Author Archives: Mary Flaherty

Illegal enrollment is boon and burden to Berkeley schools

Students at King Middle School Photo:
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When Sarah James went to the first meeting for her daughter’s freshman crew team at Berkeley High School, she wanted to form a carpool for the 6 a.m. practices.

But James (not her real name) lived in Oakland and had enrolled her daughter using a false address. James did not think she would find any other crew members living near her Rockridge bungalow, but she needn’t have worried. That fall, there were four other girls on the team who lived in Oakland, James said.

The official freshman crew roster, however, showed that everyone had a Berkeley address.

That was nearly 10 years ago, but people haven’t stopped enrolling their kids illegally in Berkeley schools. Everyone seems to know a case: people using relatives’ addresses, friends’ addresses, or even rental property owned by the family who lives out of town. One recent gossip item on a local internet site: a man with a boat at the Berkeley marina, using that address to enroll his child, who lives in another city. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley school board set to vote on slashed budget for cooking and gardening program

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UPDATE, 03.27.14: As expected, the Berkeley Unified School Board last night voted to commit $485,000 for the coming year to its gardening program, under the terms outlined it the proposal that called for gardening classes for pre-kindergarten through grade 7. [See the full proposal on the BUSD Board meeting agenda packet, starting on page 54.] Commenting on the move, Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center, said Berkeley was showing leadership in finding money from its budget for the pioneering program after losing nearly $2m in federal funding. “Who else is stepping up like that on their own dime?,” he said. “Berkeley is leading the way.”

ORIGINAL STORY: For the past few months the Berkeley school district has been struggling along with funding for its beloved cooking and gardening program. After some back-and-forth on proposals this winter, the board is now expected to vote March 26 to approve very reduced funding for gardening classes only in the 2014-15 school year.

Supporters – teachers, students and parents – pleaded with the school board at its March 12 meeting not to make further cuts to the cooking and gardening classes, which lost an annual $1.9 million in federal funding last fall. The program is already operating on less than half its former budget this year – about $850,000 — with bridge funds. Next year’s budget would be under $500,000.

“This has been a very difficult process for all of us,” Superintendent Donald Evans said. “This is a nationally recognized program. But that was when we had $2 million. We can no longer retain that type of program.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley family camp will this year be at Echo Lake

Echo courtesy city of Berkeley
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Berkeley Family Camp this summer will be offered at the city’s Echo Lake Camp, near Lake Tahoe, for five weeks. The city’s Tuolumne Family camp near Yosemite burned down in the August 2013 Rim Fire.

Camp sessions will run June 21-July 7, July 11-20 and July 25-Aug. 4.  The length of stay will be flexible, just like it has been at Tuolumne Camp. Registration begins Feb. 12 for residents and Feb. 19 for non-residents. Rates and more information are expected to be available this week at the city’s recreation department website or by phone, 510-981-5150.

Echo Lake Camp is located just off Highway 50, a few miles south of Lake Tahoe, and about a three-hour drive from Berkeley.  The camp’s elevation is 7,400 feet, nearly 4,000 feet higher than Tuolumne Camp (and colder at night). It sits alongside the Pacific Crest Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail near the El Dorado National Forest.  The camp “boasts incredible views,” according to a city press release. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Tuolumne Camp unsafe for visitors, says city

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Visiting the remains of Berkeley’s Tuolomne Family Camp near Yosemite after the summer’s Rim Fire was apparently a big draw over the Indigenous People’s Day weekend in October. About 40 people dropped in on the camp just on that one weekend, said Scott Ferris, director of the Berkeley parks department.

And it seems that at least one person has visited even more recently, as someone anonymously posted pictures on Dec. 17 of the burned camp under snow on the Friends of Berkeley Tuolomne Camp Facebook page.

“Obviously, people are curious,” Ferris said. While he is sympathetic, Ferris is asking that the community not visit the site for safety and liability reasons. There are about 1,000 dead trees on the property that could fall at any time, he said.

“Some have fallen already, and (the standing ones) are degrading on a daily basis. What looks to be a harmless situation is not,” Ferris said. … Continue reading »

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A little something: Where to find bite-sized treats

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As we work off the excesses of Thanksgiving dinners and Hanukkah feasts, and anticipate still more over-indulging during the winter holidays, what better time to think about eating less? Specifically, smaller bites of the treats we love. Mary Flaherty set out to investigate local purveyors who offer wonderfully small portions of the ice creams and pastries we can’t live without. (Let us know in the Comments if you know of other East Bay spots that think small. In particular, Mary is still looking for a tidy little blueberry muffin!)

Petit croissants at La Bedaine

The mid-Solano French take-out shop La Bedaine sells sandwiches, tarts and vacuum-packed dinners, as well as pastries.

La Bedaine’s croissant ($2 — pictured above) is about half the size of most American croissants, estimates chef/owner Alain Delangle. It’s also slightly sweet. The pain au chocolate (chocolate croissant) ($2.25) is about two-thirds the size of others in the area, he said.

Asked why he makes smaller croissants, Delangle said, “I’ll show you —  it’s very simple.” Reaching behind a counter, the French native pulled out a rolling pin-like device from France that rolls and cuts the croissants into a fixed size.  “That’s the normal size for a French croissant.”

La Bedaine, 1585 Solano Ave. between Ordway and Peralta. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley groups want old railroad bed to be a public park

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A group of local residents is asking the city to raise funds to turn an old, fenced-off railroad bed in south Berkeley, called the Santa Fe Right of Way, into open space with community gardens and a trail that connects to the Ohlone Greenway.

The challenge is that the parks department is already seriously underfunded. Officials are considering a measure for next November’s ballot for a tax increase of at least $20 on average, just to keep from having to lay off park maintenance workers.

Last Wednesday night, the Park Commissioners discussed the ballot measure. About 14 supporters of the Santa Fe project and several Willard Pool advocates urged the commissioners to fund these large projects, as well.

“We want to make sure that the Santa Fe Right of Way should be among the key — if not flagship — projects on ballot measure,” said John Steere, president of Berkeley Partners for Parks. … Continue reading »

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Debate over new Tunnel Rd bike lane centers on parking

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Plans for a bike lane on Tunnel Road — under negotiation for the past year between the city, residents and biking advocates — will be discussed Thursday night at a city Transportation Commission meeting.

Last fall, the city proposed a bike lane on the uphill side of Tunnel Road between the Claremont Hotel and the city line, near Highway 24, a road busy with recreational cyclists as well as bike commuters. The proposal eliminated all parking, making many residents unhappy.

“We take the brunt of all the traffic,” said Jacquelyn McCormick, president of Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association. “To ask one street to give 100% of something is unfair.”

At a meeting Oct. 9, city staff, residents and bike advocates discussed a revised plan, which restored many but not all of the parking spaces along Tunnel Road. Most of the 40 or so residents at the meeting were far happier with this plan, but the sticking point was the block between Oak Ridge Drive and The Uplands, where the road narrows and parking (enough room for up to 20 cars) was still eliminated in favor of the bike lane. … Continue reading »

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St. Mary’s College High to expand after mediation

There have been five public hearings since 2011, and five mediation sessions since last November, concerning the expansion and renovation plans of St. Mary's College. Photo: St. Mary's College High School
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St. Mary’s College High School got the go-ahead last Wednesday for its master plan to add two buildings and renovate others. The move followed six months of mediation with its North Berkeley neighbors.

The private Catholic college preparatory high school sits on 12.5 acres, surrounded by about 100 homes in North Berkeley and Albany. Although St. Mary’s has a Berkeley street address — 1294 Albina Ave. — it actually sits on the Albany side of the line, so it was Albany’s Planning and Zoning Commission that approved the master plan and a conditional use permit.

The plan for the school of about 600 students includes:

  • A new music building of 13,400 square feet, to replace the much smaller current one;
  • A new campus chapel, 4,400 square feet, single-story;
  • A 14,000-square-foot addition to St. Joseph’s Hall (classrooms, library and offices);
  • A larger kitchen at the student center;
  • A new drainage plan.

At this time, St. Mary’s has only enough money to replace the music building, according to Vivian Kahn, planning consultant to the school. That construction is not likely to begin before summer 2014, she said. The rest of the master plan could take “10 to 15 years – or more” to build, Kahn said. “They need to raise money as they go.”

It’s been a long process already: in 2006, the school submitted a larger plan, withdrew it in 2008, and submitted the current, scaled-back plan in 2011. Five public hearings were held since 2011, and five mediation sessions since last November. … Continue reading »

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High lead levels an issue for backyard chickens, soil

Chicken by Will Merydith
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Last month a local veterinarian had a Berkeley client bring in a very sick chicken.

“It was almost dead,” said Dr. Lee Prutton, of the Abbey Pet Hospital in El Cerrito. Prutton said he put the chicken to sleep and, wondering if it had a contagious disease, sent the body to the state lab for testing. The results: heavy metal poisoning, mainly lead.

The vet is now concerned that people are raising chickens in lead-contaminated urban soils, unaware that the lead can enter the chickens’ eggs that we eat.

Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, miscarriage, high blood pressure and learning and behavior problems, and is especially problematic for growing children, according to the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department.

Last October, the New York Times reported that “…a New York State Health Department study show(ed) that more than half the eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens had detectable levels of lead, unlike store-bought counterparts.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley school recycling gets back on track

A third-grade monitor at Oxford Elementary helps a classmate figure out what gets composted and what goes into the trash. Photo: Green Schools Initiative
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Berkeley schools are making a renewed commitment to recycling and composting after efforts slacked off over the past five years.

This year, a local non-profit, Green Schools Initiative, has worked with eight Berkeley schools, revitalizing recycling and composting programs. Green Schools was just awarded a grant for next year, so it can work with another eight schools in the fall.

According to Deborah Moore, executive director of Green Schools Initiative, recycling and composting are not only good for reducing landfill and greenhouse gases – they can also reduce the district’s spending.

“The Berkeley school district has potential to be saving $50,000 a year out of about $350,000 spent on trash pickup,” Moore said.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley set for $12.7m in downtown transport grants

An early conceptual rendering of the new Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza.
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Berkeley expects to get $12.7 million in grant funding for changes to BART Plaza, Shattuck Avenue and Hearst Street that should make life easier for people using the Downtown BART station and buses, biking to campus and even just driving through the center of town.

On Thursday, May 23, the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) voted unanimously on an initial approval of the city’s grant proposals for the three transit projects. Construction could begin in 2015, said Matt Nichols, principal transportation planner for the city.  … Continue reading »

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School cooking, gardening programs in peril

After school program, washing off the freshly picked asparagus
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Berkeley schools’ nationally recognized cooking and gardening programs are about to lose funding – once again. But, unlike last year, no last-minute reprieve of federal funds is expected.

Schools representatives met with about 120 parents last Thursday night at Longfellow Middle School to explain why the programs are set to lose $1.9 million of U.S. Department of Agriculture funds, and what potential solutions are being developed.

Every public school in Berkeley — from pre-school to high school — currently has either a cooking program or an edible garden, with 10 schools having both. A series of videos shown at Thursday’s meeting — kindergarteners working with knives and graters, kids watering in the garden and stuffing their mouths with greens — shows just what is at stake. … Continue reading »

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Pets dumped in Tilden cause problems, become dinner

Tilden Little Farm4 Mary Flaherty
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The abandoned chickens appeared one afternoon in December, in the parking lot near Tilden Park’s Little Farm. Nine of them, right next to the bus stop. Whoever dumped them had sprinkled feed on the ground, and apparently hoped the Little Farm would adopt them. Not so.

“It’s as much as I can do to keep these animals clean, alive and fed,” said the man known as Farmer Stanley, gesturing to the chickens, cows, sheep and pigs he has taken care of at the farm for more than a decade.

At least two of those abandoned chickens became dinner for the local wildlife, judging by the piles of feathers found on the ground, said park staff.  They think – or at least hope – that some of the chickens were adopted, in response to an ad posted, because a bunch disappeared all at once.

The month before the chicken-drop, it was a white bunny, left in a cage at the same spot. Last summer there were five kittens. … Continue reading »

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