Berkeley Briefs

Friday January 09, 2004

Planners Discuss UC Hotel 

The proposed downtown UC Berkeley hotel and convention center complex may give the city the opportunity to close the first block of Center Street to vehicle traffic and open a similar section of Strawberry Creek to the air.  

Both proposals were tossed out at a meeting this week by members of the Berkeley Planning Commission’s subcommittee on the project, who stressed that the city’s Center Street development proposals are proposals only, and still need several months of study before the subcommittee is ready to make recommendations. 

UC plans to buy the Bank of America branch at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street and replace it with a conference center, 200-room hotel, and bank. 

Kevin Hufferd, UC’s manager for the proposed project, announced at Tuesday afternoon’s meeting that the university is currently interviewing four development/architectural teams to manage the project, down from the original eight. Hufferd said that one of the teams will be selected by the end of January. 

At the same time, Mayor Tom Bates said he was continuing negotiations with UC Berkeley officials over whether or not the proposed complex is subject to the city zoning regulations. UC officials say it isn’t, while Berkeley officials insist that it is—with a major issue being how high the building will be able to rise. 

“Both sides want this project to succeed,” Bates said. “The city has the option of settling this in court, but that’s obviously not the way we want to proceed. We’re hoping we’ll be able to work something out.” 

Councilmember Dona Spring suggested that one compromise might be for the city to trade off a higher height limit for environmental concessions from the university, “including financial support for the opening of the creek.” 


—J. Douglas Allen-Taylor 

Gun Death Suit Delayed 

OAKLAND—A resolution to the long-running legal battle over responsibility for a shooting accident in which a 15-year-old Berkeley boy was killed will have to wait at least a few more months. 

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry Needham this week granted a continuance to Beretta USA, the maker of a 9mm semiautomatic handgun that Michael Soe, who was 14 at the time, used when he shot and killed Kenzo Dix on May 29, 1994. The two boys were good friends and neighbors on Tenth Street in Berkeley. 

When the case returns to court, it will be the third trial in the incident. The first resulted in a subsequently overturned verdict for the gun manufacturer and the second ended in December with a hung jury. 


—Bay City News 



Music Fundraiser Results 

Advocates for music instruction in the Berkeley schools will have to find a new way to get instruments back into the hands of fourth graders after their latest fundraiser fell far short of expectations. 

A holiday promotion with Rasputin Music netted roughly $2,750, a far cry from the $100,000 organizers hoped to raise to restore district funding cuts to the music program. 

“It’s disappointing,” said Bob Kridle of the district’s Music Committee. “I had totally miscalculated the possibilities.” 

During the holiday season, Rasputin bought all used merchandise collected by the schools and donated the buy-back price plus an extra 10 percent to the music program. 

In all, the store purchased roughly 6,000 CDs, tapes, records and DVDs at an average price just under 50 cents. 

The Rasputin promotion was the second major fundraiser for the music committee—a collaborative of parents and district employees—to plug a $100,000 funding gap from district budget cuts that ended instrument instruction for fourth graders and cut back music instruction for middle school students. A benefit concert held last May raised about $5,000, Kridle said. 


—Matthew Artz 



Toxic Fears Close Skatepark 

For the second consecutive winter, the city has closed its West Berkeley skatepark due to presumed contamination by the toxin made famous in the movie Erin Brockovich. 

City officials shut down the park indefinitely last month, Acting Director of Parks and Recreation Marc Seleznow said, after an inspection showed groundwater seeping through joints and cracks into the park’s concrete bowls.  

The park at Fifth and Harrison Streets was constructed above a plume of Chromium 6, a carcinogen traced to a color engraving company formerly located near the site. 

Previous instances of contaminated ground water infiltrations delayed construction of the park and doubled its price tag. 

Last winter, after heavy December rains, city toxic officials once again found Chromium 6 in the bowls of the park, forcing them to close it until June. 

Seleznow said the city so far hasn’t bothered to test the groundwater that seeped in this year, but is assuming it’s contaminated. 

He said this year the city has a treatment solution—a mix of Vitamin C and water—to decontaminate the bowls, but won’t bother applying it until winter rains subside for at least several days. 

—Matthew Artz