. Feb. 22 at Sunset View Cemetery at 101 Colusa Ave., El Cerrito.

On Feb. 23, there will be a mass at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph the Worker Church, 1640 Addison Ave. in Berkeley. That will be followed by a burial at Sunset View Cemetery. There will be a gathering to remember Garcia at the El Cerrito Community Center, 7007 Moser Lane, after the burial. … Continue reading »

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Van with $350,000 of rare books stolen; man arrested but books are missing

Berkeley police lead away Joshua Anderson, whom they arrested in connecting with selling stolen rare books at Moe's. The books came from a stolen van that contained $350,000 worth of books. Photo: Ted Friedman
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Berkeley police have arrested a man linked to the theft of $350,000 in rare books, but the books and the van they were housed in are still missing.

Police arrested Joshua Anderson, 30, of Concord after he and a companion allegedly tried to sell four of the stolen books — worth an estimated $13,000 — to Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue. Anderson, who had two outstanding warrants for his arrest, was arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property. He is being held on $45,000 bail in the Berkeley jail. His companion has not been apprehended.

The books belong to Lawrence Van De Carr, a Chicago rare-book dealer. Van De Carr had driven a 2008 silver Ford Econoline XLT van with 30 boxes of books to Pasadena last weekend for an antiquarian book fair. On Monday, he drove to Oakland to stay at a friend’s house. He parked the van outside the home in the 200 block of Whitmore St., near 51st and Pleasant Valley. When he got up Tuesday, Feb. 16, around 10 a.m., the van was gone, he said. … Continue reading »

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Heyday names Steve Wasserman as new publisher

Steve Wasserman will take over as publisher of Heyday in July. Photo: Yale University Prss
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Heyday has selected Yale University Press editor and Berkeley High graduate Steve Wasserman to be the company’s new publisher and executive director.

The selection of Wasserman, who is well respected in the book world, represents a monumental shift for the 41-year old company, which was founded by Malcolm Margolin in 1971. Margolin, a brilliant and idiosyncratic man whose book, The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, was named as one of the 100 most important books of the twentieth century by a western writer by the San Francisco Chronicle, shaped the press through his humor and interest in nature, native culture, and California history. Margolin was famous for “adopting” people, inviting those he found interesting into the family of Heyday. He would mine everyone for their thoughts on what was important in the world and the state and he often converted those thoughts into books.

Wasserman also has deep roots in the West, although he has spent the last decade on the East Coast. He was editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and was a chief architect of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, considered one of the most prestigious book festivals in the country. Wasserman is happy to be returning with his family to California, according to a release put out by Heyday. … Continue reading »

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The Berkeley Wire: 02.17.16

McGee Ave Valentines Day by Deborah Matthews. Photo taken Feb. 14, 2105

McGee Avenue Valentine’s Day by Deborah Matthews. Photo taken Feb. 14, 2016

Review: The new Berkeley Art Museum is a study in extremes (LA Times)
Forum considers ways to speed construction of affordable housing (CoCo Times)
Students rally against non-renewal of permits for food trucks (Daily Cal)
New apartment complex to open on Telegraph Avenue in March (Daily Cal)
Metallica’s Lars Urich and special guests to perform, talk at Cal (Daily Cal)
Nonprofit launches with ‘cradle to career’ approach (SF Chronicle)
Tenant advocates decry attempt to move eviction hearings to Hayward court (Express)

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