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Seeing Possibility

Seeing Possibility

BY MATT DURNING //

Students at the Hatlen Center for the Blind in San Pablo, Calif., are learning skills most of us take for granted – life skills that will help them live independently. Now, after 36 years, the center has a chance to gain its own independence, right here in El Cerrito. Read the full story

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Electronic Waste Recycling

Electronic Waste Recycling

BY DANIEL MCGLYNN

It’s the weekend – the El Cerrito DMV is closed – but  a constant stream of cars flows through the Manila Avenue parking lot. Rather than the usual hurry-up and wait posture of the DMV line, these cars move through the lot with the efficiency of a well-run drive through. Read the full story

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Political Philosophies Divide School Board

Political Philosophies Divide School Board

BY N’JERI EATON//

At the December 10 meeting, the West Contra Costa County school board will discuss a new proposal that would have Richmond’s Leadership Charter School move onto the site of Castro Elementary School. The proposal was abrupt and some say it speaks to the discord among board members.

Veteran school board member Charles Ramsey placed the Leadership relocation on the agenda. Ramsey says that if Castro closes as planned in June, then they should consider putting Leadership at the site. The charter school is currently housed at Gompers High School in Richmond, which is also set to close at the end of the year.

The meeting’s original agenda was to swear in its two latest members: Antonio Medrano, a retired teacher and Tony Thurmond, a member of Richmond’s city council. The inaugural meeting usually has a celebratory spirit, filled with friends, family members and other supporters. However, Medrano believes the Leadership proposal was put on the agenda as a divisive strategy with the intent to get a lot of reaction. “To do that side run, on the remaining days of the old school board to me is not fair,” said Medrano. “I would use a stronger word but I’ll just say it’s not fair.”

Medrano is not only against the move but he also disagrees with how it was proposed. He only learned of the proposal through an email.  After talking with contacts at both schools, Medrano realized very few people were informed about the potential relocation. “We have to involve the community and it has to be transparent,” he said. Medrano believes the old school board members have a history of ignoring community input. “What they’re doing is indicative of what they’ve been doing for the last four years,” he said.

In fact, Medrano and others have said school board president Karen Pfeifer, Madeline Kronenberg, and Charles Ramsey had a tendency to vote together, creating a 3-2 divide that was impossible to penetrate. Valerie Snider, a member of the Save Castro Park and School group, says their alliance made the two remaining school board members, Audrey Miles and David Brown, “ineffectual.”  Brown decided not to run for reelection.

With this thought in mind, Snider and her group members directed their efforts to prevent Pfeifer’s reelection in November. Despite having over $100,000 in campaign contributions, Pfeifer lost the race. The election brought two new school board members, Medrano and Thurmond, with strong community ties. Snider believes their addition will change the dynamics of the school board and will provide school board member Miles with much needed support on votes. “We’ve broken that block now that Karen Pfiefer is gone,” said Snider. “And not only are we happy that she’s gone but we actually feel excited about Antonio Medrano and Tony Thurmond.”

Although many residents have embraced them, not everyone is happy with Medrano and Thurmond joining the school board. School board member Charles Ramsey is one of their most vocal critics. “I oppose both of them. They’re good people but I don’t believe we share the same philosophy,” he said.

Before they were even sworn into office, the new elects had their first challenge.
On November 12, the board held an open meeting to discuss school closure criteria.  President Karen Pfeifer was noticeably absent. The district’s superintendent Dr. Bruce Harter presented his case for the closures through a series of charts and graphs that illustrated the dire financial straits the districts now faces.

Enrollment has been steady decreasing over the last five years, an almost 12 percent decline since 2002. Year after year, expenses have continued to grow even as the budget shrinks. The district will need to cut $1.5 million each year for the next two years according to the approved budget. They plan to reach their goal by selling district owned property, reducing services, containing the costs of benefits and school consolidation. Closing an elementary school will save $300,000 and $800,000 for a middle or high school.

School board member Ramsey projects they will need to close five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.  Its tough.  It’s not a nice place to be,” he said. “Life does not have an infinite amount of resources. You have to try to make good decisions within the tax base that you have.”

Both Medrano and Thurmond believe the district should examine test scores, facility conditions and geographic equity of every school in the district before making a decision about closures. This would include even recently built schools such as LovonyaDeJean in Richmond and El Cerrito High School, a suggestion that increased the divide between them and the old board members. “I don’t think that’s compliant with our fiduciary duties to be good stewards of the money that we have been possession of,” said Ramsey. “I think that would be a tragic mistake.”

Save Castro leader Snider believes the school board had an obsession with rebuilding schools in El Cerrito. Before the November elections, three of the five school board members, including the president, were residents of the city. “They continually said El Cerrito needs a middle school. However this is not the El Cerrito Unified School District, its the West Contra Costa Unified School District,” Snider said.  Miles, Medrano and Thurmond are all Richmond residents who will bring attention to struggling area schools like Kennedy High and Adams Middle School.

The school board next major contention may also involve Castro’s site. The school is expected to close in June. However, that may change if Medrano has his way. “It’s not going to close. We have the votes to say no. The old board: yes. The new board: no,” he said.

The December 10 meeting will held at 6:30PM at Lovonya DeJean Middle School and will be last meeting of the year.

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VIDEO: Improved Safety Along Upper Fairmount Avenue

VIDEO: Improved Safety Along Upper Fairmount Avenue

BY MATT DURNING //

In October, the city of El Cerrito began work to improve the upper stretch of Fairmount Avenue from Richmond Street, just east of the Plaza BART station, to Colusa Avenue at Sunset View Cemetery.

Funded through the city’s redevelopment agency, the project has two key goals: to improve pedestrian safety and enhance physical beauty throughout this important community corridor. Read the full story

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SLIDE SHOW: San Pablo Avenue Looks to the Future

BY ALEXIA UNDERWOOD //

San Pablo Avenue is a major economic force in El Cerrito, supplying the community with everything from nail salons to novelty shops. Now, a new plan to regulate future development along this major thoroughfare is nearing completion.

Watch the slideshow below to learn more.

Read the full story

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For the Love of Rice

BY SWETA VOHRA//

Clear glass jars of red, white, black and bamboo-infused rice line the kitchen counters in the home of Caryl Levine and Kenneth Lee. Pictures of rice farms and farmers in exotic locations hang on the walls in the hallway. Books and articles on global agriculture, entrepreneurship, and rice cultivation are neatly stacked on a bookshelf and strewn across the coffee table.

These earthy images, products and colors don’t simply decorate the home; they illustrate the life that Levine and Lee follow. This quaint house on a quiet street in El Cerrito is the headquarters for Lotus Foods, Inc. Levine and Lee, co-founders of Lotus Foods, are self-proclaimed lovers of rice. But more than that, they are using their love of rice as a tool to connect Americans with small family farms in places like India, Madagascar and Bhutan.

Read the full story

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Gauchos Fall to Kennedy High 34-9 in First Round of Playoffs

BY FERNANDO GALLO//

The first year for Kenny Kahn as head coach at El Cerrito High was marked by comebacks: The Gauchos stormed back from an 0-3 start by winning six of their final seven regular season games, and came from behind in two of those wins with late touchdowns.  But the No. 8 Gauchos could not muster another rally on Friday night, losing to the No. 9 Titans of Kennedy High 34-9 in El Cerrito. With the loss, the Gauchos were eliminated from the NCS Division III playoffs.

Gaucho player Malcolm Carson watches the final minutes of El Cerrito's loss to Kennedy from the sidelines.

Gaucho player Malcolm Carson watches the final minutes of El Cerrito

“When you get to playoffs, you can’t play from behind,” Kahn said. “JFK of Fremont was able to show up and play with intensity, play with tenacity, play aggressively, where there were times where we looked timid.”

Read the full story

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Local Author – Dave Weinstein – To Speak

BY DANIEL MCGLYNN //

Author, historian and El Cerrito resident Dave Weinstein spent months of digging through piles of archived historical information – newspaper clippings from the turn of the last century, personal papers and images of what life used to be like in Berkeley – to create his recently released book, “It Came From Berkeley: How Berkeley Changed the World. Read the full story

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Is Cerrito Creek One of the Dirtiest in the Bay Area?

BY ALEXIA UNDERWOOD //

On a recent Saturday afternoon in El Cerrito, a small army of East Bay volunteers gathered at the end of Adams Road to reflect on their handiwork.

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SLIDE SHOW: Volunteers Rise Early to Restore Local Creek

On a recent Saturday morning in El Cerrito, a small group of East Bay citizens decided to forgo sleeping in.  Instead, coffee in hand, they gathered at the dead-end of Adams Street in El Cerrito to participate in one of Friends of Five Creeks’ weekly work parties to restore local creeks to their natural beauty.

Read the full story

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