Puck Nonfiction 

Save Berkeley Iceland? Magic 8 ball say "pipe dream." Revive the electric car? Magic 8 Ball say: "Reply hazy, try again."

Wanted: Miracle on Ice: Perhaps thirty people, mostly concerned parents and their concerned kids, met last Saturday morning in the soggy, sickly-yellow-walled "ballet room" at the rear of Berkeley Iceland. They sat on dented, beaten folding chairs and dodged water from the leaky roof as they tried to brainstorm how to raise, oh, about $8 million to rescue Iceland from imminent closure.

Their chances of success? Picture an ice rink in hell.

The group, Save Berkeley Iceland, formed about a month ago hoping to buy its beloved namesake before someone else turns it into something else. The seller, East Bay Iceland, lets the would-be saviors meet on the premises, but that's as far as the courtesy extends. The company plans to shutter the Berkeley facility permanently on March 31, and if it finds a buyer before the group is ready, too bad.

The current asking price is $6.4 million, and the facility needs roughly $2 million in immediate upgrades, meaning these concerned parents have to raise a load of cash very quickly. Then comes the challenge of keeping the rink in the black, something its for-profit owners struggled with. Credit the group, at least, with positive thinking. "I know that the money is out there," says Caroline Winnett, who grew up skating at Iceland and whose two children now skate there. "There's no question it's out there. It's just a matter of time."

Although the group has collected a few thousand supportive signatures, its plans are still a little tentative — "nascent," in Winnett's words. Members hope to form a nonprofit to enable tax-deductible donations. They've approached Berkeley officials about helping out, receiving mild encouragement from the same city folks who essentially forced the rink to close in the first place. They've also discussed soliciting donations from the California Coastal Conservancy or the YMCA. Winnett hints at interested, well-heeled East Bay organizations.

But such things take time, and time is what they may not have. The facility could sell next year, or next week. Real-estate agent John Gordon says he's had some interest, but not from anyone who would preserve the rink. "We've talked to a number of operators who looked at it and just couldn't see any way to make it work," he says. It would be premature to comment on the rink-rescuers, he adds, since they are so far from being able to make a bid.

Thus we can expect more urgency at future Saturday mornings in the ballet room, or perhaps a "nascent" belief in miracles. Hey, it worked for the US hockey team in 1984. - Eric Simons

Reviving the Electric Car: On a rainy Saturday morning, some forty people - mainly couples and families - hobnobbed around three mini plug-in vehicles at the O'Connell Electric car dealership in Alameda. Husbands looked under the hoods, a young scamp sat in a driver's seat pretending to steer, and some kids with an electric scooter took turns doing circles in the garage. "This is really exciting! This is the first electric car dealership in the East Bay!" exclaimed Mayor Beverly Johnson, eliciting cheers from the grand-opening crowd.

Well, it's not quite the first. ZAP of Concord has been selling electric cars at Concord's California Auto Plaza since November. Car, actually. See, the little dealership has not been doing so hot. The publicly traded, Santa Rosa-based ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) produces two models - the four-seat Xebra sedan (about $10,000) and the two-seat pickup truck (about $12,000) - both of which ride on three wheels, reach a max of 40 mph, and go about 25 miles per charge.

Given those limitations, the Plaza's salesmen have managed to sell just one vehicle to date, although, to be fair, ZAP of Concord owner Patrick Fogarty has been operating his business from out of state. "I think it's difficult to sell a city-only vehicle unless it's supercheap," he said. "We're asking $10,000. The one I sold, it sold for $9,000. At that price, we can't make much of a profit."

Steve Lowery, a partner in O'Connell Electric and a physician at Alameda Hospital, is nonetheless confident that Alameda residents will be receptive. "There's a lot of people that want an alternative," he said. "I know it's not a Lexus, but this is where we see our future."

"It's not going to be for everybody," agreed Lowery's partner, Mike O'Connell, who runs O'Connell Electric out of his Volvo service center.

But for those seeking alternatives to gas guzzlers, Alameda's ZAP dealership is a welcome addition to the limited electric-car market. Lowery was an early enthusiast who leased an electric ride from Alameda's CalStart before the program was canceled in 2001. For a time, electric cars were the wave of the future, but, as documented in last year's documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, various business and political interests have conspired to keep the technology from succeeding in the marketplace.

At the time ZAP came along, Bay Area electric vehicle enthusiasts had to choose between the pricey Tesla Roadster (about $100,000) and DaimlerChrysler's glorified golf carts ($6,795 and up). The latter recently made news when one caught fire and burned a building at San Francisco's Crissy Field, the second such incident in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Lowery said ZAP cars fill a niche for families wanting a second car to run errands, or for teens whose parents don't want them to drive too fast or too far. Already, O'Connell noted, about twenty people have signed up to buy a vehicle. Donna Eyestone wasn't one. She test-drove the Xebra at the grand opening, hoping it could replace her Prius, but couldn't get past the e-car's limitations. Still, she's glad it's available. "I bought my Prius in 2002 because my CRX died," the stay-at-home mom said. "I would have liked to have more options, but I desperately needed something. It's 2007 and there's not many more choices." - Kathleen Richards


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