Thornhill Eats Too

Did you know there are FIVE places to nosh or pick up food on Thornhill Drive?  As you pass by, it’s easy to blink and miss what’s sitting in this small commercial section of town.

There’s enough to sustain Thornhill neighbors, who don’t have to drive “all the way” into the Village for a quick breakfast, coffee, lunch, dinner or bottle of soda.  Here’s the official scoop on what you can consume in Montclair’s northern reaches.

Viva Voce Cafe

* Italian: Viva Voce Cafe – 5761 Thornhill, 510-339-0990 – Yelp

Order some terrific soups, pizza, pasta and more.  It’s a very nice and cozy spot for dinner, even for special occasions. Viva Voce has been open a few years, and really should be a destination spot for all Montclarions.

* Thai: Thai Bai – 5736 Thornhill, 510-339-8030 – Yelp

Pick up your homemade thai dinner.  Of course, all the favorites you crave are available, and there are specials daily.  Try the ginger-type dishes for a change.  The place has been around for years, serving up healthy and quick fare.

* Coffee: Thornhill Coffee House – 5772 Thornhill, 510-339-8187 – Yelp

Make the daily run for good eats, coffee and friends.  It’s a comfy “third place” to hang out, filled with parents who dropped their kids off (at school) and other regulars.  Owner Thyda always makes you feel loved, offering a taste of this or that.

* Pizza: MG’s Pizza – 5736 Thornhill Dr, 510-339-1300 – Yelp

The newest spot on Thornhill, which entered the pizza wars.  They offer traditional rather than designer pies, and  should keep tinkering with the recipes a bit more.  Most importantly, they deliver pizzas to your doorstep.

* Junk: 7-Eleven – 5741 Thornhill, 510-339-9123 – Yelp

Trust the chain, sometimes.  We’re pretty happy that essentials are nearby, day and night.  There’s no need to traipse to the markets, when cravings strike.  They actually stock some decent stuff like nuts, pasta and um, Ben & Jerry’s.

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Waiting For Caldecott Environmental Review

Due to our state’s budget ills, the fourth bore construction funding has been delayed for the Caldecott Tunnel – at least until mid-February or perhaps far longer.

We wondered whether this delay impacted the Fourth-Bore Coalition (FBC) and its efforts, and the quick answer is no.  The FBC continues to push for a full environmental review, including the construction-related pollution that would impact Montclarions living near Highway 24.

Fourth Bore Coalition

“Our major concern, at the moment, is that the governor would like to exempt the Caldecott improvement project from CEQA, so the project can move forward quickly.  We feel this is a very short-sighted move, ” declared Ann Smulka, FBC chairperson.

FBC brought suit against the California Dept. of Transportation, saying that it violated environmental reviews required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The Alameda Superior Court hearing took place on November 5th and Judge Frank Roesch will be handing down a decision soon.

There are many legal briefs you can read at the Fourth Bore site, and here’s a choice quote:

Caltrans does not have the kind of discretion that, at one time, was practiced by absolute monarchs.  Rather, CEQA requires that its provisions be interpreted in such a manner as to afford the fullest possible protection to the environment within the reasonable scope of the statutory language.

Smulka said “the health and safety effects of the project could be relatively easily avoided by Caltrans through project modifications.  The cost of mitigation would be very small in relation to the $420 million cost of the project.”

On a practical level, the Coalition wants Caltrans to “acknowledge and mitigate the project’s impact on nearby schools, residents and parks.  We are particularly concerned about the impacts of Oakland’s Claremont Middle and Anthony Chabot Elementary schools which, given their proximity to the highway, are already subjected to hazardous air and noise pollution.”

Now our neighbors living by the Tunnel wait for the court’s clock to count-down.  Judge Roesch is required, by law, to deliver his ruling by early February.  If the review is approved, it represents another twist – right along with the funding freeze and delayed schedules.

Winter Bad Air Settles Here

Yesterday was really hazy, and declared a non-breathable  Spare The Air Day in the Bay Area.  Today is another bad-air day, which means that it’s illegal to burn wood of any kind.

Based on the Bay Area’s air quality forecast, it looks like the seasonal bad-air will settle here for the next few days.  Notice the poor air quality in the Coast and Central Bay area, which includes Oakland and the Oakland  Hills.

Spare The Air Forecast

Yesterday was an official alert day.  The air quality was called “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” and all active kids or adults with respiratory problems like asthma were advised to limit outdoor exertion.

While haziness has cleared a bit today, more bad-air days are ahead.  The alert level is moderate this week, which means “unusually sensitive” people should watch out at this point.  It’s still illegal to burn wood now.

What’s with the wood?  Unbreathable days are caused by particulates, and wood-burning can contribute significant levels.  According to the Bay Area Air Quality folks, wood fires contribute up to one-third of all particulates on a winter’s night.

These pollution declarations are a new thing, based on new wood-smoke regulations passed last year.  The Bay Area Air Quality Management District began its alert program this winter season and, counting yesterday, there have been seven official alert-level days.

Anyway, don’t wait for the cops to follow your smoke trail – just keep your wood-burning fireplaces and stoves turned off this week.

Become An Oakland Museum Docent

If you are a California history or art lover, then here’s a really neat opportunity:  volunteer to become an Oakland Museum docent.  You need to apply, get trained for a year, and then be available to teach kids and other museum visitors.  With this level of commitment, it’s not for everyone – but maybe for you?

The Oakland Museum has terrific permanent galleries covering history, art and the natural world.  These exhibits are closed while the museum undergoes modernization, and are slated to re-open in 2010.  Yet museum staff is already preparing to train docents, and get ready for next year.

Oakland Museum Of California

Interested?  Decide whether history or art turns you on. The history gallery contains over a million holdings “from the pre-Spanish Indian era to the late 20th century,”  while the art gallery includes “more than 70,100 works by California artists from the late 18th century to the present.”  Not an easy choice.

Then commit to docent training and more training. The application deadlines are February 1st for history or April 15 for art. There’s a $150 fee for training, and scholarships are available.  If accepted, you need to commit to these training schedules:

  • History Docents – Attend classes starting February 17th and each Tuesday afternoon through January 2010 (with summer break), and also take an external college course on local history.
  • Art Docents – Attend two orientation meetings this May, followed by weekly classes from mid-September through March 2010.

Since the docent programs have so many prerequisites, museum staff will hold an open house for interested volunteers Sunday at 1pm.  Otherwise, please contact docentcenter@museumca.org or call 510-238-3514 for more guidance.

Check Out Monroy’s Photoshop Realism

For a little diversion, drive through the Caldecott and check out what artist Bert Monroy has been doing lately.  An exhibit of his digital paintings opens tomorrow at the Hearst Art Gallery, St. Mary’s College (map) – and the artist presents a photoshop demo on Sunday, at 2pm.

Monroy’s artwork looks amazingly realistic and, at first glance, seems to be based on snapped photos which have been digitally enhanced.  When you look more closely, you realize Monroy creates place-portraits.  “I consider myself a hyper-realist because my paintings are in focus everywhere you look,” he explains.

As a preview of the Hearst exhibit, take a quick peek at the Fox Theater in Oakland painting below.  Monroy pays homage to this newly-refurbished entertainment palace, and makes the place come alive.

Fox Theater - Bert Monroy

Another Monroy painting caught my attention as well, which captures a lunch scene in Tiburon.  I’m guessing this is an outdoor table at Sam’s Cafe, located near the Angel Island Ferry.  Even the typical condiments and drinks look fascinating here.

Lunch In Tiburon - Bert Monroy

Although this kind of digital art is only possible in the modern era, it makes me think about American photo-realism over the years.  There’s a fine tradition here in the Bay Area, especially with Robert Bechtle.  A few years ago, the SFMOMA exhibited a retrospective filled with rooms of his California dreamin’ paintings.  Here is a perfect example of a classic mid-1970s car, parked in Alameda.


Rather than snapping photos, these artists are attracted to depicting common life with their own brushes – and we all like to look at their artistic efforts too.  With this new twist from photoshop, I wonder what kinds of things artists will create and how their work will be exhibited in the real world.

Bert Monroy’s one of the earliest artists on this digital bandwagon.  “This [exhibit] is a retrospective, so it traces my work back to the MacPaint days of 1984,”  says Monroy.  “It moves forward to early Illustrator, PixelPaint and so on.”  To see how the evolving tools impact his work, put the Hearst Gallery on your “must-do” list.  The exhibit opens tomorrow and runs through April 5th.

Montclarions Too Distant From Oscar’s Death

Oaklanders rang in 2009 with our first killing, amplified for the world to see.  There’s plenty to say about Oscar Grant’s terrible demise, the BART cop, the inflamed protests, more orderly rallies – and seeing justice served.

In peaceful Montclair, we seem to be appropriately horrified by the killing and relieved the BART cop will be tried for murder.  But is that really enough?

Oscar Grant Rally

As I meet folks around Montclair Village, there’s not a high level of outrage here.  While I genuinely believe that people care, there’s a certain and clear distance from the goings-on.  Here’s an unadorned list of our reactions and behaviors:

  1. The action’s just a few miles away.
  2. We make sure not to drive downtown.
  3. We check the news obsessively.
  4. There’s chatter about this murder and its aftermath.
  5. Everyone feels safe in the hills, anyway.
  6. Everyone goes about their regular, daily lives.
  7. We talk about patronizing downtown businesses.
  8. We are hoping the BART cop gets put away.
  9. We don’t really do anything about the events.
  10. And we accept this is Oakland life.

Wow, reactions from residents are almost…like Israelis.  Yes, there’s a war going on with Hamas in Gaza.  We are in Tel Aviv and just know these things happen.  We continue with our lives, because we live like this.  It’s a bit of a metaphorical stretch, I admit.

But have we become so accepting of greater Oakland’s ills that we sort of ignore them in our daily lives?  Maybe there are some important lessons to learn, because we haven’t really entered the post-racial Obama heaven.   We could keep up the spirit of giving and helping, beyond the holidays.  Every small gesture helps.

How Oakland Looks To Hip San Franciscan

Let’s take a moment to smile about how Oakland looks to a hip San Franciscan and her friends.  This now-former Yahoo employee commuted from San Francisco to Sunnyvale daily, and decided to map her commute a while ago.

You can see the length of her daily drive and world view, in a thick blue line running 36 miles along 101S.   It’s a classic and traffic-filled journey that she endured for many years.

Perception Of Oakland

The ex-Yahoo displayed the whole Bay Area map, and began annotating areas beyond the commute.  A friend joined the game, and described an unknown and unexplored East Bay:  The mysterious land to the East.  Here be Berkeley and Oakland (and dragons).

I wonder how often some San Franciscans leave their tip of land and head east?  Maybe Marco Polo should be shipped out on an adventure, to find the shortest routes to spices.  I swear there is already a there, there…we’re here and willing to conduct trade.

Perception Of 94611

Then our commuter pointed to the Oakland Hills again, singling out what appears to be our 94611 zip code:  This is the mysterious section known as “French Oakland.”  They speak in an entirely different dialect over there.

At least we all speak the same language, right?  I could not have described our world any better than this hip chick, who has only passing interest in our city.  Touche.