What you’ve missed in Berkeley’s news

Audrey McNamara/File

Here’s what you missed in the news since summer began.

Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris were arrested June 5 on 36 counts of alleged manslaughter.

Last December’s fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse resulted in 36 deaths, including two UC Berkeley students, Jenny Morris and Vanessa Plotkin; two campus alumni, Griffin Madden and David Cline; and one KALX volunteer, Chelsea Dolan.

Later on June 5, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced the charges in a press conference.

“Defendants Almena and Harris knowingly created a firetrap with inadequate means of escape, filled it with human beings and are now facing the consequences of their deadly actions,” O’Malley alleged at her office’s June 5 press conference.

Later that week, defense attorneys for Almena held a press conference, claiming their client had been made a “scapegoat.”

“Rather than go after the true wrongdoers in this case, the district attorney has chosen to focus on the weakest and most vulnerable members in this situation, and that is my client,” alleged Kyndra Miller, one of Almena’s attorneys, at her team’s press conference June 9.

Misuse of funds investigation

The investigation into outgoing Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ misuse of public funds — which determined Dirks’ failure to pay $4,990 — cost the university a total of $57,671, according to invoice documents obtained by The Daily Californian through a Public Records Act request.

The investigation, which cost more than 10 times the amount of the misused funds themselves, determined Dirks had violated university ethics rules by improperly obtaining a free campus fitness center membership, failing to pay for personal training sessions and using campus gym equipment in his private home.

“Our aim was to conduct a fair and thorough investigation. Without a similar investigation, it would be difficult to do a comparison or characterize the costs,” said University of California Office of the President spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez in an email at the time.

Dirks, who began his tenure as chancellor in 2013, announced his resignation in August 2016 after extensive public scrutiny over his handling of campus sexual misconduct and then-alleged misuse of public funds.

Cal Athletics

The Chancellor’s Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics released its long-awaited report June 5 and reached no consensus on cutting back on any of Cal’s sports programs.

The task force recommended an independent review of Cal Athletics’ finances and structure by a third-party consultant to focus on reducing administrative costs “not directly related to sports programs,” according to the report.

Kabam, Inc., separately came to a mutual agreement with Cal Athletics to end its naming rights partnership with Cal Athletics, leaving the department with $5 million and in search of a new sponsor for Memorial Stadium’s field.

Cal Athletics, which holds the most debt of any athletic department in the country, ran a $22 million deficit in the 2016 fiscal year.

The deficit is a product of campus interest payments for more than $400 million of debt after seismically retrofitting California Memorial Stadium and constructing the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance in 2012.

The athletic deficit has intensified a campuswide fiscal crisis in which campus administrators face the challenge of implementing measures to resolve a structural deficit of more than $100 million.

City of Berkeley: Mayor’s budget and Urban Shield

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín unveiled his fiscal year 2018 and 2019 city budget proposals Tuesday, prioritizing funding for programs that address homelessness and affordable housing issues.

Arreguín requested allocating about $1 million in funding for anti-displacement initiatives — the largest investment the city has made in this area, according to the mayor — and about $100,000 to create a “Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool” to fund services that will provide immediate assistance for local homeless populations.

Berkeley City Council will vote on the mayor’s budget proposal at its regular meeting on June 27.

On Tuesday, Berkeley City Council will also hold a special meeting to vote on the city’s continuation of Urban Shield, a Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative program that has been criticized for its alleged connection to police militarization and Islamophobia.

The University of California

The UC Board of Regents and the University of California Office of the President continue to deal with the aftermath of a scathing California State Auditor’s report released in April.

Among other charges, the office of State Auditor Elaine Howle raised a series of concerns with the transparency and approval process of UCOP budget expenditures and the status of university presidential initiatives.

Howle also alleged UCOP failed to disclose $175 million in budget reserve funds and interfered with campus state audit surveys.

The regents appointed an independent third-party consultant and law firm, including former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, to conduct a “fact-finding review of actions undertaken by the Office of the President,” according to a June press release issued by regents chair Monica Lozano.

UCOP and the regents also decided to no longer reimburse board members for private dinners and parties after the San Francisco Chronicle reported UCOP has reimbursed the regents more than $225,000 for private dinner parties since 2012.


Contact Bobby Lee at [email protected].