Dealing With Those Ants

We have arrived at ant season.  Somehow, these very small ants find their way into interesting spots around the house.  They arrive in battalions, sneaking through cracks and door jams and other unknown sources.  Even if you are very clean, they still appear inside older homes.

Ant Triptych

I wonder how they decide to make their formations.  Often they walk in line on the floor, playing follow the leader’s scent.  Sometimes they choose to fan out a bit, in a corner.  Occasionally they break from organized teams, trying to find something interesting to explore.

Regardless, they are an easy target.  The mass murderer arrives – that would be me – fully armed with appropriate carcinogens from the supermarket.  I have a lemon fresh variety this season, and generally spray into a location.  Then I unceremoniously pick up the remains with some tissues and flush them away.

After a while, I forget these creatures ever graced the place – until fresh rains arrive and a new group decides to visit.  History repeats itself every year.

Housing Prices Dipping Slightly, Sort Of

Given the credit crisis underway, you might expect to see downward pressure on our local real estate.  Yet our listing prices, courtesy of, seem fairly solid so far.

If you stare long enough at the monthly numbers, then you’ll detect a slight softening for two and three bedroom homes.  Listing prices have dipped slightly over the past two months – but it’s hard to call this a trend.

94611 Real Estate Prices

Surprising to me, because banks have pulled back on easy mortgages and increased their down payment requirements.  I’m wondering when this tightening will impact real estate listings in the 94611 zip.

There are plenty of other influences playing here.  Our available inventory isn’t that large, which may buttress prices.  On the other hand, there are foreclosures which naturally push down numbers.

It would be good to revisit these prices, as a bellwether for our area.

Park Blvd Light Goes Live, Tomorrow

Well, this has been a long time coming.  The Park Boulevard exit from Highway 13 has been graced with a brand-new traffic light, which has been “in mothballs” for a while.

Tomorrow the light will finally get turned on.  [On December 3rd, the traffic light went live.]

Traffic Light Tree

Depending on your commuting behaviors, this new light could be a blessing or a curse.  It’s easy to imagine a build-up on the highway during the rush hours – but we won’t know until the reds, yellows and greens are lit.

What was the hold-up?  We believe the PG&E staff changed and its work queue fell apart.  The power company plans to turn on the juice now, we’ll see.

November 29th Update:

According to City Council rep Jean Quan, “PG&E turned on power at the traffic signal on November 19th, as promised.  The City is now working with the contractor to complete all items on the final punch list.  This includes installing signs, pavement markings, barricades, photoelectric units, security locks, grounding, minor foundation work, clean-up, and tree trimming.  Note that all work is subject to inspection and approval by the City and CalTrans.  When all items on the final punch list are completed, the City will activate the traffic signal.”

Do Oakland Closures Save Enough Money?

The City of Oakland will save *a little* money by closing its offices one day/month.  We seem to be timid about asking city workers to feel the pain, though.

On the day before Thanksgiving, the City of Oakland will shut down all non-essential services.  Our police and fire departments stay opened, along with Head Start and a few other places.

Shut Happens

Last week, the Oakland Tribune confirmed these monthly closures through June, as well as regularly scheduled closures between Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

There are also cuts in police overtime, five percent reductions in base pay, and $430k savings from the Mayor’s Office.  There’s no question all these actions will help, as every penny matters now.

However I’m an advocate for cutting back further. Start by looking at Silicon Valley as an example, where many engineers and knowledge workers toil away.  These tech sector employees aren’t exactly landed gentry anymore.

Since the cold winter arrived last month, Silicon Valley managers and staffers have been laid off in droves while others have taken large cuts in take-home pay.  Everything is slowing and cash must be conserved – and these businesses cannot operate with Oakland-like deficits.

With that in mind, it’s tough to say that Oakland has gone far enough. I’m unable to inspect city salaries, yet understand (but cannot verify) that we pay pretty well compared to other cities.  Oakland is almost treating employment like an entitlement program.

City workers don’t seem to be giving up much, yet.  With offices closed one day per month, these workers will sacrifice 1/30th of their pay.  They should be able to keep their health and other benefits without problems.

So while I’m pleased that Oakland’s taking some steps to conserve, they could cut more deeply like their private industry counterparts.  Is this simplistic?  Do you agree?

Stop Your Jaywalking

Stop your jaywalking, while running errands or shopping in Montclair Village.  According to the buzz, our cops will begin actively ticketing pedestrians for committing this crime and breach of etiquette.

Local merchants watched the police hold court on La Salle last Thursday and Friday.  A few confirmed that cops were warning jaywalkers, yet stayed focused on ticketing folks who drove through crosswalks while pedestrians were still there.

No Jaywalking

According to eyewitness Laurel Strand, the cops “were actually holding up traffic yesterday while ticketing motorists in the middle of La Salle – kind of a surreal scene as the merchants and pedestrians all outside watched the ticketing as a strange form of entertainment.”

Roger Vickery, director of the Montclair Village Association, explained that Oakland Police were responding to community requests, and will “be back to address jaywalking and motorist behavior in the future.”

“Village merchants want the laws obeyed but not to the point where shopping in the Village is affected,” said Vickery.  “Perhaps with a bit more cooperation between pedestrians and motorists we won’t have the need for OPD enforcement.  I would seriously welcome that.”

So what is jaywalking?  Well, it means crossing the street between intersections where there are lights, stop signs, and obvious crosswalks.  To clarify, here are relevant excerpts from the California Legal Codes:

  • Code 21955:  Crossing Between Controlled Intersections – Between adjacent intersections controlled by traffic control signal devices or by police officers, pedestrians shall not cross the roadway at any place except in a crosswalk.
  • Glossary 445:  Official Traffic Control Signal – Any device, whether manually, electrically or mechanically operated, by which traffic is alternately directed to stop and proceed and which is erected by authority of a public body or official having jurisdiction.
  • Code 21950:  Pedestrians At Crosswalks – (b) No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.  No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

Don’t know about you, but I have definitely parked on La Salle or other places and just scurried across the street to do errands.  Now we’ll have to consciously reach a crosswalk and proceed – and this shouldn’t be too onerous.

Celebrating $2.50 Per Gallon

Among the three gas stations in the Village, one has finally dipped below $2.50 per gallon for low-test gas.  The independent station at Thornhill attained this milestone, while the two oil company-branded stations on Mountain are almost there.

Gas Prices

What a change from the sheer despair we felt back in June when prices were north of $4.50 per gallon.  Now that it costs just 55% of that sky-high amount, commuters can breath a sigh of relief.

According to U.S. Census data, some 62% of 94611 residents drive alone to work.  We travel to all compass points, and 25% spend at least 45 minutes commuting daily.  So declines in gas prices translate into meaningful savings.

Do we return to our gas-guzzling ways after work?  Do we hit the roads, California dreamin’ and all?  Hhmm.

Sorry, Montclair Soaps Aren’t Edible

“I cut my soap into square bars an inch thick.  At first glance they look a bit like a nice cheese,” says Kim Emanuel, owner of Montclair Soaps.  They look so delectable that he’s actually heard someone exclaim, “Wow, these are lovely…can you eat them?”  Well, no.

Emanuel has been making unique soaps here for the past two years, using olive oil.  He explains that “olive oil is very similar to the natural oils manufactured by skin and so it acts to moisturize and protect, without being greasy.  The cold process of making olive oil soap results in a bar that is both deeply cleansing, moisturizing and extremely gentle to the skin.”

Montclair Almond Cherry Soap

Of course, there’s an interesting back story about Kim and his decision to begin making and selling soaps in 2006.  He’s a semiconductor engineer by day and felt the need to do “something a bit more human.”

“Soap by nature is very touchable, has wonderful aroma, it’s pretty and one can retreat into a tub of hot water with a bar of great soap,” declares Kim.  “Before you know it, all the stress of the day drifts away.  It’s a meditation.  Soap is wonderful!”

He says his “favorite part of the whole process is when people come back to me after using my soap and tell me how much they love it, or how nice their skin feels…or how their nine-year-old son takes more baths now.”

It’s great to have a real soap maker in our backyard.  Among the 14 varieties, he sees the highest demand for Mint Rosemary, Almond, Apricot, Oatmeal Milk & Honey, Pear and Lavender soaps.  I’m attracted to the Lemon Grass, which puts me in the minority.

Montclair Soaps

Holiday Gift Alert! Montclair Soaps maintains an online store and also holds court Sundays at the Temescal Farmers Market.  You can order soaps online here, and Kim has graciously offered all Montclarions a $1/bar discount by inserting the word “MONTCLAIR” in the coupon code box at checkout.

Also you can avoid shipping charges completely, as a local.  Just mention that you want to pick up bars at the Temescal Farmers Market (next to the DMV on Claremont Ave) when you see the special instructions in the online shopping cart.  You can meet Kim there every Sunday to pick up your order.