Author Archives: Natalie Orenstein

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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Adeline report highlights desire for affordable housing

Neighbors present their vision for the Adeline Corridor while city consultants act as scribe. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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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 »

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Berkeley’s radical rag celebrates its 50th anniversary

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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 »

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UC Berkeley police lay ‘bait’ for bike thieves on campus

bike reflection by pete rosos
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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 »

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Neighbors outline demands for Adeline Corridor grant

About 100 South Berkeley residents gathered Saturday to discuss community demands for a plan to revitalize the area. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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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 »

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Library to reconsider proposal to rename South Branch

The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library opened in May 2013. Photo: Richard Friedman
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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 »

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Berkeley teacher illustrates rad City Lights kids’ book

Kate Schatz (left) and Miriam Klein Stahl work on "Rad Women A-Z," a feminist children's book out this month from City Lights. Photo: Lena Wolff
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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 »

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Berkeley looks at public art fee for private developers

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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.

At the same meeting, council expanded the city’s definition of art to include installations, performance and social practice works, and other types of original displays. Continue reading »

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Museum doubles as a library in Berkeley artist’s show

Berkeley artist Josh Greene's book-based show opens today. Photos: Contemporary Jewish Museum
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In our tech-centric world, it seems like books could end up as artifacts in museums any day now. A Berkeley artist is speeding up the process — but far from a digital evangelist, Josh Greene is doing it out of reverence for the old medium.

Greene’s two-part exhibition Bound to be Held: A Book Show opened March 26 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. There’s The Library of Particular Significance, a lending library made of 700-800 books Greene amassed during various book drives. The companion show, Read by Famous, is a collection of books donated by people in the public eye, who provide notes explaining why the books are meaningful to them. The former is a set up to be a social event, whereas the latter is a traditional museum experience: look, don’t touch. … Continue reading »

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Hills group sues FEMA over plan to cut down trees

Thousands of the Berkeley hills eucalyptus trees may be removed with funding from FEMA. Photo: Tracey Taylor
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A neighborhood group has sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following its decision to fund fire mitigation efforts in the East Bay hills.

Earlier this month, FEMA announced its decision to grant $5.67 million to the California Office of Emergency Services, which will distribute the funds to UC Berkeley, the city of Oakland, and the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) to remove tens of thousands of eucalyptus trees in the fire-prone hills. Immediately after, the Hills Conservation Network (HCN) filed a lawsuit against FEMA in federal court.

The HCN, a small group whose members live in Claremont Canyon, one of the areas covered by the grants, objects to the plan to “clearcut” the hills’ eucalyptus trees. … Continue reading »

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Neighbors petition to rename Berkeley’s South Branch Library after civil-rights leader

The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library opened in May 2013. Photo: Richard Friedman
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Update, April 23, 2015: The Board of Trustees of the Berkeley Public Library voted against renaming the South Branch after civil-rights leader Tarea Hall Pittman at its April 22 meeting. (See who is on the Board and listen to a recording of the meeting on the Library’s website.) The leader of the campaign in favor of the idea, Charles Austin, told Berkeleyside reporter Natalie Orenstein he was devastated, and that supporters would protest the decision at the next Berkeley City Council meeting. “Racism is alive in Berkeley,” he said.The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library was remodeled two years ago, and soon it might be rechristened too.

Original story: On Feb. 10, the city council passed a proposal to rename the library, at 1901 Russell St., after Tarea Hall Pittman, a civil-rights leader who lived in South Berkeley and died in 1991. The Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) will have the final say on whether the change will be made.

Pittman “was just a pillar in the community,” said councilwoman Linda Maio, who sponsored the item. A community petition in support of the name change garnered over 2,000 signatures. … Continue reading »

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Saul’s applies to build a parklet in front of deli

A rendering shows the canopied parklet designed by architect David Trachtenberg.
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Three parking spaces in front of Saul’s Deli at 1475 Shattuck Ave. could soon be replaced by greenery and public seating.

Saul’s owner Peter Levitt has applied for a permit to build a parklet, which would be the third approved under the city’s Parklets Pilot Program launched in July 2013. The first parklet opened in front of the Cheese Board Collective in August. A second one was scheduled to open shortly after the Cheese Board parklet, in front of Philz Coffee and Guerilla Café. That scheme ran into some obstacles but is back on track. … Continue reading »

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