Category Archives: Community

Herb Wong: Visionary founder of Berkeley jazz program

Dr. Herb Wong, Washington Elementary School Principal invited world class big bands to perform for BUSD students.
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Herb Wong, the founding father of  the pioneering jazz program at Berkeley’s schools, died on Sunday April 20, 2014. He was 88.

In an obituary published today on Berkeleyside, Sarah Cline, Jazz Program Director at Berkeley High School, remembers the visionary principal of Washington Elementary School who believed in jazz education for young children — as music education, as a part of the civil rights movement, and as a way of propagating a democratic and artistic spirit — and who brought famous jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson, to give concerts at the school. … Continue reading »

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Are you ready to help kids, pets when disaster strikes?

The Berkeley Emergency Prep Fair is aimed to help residents know what to do with pets and little ones in case of a disaster. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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A brand new interactive fair is coming to Berkeley this weekend, aimed to help residents get prepared for disaster with a focus on children and pets.

The free event, at the North Berkeley BART station, takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 26. There will be food and music, kids’ activities, prizes and games, as well as first aid and CPR training, pet evacuation workshops, a blood drive and much more.

“It’s really geared toward the empowerment of individuals in our community,” said Gradiva Couzin, a Berkeley resident and CERT volunteer who has been helping organize the event. “Our goal is to help everyone recognize their own strengths, and what they can contribute and bring to disaster response.” … Continue reading »

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Gang violence, drug use, graffiti spark renewed push to clean up West Berkeley park

City maintenance workers have been cutting back and clearing out brush as part of an effort to clean up Strawberry Creek Park. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Stepped up police patrols, trimmed-back bushes and increased efforts to clean up graffiti around Strawberry Creek Park are among a slew of recent steps by the city following two troubling incidents in March, including a drive-by shooting nearby and the violent robbery of a Berkeley middle school student.

Community members around the West Berkeley park have been asking for help from the city to make changes. They cite frequent problems in the area related in part to its use as a hang-out by youth — including many who reportedly have gang ties. Drug sales and the smoking of marijuana at all hours are said to be regular sights. … Continue reading »

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At the Write Home Project, the young homeless are heard

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By Victor Casillas Valle

Nestled behind St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, on Bancroft Way in Berkeley, is one huge set of steel steps covered in rust and foliage. Walking up them, there’s a feeling of urban beauty, something that is calming with a rush of city excitement. Reaching the top, you enter a high-ceilinged auditorium with huge windows and an airy sense of natural light. Every Monday, the room is filled with conversation rising from the writing workshop, or occasional open mic, provided by the Write Home Project.

Conceived and run by two UC Berkeley alumni and working poets, Gabriel Cortez and Natasha Huey, The Write Home Project facilitates creative arts work by homeless youth (under 25). Write Home provides an outlet for its participants to be heard while they tell stories about, and create a dialogue around, the state of homelessness. … Continue reading »

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How quirky is Berkeley? The Giant Orange of Spruce St.

Giant orange at 722 Spruce St.  Photo: Colleen Neff.
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Of the thousands of examples of quirky material culture that I have seen in Berkeley, my favorite is a giant orange on Spruce Street. It has nothing to do with Roald Dahl, but everything to do with old, weird America, a brilliant phrase coined by Berkeley’s extraordinary cultural writer Greil Marcus. … Continue reading »

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Drone battle to come before Berkeley City Council

Two quadricopter drones, typical of the designs popular with hobbyists. Photo: Gregor Hartl/Ars Electronica
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More than a year after the Berkeley City Council asked three city panels to take a look at the use of drones around town, two starkly different recommendations are slated to come before officials in a special work session later this month.

The city’s Disaster and Fire Safety Commission has made a recommendation to allow the police and fire departments to use drones “for specific enumerated purposes in emergency situations.” Usage would have to approved by the city manager, police chief or fire chief.

But two other city bodies, the Peace & Justice Commission and the Police Review Commission, have asked council to declare Berkeley a “no drone zone,” citing concerns related to safety and privacy, among other issues. … Continue reading »

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Parking lot war at 1414 University in Berkeley heats up; owner attempts to fence off competing businesses

The owner of this parking lot at 1414 University Ave. does not want adjacent businesses using it. She sent a construction crew to erect a fence on Wednesday. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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The owner of the building at 1414 University Ave. attempted to install a fence Tuesday along the parking lot that she gained exclusive rights to in a contentious lawsuit last year. The fence would have blocked off access from the lot into a string of businesses known as Strawberry Walk.

Employees of Strawberry Walk, which borders the parking lot, arrived at work to find a contractor drilling holes in front of their sidewalk in preparation to install a 5-foot diamond-link fence. A Strawberry Walk tenant alerted the building’s landlord, Cecile Isaacs, who came to the site and asked the worker to show her his construction permit. When he said he didn’t have a building permit, Isaacs asked him to stop construction and called the city. … Continue reading »

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After a West Berkeley blaze, praise for the firefighters

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Eric Gellerman, owner of The Wooden Duck furniture store, says he has nothing but thanks for the firefighters who fought the blaze that engulfed a building on Second Street in West Berkeley on Saturday night.

The store’s warehouse is “a total loss,” he said Sunday. However, The Wooden Duck’s showroom and store, which fronts Eastshore Highway, was saved. Gellerman said it turned out that the wall between the store and the warehouse was 3 to 4 feet thick and held the flames at bay.

“Even the firefighters were amazed,” he said Sunday, while he and others mopped up water at the scene. “Apparently there were three ‘old-timers’ from Fire Station 7 in the Berkeley Hills to whom we owe a debt of gratitude,” he said. … Continue reading »

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Vintage baseball: Grit and gore, yes, but much more civil

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There were no victory dances when the Berkeley Clarions beat the Oakland Colonels on a recent Sunday at Albany Memorial Park. There were no high-fives, no fist-bumps, and no expletives from the losers. Such unruliness is not permitted in the gentleman’s game of vintage base ball — and high-fives won’t become standard practice until about 100 years in the future.

The Clarions, and the five other teams that comprise the Bay Area Vintage Base Ball (BAVBB) league aim to reenact the game of 1886, adopting the retro rules and rituals. Players of base ball — two words until the 20th century — want to harken back to an era predating $200 million contracts and performance-enhancing drugs. It’s baseball stripped down to the basics.

“People don’t realize the game has changed so much,” said Matt “Ranger” Petty, president of the league. “When they see modern baseball, everybody has bulky equipment and super salaries. There was a time when it was sort of a grittier game.” … Continue reading »

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

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CAL DAY This year, Cal Day‘s theme is “One day. A million stories,” but it should probably be “One day. A million things to do.” The annual UC Berkeley open house is filled with lectures, tours, family-friendly events and information sessions for prospective students. Highlights include an exhibit featuring “the most disgusting animal on earth,” a panel of Cal’s Nobel laureate professors, and a student fine-art sale. The campus will be abuzz with activity beginning 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 12. For full details, visit Cal Day 2014 online. … Continue reading »

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Free events celebrate Berkeley’s revamped libraries

Kids browse the bookshelves at the December 2014 opening of the South Branch. Photo: Richard Friedman
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Call it a “library warming.”

As a way to celebrate the completion of its branch renovation campaign – and highlight the dozens of community programs it presents each month – the Berkeley Public Library is hosting a month-long party.

The Branch Out! celebration will bring concerts, art exhibits, pop-up libraries at food truck gatherings, a sleepover party for stuffed animals, mindfulness meditation, and that beloved event – author readings – and much more to a branch near you in April. … Continue reading »

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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 woman terrorized by giant rat, or what exactly?

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It may have been April Fool’s day, but there was nothing funny about the fright Berkeley resident April Gilbert got when she spotted what she thought was a giant white rat right outside her window on Monday.

“I initially thought it was a gigantic — as in 15 to 20 lbs — white rat,” said Gilbert who lives on Russell Street. “It came up very close to my office window and sat looking at me for several minutes before waddling off along my fence. I felt a bit traumatized by the experience, especially on my namesake day, but managed to take some photos of it with my phone.” … Continue reading »

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