Tag Archives: Kriss Worthington

Berkeley councilman Laurie Capitelli profited from $500,000 housing loan given to police chief, paper says

Laurie Capitelli, Espresso Roma, Berkeley, CA, Oct. 10, 2012.
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Update, Oct. 5: Councilman Laurie Capitelli issued a statement Monday to clarify his role in the purchase of a home by Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan in 2010 following a City Council vote the prior year to loan the chief money toward the purchase. Capitelli told Berkeleyside he never served as the real estate agent for the home purchase and did not split a $30,000 commission for the deal, contrary to what was reported Friday by the Bay Area News Group. Capitelli told Berkeleyside he received an unsolicited payment after providing another agent advice about sewer lines and creeks, which he says he now plans to donate to charity. He initially kept the money because he said he was advised by Berkeley’s city attorney that there was no ethical conflict related to the vote and his role in the later transaction.

Original story, Oct. 3: Seven months after City Councilman Laurie Capitelli voted in November 2009 to loan incoming Police Chief Michael Meehan $500,000 in public funds to buy a house, he helped sell Meehan a home and garnered a $15,000 commission, according to a report by Thomas Peele for the Bay Area News Group.

Capitelli had not been hired as Meehan’s real estate agent when he voted with the rest of the City Council to provide the housing loan. Consequently, he does not feel he broke any ethical boundaries, he told the newspaper. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley medical cannabis commissioner faces fraud and extortion charges

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The former chair of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission (MCC) is scheduled to appear in federal court today, Sept. 23, to face extortion, fraud and money laundering charges connected to his dealings with cannabis dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland and Las Vegas.

Daniel Rush, who used to serve as the executive director of the cannabis division of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 until he was fired in August, and who still sits on the MCC, faces more than 70 years in prison and a $1.27 million fine if convicted of the 15 counts with which he is charged.

In one of those counts, Rush, 55, is alleged to have offered special treatment to one of the applicants for Berkeley’s fourth dispensary spot. In exchange, Rush “demanded a well-paid job” from the applicant, according to the indictment filed Sept. 17 in federal court. The applicant is only identified in court papers as “Company A.”

Rush’s indictment has intensified criticism of Berkeley’s dispensary selection process by some applicants who had already been disqualified. But Zach Cowan, Berkeley’s city attorney, said the process was not tainted by Rush because he had nothing to do with the early stages of the selection process.

While Rush sits on the MCC, he has not played an active role in winnowing down the applicants to a smaller list, said Cowan. Rush has also promised to recuse himself in the future from any discussion or decision about the fourth dispensary, he said. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley council puts off minimum wage vote to Nov. 10

Labor advocates and workers rallied outside Tuesday night's Berkeley City Council meeting in favor of increasing the minimum wage. Photo: Mary Flaherty
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The Berkeley City Council voted late Tuesday night to hold off on a decision about a new minimum wage schedule, proposed by the city’s Labor Commission, that could increase the wage to $19 by 2020.

Seven council members voted in favor of the postponement, while Councilman Max Anderson and Councilman Jesse Arreguín abstained, after more than an hour of public comment. Approximately 31 people told council that workers cannot afford to wait for an increase, and about a dozen local business owners or their supporters asked the city to take more time to make sure their position is included in any decision to change the existing minimum wage law.

Read previous coverage of the minimum wage debate in Berkeley.

Council voted last year to increase the minimum wage annually to $12.53 by October 2016. The Labor Commission asked council to take a more aggressive approach, raising the minimum wage to $13 at that time, followed by annual increases through 2020 up to $19.

The Labor Commission has recommended the inclusion of paid sick leave and other factors in its proposal to make Berkeley’s minimum wage a living wage for workers who are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living in the Bay Area.  … Continue reading »

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Number of books weeded from library system under dispute

The Board of Library Trustees officially appointed Sarah Dentan, far left, as acting interim library director on Sept. 10. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The new acting interim director of the Berkeley Public Library pledged Wednesday night to reinstate some of the input and authority that librarians and staff lost under former Director Jeff Scott — but one of her staff members also suggested that the total number of items weeded out under Scott’s authority may have been closer to 19,000 rather than the 39,000 widely reported.

At a Berkeley Board of Library Trustees meeting, Sarah Dentan presented a report about the collections management process – a report that Scott was scheduled to present until he abruptly resigned on Aug. 31.

Dentan characterized the weeding process as more considered and thoughtful than has been portrayed by a group of former and current librarians. They have led a series of protests in the past few months to bring attention to what they saw as “draconian” book weeding. Along with City Councilman Kriss Worthington, they also raised questions about Scott’s truthfulness. For many weeks, Scott insisted that only 2,200 books had been weeded. However, after Worthington visited Scott in his office in mid-July and, with a few keystrokes, pulled up a list that showed that 39,000 books had been weeded, Scott acknowledged that the higher number was accurate. His change of tune made many, including members of BOLT, lose confidence in him. … Continue reading »

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City Council seeks to move meetings to West Berkeley

The BUSD Headquarters on Bonar Street. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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Update, Sept. 15 The neighborhood meeting has been moved to Sept. 24 because of a scheduling conflict, district spokesman Mark Coplan told Berkeleyside today. Coplan explained by email that “It is a neighborhood meeting like we conduct when there is going to be construction or something that will have an impact on the surrounding area. We are not posting it or encouraging a larger audience so that our neighbors have ample opportunity to discuss the impact.” The district will be posting fliers in the neighborhood, and inviting residents in Daryl Moore and Linda Maio’s districts around the West Campus “to come and share their questions, concerns and expectations with Daryl and Linda, facilitated by the superintendent and board president.” Added Coplan: “The impact of the city’s proposed pilot on our neighbors is the only issue that involves BUSD. Any town hall or larger discussion about the COB’s plans to move their meetings would be conducted by the city.” (See a meeting flier here.)

Original story, Sept. 2 The Berkeley City Council, set to resume its meetings later this month after summer recess, is exploring a potential move to West Berkeley to the Berkeley Unified School District’s meeting room on Bonar Street.

Last week, the School Board considered the request, and voted to hold a town hall meeting Tuesday, Sept. 15, to allow community members to give feedback about the proposal.

Council has been looking for a new meeting space since 2011. Its current meeting space at Old City Hall, the Maudelle Shirek Building at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is lacking in a variety of ways.

According to a June 23 staff report, “The physical condition of the building is very dilapidated and poses significant dangers. The capacity of the hall is not adequate to accommodate the public on nights when there is significant interest in agenda items. In addition, the safety of the elevator is precarious, the toilet facilities are not adequate and the sound system makes hearing the meetings very challenging for both the council and the public.” … Continue reading »

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Performance of Berkeley’s library director under fire at meeting of library trustees

Jeff Scott, far left at table, talks to members of BOLT before an Aug. 26 meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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More than 40 people expressed concern about the actions of the Berkeley Library director at a specially called meeting Wednesday night of the Board of Library Trustees.

Those who spoke publicly – who were supported by 40 observers  – not only complained about the aggressive book weeding policy put forward by Jeff Scott, the director, but about other issues, including what they perceive as a hostile working environment and a lack of honesty and trust. They said they thought Scott had lied to the community about the number of books weeded out. (Scott initially said he thought 2,200 books had been discarded this year. He later acknowledged that the real number was 39,000). Some also said they were punished for speaking out against the collections management policy.

As Scott sat at the front of the room, his head bowed as he took notes, in what must have been an excruciatingly difficult meeting for him, a number of the speakers called for him to be either fired or suspended without pay. Others asked for an independent investigation into the weeding process: how it occurred, what might have gone wrong, and what could be learned from it. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley library director admits vast discrepancies in numbers of weeded books

Berkeley’s Central Library on Kittredge Street: its collection is being weeded and not everyone is happy and how it’s being done. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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Over 39,000 items have been weeded from Berkeley Public Library this year, far more than the couple of thousand previously cited by Library Director Jeff Scott. The 39,000 items include 13,850 deleted last copies of books. According to Scott, however, the 39,000 items is comparable to the average weeded over the last two years.

“I had the wrong information,” Scott said. “There was an internal process different to what I realized.”

The vast discrepancies emerged following protests by an ad hoc group of retired librarians and other library users over a new system for deaccessioning, introduced by Scott. Two Public Records Act requests — by a Berkeley High student and a Bay Area News Group reporter — failed to produce either the number of weeded items or details on which titles had been removed. Councilman Kriss Worthington met with Scott on July 24 and, according to Worthington, he was able to find the real number of weeded items after Scott “pushed the right buttons” on his computer.

Worthington and the retired librarians are holding a rally at noon today, Aug. 12, on the main library’s steps protesting what he has dubbed “Librarygate.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley mayor nominates interim city manager

Dee Williams-Ridley
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The Berkeley mayor’s office has asked city officials to appoint Deputy City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley as interim city manager following the expected departure later this month of Christine Daniel.

Daniel announced in June that she would be leaving Berkeley to work for the city of Oakland as assistant city administrator. Her final day in Berkeley is set for Friday, July 24.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates announced Thursday afternoon in a prepared statement that he has formally asked the Berkeley City Council to appoint Williams-Ridley to serve on an interim basis until a permanent city manager can be selected.

The nomination is set to go before council at its July 14 meeting.

The mayor has recommended an annual salary of $225,000 for Williams-Ridley to match the current city manager salary, plus a $1,600 housing allowance. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley council open to proposals to end homelessness, but questions how to pay for them

Since Measure S failed in 2012, many say Berkeley's homeless population has only grown. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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At a special worksession Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council expressed interest in a raft of recommendations from an independent citizen panel related to how the city might change its approach to homelessness, but some officials said they remain unconvinced that the changes are something the city can afford.

The recommendations came from the Berkeley Homeless Task Force, which was initiated by Councilman Jesse Arreguín in 2013 after Measure S failed the prior November to win popular support, but sparked a broad community discussion about the city’s homeless. Since then, Arreguín said, the city’s homeless population appears to have grown, though official estimates won’t be available until fall.

“There is still clearly more we can do,” Arreguín said. “Berkeley can be a leader in ending homelessness.”

Read more about homelessness in Berkeley.

Tuesday night, Arreguín and Genevieve Wilson, one of the chairs of the panel, presented a series of recommendations for how the city might direct its funding in its efforts to end homelessness. They emphasized a “housing first” model, which they said has been endorsed by Alameda County and worked in other cities — ultimately leading to cost savings despite high initial start-up expenses. … Continue reading »

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Urban planning

Open house displays plans for Shattuck Square facelift

Shattuck Ave. Image: Google Maps
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Berkeley residents got their first look at the city’s plan to redesign traffic patterns around Shattuck Square on Tuesday night at an open house in the Aurora Theater.

The room was lined with illustrations of the project plans and grids where attendees could rate the current pedestrian, cycling and driving conditions of Shattuck Avenue. Around the displays, engineers, city officials and urban designers associated with the project were on hand to answer questions and provide additional information.

Read more about traffic safety in past Berkeleyside coverage.

The Shattuck Avenue reconfiguration and pedestrian safety project is a part of the larger Downtown Area Plan, which was adopted by the City Council in 2012 and encompasses environmental goals, transit and access, community health, economic development and more.

Among the most dangerous intersections in the city for pedestrians, the corner of University Avenue and Shattuck is number two on the list for pedestrian-car collisions and near misses. … Continue reading »

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Wireless carriers sue Berkeley over phone radiation law

Please destroy cell phones before entering: A front gate in Berkeley, Calif. Photo: Fragmentary Evidence
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A wireless trade association filed suit against Berkeley on Monday, claiming that the city’s new law requiring notification of possible radiation from cellphones is a violation of the First Amendment.

CTIA The Wireless Association filed the federal suit in the Northern District of California court.

“Berkeley’s Ordinance violates the First Amendment because it will require CTIA’s members to convey a message to which they object, and which is factually inaccurate, misleading, and controversial,” the lawsuit contends, according to The Hill, a Washington D.C.-based website that covers Congress, politics, and political campaigns.

One of the attorneys representing the wireless trade group is Theodore B. Olsen, who successfully argued to overturn California’s Prop 8 that banned gay marriage. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley passes cellphone ‘right to know’ law

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig and Devra Davis from the Environmental Health Trust at Berkeley City Council. Photo: Lance Knobel
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Berkeley City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed the first reading of a “Right to Know” ordinance to require cellphone retailers in Berkeley to provide consumers with information that warns them to keep a minimum safe distance between their bodies and their phones.

“The world is watching what you do tonight,” said Devra Davis, president of the Environmental Health Trust. “And you have the opportunity to do the right thing.”

The ordinance would require cellphone retailers to provide consumers with every sale or lease of a phone with a notice on radio frequency (RF) radiation exposure guidelines, warning that carrying the phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra could result in exceeding federal guidelines. City staff had assistance from Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Harvard, and Robert Post, dean of Yale Law School, in drafting the ordinance. Lessig has offered to defend the city pro bono if the law is challenged, as expected, by cellphone manufacturers.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Bicycle Plan workshop draws a crowd

Attendees at Monday's bike plan workshop gave feedback about what they like, and don't like, about cycling in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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More than 100 people turned out Monday night to offer feedback to the city of Berkeley, which is updating its Bicycle Plan for the first time in over a decade.

The city held a public workshop on the bike plan at the Central Library, complete with interactive exhibits, snacks and activities for children.

The plan itself, which was adopted in 2000, is an overview of the city’s existing bike networks, facilities and programs. It discusses local bike use, problems in the infrastructure and how cycling fits into the city’s overall sustainability goals. The update will help the city figure out how to improve its facilities going forward, and get a better sense of existing conditions.

Participants perused informative displays — many of which sought comments in various ways — that were set up around the library’s community room. They included data about who is cycling in Berkeley, the economic benefits of cycling, attitudes of local residents about cycling, funding for bike projects, collision information and much more.

Eric Anderson, a transportation planner for the city, called the turnout “incredible.”  … Continue reading »

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