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


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