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A Painted Redstart took up residence in Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood in November, the first time the species had been sighted in Alameda County. Our story was one of many stories that readers told us they loved this year. Photo: Cal Walters

As 2013 draws to a close, we are reminded of what an event-packed year it was in Berkeley, California — although you might not know it if you weren’t reading Berkeleyside!

We already brought you what we considered the most important stories of 2013. Below, our selection of the stories that had grabbed attention for other reasons. Let us know in the Comments if we missed some of your favorites.

Biggest breaking news stories

Explosion on Cal campus prompts mass evacuation

Emergency personnel respond to an explosion and fire on the University of California in Berkeley, California, on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The explosion occured two hours after power went out across the whole campus. Photo: David Yee
Emergency personnel respond to an explosion and fire on the University of California in Berkeley, California, on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The explosion occured two hours after power went out across the whole campus. Photo: David Yee

On Monday Sept. 30 a power outage and subsequent explosion rocked the UC Berkeley campus and sent one student to the hospital. Berkeleyside provided a live blog of updates throughout the night, and continuing coverage in the following days.

What’s that weird smell in the air?

Photo: David Weinzimmer

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Oct. 8, many members of the public began reporting a strong smell of smoke around Berkeley. One resident reported a possible fire in Tilden. Berkeleyside jumped on the case and received confirmation from the Berkeley Fire Department that the heavy smoke was making its way over from an 8-alarm fire in Suisun City, in Solano County.

Readers were relieved to know what was going on and keen to share their experience of the odor through comments and photographs. “I thought my apartment was on fire smoke was so bad,” wrote one reader. “Thank you so much! Berkeleyside is the best fastest report always!” It took several days to bring the fire, which spread over more than 1,000 acres, under control.

3.2-magnitude earthquake jolts Berkeley awake


On October 15, a 3.2-magnitude earthquake jolted Berkeley awake at 1:07 a.m. It was followed by two smaller aftershocks in the area within 20 minutes, a third aftershock at 2:06 a.m., and another at 2:15 a.m. Initial reports placed the epicenter of the first temblor in Tilden Regional Park near Seaview Trail and Vollmer Peak Road, with a quake depth of 4.5 miles. Numerous Berkeley residents said it woke them up. Some called it scary, and others described it as small, but many noted that they most certainly felt it. And thousands of you turned to Berkeleyside for information and to share the experience.

Suspicious package brings out bomb squad

Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman

On Oct. 28, authorities closed Shattuck Avenue in both directions from Durant Avenue to Bancroft Way in downtown Berkeley while the Berkeley police bomb squad investigated a suspicious package. UC Berkeley evacuated Sproul Hall, the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and the lower Sproul construction site. The package was eventually rendered safe and determined to be harmless. It was later reported that the package was x-rayed and found to contain nothing more dangerous than coffee, which had been delivered to La Note restaurant, at 2377 Shattuck Ave.

High winds wreaks havoc around Berkeley

tree down
Photo: Pete Rosos

Strong winds throughout the North and East Bay took down hundreds of trees, knocked out power and sent debris, branches and leaves swirling through Berkeley streets on the night of Thursday Nov. 21. East to northeast winds from 35-39 mph were predicted, with gusts up to 45 mph. At elevations from 900-2,500 feet, winds got as high as 69 mph, and there was at least one East Bay death associated with the gusts. The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory, PG&E reported 37 outages affecting 7,561 customers in Berkeley, and the Berkeleyside community shared their stories.

What’s that weird smell in the air — again?

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Photo: Redwood City Fire

Berkeleyans thought twice about going on a run or strolling in the park with their kids on Nov. 11 when they detected what was variously described as an “acrid,” “toxic” or “metallic” smell in the air. Contacted by Berkeleyside, the Berkeley Fire Department said the unpleasant odor was caused by a fire in a metal recycling yard near Redwood City. More than 50 firefighters battled the blaze before putting it out.

The biggest ‘watchdog’ stories

City releases social security numbers in error

Photo: Emilie Raguso

On April 23, it emerged that more people than previously thought had their social security numbers inadvertently released to a local news organization due to an error by a city of Berkeley employee. City Manager Christine Daniel (pictured left) said that the social security numbers of about 11,000 active and former employees were included in its response to a public information request about salaries from the Bay Area News Group in March. Daniel subsequently told Berkeleyside that the city had changed the way it will handle similar requests in the future to ensure that private employee information will not be released again.

Public art is a casualty at Berkeley Animal Shelter

animal shelter
Photo: Emilie Raguso

In August we brought you the news that Berkeley’s new $12.4 million animal shelter was not decorated with public art because city staff skipped out on the municipally mandated public art process during construction. Since the project’s inception in 2002, shelter plans had run into a range of obstacles, from difficulty finding an appropriate site to a series of cost overruns. As a result, Deputy City Manager William Rogers told us, the city decided not to set aside $142,500 of its budget for public art, despite a Berkeley ordinance that requires municipal projects to do just that.

The most dysfunctional intersection in the United States?


Berkeleyside readers call the area “a ridiculous mess” and “the most dysfunctional intersection I have seen anywhere in the United States.” So we set out to find out what, if anything, the city has planned for the intersections at Gilman and Interstate 80 in West Berkeley — not least in the wake of the news that a new Whole Foods is coming to Gilman. The city admits the area has become “overwhelmed” and the right-of-way for motorists “is confusing, leading to conflict and collisions.”

The most quirky stories

Invasion of the tiny bugs

Photo: Micah Daigle
Photo: Micah Daigle

On Friday Nov. 1, scores of readers got in touch with Berkeleyside editors to alert us to the swarms of tiny insects that appeared to be taking over the city. “What do your sources say about the massive invasion of tiny flies (gray w/ white fuzz) in Berkeley this afternoon?” Katherine Baylor wanted to know. Within minutes, we had the answer: they were Adelgids (close relative to Aphids), probably all males flying to look for the flightless females. “I am not sure what it means other than it was a beautiful day for flying today,” said a UC Berkeley entomologist.

The case of the mysterious Post-it notes

Post it
Photo: Postette

Earlier this year, Berkeleyans began to notice a slew of mysterious Post-it notes cropping up all over town — at street crossings, bus stops, and on park benches. The notes, in different colors, tended to carry sweet and thought-provoking little messages on them, such as “Let Me Go — The Past,” “Look For Me — Beauty,” and “Where The Hell Are You? — The Love of Your Life.” What were they all about, our readers wanted to know, and who was behind this blossoming of inspirational missives? We decided to try to investigate, because that’s just what we do, and published our findings in November.

The most heartwarming story

Neighbors throw surprise party for much-loved mailman

Young and old turned out to throw a surprise farewell party for a Berkeley mail deliverer in July. Photo: Rob Adair

In July, a secluded little section of Peralta Avenue was adorned with blue balloons and smiling faces as neighbors waited to surprise their beloved mail carrier of 23 years with a farewell celebration. When mailman Mack Paige, who was retiring, turned the corner onto the street his eyes filled with tears. Aww shucks…

Berkeley resolutions for 2014 – and how 2013 went (01.01.14)
Biggest Berkeley crime stories of 2013 (12.31.13)
The most important Berkeley stories of 2013 (12.30.13)

Help us bring you more great stories in 2014. Please consider chipping in and becoming a Member for as little as a quarter a day!

The Berkeleyside team would like to wish all our readers a happy, healthy and fulfilling new year!

Berkeleyside is Berkeley, California’s independently-owned local news site. Learn more about the Berkeleyside team. Questions? Email