Picking Up After Park-Goers

Montclair Park is our local oasis, loved by many who hang out there.  Easy Bay Dads appreciate the park because it “has a fenced-in tot lot as well as a bigger playground for bigger kids, plus grass to run on, fake horses to sit on, geese to get bitten by, and a small lake to fall into.”

However you use the facilities, the reality is that Montclair Park needs additional resources to stay clean and green – which won’t be coming from city coffers anytime soon.

As you are aware, Oakland is under water financially and has already cut back on Parks and Recreation dollars this year.  The department funds will likely get tapped again, to help close the $70+ million budget gap soon.

Montclair Park Celebration

Cleaning Up The Park

Montclair Park’s trash situation is simmering since the staff cutbacks a few months ago.  If you frequent the park, then you may see litter, graffiti and random vandalism of bathrooms.  Something should be done here.

Remember those after-school kids who hang out at the park?  Maybe they could be put to work for a nominal rate, via donations.  Alternatively, a volunteer corp of kids might be assembled by kids (!) to clean up, on a scheduled basis.

Adding More Greenery

For plantings, the park is entering a fallow period too.  We caught up with Jill Broadhurst, leader of Montclair SIC’s beautification team, who said that plantings are on hold but there’s still work to do:

We need money for new plants which the city does not have.  Nothing has been planted.  Right now, we need to focus on removing the reeds in the pond, the broom on the hillside and mulch all the beds.  Planting is a few years away.  We will eventually apply for larger grants to accomplish new plants selections.

She still enourages interested neighbors to offer their resources and elbow grease.  Please reach her at gncmontclair-at-yahoo.com to find out what’s happening, and join the Montclair GreenNClean facebook group.

Who Cares Enough

We know that Montclarions have plenty of civic pride, and cherish their Montclair Park.  Park Director Mark Zinns is also doing a nice job with his hands tied, and there are many activities and offerings underway for everyone.

However with some financial support and volunteerism by locals, it seems like we would keep the place spit-shined.  In honor of the real Earth Day tomorrow, are there folks out there who can step up with resources and leadership?

Play With Oakland Budget Challenge

Worth your time!  Take a few minutes and play with the Oakland Budget Challenge model, available online.  Through this model, you are able to make high-level cuts in department spending or select ways to increase tax revenues.

To close the $70.8 million budget gap in 2009-2010, you could maximize the choices and end up with a $3.1 million surplus.  Throw in the voter-approved increase in sales tax, however, and you see another $8 or $16 million surplus.  We wish it were that easy.

Oakland - Maxed Model

Some of the options don’t feel realistic, especially cuts to essential police or fire protection.  Yes, it’s possible to save $20 million here or there…but we think this feels like a Hobson’s choice:

Hobson’s choice (noun) – the choice of taking either that which is offered or nothing; the absence of a real alternative.  Origin:  1640-50; after Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), of Cambridge, England, who rented horses and gave his customer only one choice, that of the horse nearest the stable door.  (Random House)

We like the educational benefits. The budget model is a fun tool that’s simple to use.  You put in your preferences and see the gap closing along the way.  When you go back to change options, the differences are shown as well.

When complete, you see overall gap closure, major areas versus your plan, and even pie chart allocations.  I think all civic-minded Montclarions should try this model – and even your high school kids would learn something here.

Yet decisions are more difficult. By definition, this model is only a representation of Oakland’s budget challenges.  The choices are real, and decisions must be made by the City Council right now.

We wonder what’s underneath the hood overall, from line item expenses to cash flows.  Where are the cuts related to compensation, travel, health, profit sharing (pension) and other cross-departmental expenses?  How do the different departments compare, when looking at their expense mixes?

We know that a single model can’t do everything, and it needs to be simple for constituent appeal.  We hope the City Council representatives dive into the numbers a bit more thoroughly – it’s hard to tell from this far away.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Maybe spring has arrived for the local economy, after all.  At least some April numbers seem to bode well for our local real estate market…if they are for real.

Rather than waiting for official reports, which can take months, we just played around with some Zillow numbers.  During the past few weeks, there has been a sharp turnaround in housing values.  See for yourself, by clicking and inserting your address here.

Zillow - Mid-April

We live in the ever-so-humble Merriewood area, where the price estimates shot up.  The same uptick is clear throughout our 94611 zip code too.  Equally important, this turnaround may be playing out for the entire City of Oakland.

Today in Montclair sees these graphs and starts singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”  Maybe we should be more circumspect, since it’s hard to assess the factors driving the turnaround.  Still, we wanted to sharing sunny news amidst all the recession gloom.

Hillside Gardeners Quietly Toil Away

Have you even heard of the Hillside Gardeners of Montclair?  The Hillsiders have been quietly toiling away and making our public gardens flourish since 1947.  Since these gardens don’t live by sweat equity alone, the group will host a fundraising garden tour – this Saturday, April 18th, from 11am – 4pm.

Our interest in this gardening club was piqued, because we seldom hear about them.  We were able to catch up with one Hillsider, Barbara Goldenberg, who graciously filled in the blanks and shared their history and projects with us.

Conquering the Difficult Hillsides

As part of the post-WWII civic boom, Hillside Gardeners was founded in Montclair.  “Women were interested in putting in gardens into their new homes, and sharing information about gardening on these difficult hillsides,” explained Goldenberg, who has belonged for years.

“There were 10 ‘founders,’ all known by their husbands’ names, as was typical of the times.  All have passed away,” said Goldenberg.  However one long-time member of the Hillside Gardeners, Marj Saunders, is nearing her centennial and has been a club member since 1950.  She is a well-known green-thumb around Montclair, and even has an eponymous park!

Marj Saunders - Park Dedication

Hillside Gardeners Thrive Today

Today, the group is thriving while others have become extinct.  Under the current leadership of President Merle Boese, VP Ann Livingston and four other board members, there are 120 members and 21 standing and special committee chairs.  The point isn’t to bestow titles on members – it’s to assign and oversee many projects on a long-term basis.

Over the years, the membership has evolved well beyond Montclair borders.  Last year, the former Skyline Garden Club officially merged into this Hillside Club.  Today gardeners come from all over Oakland and carpetbaggers have been welcomed from Alameda, Berkeley and San Leandro.

Where the Green Thumbs Go

Hillsiders have restored and maintained some interesting gardens in publicly-owned places as well as health care locations.  Here’s where they till, plant, weed and prune these days:

  • Montclair Library Garden – about 10 years
  • Joaquin Miller School Gardens and Ecology Club – more than 12 years
  • Joaquin Miller Community Center – since the late 1980s
  • Moraga & Masonic Neighborhood Garden – after the 1991 firestorm
  • Lakeside Park Gardens – old Sensory & new Mediterranean Gardens – in the last five years
  • Water’s Edge Nursing Facility in Alameda, Horticulture Therapy – over 10 years

Each location requires around a day or two of monthly work, with Hillside teams ranging from six to 15 volunteers.  Lakeside Park requires more time, and Hillsiders work one evening a week from late spring until early fall.

From Earth to Table

The Joaquin Miller School gardens take even more time and attention.  Originally Montclarion Peggy Hulse had grand kids at the school, and she convinced their principal that growing food there was a good thing.  While Peggy has moved away, her legacy continues and the grade schoolers grow vegetables and native plants – and make nutritional snacks from their harvests.

Kids from first to fifth grades participate in three different weekly classes.  Lots of students get hands-on experience in the garden, and new participants join every half-semester.  Future gardeners naturally emerge, when a few older ones help the first and second graders.  It’s a rewarding project for the volunteers as well.

Sowing Oats with Scholarships

Hillside Gardeners also encourage college students through scholarships and part-time jobs.  They award horticulture and ecology students at Merritt College, granting enough for their expensive textbooks.  In addition, the Hillsiders hire and pay UC Berkeley students to work in the Botanical Gardens.

The club’s investment works well, since Merritt students and alums turn into active volunteers.  Barbara Goldenberg gave a shout-out to the Merritt pruning class who has helped restore the Sensory Garden at Lakeside Park, by pruning old camellias and other specimen trees.

Over the years, some Merritt graduates have joined the club and contributed their expertise.  Other grads just show up anyway – and pitch in with garden planting and clean-up efforts.

The Ups and Downs of Hillside Gardening

Earth Day is celebrated by Oaklanders this Saturday morning, but the afternoon is free and clear.  Why not take a tour of some extraordinary gardens and support the Hillside Gardeners?  They only hold a fundraiser every two or three years, and here are the official details:

The Hillside Gardeners of Montclair present “The Ups and Downs of Hillside Gardening,” a self-guided tour of eight fabulous Oakland gardens on Saturday, April 18th from 11 am – 4 pm.

See a terrific succulent garden, a butterfly garden, a sculpture garden, spectacular water features and four different vegetable gardens.  The gardens range from tiny and personal to large and household-sustaining, with lots of variety in between.

Each garden has a different way of using water wisely, including drought-tolerant plants, a home-made rain barrel, a well and a sophisticated rainwater collection and distribution system!

Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 that day.  For tickets, email hgmgardens@gmail.com or call (510) 530-1681.

Never Mind, Stop Conserving Water

What, stop conserving water in drought-laden California?   That’s one new and surprising message we heard today from our water utility.  Apparently, East Bay residents saved too much water this past fiscal year, and the East Bay Municipal Water District (EBMUD) revenues dropped…well, yeah.

Earlier today the EBMUD Board of Directors voted unanimously to end water rationing, although 20,000 acre-feet were actually saved.  “We would like to thank our customers for cutting back,” said EBMUD spokesman Charles Hardy.

Water Sprinkler

Yes, you read this correctly!  Their solution is to thank us for our efforts over the past year, and stop rationing by July 1st.  In its place, EBMUD plans to raise rates for all customers 7.5 percent on that day and then tack on another 7.5 percent next year.

It’s been a year since we were told to turn off the spigots and sprinklers, and reduce water usage or pay the fines.  Thus we embraced the go-green mentality and urged our neighbors to conserve water.  Besides, this conservation ethic seemed like the righteous thing to do.

Now the EBMUD directors have figured out that conservation wasn’t their only goal, as solvency mattered more.  We can hear their green eye-shaders explaining that higher rates will work well based on current water consumption levels.  Plus customers will act rationally and conserve water because the rates are rising.  And if some folks want to use more water, we make more shekels.  Got it?