Author Archives: Natalie Orenstein

Rent Board commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil challenges 22-year incumbent Linda Maio in Berkeley’s District 1

alejandro Soto-Vigil
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Alejandro Soto-Vigil, city Rent Board commissioner and aide to Councilman Kriss Worthington, has filed to run for Berkeley City Council in District 1. He is the sole challenger to incumbent Linda Maio, who has occupied the seat since 1992.

Soto-Vigil said he is running to burst what he calls the “bubble” of the current council.

“I think I could take the bubble out, and bridge people who are on the ground to council,” said Soto-Vigil, who grew up in Richmond and graduated from UC Berkeley and the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law in Washington, D.C.  “I want to know what the pulse is of the people.” … Continue reading »

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Popular biergarten poses challenges for neighbors

Before the World Cup final, about 40 people lined up to get into the Westbrae Biergarten. The beer and food spot has been more popular than expected and neighbors are worried about noise and parking. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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As the final match of the World Cup began Sunday, July 13, some 40 people stood patiently in an orderly line outside the new Westbrae Biergarten on the corner of Gilman and Curtis streets. A bouncer guarded the entrance to the beer garden, where patrons sat calmly watching the game on non-amplified screens.

The tranquil scene was a far cry from the whistles and whoops and massive crowds that were mainstays at the beer garden during the earlier World Cup games. … Continue reading »

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Free pot for the poor: Berkeley council codifies what many cannabis dispensaries already doing

Cannabis being inspected at Berkeley Patients Group. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Berkeley’s medical marijuana dispensaries must provide 2% of their cannabis free of charge to very low-income residents under a law passed unanimously by the City Council earlier this month.

Individual patients who make under $32,000, or families that earn less than $46,000, qualify for the complimentary cannabis. The law further requires that the free marijuana “be the same quality on average as Medical Cannabis that is dispensed to other members.”

“We were happy with that,” said Charley Pappas, a member of the city’s Medical Cannabis Commission. “It gets the council and the mayor focusing on patients. There should be access to the best medicine and the poorest people shouldn’t be excluded.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley native seeks to be youngest council member

seanbarry
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Berkeley native Sean Barry has filed to run for the District 7 City Council seat in November, likely challenging 18-year incumbent Kriss Worthington.

At 27, Barry, an alum of UC Berkeley and Berkeley High School, would be the youngest person on the current Council. He is presenting himself as a necessary liaison between the campus and the city at large. In a newly redrawn district that is now about 86% students, that could make the difference in November. … Continue reading »

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Is the tech boom putting pressure on Berkeley rents?

Rents have been going up at 1450 Fourth St., a complex of live-work spaces and some tenants believe the tech boom is putting pressure on prices. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Artist Leigh Wells still hasn’t gotten accustomed to the constant noise from the trains that run right behind her West Berkeley live-work space. And she tries not to think about the toxic emissions from the neighboring steel manufacturing plant. In fact, if it weren’t for the affordable rent, and the close-knit artist community at the 1450 Fourth Street complex, she’d never dream of living there.

But when the rent in a unit in Wells’ building went for $300 a month above asking price — and her own rent was given a $450 hike — she quickly realized that times are changing. … Continue reading »

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Maker-artist space to open in old Odwalla spot

John Henry in blue, Jacques Janson in red. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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In a few months, dozens of artists and makers will set up shop in the currently vacant warehouse at 1150 Sixth Street, which used to house Odwalla’s distribution center.

MWS Studios, a cluster of artist studios for rent, is the brainchild of Jacques Janson, a recovering corporate financier, and John Henry, a real-estate developer who helped build a similar artist community in Oakland.

“It seems like there’s a shortage of spaces for artists to go make things,” said Janson, who lives in Sonoma.

Artists will be able to rent the studio spaces, which vary in size, on a month-by-month basis initially. The building license will allow up to 10% of the nearly 10,000 square foot site to serve as retail space, so some artists will be able to convert their studios into storefronts or galleries. … Continue reading »

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New ‘morality clause’ at Catholic schools prompts outcry

School of the Madeleine Berkeley. Photo- Natalie Orenstein
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Controversial new language in the contracts of teachers who work at schools that come under the jurisdiction of the Oakland Diocese has provoked an outcry in the East Bay Catholic education community.

The language, which was added by Oakland’s recently appointed Bishop Michael Barber, pertains to how teachers conduct themselves in their personal lives. It asks them to pledge to conform to church teachings outside the workplace, and is seen by many as targeting non-heterosexual teachers. The move has prompted some teachers to resign, rather than sign the contract, which, the Diocese says, is mandatory. … Continue reading »

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3-D models bring Berkeley’s train history back to life

Some of the 3D-printed trains created by Grizzly Peak Model Trains, a new Berkeley company exhibiting at the Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 17-18. Photo: Grizzly Peak Model Trains
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Before it housed a smoothie shop and an SAT prep building, the island on Shattuck Avenue and Center Street was a bustling train station. The trains and streetcars that ran along the avenue for decades gave way long ago to cars and buses, but one man is bringing them back — in 1/160th of their original size.

Berkeley based software engineer Darby Johnston will debut his 3D-printed Grizzly Peak Model Trains at the Maker Faire at San Mateo Event Center on May 17-18.

Johnston’s is a distinctly 21st-century spin on the classic hobby. The East Bay native, who grew up visiting the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City and playing with model trains at home, is a user experience software engineer at Lucasfilm. About a year ago, in hopes of expanding his digital dexterity, he began thinking about a project that would allow him to experiment with computer-aided design (CAD) software.

“It struck me that designing model trains would be an interesting way to combine something I’d been interested in since I was younger and something I’m doing now as a professional,” Johnston said.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s oldest resident celebrates her 106th birthday

Belle Owens, April 29, 2014. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Belle Owens’ apartment on University Avenue is filled with colorful Mylar balloons and birthday cards propped up on top of the coffee table. Owens says there are two big bags in the back room overflowing with more cards from past birthdays — which is not surprising given that she’s had 106 of them.

Born in 1908, Owens is thought to be Berkeley’s oldest resident. In honor of her 106th birthday, the city issued a proclamation honoring Owens, a former fashion consultant for prominent musicians and comedians, at its council meeting this week.

“That was just absolutely fabulous,” said Owens, sitting in her wheelchair in her living room a couple days after the event. “Everyone was just unbelievable. I really cried.” … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

102-Rose Walk-3
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BAHA SPRING HOUSE TOUR Maybeck, Morgan, Ratcliff… This Sunday is the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association’s annual who’s-who tour of Berkeley architecture. The 39th annual Spring Tour follows Rose Walk, which was designed by Bernard Maybeck 100 years ago. Participants will see the storybook houses that were built by the Berkeley architectural greats following the destructive 1923 fire, and will visit the beautiful secret gardens that abound in the neighborhood. Tickets cost $45 or $35 for BAHA members. A tour map, illustrated guidebook, and refreshments are provided on the self-guided walk, which lasts from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on May 4. Be prepared to climb some stairs. … Continue reading »

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3, maybe 4, candidates vie for Wozniak’s council seat

Elmwood by Sharon Hahn Darlin
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UPDATE, 05.15.14: George Beier has announced he will be running for the District 8 council seat following the April 30 confirmation of which redistricting map the city will be using.

ORIGINAL STORY: Three candidates — with a fourth waiting in the wings — have taken out papers to run for Berkeley City Council’s District 8 seat that has been held by Councilman Gordon Wozniak for three terms.

Mike Alvarez Cohen, Lori Droste, and Jacquelyn McCormick have all filed to run in November for the seat. George Beier, who three times ran in District 7 against Councilman Kriss Worthington, may join the race depending on the final outcome of new City Council district boundaries. A court is expected to rule on those boundaries on April 30. (Update: A Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of the council-majority-approved redistricting map, which would allow Beier to enter the District 8 race. Learn more about the ruling here.) … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
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RESOURCES ROUNDTABLE California has been quite dry this year — but Friday’s roundtable on the drought will be anything but. The Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative is hosting its annual day of panel discussions and lectures on April 18. This year’s Resources Roundtable is titled “California’s Drought: Challenges and Opportunities.” Speakers — including several UC Berkeley professors — will trace the deep history of dryness in the state, and consider the current obstacles to, and potential for, addressing drought. The $10 tickets provide access to all events from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the David Brower Center at 2150 Allston Way. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley 8th graders raise $80K to build their own library

REALM library
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A Berkeley middle school’s successful campaign to crowd-fund the creation of its first library is one for the books.

Still in its infancy, REALM charter school was lacking a library, so its eighth grade class launched a Kickstarter campaign in March. In one month they raised the nearly $79,000 that will allow them to realize their innovative design for a room full of books and multimedia tools. Quest Foundation, a grant-making organization in Danville, contributed $30,000 in matching funds to the campaign.

The ultramodern library, called “X-Space,” is the product of months of brainstorming and building in teacher Hallie Chen’s design class, Studio H.

“Because we’re a new school, the instinct for students is to look around and say, ‘These are the things we don’t have yet,’” said REALM’s creativity director Emily Pilloton. “My response is always, ‘Okay, well, let’s go build it.’” … Continue reading »

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