Author Archives: Guest contributor

At the Write Home Project, the young homeless are heard

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By Victor Casillas Valle

Nestled behind St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, on Bancroft Way in Berkeley, is one huge set of steel steps covered in rust and foliage. Walking up them, there’s a feeling of urban beauty, something that is calming with a rush of city excitement. Reaching the top, you enter a high-ceilinged auditorium with huge windows and an airy sense of natural light. Every Monday, the room is filled with conversation rising from the writing workshop, or occasional open mic, provided by the Write Home Project.

Conceived and run by two UC Berkeley alumni and working poets, Gabriel Cortez and Natasha Huey, The Write Home Project facilitates creative arts work by homeless youth (under 25). Write Home provides an outlet for its participants to be heard while they tell stories about, and create a dialogue around, the state of homelessness. … Continue reading »

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Could Box have been Berkeley’s first $1 billion IPO?

The site of Box's first headquarters in Palo Alto
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Box, a leading cloud content management and collaboration company with over 20 million users, filed an S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission two weeks ago. It’s a hotly anticipated IPO, and an exciting milestone for the nine-year old company with 1,000-employees. Most people in the tech industry believe Box was born in Palo Alto, across the street from Stanford, and moved to its current location in Los Altos to scale. But in fact, in 2005 and early 2006 … Continue reading »

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East Bay should raise minimum wage, be a model for state

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I am a person who escaped poverty with education and a minimum wage job.

In so many ways, I was lucky. My cousin and her husband, both campus police officers, raised me as their own son after my mother passed away from cancer when I was six years old. Through their love and guidance, I came to believe that, if I worked hard enough, anything was possible.

I put myself through college by working the night shift … Continue reading »


Berkeley squirrels are safe from extermination — for now

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By April Rose Sommer

Much to the relief of wildlife lovers, the Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday night to delay its pilot program to exterminate ground squirrels at César Chávez Park.

The city had generated broad outcry earlier this year when it announced plans to trap and kill park squirrels as a means to address Regional Water Quality Control Board concerns that squirrel burrows might cause toxics underneath the park to leach into the bay.

But on Tuesday, the Council put the extermination plan on hold and directed the City Manager to report back in two months with a plan and a response to the many questions raised by citizens, councilmembers, and environmental and animal rights organizations, including Golden Gate Audubon.

Councilman Kriss Worthington led the efforts for a reconsideration of the extermination pilot program and Councilwoman Linda Maio was careful to stress that the pilot program would not go forward until the council had revisited the issue. Councilman Max Anderson waxed poetic about how the park used to be filled with raptors, the squirrels’ natural predators, and recommended that there be an effort to draw these birds back to the park, while Councilman Gordon Wozniak complained that there are too many squirrels. … Continue reading »

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Sydney Kustu: Eminent scholar, generous mentor

Sydney Kustu
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By Ann Brody Guy

Professor Emerita Sydney Kustu, a distinguished faculty member in UC Berkeley’s Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, died in Berkeley, Calif., on March 18. She was 71 years old. She was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was instrumental in the revitalization of the field of microbiology on the Berkeley campus.

“Kustu has made major contributions to our understanding of the regulation of gene expression,” a statement read during her induction into the … Continue reading »

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Richard Reynolds: Musician, writer, coffee connoisseur

Richard Allen Reynolds
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By Deborah Branscum

Born in Detroit on Nov. 29, 1943, Richard Allen Reynolds lived a life driven by varied passions that ranged from writing and social justice to the French horn, travel, cooking (Italian and Indian were his favorites), Vitabath, and espresso. He died at home on March 1, 2014, in the care of his amazing wife, Fran Haselsteiner.

Richard once wrote that he was forever grateful that the 60s came along just when he needed them. “The senior picture … Continue reading »

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Starbucks vote makes Berkeley seem unfriendly to business

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Several months ago, Starbucks showed up before the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (I sit on the Board) to ask for a permit to operate a coffee shop on the corner of Ashby and Telegraph. It’s one of the busiest intersections in Berkeley, with lots of drive-by traffic and Alta Bates a short walk away. We’re not talking about a massive facility, more like a storefront that could seat about 25 people. Who would think this would be a giant … Continue reading »

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Terry Sellards, former editor of the Berkeley Gazette

Terry Sellards, former editor of The Berkeley Gazette
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A memorial service is planned in San Francisco for Terry Sellards, 76, former executive editor of the Berkeley Gazette and Richmond Independent and a long-time communications consultant in the Bay Area.

His memorial service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at St. Agnes Church, 1025 Masonic Ave., in San Francisco.  Mr. Sellards died of heart failure on March 5 at Kaiser Hospital San Francisco.

Born in 1937, Mr. Sellards had a varied and far-flung career in journalism, publishing, and politics.  He was associated with the Berkeley Gazette for fourteen years, was also the editor of an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, and was a founding editor of Endangered Species magazine in Australia. … Continue reading »

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Peter Jansen, WW2 vet, pro-bike anti-authoritarian

Peter Jansen
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Peter Brandt Jansen, 1921-2014

San Francisco Bay Area native and 70-year Berkeley resident Peter Brandt Jansen died January 8, 2014. He was 92.

Pete called himself “a realist” and said in his later years that the declining state of the world inspired his longevity: he wanted to live long enough to be able to say “I told you so!” and, in that, he largely succeeded. (He also wanted to live to 100 so he could get free cheese and scones at The Cheese Board, but The Cheese Board removed that incentive when it recently discontinued its senior discounts!)

Pete was born in San Francisco, raised in Berkeley and in an unincorporated area of San Mateo County that became Menlo Park. His family raised chickens. He noted that when he was born, California’s population was roughly 3 million; it had grown more than ten-fold in his 92 years. He was a critic of theories linking economic health to growth and consumerism, knowing the earth to have finite resources. … Continue reading »

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Steps we can take towards long-term drought solutions

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Many of us waited for months for Governor Jerry Brown to make official what our reservoirs and landscapes had already been showing: California’s water situation is dire. This isn’t the first time the state has weathered drought conditions, and, according to reports from government agencies and climatologists, these conditions may only worsen.

The water agency that covers Berkeley, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, recently issued guidelines on water use reductions (reservoir levels are only 63% of normal) and is … Continue reading »

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Remembering Mark Ketchum, prominent bridge designer

Mark Ketchum and his wife Valerie Knepper stand on the pedestrian bridge over I-80 at a dedication ceremony in Berkeley in Oct. 2013. Ketchum designed the pedestrian overcrossing.
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Prominent Bay Area bridge designer and structural engineer Mark Ketchum died on February 24, 2014, at the age of 60 after a year-long battle with cancer. Ketchum, a long-time Berkeley resident, was the designer of many notable projects, including the new Carquinez Bridge and the popular Berkeley Pedestrian Overcrossing over Interstate 80.

“He led a joyous, remarkable life, which sadly ended much too soon,” his family wrote in a statement. “He was an outstanding structural engineer, a loving and devoted husband, father and brother for his family, and a wonderful friend for many.” … Continue reading »

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Ted Agu found his place at UC Berkeley, against the odds

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O what is like the awful breach of death,
Whose fatal stroke invades the creature’s breath!
It bids the voice of desolation roll,
And strikes the deepest awe within the bravest soul.

–George Moses Horton (1797-1883)

By Cecil Brown

The recent death of Ted Agu at UC Berkeley shocked the college community. On the morning of Feb. 7, he collapsed while training with the football team, where he was a defensive lineman. He was only 21, and nobody knew why he died suddenly.

I was crushed by the news, because he had been one of my students. If you teach at Berkeley, you often run into your former students, as I often did with Ted and his other teammate, Kenan Allen.

A few weeks ago, driving up Durant Avenue to the campus, I saw somebody at the bus stop who looked like Ted, and yes, it was he. He jumped in the car, filled up the whole passenger side, and said, “Hey, Professor Brown! Thanks!” … Continue reading »

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Remembering Ben Yerger, educational servant, pioneer

Ben Yerger
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Benjamin James Yerger (December 8, 1930 -February 5, 2014) lived in Berkeley for 38 years and was a dean at what is now known as Berkeley City College. He was the first African American admitted to the University of Arkansas’ School of Medicine, studied at UC Berkeley, and was involved in making Merritt College the site of the country’s first organized department of Black Studies.

Ben died peacefully after being ill for several years. He was born in Hope, Arkansas to his parents Chester H. Yerger Sr. and Naomi L. Reddix Yerger. Ben graduated from Henry Clay Yerger High School, named after his grandfather who was the first teacher (in 1886).

Ben’s grandmother, Ella J. Yerger, left her home on a Choctaw reservation to teach in the school, and later married Henry Clay. Together they inspired Ben’s lifelong devotion to educating others. Ben’s mother and aunts all taught at the school which was the center of his educational and cultural life.

After graduating from high school with high honors in 1948, Ben entered Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, on a music scholarship. He was also an avid football player in college. Ben graduated from Philander Smith in 1951 with majors in biology and chemistry. … Continue reading »

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