Balloon Drops For The Family

Are you and your kids getting cabin fever?  Consider celebrating the New Year’s holiday with a balloon drop on Wednesday afternoon.  There are two places that ring in 2009 as it arrives around the globe, and you’ll have to decide which place fits the bill.

Where Balloons Drop

Your balloon drop choices are Oakland’s Chabot Space & Science Center and Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science – so ask your kids whether they prefer an all-space visit or more earthly discoveries.  With tikes under seven years old, head straight to Berkeley since the Chabot drops (for them) are sold out.

What’s at Chabot Space & Science Center:

Chabot has scheduled balloons at 1 pm and 4 pm, so plan on arriving at least 15 minutes before the festivities begin.  There’s  room for kids 7-12, when the balloons fall in the Rotunda.  While there, you can tour all the space age exhibits and visit the planetarium too.  Or screen a movie later at the dome theater.

More info: Chabot is open from 10 am – 5 pm, and located at 10000 Skyline Dr, Oakland (map).  Tickets cost $3/kid for the balloon event.  Admissions run another $13/adult, $10/student or senior, $9/ages 3-12 and include the planetarium.  Dome movies cost $7/adult or $6/kid.  Questions, call 510-336-7373.

What’s at the Lawrence Hall of Science:

Along with the balloons, Lawrence Hall will let kids make noise makers (and noise) and other crafty things between noon and 2 pm.  Through their Science On a Sphere, it’s easy to pinpoint who’s celebrating the new year.  There’s a planetarium here, plus more earthly exhibits like a walk-in wind tunnel.

More info:   Lawrence Hall is open from 10 am – 5 pm, and located on Centennial Dr, Berkeley (map, directions).  Admissions include the balloon event, and run $11/adult, $9/student or senior, $6/ages 3-6.  Planetarium shows cost another $3/adult or $2.50/others.  Questions, call 510-642-5132.

Some 15 Police Cars In Hot Pursuit

This just in… some police action to top off the year!  Over in the North Hills, there were Oakland police hotly pursuing robbers.  While this is par for the course in places like LA, we have learned about a chase that just took place on Rt 24 instead.

Hats off to Jim Dexter for this report:

A capture of armed robbers by overwhelming OPD force occurred starting at 1:20 p.m. today.  I was trying to travel to the Caldecott Tunnel, and had started to turn on the 13/24 east ramp when many OPD vehicles came rushing by.  At least 15 OPD vehicles arrived at the top of the ramp, officers exited their vehicles with guns drawn.  The east-bound traffic on 24 was completely halted.  I was told by one officer that the suspects were robbery related, and that there was at least one rifle in the vehicle.

When I looked around for more info or details, there’s nothing to be found yet.  I’m sure this news will garner a mention or two by the TV stations or press later.  Anyone else around to witness this underway?

Update:   Inside Bay Area posted Police stopping suspected robbery vehicle halt traffic on Highway 24.  According to staff reports, “at least three men were detained at gunpoint by police.”

Public Works Not That Easy, Barack

We have heard hopeful pronouncements about WPA-like public works, as the right way to put America back to work.  President-elect Barack sounds great when he speaks about infrastructure projects like interstates, bridges, tunnels, you name it.  Sounds like a nice dream, right?

WPA Forging Ahead

Let the Bay Area’s brand of public works provide a cautionary note.  Despite our proud heritage of iconic bridges, we’re also known for infrastructure that didn’t quite work during the big quake.  Or infrastructure that’s not keeping up with population and traffic demands.  Decades pass, and we are needy and trying to rebuild these days.

The latest hiccups in completing the Bay Bridge retrofit or starting the Caldecott fourth bore are front-page news again.  While bridge construction is underway, a new longshoremen labor dispute holds the steel hostage – and each day adds another million to the project’s billions.  Meanwhile the tunnel boring is mostly financed and may begin sometime next year, after North Hills residents litigate and address some environmental concerns.

If these construction mega-projects serve as prime examples, then we must take a reality check.  Who’s responsible?  How do projects get financed?  How quickly do jobs appear from the ether?   There are years filled with planning, reviews, protests, bidding, construction, labor disputes, cost overages, delays – rinse and repeat.

We encounter the fallout every single day, whether commuting or running errands from our Montclair vahalla.  The  benefits of major infrastructure are worth the tribulations, and we eventually do see the light.  Yet the jobs created during construction, while welcome, are hardly an economic panacea.

Join Linda Tillery & Holly Near At Today’s Sing

Join Linda Tillery, Holly Near and others at today’s Community Sing.  For those in the know, this is a terrific way to spend Sunday afternoon with true musical talents.

Two hootenannies are scheduled to begin at 1 pm and 4 pm, at the Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club (map).  Admission is $20-23/adult and $5/kids, 12 and under.

Community Sing Montclair

So who are these singers?  Let’s start with Linda Tillery, a veteran R&B artist, drummer and musicologist.  Here are smooth, jazzy tunes on MySpace (listen) as well as a soulful rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (listen).  Beyond her solo efforts, Linda also leads and tours with the Cultural Heritage Choir.

Holly Near seems to be walking history, starting with her gig in the original Broadway cast of Hair.  She joined an anti-war tour with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, and has been a social activist ever since.  Here are examples of Near’s grassroots pieces, Foolish Notion (listen) and Fired Up (listen).

If you are around for the holidays, then check out this baby boomer delight.

Update:  We stopped by the earlier 1 pm event, which was fun but not crowded enough.

Video Proof of Redwood Ladybugs

Whenever you hike at Redwood Regional Park, you pass signs about the famous ladybugs and their annual migratory visit.  We’re here to report this isn’t a myth or something that only scientists witness anymore.

Just a few weeks ago, one lucky hiker provided video proof of their existence!  The beetles are here, literally swarming around the Prince and Stream trail intersection.  They have the good sense to stay off actual dirt trails, but seem to be everywhere else.

Redwood Park Ladybugs

So what’s the deal with ladybugs?  According to this SFSU paper, these creatures are true survivors.  All they really need are some aphids to fuel their propagation, and above-freezing temperatures.  The Mediterranean-like conditions around here suit them particularly well.

KQED Quest showed off our local ladybugs last year, which you can view here or below.   “We should be in awe of these beetles,” explained Redwood naturalist Linda Yemoto, because they’re able to catch just the right winds to arrive at their winter stomping grounds – in the same exact trees and places annually.  No scientists have figured out why this perfect migration happens.

Quest Ladybug Pajama Party

We tend to hit these Redwood trails maybe once or twice a month but haven’t been lucky enough to find the beetles in residence.  Naturalist Yemoto said the park hosts “a pajama party for ladybugs” which lasts all winter long.  It’s been cold lately, so they are probably burrowing and getting some sleep right now.

The Park District plans to show wintering sites at their upcoming Thousands of Ladybugs program, on Sunday, January 18th, from 10 am – noon.  No registration is required for this free activity, which meets at the Skyline entrance (map) to Redwood Regional Park.  For questions, please call:  (510) 521-6887.

Last Minute Holiday Lights

2011 Lights Update:  These displays are all-aglow now.  Zoolights run through January 1st and prices are $7.50/adult and $5.50/kid, and members receive a $1 discount.  The  Mormon Temple is free as usual, shining through the New Year.


After Christmas passes, it’s not too late to check out the last minute holiday lights – but it does take more than just driving by and noticing them.  You do have to stop, take a breath and walk around a bit.

The Zoo: First check out Zoolights, which is filled with animal and nature scenes honoring the Oakland Zoo’s residents.  As a preview, look at this beautiful display with elephants wandering around the place.

Luckily the Zoo (map) runs this show through January 4th.  It opens at 5:30 pm all week, and closes at 9:00 pm  (Mon-Thur) or 9:30 pm (Fri-Sun).  It costs $7.50/adult and $6.50/kids, and parking is free.


Oakland Zoolights - 2008

The Temple: Another pit-stop should be the Mormon Temple in Oakland, just a five-minute drive down Highway 13 (map).  While this YouTube video is sort of shaky, you see the huge palm-trees and other lights on a very grand scale.  Regardless of your own religion or politics, this amazing display is worth seeing in person.

The Streets: You can’t go wrong just wandering Montclair streets, with all the lights hidden in nooks and crannies.  Generally the decorations are fairly understated but even a few strings of outdoor lights – on fences, garages, a few trees, and houses – make things feel nice and festive.

If you haven’t scoped your own block or two, then bundle up and wander around tomorrow evening.  For the more ambitious, try this great walking map, so you can plan your route beforehand.  It’s all pretty ephemeral, but we have time to slow down and appreciate things throught the holiday season.

When Will House Values Dive?

The short answer is…we don’t know.  Lately we have been reading about the major declines in overall house values, so we dug into what’s been happening for the 94611 zip code.  Prices are not dropping here yet.

Let’s began by checking out values right now.  AOL Real Estate reports $939,185 average and $850,500 median house values in December, which still seem pretty high.

The heated market becomes quite clear when you see the three-year trends from Cyberhomes, comparing our zip, city and state.  Prices in 94611 jumped at the beginning of 2008, dropped down quickly and have held steady for the past nine months.  Meanwhile, Oakland and overall California median prices have slowly declined since 2006.


Home sales have bounced around, and Cyberhomes even shows a slight upward price trend since last summer.  Of course, what’s really happening is the number of 94611 properties for sale has dropped considerably between 2008 and 2007.  There are fewer buyers and sellers out there, period.


Because the housing numbers still remain high, we wanted to look beyond medians.  During 2007, City Data shows that 69% of our homes were worth more than $1 million, 17% between $750k-$999k, and 7% from $500k-$749k.  So perhaps there will be some downshifting among these buckets this year, while the medians hold steady.


At least for now, we’re still watching the real estate market plummet all around the Bay Area.  Just like when we looked into local foreclosures, things are sort of steady around here – as long as folks meet those mortgage payments.