How Home Values Look These Days

For all you armchair realtors, here are the latest home values.  Since we reported at year end, both median and average prices declined but they haven’t literally crashed.  The big adjustment was last summer, so it’s about steady malaise for now.

Within our 94611 zip code, AOL Real Estate reported the average price dropped from $939,185 in mid-December to $874,040 in mid-February, or 6.9% over two months.  Cyberhomes separately reported a $786,852 median in mid-December, down 3.2% from prior month.

Since the zip code doesn’t tell a complete story, I reached out for advice from realtor Deidre Joyner.  We ended up discussing Montclair real estate over a cuppa coffee, and she recently blogged about the district.  Suffice to say, there are special challenges when selling in the hills.

Brubeck In Montclair

Our topography creates hurdles:

Montclair conjures images of a hillside forest, with houses tucked into nooks and crannies.  Often you see homes perched on the hills, which take engineering ingenuity to remain upright.  At the far end of the scale are tree houses, like the cool place where jazz great Dave Brubeck raised his family.

We love living here, but it turns out these picture-perfect perches aren’t terribly practical for buyers.  Since we’re in the downturn, these preferences become more obvious.  One perfect home won’t sell because there are too many stairs, while another one gets picked up far more quickly.

While several comps had been listed for 80+ days, Deidre Joyner recalled a listing which “stood out from the rest and every buyer knew it.”  Sure enough this home offered easy access, a flatter layout, backyard and patio – and there were multiple offers last summer.  It’s not easy to find horizontal gems among the verticals here!

We have five distinct market zones:

When trying to figure out Montclair values, everything hinges on the topography.  There are differences based on homes situated in the forests or more open spots.  Of course, the homes vary around the district, including originals, sweet renovations, newer homes or palatial estates.

Joyner took a look at Montclair statistics including recent sale prices, prices/sq ft, days on market and overall home condition.  Although there’s no “true formula,” she was able to define five distinct zones with different home values:

  • Piedmont side of Montclair – west of Rt 13 and next to the City of Piedmont
  • Piedmont Pines – between Ascot and Shepherd Canyon roads
  • Fernwood – just off Thornhill and within walking distance to the Village
  • Broadway Terrace – between Thornhill and Broadway Terr, east of Rt 13
  • Montclair – other neighborhoods known simply as Montclair

So it’s worth tuning into this hyper-local view of the real estate market.  We’ll continue to look at the 94611 trends, along with other smoke signals from these locations – realtors, please help us.  The numbers continue to soften, and who knows how long this recession will last.

Fingers Crossed On Winter Storms

Keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best this long weekend.  The good news is that winter-like storms have finally arrived and we desperately need the rains.  The bad news is that Oakland’s city services are effectively closed through next Monday – and we may need help responding to Mother Nature’s wrath.

After The Rain

Montclarions know that torrential rains can translate into downed trees, mudslides, floods and general mayhem.  We’re already hearing about backed-up storm drains around town, and the weather’s supposed to get more severe tomorrow.

Each year, there seems to be a calamity or two around here.  Most recent messes include the Skyline slide, which blocked the ridge line and took months to fix; and the Shepherd Canyon sinkholes, which caused severe flooding from culverts that needed replacement.

Yesterday there were no grand-scale problems, but many neighbors reported storm drain blockages around the Village.  We think the biggest problem was street flooding near Taurus/Valley View, in the Merriewood area.

It’s a busy time for Oakland Public Works, although the department is now closed.  Locals are advised to call 510-615-5566 to report problems, and calls will be picked up by the Fire Department dispatch.  If the problem is considered an emergency, Public Works will send a crew to the scene.

Montclarion Barry Klezmer sought help for a storm drain yesterday.  “Our area does not have gutters or sidewalks,” he explained.  “The storm drain that is backed-up to the street level was to due the recent excessive rain that triggered a flow of mud and tree/leaf debris.”  City workers are scheduled to arrive next Tuesday.

Over the long weekend, Public Works simply can’t handle non-emergency storm drainage or tree matters.  It seems like you are on your own, so please check nearby drains and try to clear out debris.  You can also pick up free sandbags as well, at your nearby Fire Station.

With the additional stormy weather ahead, we’re wondering whether these minor problems will turn into emergencies.  We’re also wondering if there are enough emergency crews available now.  Just keep those fingers crossed this time.

Friends Gather To Protect Moraga Canyon

Lately, Montclarions and Piedmonters have focused on protecting Moraga Canyon.  While this area isn’t exactly pristine and untouched, there are a few open spaces that have been targeted for development.

Many concerned citizens decided to join forces, through their new Friends of Moraga Canyon group.  Their goal is to keep a more active and watchful eye on the canyon area, whether private or city-owned property.

Moraga Canyon

We caught up with one of the Friends of Moraga Canyon founders, Sandra Pohutsky, and asked about the group and their plans ahead.

Q.  When did the Friends of Moraga Canyon form?
The group formed in January 2009 by Piedmonters who live near Blair Park and Coaches Playfield on Moraga Avenue,  and by Oaklanders who live on and near Moraga Avenue from Piedmont to Highway 13.  They knew that they had a common interest that was not being considered by the City of Piedmont.

Q.  Why did the group form?
Concerns over the uses of Moraga Canyon, especially the short-term use of Blair Park for temporary schools, and the long term use for a sports complex that would require a 40 foot retaining wall along the canyon and a 20 foot retaining wall along a portion of Moraga Avenue, in addition to two parking lots for 90 cars.

Q: What are the rough boundaries of the Moraga Canyon?
Moraga Canyon runs downhill from Highway 13 to Pleasant Valley.  It begins in Oakland, passes through several blocks of Piedmont, and ends in Oakland. Moraga Avenue is built over and near Cemetery Creek that is channeled in culverts and comes out near Coaches Playfield.

Q.  Who are the “leaders”  of your group, and their roles?
This is truly a grass roots organization of over 70 people and growing. A remarkable group of neighbors has come together from a variety of professions to protect Moraga Canyon. Our spokespeople change as the needs arise, and we share leadership roles.

Q.  What’s the official mission of the group?
To make sure that uses of Moraga Canyon are well understood by our respective cities and other citizens.  To communicate about developments related to open spaces and parks within the canyon.

Friends of Moraga Canyon work to ensure that the tranquility and environmental well-being of the Moraga Canyon area is preserved.  We believe that issues affecting the welfare of Moraga Canyon should be addressed with reason, responsibility and consensus.

Q.  What do you hope to accomplish this year?
We are pleased that the school district has decided not to place portable school rooms in the canyon.

We would like to have a full description of [any local] project, a community-wide discussion of the desirability and necessity of such a project, and at least one workshop by the Piedmont Planning Commission to discuss the physical impacts and appearance of the project.  We hope that the Piedmont city council and planning commission will decide to erect story poles to show the size and extent of the project, as is required for even the most modest private projects in Piedmont.

Our goal is to be sure that any use of Blair Park will have low impact on traffic and noise, that it will not interfere with the wild life that live in the park and visit it at night, that the hillside is not carved away and that all the trees are not cut down.

We oppose adding night lighting and synthetic turf at Coaches Playfield, across the street from Blair Park, as it will further erode the nature of Moraga Canyon.

Q.  How many people joined so far, and what’s the mix between Oaklanders and Piedmonters?
There are about 70 Friends of Moraga Canyon as of the beginning of February who are mostly Piedmonters living in or near Moraga Canyon.  In addition there is an allied group of about 110 Oaklanders watching Piedmont’s actions and they in turn are keeping at least six neighborhood associations informed.  There are about 770 Montclair homes located on or near Moraga Avenue that would be effected by increased Moraga Avenue traffic.

We find that even people who do not live near Moraga Canyon become very interested once they hear about Piedmont’s plans and practices so this group isn’t about who lives in either city.  Friends of Moraga Canyon is discussing setting up a website (now live) to make the information more accessible to all who want to know what could happen along Moraga Avenue.

Q.  How does the group work with the two cities?
We want to work well with all government constituencies.  In Oakland, there are two city council members and their teams involved.  This includes Jean Quan, supported by Sue Piper (510-238-7042); and Jane Brunner, supported by Zac Wald (510-238-7013).  They can all be reached at 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612.

In response to requests by Oakland residents, the City of Oakland set up a project to monitor Moraga Avenue developments.  Project manager Eric Angstadt,  Oakland planning department,  is coordinating input from Oakland city’s traffic engineers, fire department, planning department, and any other  Oakland departments that have an interest in the impact Piedmont’s Moraga Canyon project on Oakland.

Mr. Angstadt is also the lead on developing the city of Oakland’s input to the scoping session for Piedmont’s required Environmental Impact Report.  Piedmont has not yet announced the date of their scoping session.

In Piedmont, we are speaking at the city council twice a month, and meetings of the planning commission, parks commission, recreation commission and intend to contact the Capital Improvement Projects advisory commission before its once-a-year meeting.

We have found that information has not been widely disseminated – and most Piedmonters are not yet aware of the scope, design and cost of the development of sports fields at Blair Park and Coaches Playfield.

More info: Read more about the Friends of Moraga Canyon and their Blair Park concerns on their new web site.  If you would like to join the Friends or have questions, please reach Sandra Pohutsky – at  Also check the Piedmont Neighborhood News blog, to stay informed about city happenings.

Mom-in-Chief Appears In Montclair

No, Michelle Obama did not make a stealthy appearance in Montclair Village recently.  While the First Lady defines herself as a Mom-in-Chief, she’s clearly not alone.

There are many mothers trying to “get their acts together” at home, and they frequently rely on leadership skills learned at work.  Oaklander Jamie Woolf decided to share these approaches through Mom-in-Chief, a spiritual bible for would-be chiefs everywhere.

She published the bible last week, and began her speaking tour at A Great Good Place for Books.  See Woolf in action below, sitting on our favorite counter in the Village.

Mom-in-Chief appears in Montclair

Mothers should be able to reduce the chaos, explained Woolf, by learning how to motivate their kids.  Start the new school year, for example, by sharing a positive attitude.  “If every other word out of your mouth conveys how much you dread getting up early, supervising homework, running to sports practices and music lessons, and so forth, your child is hardly going to be enthusiastic about it either.”

The key is to set goals that matter to you and your kids.  Once the goals are established, it’s up to you to provide the right tools, chart out specific tasks, get back on track when things go awry, and remember to celebrate endings and beginnings.  Wow, that does sound a lot like the workplace!

Of course, parents want different things for their kids so these goals vary widely.  Try out the short quiz (PDF) to rank your parenting priorities.  There are some soul searching questions which help rank what you value most:  achievement, relationships or individuality.

No one said parenting was easy, but it appears that you are appreciated more than you realize.  Woolf pointed to a recent MTV/AP study which said that “the majority of teens find the most happiness in family.  What’s more, most respondents listed their parents (i.e. you) as their heroes.”

Anyway this new bible should provide sound strategies and inspiration, for fathers as well as mothers.  Hail to the Chiefs.

Metro Cafe & Bar, A Seismic Shift For Village

Forgive the earthquake metaphor, but we’re really excited the Metro Cafe & Bar has taken up residence in Montclair Village.  What an nice upgrade from predecessor Royal Ground, complete with real cafe food, coffee, wine and wi-fi.

Most importantly, the Metro sports nice, long hours:  6am-9pm weekdays and 7am-8pm weekends.  The place is located at 2058 Mountain Blvd, right in the center of the Village (map).

Cafe Metro Opens

There are good breakfast options until 11am, especially if you want to grab something beyond the baked goods typically in coffee shops.  I can attest to very friendly service today, as they accepted my bagel and lox order a few minutes past the cut-off time.  Other menu items include oatmeal, yogurt, fruit and an egg sandwich.

I’ll have to return for lunch or dinner soon, since the mediterranean, nicoise, salmon and chinese chicken salads all sound quite good to me.  While there are several hot and cold veggie sandwiches, the hot ham and gruyere catches my eye as well.

We hope the Metro turns into another third-place for the Village, as a real alternative to Peet’s or Crogan’s.  Have you tried ’em yet?

North Hills Council Stays Vigilant

As you may know, Montclair is divided into two police beats lovingly known as 13X and 13Y.   The “Y” actually ranges from Thornhill Drive to the Berkeley border, with plenty of hills and circuitous streets through Montclair, Hiller and Claremont.

In these northern reaches, residents communicate their safety priorities through the North Hills Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC).  The area is doing pretty well in terms of lower reported crimes, but the Council stays vigilant.

North Hills - Ten Areas

Council officers meet monthly to discuss safety matters and establish priorities which are shared with Oakland police.  Additionally, they host three Town Hall meetings each year and local luminaries are invited to speak.  Here’s the scoop from the latest Town Hall, held on Wednesday night:

  • New Citizen Officers: There’s a newly-elected slate of leaders including Chair Nancy Mueller; Vice Chair Melissa Rosengard; Secretary Steve Reinlib; Treasurer and Webmaster Barry Pilger; Neighborhood Watch Chair Jim Dexter; and Publicity Head Sara Somers.
  • Crime Under Control: Beat 13Y residents have seen crime levels drop after two burglars were identified and nabbed last fall.  While there are no active burglary trends now, Police Officers Mark Contreras and Randall Chew continue to provide roving patrols.  The cops said that traffic officers are issuing tickets in problem intersections, as identified by the Council.
  • Supporting Audits: Oakland Auditor Courtney Ruby shared her accomplishments and challenges.  Ruby has audited measure funds, including emergency/medical and library services.  She also plans to work through all city departments.  Regardless of progress, audit recommendations aren’t treated as a priority – and Ruby asked residents to push the City Council about these fixes.

Want to help the hood? The North Hills Council welcomes your participation in sharing local safety matters.  They are still filling volunteer spots to represent each neighborhood area.  Additionally, they invite the public to their monthly meetings (times/dates), at Fire Station 7, 1006 Amito Ave (map).  Of course, North Hills residents are encouraged to share their concerns or ideas anytime with the Council, at

City Boosts Public Safety Team

There seems to be some good news from City Hall, since newly-appointed public safety coordinator, Dorlista Reed, will work with her predecessor, Claudia Albano.

With both Reed and Albano on board, this team represents a boost to public safety.  Now let’s see how they work together, to support community-based policing and neighborhood watch groups.

Albano issued this message about her role:

I have accepted the position of Deputy Public Safety Coordinator, and will be working under the new Public Safety Coordinator Dori Reed.  I will be talking with her…about my specific duties and how they may relate to the Neighborhood Services Division.

Last week, City Administrator Dan Lindheim surprised “everyone” when he announced changes to the public safety team.  Coordinator Albano, who was admired by many Oaklanders, received a pink slip.

There was an immediate hue and cry from Oaklanders who relied on neighborhood services.  Montclarions and other neighbors protested loudly to City Council members, the City Administrator, and Mayor.

Well, the combination of protests and good politics kept Albano on Oakland’s payroll.  We think Oaklanders may end up with even more support for local neighborhood and safety initiatives – and that has to be a good thing.