Author Archives: Natalie Orenstein

Race and food justice on the menu at Berkeley event

From left: Bryant Terry, David Roach, Kelly Carlisle, Michael McBride, Karissa Lewis, Shaniece Alexander. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Addressing a packed auditorium at the Ed Roberts Campus on Saturday, former Black Panther Judy Juanita recounted the history of the group’s Free Breakfast for School Children program.

Begun in Oakland in 1969, the Panther program served thousands of children breakfast daily in cities across the country.

Despite its widespread success, Juanita told the audience, the Black Panthers never considered the program a solution. The free breakfast initiative—which J. Edgar Hoover called “potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for”— was considered a “survival program.”

Juanita was the keynote speaker for “A Community Forum on Black Liberation and the Food Movement,” a public event organized by UC Berkeley’s Berkeley Food Institute along with about a dozen partners. A panel and several group discussions throughout the day covered a range of topics, from the traumatic legacy of slavery on African-Americans’ relationship with food production and land, to the contemporary black culinary scene, food insecurity, and the whiteness of the food justice movement. The event culminated in a free dinner provided by Miss Ollie’s restaurant.

“We anticipated that it might be a good idea to do this after the election,” said Kara Young, a graduate student fellow at BFI who organized the event, in her introduction. The organizers suspected people might need to be “nourished and fed,” she said. … Continue reading »

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12 Berkeley measures will determine city’s infrastructure, education budget, campaign financing and more

Berkeley students carry Yes on E1 signs during the Solano Stroll. Photo: Yes on E1 campaign
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As a presidential campaign colored by controversy inches ever closer, local races and campaigns struggle to be heard amid the cacophony. But Berkeley’s ballot is packed with measures that will determine the near-future of the city’s infrastructure, affordable housing stock, education budget, and campaign finance system.

We’ve rounded up the 12 measures that will be on your ballot Nov. 8, taking a look at what they would change and who is gunning for them to pass.

Click the links to jump to the section of interest.

Measure T1: Infrastructure bond

What it would do: Measure T1 would authorize the city to issue up to $100 million of general obligation bonds to fix and rebuild Berkeley infrastructure over a 40-year period. Initially, property owners would be taxed at a rate of $6.35 per $100,000 of assessed value. That amount would increase as new bonds were issued, up to a high of $31.26 per $100,000. The maximum interest rate that could be paid on the bonds would be 6 percent.

See complete 2016 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

The proceeds from Measure T1 would go toward the repair or renovation of sidewalks, streets, storm drains, parks, city senior and recreation centers, and other facilities. One percent of the proceeds will be used for public art incorporated in the infrastructure. The measure also requires a public input process. … Continue reading »

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Curbside electric car charging stations arrive in Berkeley

Bernhard Haux installed one of the city's first personal curbside charging stations at his McGee Street home in February. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Sebastian Vollering was first in line to reserve a Tesla Model 3, the more economical version of the electric car, at the Walnut Creek store this spring.

The South Berkeley resident won’t get his new car until the end of 2017, but he is already preparing for it. Vollering is the latest to be approved under a city program that allows some residents to install personal electric-vehicle charging stations in the public right of way in front of their homes.

The 2014 Residential Curbside Electric Vehicle Charging Pilot allows for up to 25 of these stations by December 2017. Applicants must not have a driveway or garage where they could otherwise place a charging station. Twenty people have qualified for curbside stations so far, though only four have completed the installation, said Sarah Moore, a planner in the city’s office of energy and sustainable development.

Vollering was relieved when his application was approved earlier this month.

“It’s very hard for us to have an electric vehicle,” he said. Vollering’s Emerson Street home has no driveway. “It becomes quite cumbersome when you go to a public charger and you have to pay for it long enough for it to charge.” Vollering also wanted the option to charge his car at home because he uses solar power. … Continue reading »

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Those Women Productions find feminism in the classics

Libby Vega (left) and Carol Lashof founded Those Women Productions in 2014. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Carol Lashof and Libby Vega aren’t ashamed to reveal their infatuations with the “dead white guys” who populate the Western Canon.

The founders of Berkeley theater company Those Women Productions cut their teeth on Shakespeare, Homer and Sophocles. Now, instead of shunning the classic works, the avowed feminists read between the lines of their favorite texts. They pull out the subplots that resonate with them and the characters they believe deserve more airtime.

Take the eponymous character in their current production, Margaret of Anjou.

Margaret was the wife of King Henry VI, who was king since infancy and mentally unfit to rule. Margaret ruled England by proxy, commanding troops during the Wars of the Roses. She figures prominently in Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays and his Richard III. … Continue reading »

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Craigslist ad leads to discovery of world-class art collection in Berkeley

A 1946 painting by Sylvia Ludins. Photo: Peter Jacobson
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When Justin Cronkite arrived at an Elmwood home last year to check out a dresser he had seen on Craigslist, he found more than a piece of furniture. In the garage, coated in decades’ worth of dust, was a stunning collection of paintings.

There were watercolors, oil paintings, sketches, and even 8-foot murals, most in vivid colors. Cronkite estimates that there were almost 300 pieces, some depicting evocative scenes of political turmoil and hardship, and others abstract.

The owner of the home and the dresser, Jon Katz, told Cronkite that most of the paintings were by his aunt, Sylvia Ludins, who died in 1965. Some were by Ludins’ sister, Katz’s mother Florence Ludins-Katz. Katz has been in possession of the collection since his father died in 2008. He showed and sold most of his mother’s work and always had it in the back of his mind to do something with his aunt’s.

Cronkite, a filmmaker and perennial go-getter, asked Katz if he could help him bring Ludins’ art into the world. Katz said he would consider it. The two parted ways, but Cronkite couldn’t stop thinking about the art. A few months later, he got an email from Katz granting him permission to pursue exhibiting it. Cronkite jumped into action, dusting the paintings and setting up a makeshift gallery in his home.

By a stroke of luck, Cronkite was introduced to Peter Selz, the renowned art historian and founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum. Selz, who is in his 90s and lives in Berkeley, took a look at Sylvia Ludins’ paintings and was astounded.

“I was amazed to see work like this reappear after all these years,” Selz said, “and from an artist who was really very skilled.” … Continue reading »

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Blondies’ coming-of-age album addresses sexual assault

The Blondies lead singer Simon Lunche and lead guitarist Isaac Roth. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Bay Area rock band The Blondies have grown up together, working their way up from summer camp stages to venues like the Stork Club in Oakland and Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. The members, some freshly graduated from high school, are navigating the adult world, and it’s reflected in their music.

The Blondies released “Just Another Evening,” a self-described “coming of age album,” earlier this month. The title track is a comment on rape culture and the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment.

“Unfortunately, I see that kind of stuff going on around me all the time and I was really fed up with it,” said lead singer and songwriter Simon Lunche, who graduated from Berkeley High School this month.

The band members who are already in college were disturbed by the level of sexual assault and harassment on their campuses as well. The five members of The Blondies, all male, felt compelled to make a statement about it. … Continue reading »

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Plans for Berkeley’s Adeline Corridor begin to take shape

City planners have drawn up possible changes to problematic intersections in South Berkeley, including the Ashby and Adeline intersection.  Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Realigned intersections, relocated roadways, new bicycle lanes, and affordable housing on public lots are among preliminary ideas city planners have floated for the Adeline Corridor planning project.

At a meeting Saturday, May 21, at the South Berkeley Senior Center, planning staff and consultants from MIG, the firm working on the project, revealed initial ideas they have developed based on public input collected over the past year. A $750,000 award from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission funds the process, which is slated to culminate in winter or spring 2017 with a long-term plan for the corridor.

The project area covers about 100 acres stretching south from Dwight Way to the Oakland border.

Read more about the Adeline Corridor planning on Berkeleyside.

Saturday’s meeting, which followed an extensive community feedback process, focused on potential uses of publicly owned land and transportation routes. These initial ideas are not necessarily feasible, said Mukul Malhotra, principal at MIG.

“What we’re doing is thinking of our bigger dreams,” he said. “At the end of the day we have to create an implementable plan.” … Continue reading »

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Cozy acoustic music venue comes to downtown Berkeley

Sam Rudin, a jazz/blues pianist and teacher, will continue to offer lessons at the Back Room.
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Of the several new music venues slated to open this year in Berkeley, the Back Room will probably be the comfiest.

With room for 100 people at most, the brick-walled site at 1984 Bonita St. is occupied by sofas, loveseats, and a Steinway grand piano.

Owner Sam Rudin describes the music he plans to book as “whatever would fit aesthetically into your living room — if you had a very big living room.” That means primarily acoustic blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass, and classical.

Rudin, a longtime Bay Area-based pianist, is modeling the venue after his old stomping ground, the original Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. As a young musician in the 1980s, Rudin frequently brought his self-described “boogie blues and jazz” to the Freight’s small stage on San Pablo Avenue. When the venue expanded, eventually opening its current 440-seat space on Addison Street in 2009, it left a void, Rudin said.

“When it moved to the current place, folks like myself just couldn’t make it there anymore,” he said. … Continue reading »

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Father of girl struck by car calls for better traffic control

Oski, the mascot of UC Berkeley, paid a visit to Lillia Bartlow this week. Photo: Bartlow family
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The father of a 9-year-old girl struck by a taxi in a crosswalk last week was among a small contingent of parents and administrators from John Muir Elementary School who asked the Berkeley City Council for pedestrian safety improvements in the area Tuesday.

Darryl Bartlow, whose daughter Lillia was hit March 8 while crossing Claremont Avenue with her mother after they attended an evening PTA meeting at the school, described a devastating week softened by “a great outpouring of love and concern” from the community. Both Lillia’s legs were broken and she may need to be in a wheelchair for up to a year, Bartlow said. It is unclear when she will be able to return to John Muir, where she is a fourth-grade student. She is home from the hospital.

Bartlow is a longtime Berkeley resident and graduate of Berkeley public schools. He worked for the Alameda County Probation Department for 30 years and now sits on the city’s Personnel Board. At the council meeting, he asked council members to install traffic lights at the crosswalk where Lillia was hit, which is directly in front of the elementary school, on Claremont Avenue at Claremont Crescent. … Continue reading »

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Lasher’s Electronics may be forced to close after 56 years

Ellen and Bob Lasher's electronics store was deemed seismically unsafe in 1991. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Al Lasher’s Electronics may be on the brink of closing after 56 years at 1734 University Ave.

The city of Berkeley deemed the building, near McGee Avenue, seismically unsafe in 1991, requiring the owners to retrofit the property by 1997. Lasher’s was one of 587 buildings to receive this mandate under the city’s seismic hazard mitigation program for unreinforced masonry buildings. Twenty-five years later, it is one of eight that remain on the list.

The city issued the owners, siblings Bob and Ellen Lasher, numerous notices and citations over the years. A final 2015 notice, which the Lashers appealed, warned the shop owners of the city’s intent to put a lien of $3,125 — the amount of recent outstanding citations — on the property. At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to halt fees and defer filing the lien, giving the owners 90 days to apply for a building permit for the retrofit and one year to pull the permit.

The Lashers say they are unsure they can afford to retrofit and stay open. They have received bids to do the retrofitting work ranging from $150,000-$300,000, Bob Lasher said. The retrofit would also require Lasher’s to close for at least two months, which would be a blow to business, he added. … Continue reading »

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Tenants struggle after fire at Chandler building

The Chandler building fire in Southside Berkeley. Photo: Ted Friedman
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When a fire tore through 2449 Dwight Way the Sunday before Thanksgiving, about 30 tenants were displaced and the property owner was saddled with around $1 million in damages. The Nov. 22 disaster has brought to light what can happen in Berkeley in the aftermath of a destructive fire.

The displaced tenants describe two weeks dominated by confusion and uncertainty. After fleeing the building, which is known as the Chandler, the residents scattered, finding refuge in friends’ homes and at the Durant Hotel. The Red Cross provided some immediate financial assistance.

”Things were happening in a whirlwind,” said tenant Owen Hill. “Many of us went to a hotel because we expected it to be covered. We didn’t get solid information because we were in a panic.”

The tenants say they received conflicting information from the Rent Board about what kind of assistance they were entitled to immediately and in the long run, causing uncertainty about what kind of housing to seek. (A crowd-funding campaign set up to help the displaced has so far raised just $65.) … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s Counterpoint Press marks 20th anniversary

Charlie Winton Photo: Counterpoint Press
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When author Karen Bender shopped around her 2013 novel, A Town of Empty Rooms, she initially had little luck. By the time she sent it to Berkeley-based Counterpoint Press, she had received something like 25 rejections.

At Counterpoint, editor Dan Smetanka immediately took a liking to Bender’s book. The company published it, as well as her latest short story collection, Refund — which is up for a prestigious National Book Award this week. Counterpoint is the only independent publishing house with a nomination.

Counterpoint, whose office is on Ninth Street in West Berkeley, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Its writers praise the company for two decades of a sharp eye for literary talent and genuine support for its authors. … Continue reading »

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Interim city manager talks pensions, parks and perks

Berkeley's new interim city manager fielded question from the North East Berkeley Association at a public meeting Oct. 22
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New to Berkeley and even newer to her role as interim city manager, Dee Williams-Ridley gave residents one of their first chances to get to know her last week at a public forum hosted by the North East Berkeley Association at the Northbrae Community Church.

Questions at the Oct. 22 event from moderators and the public covered a range of issues facing Berkeley, including the minimum wage, city employee salaries, and the NAACP’s recommendation for the creation of a city department that would handle race and equity issues. Throughout the evening, Williams-Ridley took a mostly friendly and humorous, but at times assertive, tone, telling the audience that she had been warned they would be “tough.” She declined to answer some questions, including about potential future ballot measures, saying several times that she is not responsible for policy decisions.

Williams-Ridley inherits the city from Christine Daniel, who abruptly left her post in July for a job with the city of Oakland. The city council appointed Williams-Ridley, who had been deputy city manager since January, to fill the position. An Alabama native and graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Williams-Ridley previously worked as deputy city manager of Modesto for four years. She commutes to her current job from Sacramento and said she spends the night in Berkeley once or twice a week. She receives a salary of $225,000. … Continue reading »

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