Archive for February, 2007

Worker Cooperatives

In past entries I have made brief mentions of the UC Berkeley housing cooperatives and the cooperative grocery that is in the planning stages. Berkeley is also home to a number of worker cooperatives — businesses that are owned by their workers. A few that I have spotted on my walks include:

  • The famous Cheeseboard Collective, which has been around since the late 1960s and is know for their selection of (of course) cheese, bread and baked goods, and pizzas.
  • Nearby, on Vine Street, is the Juice Bar Collective, a tiny shop that sells juices, sandwiches, desserts, and other take-out vegetarian food.
  • Inkworks Press, which prints exclusively on 100% recycled paper and uses vegetable oil inks. It has been fun to stop and look at some examples of their work, which up in the windows of their storefront in West Berkeley.
  • 924 Gilman, the music venue. I did a brief write-up about this venue awhile back, but one thing I did not mention is that you might pass by 924 Gilman without knowing what goes on there unless you are familiar with the venue or happened to go by there on the night of a show. Not much signage, and it just looks like a run-down unused building from the front.
  • La Pena Cultural Center, which hosts music and other performances from a variety of cultural traditions. A very colorful mural decorates the outside of the building.
  • The Berkeley Massage and Self-Healing Center. I walked by this place on University Ave. many times, but did not realize it was a collective until I grabbed one of their brochures one day. It has been around since 1969, and was restructured as a collective in 1988.
  • Pedal Express, the bicycle messenger service. Well, I haven’t actually seen their business location, but have spotted the bicycles around town on a couple of occasions.
  • The Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative, which sells bicycles and offers free bike repair classes.
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Wet Weather


Photo by Joe Reifer

Over the past month, as we have finally had some periods of rain, I have been asked whether I walk in the wet weather. Yes — I enjoy walking in a mist or light rain, but I do try to plan walks so that I do not get caught in a downpour. I also like being out on a walk right after a heavy period of rain, to observe its effects on the city environment. I have not seen too much heavy flooding, though water tends to accumulate at many street corners; I have wished on more than a few occasions that I had rain boots.

Growing up in the San Francisco area, I got used to hearing about the landslides that happen every year that we had heavy rains. The photos would regularly appear in the local newspapers showing a family beside their home in the Santa Cruz Mountains or up by the Russian River that had slid several feet down a hill. Despite knowing this, I was not aware until moving to Berkeley that there were concerns in the hills here as well. Up in the hills along the Hayward earthquake fault are zones where homes have slowly been shifting down the hill (sometimes even creating property line disputes) and where there is potential danger of more serious landslides. Despite the headache of dealing with the concerns that come with having a house in the potential landslide zone, it seems that many people are willing to take the risk (or would take the risk if the could afford to live there) for the chance to live somewhere where they can see the Golden Gate Bridge from their window or deck.

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Challenges of Walking in the Hills

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I map out a route for a walk before I go out, and write it on a piece of note paper to keep in my pocket. I carry a map as well, but try to avoid pulling it out to look at it on the way. In some areas of the Berkeley hills, I am finding this to be a bit of a challenge. A few times I have made the wrong turn or been unsure about which way to turn, mostly because not all intersections have street signs or even markings in the pavement. Getting really lost is not an issue — I know the major streets in the hills and landmarks can be used to figure out which way one is heading — but walking all of the streets in the hills is proving to be a much slower process than the grids of the flatter areas.

Walking up the hills has not proved to be too much of a problem. There are some steep ones, but most are winding and views at the top are rewarding. Near the beginning of this walking project, I walked Marin Avenue, which is probably one of the steepest streets in town, 25% grade in some places. I walk a few blocks of it here and there on other routes to get to other streets, but generally I avoid it. And I am always a bit nervous about crossing Marin as well — it is similar to the steep streets in San Francisco, where cars will drive up and over a bit into the crosswalk area to avoid rolling back on the slope, and the visibility isn’t always the greatest. I ran across the Berkeley Hills Death Ride (inspired by the Markleeville, CA, Death Ride over mountain passes) which is a bicycling challenge on the some of the steepest hills of Berkeley. I remember seeing a listing for this ride one year where the riders were to meet at Peets Coffee for triple or quad espressos before doing the ride. Which reminds me that I forgot to mention in my entry about coffee roasters that Peets locations all over the Bay Area seem to be favorite meeting spots for group bike rides. The Peets on Domingo Ave. in Berkeley seems to be one of the more popular locations for starting rides through the Berkeley hills.

Direction confusion and hill steepness were not big surprises to me, and really have not been major issues. The most surprising challenge in walking in the hills has been residents who seem concerned to see someone walking down their street. Particularly on dead-end streets, but also on other non-major streets, I have had people stare at me from their cars or the fronts of their houses, obviously wondering what I was doing there. What I am starting to realize is that you do not get glances if you are walking down the street in a jogging outfit and headphones, or if you are walking with a dog, but someone just walking in regular clothes (and especially alone) and looking around is suspicious looking to many people. I can certainly understand the concern — burglaries do happen in Berkeley as they do everywhere else — but it is kind of a strange thing that just walking without some other obvious motivation, such as exercise or walking your dog, is a suspicious activity. Of course this doesn’t stop me, and if someone asked I would have nothing to hide, but it is an interesting observation.

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Walking Near Tilden Park

The northeast boundary of Berkeley and of the area I am walking is Tilden Park. I originally thought that my walk of every street and pathway of Berkeley might include Tilden, but the park is actually located in unincorporated Contra Costa County. Although I like Tilden and its hiking trails, I am grateful that I do not need to walk the roads in the 2000-acre park, many of which are pretty hazardous for the pedestrian. Tilden offers hiking opportunities on a variety of levels — everything from a pleasant flat stroll to a strenuous trek up to Wildcat Peak or Vollmer Peak, plus a swimming lake, picnic areas, trails open to mountain bikes, steam trains, a botanic garden, a farm and environmental education center, and more. I have been pleased to learn from walking near the Tilden border that the park and its amenities are more accessible without a car than many other Bay Area hiking areas. For one, the 67 AC Transit bus runs every half hour or so from downtown Berkeley BART up through the park on weekends, and near the entrance on weekdays (line 65 also comes within a few blocks of the park). I also found that there a number of other ways to pop onto to trails in Tilden from the surrounding neighborhoods. This has been one of my favorite parts of walking near Tilden; to be strolling down the street and suddenly see a trail entrance.

A few days ago I was reading an article in the Chronicle about the Berkeley State of the City address, one of the focuses of which was a vision for a more environmentally sustainable Berkeley. In the article, one Berkeley councilmember was quoted as saying that the environmental goals were “very optimistic”; “It’s going to be very hard to change people,” she said. “In my district alone, we’ve got to stop people driving up and down the hill four or five times a day.” This statement reminded me of the observation that I have found that the most unpleasant streets for walking are not just near the freeway entrances. Cedar, Hopkins, and Marin are particularly car-choked, especially on weekdays from about 2:30 on, as people pick up children from school, run errands, and come home from work. These streets seems to have a constant stream of traffic as the main thoroughfares from the Highway 80 and the flatland areas of Berkeley up into the almost entirely residential Berkeley hills.

I am not the best person to come up with ideas for getting people to drive less and reducing the amount of traffic in the hills. My idea of what is doable in terms of walking is unreasonable for most people, and it is not my place to make judgments about how people use their time or the decisions they make about how they go about their lives. I have often thought that one area where traffic could be reduced is trips to parks and hiking areas. What if, for instance, shuttles (run on alternative fuel) ran every 15-20 minutes or so from transit hubs (such as BART or Caltrain stations) or downtown areas of Bay Area cities to the various city/county/regional/state parks? If you made it easy and pleasant, some people might be willing to leave the car at home rather than drive up winding roads and worry about finding a parking spot at the park. Realistically and logistically, this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, so we have to make do with what is available. I hope eventually to research the best car-free ways to get to parks and recreation areas in the Bay Area, as it is often confusing to figure out and sometimes involves two or three different transit agencies. Tilden, luckily, is fairly straightforward and not too much of a hassle if you live in Berkeley or near BART. I also want to know what the shortest route on foot is from a the North Berkeley and downtown BART stations to Tilden. One of the nice things about Berkeley’s stairways is that a pleasant walk could be had up the various stairways from the flatlands to the park, avoiding some of the steep and winding streets.

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Local Businesses: Coffee Roasters

In some of my posts about west Berkeley, I talked about some of the historical businesses in Berkeley. But what about more recent history? As I have continued my walking, I have found that there is quite a bit of territory to cover in the area of companies from Berkeley or that got their start in Berkeley. Perhaps one of the best-known Berkeley companies is Peets Coffee. Peets was nothing new to me before moving to Berkeley; when I was living in San Francisco in the mid-to-late ’80s I was well-supplied with Peets coffee thanks to various roommates and friends who worked there. But, I had never been to the original Peets location on Vine Street. Now Peets is all over the Bay Area, elsewhere in California and other states, and available in grocery stores. Definitely not huge on the scale of Starbucks, but it does seem like the number of stores is growing. One interesting thing about Peets in Berkeley is that there is a store/cafe in most of the neighborhoods: Downtown Berkeley, North Shattuck/Gourmet Ghetto, Solano Avenue, West Berkeley, Claremont/Elmwood, and (most recently) Telegraph Avenue. I thought it might be interesting sometime to do an all-day walk that stops at each of the Peets locations to compare all of them (building, customers, surrounding area, etc.) It would be one way to get a feel for Berkeley and its neighborhoods.

Of course Peets isn’t the only game in town for coffee, both in terms of cafes (more on this in a later post) and roasters. Over in West Berkeley, Uncommon Grounds roasts beans and supplies organic and fair-trade coffee to lots of local cafes and restaurants. Around the back of their Seventh St. roasting facility is their cafe that sells beans and brewed coffee and food. Blue Bottle Coffee is Oakland-based, but its retail start was a stand at the Berkeley farmers market. It is still available at the Tuesday and Saturday markets, and some of the microroaster’s early restaurant customers (such as Tacubaya and Sketch) were in Berkeley.

While doing some research on coffee I ran into a very interesting company from Ontario, Canada, called Cameron’s. Their list of environmental initiatives is pretty impressive: solar-dried coffee, biodiesel company car, incorporation of roasting byproducts in other applications, roasters run on photovoltaic power, etc., and apparently they use a bicycle grinder for some products at their farmer’s market booth. It made me wonder if this type of coffee business will eventually exist in Berkeley.

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Odds & Ends

This post goes against my usual style of talking about one topic or theme, but I have a slowly growing pile of bits and pieces related to past posts that I want to make sure I share:

If you are interested in further scholarly reading related to psychogeography, check out the Bureau of Public Secrets‘ situationist writings. Ken Knabb has translated a number of relevant texts, such as Formulary for a New Urbanism and Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.

Thanks to James and Georgia for their comments about taco trucks in response to my lunch trucks entry. As James points out, the term “foodie” is “misunderstood by the media to be a hoity toity rich persons moniker – which is absolutely does not NEED to be.” I couldn’t agree more, and the taco truck also provides an example where blogs and websites provide additional resources on a topic beyond the news. There a number of taco truck reviews online for various regions, including one for nearby Oakland’s taco trucks. Georgia noted an article from the local food magazine Edible East Bay that includes trips to both tapas bars and to taco trucks. Also of interest — awhile back I ran across Frugal Foodies, a Tuesday-night dinner series in Berkeley. I have not yet been to one, but it looks great. For $7 you get to help cook and eat a mostly organic feast. Some of the meals focus on specific ingredients or cuisines of the world, and there are guest chef nights.

Georgia, who I mention above, has great blog about neighborhoods called Local Ecology. Various cities are the focus of her posts, but she currently lives in Berkeley and has some interesting posts about Berkeley related topics such as livable (traffic-calmed streets), landmarks, and bicycling.

Berkeley, A City in History, a series of lectures at the Berkeley History Room of the Berkeley Public Library, offers a nice history of periods in Berkeley history. Apparently the History Room publishes a pamphlet of fiction set in Berkeley, which I definitely plan to check out.

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Backyard Chickens & Ducks

I have talked a bit about fruit trees and vegetable gardens in yards, but chickens and ducks are kept at some houses in Berkeley. How many home chickens and ducks exist in Berkeley is not a question I will be able to answer from my walks, because for the most part their owners keep them in the backyard. However, there have been several cases where I have heard chicken and duck sounds, and I’ve had a few glimpses of the animals themselves. One cooperative household I’ve walked by in central Berkeley lets their chickens wander in the front yard, and ducks swim in a bathtub next to the Ecohouse near the Ohlone Greenway. One of the stranger sightings of chickens was a year or so ago on University Avenue next to the now-open trail at the Santa Fe Right-of-Way. Kenney Cottage, a historic prefab cottage, sits on a raised site there, with the sign “Kenney Cottage Needs a Home.” (The photo at the bottom of the linked page shows what it looks like right now.) A couple of times I walked by there to find chickens pecking around underneath the cottage. A good setting for a Werner Herzog film.

Out of curiousity, I checked the Berkeley Municipal Code to see what it had to say about these sorts of animals. It looks like the main rules have to do with keeping domestic fowl from disturbing neighbors. You can have goats, but only two female goats over one year old. Herding is not allowed. And two cows are allowed in most areas as well. Most homes in Berkeley do not have much land for the keeping of livestock, so I would have been surprised by this code if I had not visited a house on a permaculture tour I took back when I first moved to Berkeley. This household, located just off of San Pablo Avenue, had chickens, rabbit, pigeons, and goats, and a huge food garden, in a 6,000-square-foot yard. It was really one of those experiences that makes me wonder what other interesting things happen in people’s backyards here in Berkeley.

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