.Cube, Sweet Cube

Eco-biz from the ashes; Moon fish in hot water; E-ville leader talks the walk; footballers find new fantasy HQ; car buffs rev up online.

Cube, Sweet Cube: North Berkeley neighbors David Wilson and Michael Kozel may be the only Home Depot customers in history to buy six tons of ready-mix concrete, use it as they’d intended, and then return it for a full refund. The pair needed to test the durability of a 25-foot structure they’d built to ensure that it wouldn’t collapse under the weight of scores of Burning Man revelers. So they lined the floors and roof of the open-air two-story box they later nicknamed “The SugarCube House” with bags of concrete equal to three times the weight capacity required by the local building code. It held.

In early September, fifty people watched from the Cube’s roof as the forty-foot wooden effigy went up in flames. Afterward, many more clambered up the ladder to the roof or stayed below to check out artwork that “burners” had painted on its white walls. “We were a little nervous that night,” admitted Wilson, an engineer. “But we came back the next morning, and there it stood.”

He and architect pal Kozel, along with a handful of volunteers, had thrown up the Cube in just four days, and not merely to provide a stellar fire view. They were debuting an eco-friendly architectural model they hope will soon be used far and wide in applications from disaster relief to permanent housing.

Their patent-pending interlocking design uses only recycled wood and doesn’t require a foundation, so there’s no concrete to emit climate-warming carbon dioxide. The structure features thick, energy-preserving walls and floors, and it’s both light and cheap, Wilson said. It can be built on hillsides or in flood zones, and doesn’t require sophisticated carpentry skills to erect. Best of all, it’s 100 percent reusable. The 16,000 pounds of materials used to build SugarCube, which took three days to deconstruct, now reside in a Sacramento barn, awaiting their next incarnation.

Wilson and Kozel say they are in talks with a major lumber manufacturer, and hope to soon have a local project under way. “We’re approaching this whole thing from the vantage point of hope instead of fear,” Wilson explained, echoing this year’s Burning Man theme. “Here’s a potential solution to global warming.” — Lauren Gard

Little Fish, Big House: Kevin Thompson, reverend of the East Bay’s only Unification Church, pleaded guilty last week to felony conspiracy for running the largest baby-leopard-shark poaching ring in US history. Thompson, 48, of San Leandro, is scheduled to be sentenced in January in Oakland federal court.

Thompson was arrested and indicted earlier this year after federal investigators discovered that he and at least two congregants of his San Leandro church had hauled more than six thousand juvenile leopard sharks from San Francisco Bay (see “The Moonies and The Sharks,” feature, 7/12). He and his coconspirators then sold the exotic and beautiful fish to home-aquarium owners around the world. It is illegal to possess or sell baby leopard sharks under both federal and state law.

It’s unclear whether Thompson’s superiors, including the church’s supreme leader, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, had sanctioned his illegal activities, or whether Thompson has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. His plea agreement was filed under seal and Assistant US Attorney Maureen Bessette said she would not comment on the case until January. His attorney, Frank McCabe, did not return a phone call seeking comment. — Robert Gammon

Pedestrians Wanted: It’s not that John Fricke hates cars. He has one himself, after all. He just thinks Emeryville has enough of them. And with all its pending new developments, he foresees the city being choked by traffic.

That’s why Fricke, who was elected to the Emeryville City Council last November, made a radical proposal at a joint meeting of the council and the planning commission earlier this month: He moved to prevent developers from including parking spaces in the price of the condos. “It’s okay to build new housing units,” the smart-growth advocate says. “It’s okay to build them with some parking. But it’s impossible to continue to build like Emeryville is building and give free parking.”

Under Fricke’s proposal, condo residents would have the option of paying a monthly parking fee. He also wants to lure car-share companies into Emeryville developments. “I don’t want to get rid of all cars,” he says. “I just want to peel off that group that is on the edge.”

Problem was, Fricke didn’t test the political waters in advance. Going into the council meeting, he was somewhat in the dark about how he would be received. “No one sticks their neck out too far,” he explains. “So you try to get an intuitive read on where people are.”

Unfortunately for the rookie, his colleagues have responded with varying degrees of skepticism. Councilman Ken Bukowski, for one, said he was somewhat open to Fricke’s proposal, but called for more study and discussion. “We don’t have the same parking crunch that we had during the dot-com era,” he noted. Richard Kassis, who wasn’t at the meeting, is less amenable. “I think it’s unrealistic,” he says. “I don’t think you can force people to become transit-dependent.”

Fricke, in other words, was politely shot down. Developers, certainly, would be wary of such a plan. “We don’t have people that don’t have cars that live in our units in Emeryville,” says Steve Kalmbach, division president of Pulte Homes, which is currently building its fourth condo development in the city. “It would be difficult for us to support something like that.”

Fricke acknowledges he was disappointed. “I felt like the consensus was a little more in my direction than it seems to be,” he says. “So that is discouraging.”

If Emeryville weren’t in the midst of a building boom, Fricke says, a more measured approach would be appropriate. But four large projects either being developed or pending approval within a half-mile radius of the intersection of Powell Street and Christie Avenue are slated to include more than one thousand new parking spaces. “These developers, they have very smart people consulting with them, but they don’t seem to realize that if they cause severe traffic congestion in Emeryville, then people aren’t going to want to come here to shop,” he says.

Fricke doesn’t buy the notion that banning free parking would stifle housing demand. “There are three rules of real estate: Location, location, location,” he says.

His plan B is to let constituent know what he wants to do, and bring up the parking issue with his colleagues again within the next couple months, before more developments get approved. “It’s too late for half measures,” he says. “We need to discuss this and come to a comfort level and implement it.” — Jonathan Kaminsky

Movable Fantasy: After new owner Doug Miller took over Piedmont Avenue drinking institution Kings X last fall, more than just the multiple televisions and corner bar atmosphere were shown the door.

A year after it opened in 1968, Kings X became the very first Fantasy Football clubhouse, hosting a league that at its peak boasted six divisions, sixty teams, and more than a hundred participants. Fantasy Football, a pastime hugely popular with the male of the species, has since become more of an online affair. The Kings X league has nonetheless managed to survive over the years, bringing in a few young pups to supplement the old-timers.

Its clubhouse, however, has not. The footballers say Miller, who refashioned Kings X as a tiki bar and renamed it the Kona Club, made it clear he wanted no part of the storied league. The younger, hipper customer base he cultivated at Thalassa Bar & Billiards in Berkeley and Club Mallard in Albany didn’t quite mesh with the King’s aging, sports-addled clientele. Miller could not be reached by press time.

So the league went searching for a new home and landed at another Oakland stalwart, the Grand Oaks restaurant near Lake Merritt. Owner Roger Ham says he was reluctant at first. These people won’t drink, he fretted, and they’ll drive off other customers.

His fears proved unfounded. In a tradition carried over from Kings X, team lineups had to be dropped off at the restaurant in person. (In Fantasy Football, each participant drafts an all-star team of pros that wins or loses based on the players’ real-world stats.) This point of order is often followed by an early-bird dinner or a few rounds at the bar. Familiarity has turned many participants into full-on regulars. “I basically live there,” admits Diane Schave, who posts weekly standings on a large board in a back room devoted to the league.

Ham says he’s seen sales increase more than 10 percent since the league adopted his place. “Dinner went up crazy with them over here,” he says.

The move also brought back some league traditions. Original Kings X owner Andy Mousalimas would offer a sit-down prime rib dinner on draft night. When he sold the bar in 1991, the new owner kept the league, but ditched the kitchen. Last month’s draft once again featured a full sit-down meal.

Despite the happy ending, you might imagine league veterans grumping over the latest owner’s preference for all things Polynesian. But over drinks at the Kona Club last week, Mousalimas took in the menacing totem poles behind the bar and the red blowfish hanging from the same four-by-fours he’d attached to the ceiling decades earlier and declared it all good. “I love this place,” he cooed.

Mousalimas is sympathetic to the new management. After all, he, too, did a complete remodel before opening Kings X. “We had to change the ambiance,” he recalled. “We wanted good people. We didn’t care if they were blue-collar or professional. … The local people cussed me out. They said, ‘The Greek won’t last six months.'”

Forty years later, he’s at peace with all of it. His only gripe? A Contra Costa Times article earlier this year calling Kings X a “biker-dive-slash-sports-bar.” Flipping through a scrapbook, he pointed to a seemingly endless array of clippings and photographs showing the classiness his establishment exuded. “Does that look like a biker bar to you?” he asked emphatically.

As he got up to leave a while later, Mousalimas took a last, sidelong glance at the back room, which still had an old table of his in it. “I hope they make it,” he said. “I really do.” — J.K.

For Every Passion, a Dogster: If making auto-fiend friends in the real world has proven tough, there may be a one-word solution to your woes: Boompa. Granted, it’s not the catchiest name in the world for a social networking site for car lovers, conjuring up images of dancing Chocolate Factory midgets rather than slick vintage rides and tricked-out Toyotas, but it sounds friendly. And that quality — along with its whimsical, highly interactive nature — is just what Berkeley-based founders Ethan Lance and Dave Snider hope will make it distinctive.

“I’m not really interested in having a social network like MySpace where you have tons of idiots,” says Lance, who named the site after his auto-buff grandpa. “I want people on Boompa to be quality.” Five months after its launch, the site draws about 60,000 unique visitors a month. That’s a fraction of bigwig competitor CarDomain.com, which launched in 1998, but slow and steady is fine by its founders. “The key for us is to get really smart people who really know their cars and can spell properly,” he says.

Lance and Snider honed their skills at CNET, where they worked on popular user-contributed sites TV.com and the reincarnated MP3.com. Snider quit at the end of 2005 and Lance soon followed. They found office space on Durant Avenue and spent eight weeks cranking out code, sleeping on the floor, and subsisting on grub from the Top Dog next door.

As with the handful of other auto-networking sites out there, Boompa users can create profiles, upload photos and videos, and post comments. But on Boompa, they can also blog, catch up on car-related news, join niche groups, share detailed how-to guides (such as how to remove a bumper or properly use a doggie seatbelt) and wax poetic about their bicycles, boats, and planes. And while classified ads or a store are par for the course on most car sites, you can’t buy zip on Boompa.

Ted Rheingold, a Boompa fan whose flourishing Dogster Inc. picked up $1 million from angel investors earlier this month, said that when he ventured into the social-networking realm in 2004 he imagined he might build an auto site himself. “When I saw Boompa,” he said, “I thought, ‘Ah, someone finally made a car site that reflects the passion of car lovers.'” He predicts that networking sites will slowly overtake forums, just as forums have largely replaced online mailing lists. “I think that every single passion is going to have a Dogster or a Boompa, which gives people the ability to communicate in a much more in-depth manner.”

Within the next two months, Lance and Snider’s company Enemy Kite (don’t ask) will debut a second project that has nothing to do with cars. They hope to ultimately churn out four new sites a year — and you can expect more unconventional names.

“The hardest thing is to get the word out when the name of a site is really goofy,” Lance says. “But when it really starts to grow, it’ll stand out.” — Lauren Gard

Silver & Black Eye: DATE: 9/20/2006
FROM: [email protected]
SUBJECT: Raiders Terror Scare
OAKLAND, California (AP) — Oakland Raiders football practice was delayed nearly two hours today after a player reported finding an unknown white powdery substance on the practice field. Head coach Art Shell immediately suspended practice and called the police and federal investigators. After a complete analysis, FBI forensic experts determined that the white substance unknown to players was the GOAL LINE. Practice resumed after special agents decided the team was unlikely to encounter the substance again.

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