Author Archives: Natalie Orenstein
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
The city of Berkeley unveiled its preliminary existing conditions report for the Adeline Corridor planning project at a packed community meeting Saturday, Aug. 29.
The presentation was the culmination of five months spent gathering community input on the Adeline Corridor grant, a $750,000 award from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2014. Money from the grant can only be used for planning purposes in the “corridor,” which covers about 100 acres stretching south from Dwight Way to the Berkeley/Oakland border.
Read past Berkeleyside coverage related to the Adeline Corridor.
Throughout the spring and summer, the city collected 1,118 surveys at “IDEA Centers” set up at neighborhood venues, online and through a youth outreach effort. The report summarizes survey respondents’ desires and concerns, and details recent demographic and economic changes in the project area.
“Clearly the number one thing that people said was their issue and challenge and something they’d like to improve in the neighborhood” was affordable housing, said Mukul Malhotra, principal at MIG, the Berkeley-based consultant hired by the city to oversee the grant.
The risk of displacement in the area is “significant and ongoing,” said Malhotra at the meeting, which reportedly brought more than 150 attendants to Harriet Tubman Terrace, at 2870 Adeline St. … Continue reading »
In 1965, a bar owner named Max Scherr stitched together a small leftist publication he called The Berkeley Barb. The “I” key on his typewriter was broken, so he drew the letter by hand each time it appeared. On the heels of the Free Speech Movement that had rocked the city one year earlier, the amateur publisher put those principles to practice. His first issue covered FSM arrests and a protest that blocked a train carrying troops en route to Vietnam.
The Berkeley Barb quickly grew into a weekly underground newspaper that, for the next 15 years, served as the voice of the local counterculture and a model for alternative press across the nation. This week, 50 years after that first issue hit the streets, “Barbarians” – former staff and readers – are reuniting. The program includes panels on Thursday, Aug. 13 at the Berkeley Public Library with Barb staffers and cartoonists, a 1960s film festival, and a party tonight at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse with musical performances by Country Joe McDonald and others. … Continue reading »
For over seven months, the UC Berkeley police have been surreptitiously planting bicycles equipped with tracking technology throughout campus in hopes of catching bike thieves.
The Bait Bike Program was kept confidential during the spring semester, but UCPD announced earlier this month that 31 arrests have been made since the initiative quietly went live in January. Reported bike thefts are down 45%, the department said in a press release.
“The word was starting to get out a little bit so we figured we would go ahead and let the community know we are trying to do something to impact the theft of bicycles,” said UCPD Lieutenant Marc DeCoulode. … Continue reading »
About 100 neighbors gathered Saturday morning at the South Berkeley Community Church to work on a document outlining their hopes for the city’s revitalization of the Adeline Corridor.
It was the second meeting of Friends of Adeline, a community group created after the city was awarded a $750,000 planning grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission last year. At a public information session hosted by the city in January, many residents said they were concerned the project would threaten the diversity and history of the neighborhood.
With the encouragement of Councilman Max Anderson, neighbors convened for the first time in April to begin to draft a “manifesto” to present to the city and MIG, the Berkeley-based project consultant that will oversee the grant.
“We are a resident-led group here,” said Chris Schildt, who facilitated Saturday’s meeting with planning commissioner and Berkeley native Ben Bartlett. “I think it’s important to recognize that, while the city is creating this process for us, we need to make sure that we know, and as a collective voice can say, what neighbors want.” … Continue reading »
The Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) will hold a special session Thursday May 7 at 6:30 p.m. to make a final decision on a community proposal to rename the South Branch library after a local activist.
At its April 22 meeting, BOLT considered the petition to rename the branch at 1901 Russell Street after the late Tarea Hall Pittman, a black civil-rights leader and radio host who lived nearby. The five members heard impassioned speeches from community members and ultimately voted 3-2 against a motion to suspend the library naming policy, which would have allowed them to vote on the proposal.
Two of the trustees who voted against the motion, Julie Holcomb and Jim Novosel, were up for reappointment at the April 28 council meeting.
At that meeting, Councilman Laurie Capitelli pushed the item to the June meeting to allow for further discussions about the name change.
“I realize that there are a lot of people here tonight to support Ms. Pittman and I think probably a lot of frustration in the audience coming from last Wednesday’s meeting,” he said. “I think people of goodwill are reaching out to one another. I think we’re going to find a path forward.” … Continue reading »
When City Lights publishes a children’s alphabet book, you can bet that the “A” won’t stand for “airplane.” Try “Angela Davis” instead.
The recently released Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History…and Our Future! is an encyclopedia of feminist icons, written by Alameda-based Kate Schatz and illustrated by Berkeley High School art teacher Miriam Klein Stahl. For each of the 26 women featured in the book — activists, artists, scientists, Supreme Court justices — Stahl created a striking paper cut-out portrait against a boldly colored background.
But eager readers had to wait in suspense to see them. Rad Women, the first children’s book from legendary San Francisco publisher City Lights, sold out almost immediately after it was released on April 7. (Update: As of Monday morning, April 20, we hear it is back in stock and available for purchase.)
“It’s an awesome problem to have, but it sucks for going on book tour,” Stahl said earlier this month, as she prepared to travel to the Pacific Northwest for readings. “It’s obviously hit a nerve. We first thought that feminist moms would be totally into this book but it’s clearly gone well beyond that demographic.” … Continue reading »
The city of Berkeley is crafting a new law to require private developers of many buildings to spend 1% of their construction costs on public art.
Under a recommendation put forth by Mayor Tom Bates and approved in concept by the Berkeley City Council at its March 17 meeting, the “private percent for public art” legislation would apply to all new commercial and industrial buildings, and residential buildings with at least five units, except for projects in downtown Berkeley. The one-time fee would pay for publicly accessible art on-site, or the developer could instead pay into a new city pot for public art.