Author Archives: Guest contributor

Remembering Berkeley architect Donald Olsen

Donald Olsen. Photo courtesy UC Berkeley School of Environmental Design
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Donald Olsen passed away on March 21, 2015. He is survived by his wife Helen and their son Alan.

While modernist architecture in the Bay Area is often characterized by a natural and historically referential Bay Region Style, Donald Olsen stood out from the other modernists. His distinctive designs, ranked among the best of California modernism, held fast to a purist expression of International Style modernism, a treasured rarity in the Bay Area. As a designer of numerous landmark residences … Continue reading »

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Berkeley author Marissa Moss says goodby to Amelia, a character that has delighted readers for 20 years

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By Michael Berry

After 20 years and more than 5 million copies sold, Marissa Moss‘ “Amelia’s Notebook” series has arrived at its concluding chapter.

The Berkeley writer is bringing her feisty, hand-drawn creation back to its small-press roots, publishing “Amelia’s Middle-School Graduation Yearbook” through her own children’s press, Creston Books.

Moss, 55, said she took her inspiration for Amelia’s story from a composition book she originally intended for one of her three sons. Although she had already published a number of picture books, she decided to experiment with a new combination of hand-written prose and pictures to tell the story of a fourth-grade girl trying to figure out a move to a new school. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley must insist that developers build more affordable housing than currently required

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It appears that the Mayor and City Council of Berkeley, which has had the reputation of being one of the most progressive cities on the west coast, have been practicing embarrassingly stingy NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) with regards to affordable housing in the city.  They are in the process of approving a number of new residence high-rise buildings in downtown Berkeley that will be so high that they will require zoning changes to allow for the taller buildings and greater density.  Yet they are requiring too little in return from the developers!

In sharp contrast to this is Mayor de Blasio of New York City, who was in town recently and held a conversation with Robert Reich at the Freight & Salvage on May 14. He responded to questions afterward, the first two of which concerned affordable housing.  He stated that it is the policy in NYC to have “mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to include affordable units in new buildings in return for zoning changes to allow for taller buildings and greater density.”  And, if the developers refused to include a mandatory minimum of affordable housing, the city could find a different developer.  Period.  No exceptions.  And the percentage of affordable housing units per building is really high – 20 or 30%. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: A tale of two Measure Rs

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This is a tale of why and how the citizens of Berkeley got scammed by voting for the 2010 Measure R, and then scammed again when they voted against the 2014 Measure R. Let’s start with “why”. Why is the 2010 Measure R really a high-rise, luxury condo development plan that won’t help Berkeley’s housing problems or the environment? The answer is found in the global condo market driven by speculators parking some of their $30 trillion in liquidity (see Jack Rasmus’ “Epic Recession”) in luxury housing. These mostly foreign speculators are inflating a bubble identical to the mortgage backed securities bubble that popped in 2008. Developers are not building housing that will relieve the housing crisis for moderate and low income workers in the bay area. Instead they are catering to high-end demand from both speculators and techies.

But you might ask, doesn’t 2010 Measure R at least demand “green” construction? And the answer is NO. There is no such thing as “green” luxury condos. It’s an oxymoron — like green yachts. They waste resources. They drive up housing prices and force people who actually work in Berkeley to live elsewhere – leading to more waste from commuting. Expensive condos rented at $3k-$4k per month will result in other landlords also raising rents forcing more people to commute from outside Berkeley. Teachers, firefighters, police, hospital workers, city workers, and small business employees – they can’t afford to live in Berkeley. The city needs to demand that all new construction requiring a zoning variance be directed toward moderate or low income housing. New development should be used for public benefit, not to maximize profits. … Continue reading »

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Opinionator

Op-ed: Berkeley’s new donation boxes obfuscate underlying issues

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It’s no accident that the newly launched “Positive Change Donation Program”, a partnership of the Downtown Berkeley Association, Berkeley Food and Housing Project, and City of Berkeley, was introduced at the same time that new anti-homeless downtown measures were passed. Donation box programs are in vogue, with similar programs in Indianapolis, Denver, Pasadena, and Orlando, used as a karmic counter-balance when stricter anti-homeless enforcement is implemented. (And while Berkeley aggressively pursues legal enforcement of its own stricter anti-homeless measures, … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: The decay of Berkeley’s infrastructure

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On May 12, the city of Berkeley’s budget manager, Teresa Berkeley-Simmons, will present to city council the proposed spending over the next five years for capital improvements. This includes money to be spent on sidewalks, streets, parks, storm drains, sewers, and transportation such as bike improvement projects.

Between 2016 and 2020, Berkeley plans to decrease its spending on infrastructure by 43% from approximately $36 million to $20 million, a reduction of $15 million.

This cut is despite an acknowledgment by Christine Daniel, the city manager, that “Berkeley is an aging city and thus its infrastructure faces challenges that other younger cities do not.” … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley deserves better than 2211 Harold Way

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What are the three most import things in real estate? Location, Location, Location. What are the three most important things that are wrong with the proposed complex at 2211 Harold Way? Location, Location, Location. That’s just for starters.

Location – the Shattuck Cinemas attracts 275,000 to 300,000 patrons visit every year. Box office admissions have grown 25% since 2008, according to Kimberlee West, the general manager of Shattuck Cinemas. The Shattuck Cinemas are currently showing 11 films with 43 screenings (movie times for the 11 films) on weekdays and 44 screenings on the weekend. If the same number of people went to the movies every day that is 753 to 822 people per day. On May 7, at the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) meeting, Mark Rhoades, the consultant for 2211 Harold Way, declared that there would be nine theaters on three stories. But the plans, which were turned in to the LPC only show four theaters. Where are the other theaters? … Continue reading »

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Opinionator

Op-ed: A response to the UC Berkeley student who said community colleges should not exist

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On May 4, the following statement was posted on the UC Berkeley Confessions Facebook Page. This page is for UC Berkeley students to post confessions, especially during finals, and in the first 19 hours after it was posted, it had already garnered over 75 comments, and several “shares” and “likes.”

“Anyone else wish community college didn’t exist?

I worked my fucking ass off in high school to get to this school while the kids who just fucked around and got C’s … Continue reading »

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Opinionator

Op-ed: Residents want, deserve cellphone ‘right to know’

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We all deserve the right to know at the point of sale the FCC required “safe distance” information currently hidden deep within the cellphone or in an online manual few read. We are entitled to make informed decisions for ourselves and for our children as to safest possible use of this device used hours daily even by children.

Berkeley can do the right thing when the City Council considers a right to know ordinance at its meeting on May 12.

The … Continue reading »

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Opinionator

Op-ed: Racism ‘whack-a-mole’ won’t work in Berkeley

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On Friday, March 13, I attended a panel on race and racism held at Willard School that included Kamau Bell, and Michael Pearce, owner of the Elmwood Café. The discussion was a result of an incident at the Elmwood Café where an employee told Bell to leave because she assumed he was a homeless person harassing a group of women sitting at an outside table. Bell, who is African American, was in fact showing his wife, who is white, … Continue reading »

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Berkeley celebrates as Bookstore Day goes national

Pegasus Downtown, as well as its two other stores, will participate in California Bookstore Day on May 2. Photo: Pegasus Books.
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By Michael Berry

After years of dwindling sales and gloomy news, some independent bookstores in Berkeley – as well as around the Bay Area and across the nation – are bouncing back and are again in a celebratory mood.

Saturday May 2 marks both the return of California Bookstore Day and the first national Independent Bookstore Day. For book lovers, the day brings opportunities to meet authors, purchase exclusive merchandise, and participate in all manner of readings, signings and literary parties.

Four hundred stores across the nation will participate this year. In California, 93 stores plan to participate, including many in Berkeley. The first National Independent Bookstore Day is sponsored in part by Penguin Random House and The American Booksellers Association. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: How to get more affordable housing in Berkeley

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One of the most contentious issues facing Berkeley is how to require developers to help provide affordable housing. We are proposing a new approach.

Everyone agrees we face a critical shortage of affordable housing, but what’s the best way to increase it?

Under current City law, developers of market-rate rental housing projects are required to pay an “affordable housing mitigation fee” into the Housing Trust Fund, which funds affordable housing in Berkeley. There was considerable debate when we voted with … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: How should water be priced in Berkeley?

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What does it cost for a typical Berkeley residential customer to use 500 gallons of water a month? 5,000 gallons? 10,000 gallons?

Given the scope of the drought California is experiencing, the results may surprise you.* After you pay the service charge, water is less than a penny per gallon in Berkeley, no matter how much you use.

As you can see in the chart above, a 500-gallon customer pays about $36/month, whereas a 10,000-gallon customer pays about $140/month. … Continue reading »

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