Fine Art Returns To Montclair Village, This Weekend

The 34th Annual Fine Arts Sidewalk Festival is returning to Montclair Village this weekend, when our sidewalks come alive!  Stroll along Mountain, La Salle and Antioch to appreciate the artwork or acquire a treasure.

More than 90 professional artists from across the western US arrive here, after getting selected for this juried festival.  What we like best is the scale of the event, because it’s possible to meet the artists and learn what makes them tick.

You can expect a variety of painters, sculptors and jewelry makers in our nabe.  Below are some artists we discovered before, to whet your appetite for this year’s three-day show.

The sculptor, James Moore, hails from San Rafael.  He exhibited in Montclair last year, right in front of Le Bon Bon.  Moore’s pieces are all about guys who are unbalanced – or are balancing things.  Many of the sculptures are massive, and I want all of them.

Painter Kelvin Curry is from Oakland.  I think this piece above is elegant, don’t you?  You can see a video interview with Kelvin, who was inspired by his grandmother to become an artist.  He also likes to work in series, trying certain things over and over.

Jeweler Sica Roman wants to “create wearable art that can be recognized as symbols of our interconnectedness.”  This isn’t a piece you are likely to see everywhere, and I think it contains an evil eye and a serpent, hhmm.

We treat the Montclair Village Festival as a gallery or museum-quality stroll, and usually plan on spending a few hours wandering our streets.  This free exhibit is one of the highlights of living in the hills, where strollers are lucky to see the good stuff up close.  We also like to stand back and watch how other folks react to the art!

More info: Our 2009 festival takes place from June 26th – 28th. On Friday and Saturday, the hours are 10am – 6pm. On Sunday, the hours are 10am – 5pm.  It’s presented this year by the Montclair Village Association and Bay Area Newsgroup.


No Brad Pitt In Oakland?

We’re not sure if you follow all the celebrity and movie news, this being Oakland and all.  However Moneyball was supposed to start shooting here this summer, a cool Steven Soderbergh-version of Billy Beane’s life – as played by Brad Pitt.  Oakland was going to be blessed with Brad and his entourage.

GM Beane's Parking Spot

As the Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane probably would have been too busy this summer to pal around with Brad and hang out on the set.  His story – Billy’s and not Brad’s – is an interesting one, as we all know.  He’s still hard at work trying to make the A’s productive this season.

But the real news came out this morning:  the $50 million picture may be kaput.  According to Variety, Columbia Pictures head Amy Pascal didn’t like the final script.  The film is getting shopped to other major studios this weekend.  Otherwise, the production goes on hiatus until things get worked out – or likely not worked out.

Even though Brangelina sells magazines, the Brad half isn’t seen as the sole driver of box office.  The movie studio now fears this newfangled movie about baseball and whether it has sufficient worldwide appeal.  We think Billy and Oakland are worth risking $50 million, don’t you?

Newcomer Magpie Sells Must-Haves

Finally there’s a great place for teens and college kids to stock up on their jeans, tops, tees and more – without shlepping to Walnut Creek or other shopping mall meccas.

The Magpie (map) aims to be “a boutique that offers comfortable clothing and fashionable styles” and showcases “quality, hip apparel from prominent and cutting-edge designers.”  Yes, we can confirm that’s what you will find on La Salle Avenue.

The Magpie

The Magpie opened their doors in early June, after months of preparations.  Owner Kevin Benafield sought advice from his son and daughter on what to stock right now.  This seems like a wise move, as any baby-boomer can tell you it’s awfully hard to keep up with hip-versus-passe things.  Benafield now wants to hear from all their customers, and fill the shelves with more popular and less stodgy fare than what you typically find at department stores.

What impressed me is that everything seems really wearable too, even for young-at-heart older folks.  I have to tell you that Magpie’s clothes are nice but not cheap, with a strong selection of boot cut, flair, skinny and ultra-skinny jeans from brands like DL161, Paige and soon-to-arrive Joe’s Jeans.  There are nice women’s tops including those old peasant shirts now back in style.  You’ll find a mix of bathing suits, shorts and flats too.

On the guys’ side, there’s skateboard paraphernalia and chic everywhere – like Chocolate shorts or Santa Cruz swim trunks.  What caught my eye were all the Retro Brand tees that have a broken-in appeal and the Just A Cheap Shirt button-downs, in many colors and patterns.  I also liked the hoodies, shirts and socks made partly from hemp.

Since the 1960s are definitely “in” again at The Magpie, you’ll have no trouble picking up something for Father’s Day.  Give ’em a try.

You Spoke: Thumbs Down For Pay-Go

The people have spoken, and it’s thumbs-down for Pay-Go.  Some 82 percent of voters wanted these funds to be red-lined from Oakland’s budget.  The rest of you split evenly between keeping them or not being sure what to do, yet still wanted to reduce the $125k allotment per City Council representative.

Thumbs Down

These results came from our non-scientific survey, launched yesterday and still open.  Thus far, respondents were 46 percent male and 54 percent female.  Over 30 percent said they lived in Rep Nadel’s district 3, while others lived in districts repped by Brooks, Brunner, De La Fuente and Quan.  Interestingly, no one cast ballots from Reid or Kernighan’s districts.

What else did Oaklanders say?  They offered varied opinions about how Pay-Go funds are or should be used by different Council reps – and all demanded better accountability.  Check out these comments left by survey-takers:

When times are good, pay-go would be o. k.  Now, no.  Pay-go should have some “rules” attached to it.  Ideally, it should be used to leverage other community $.

I agree with Ms. Brunner that Pay-Go is valuable in a City that seems to perennially pay attention to certain areas while completely ignoring others.  However, I think that more stringent rules should be placed on use – none of this “neighborhood party” business like in Brook’s district.  That is nothing short of vote buying.  Capital improvements only, with cursory permission via vote by other council members.  In that event, I support raising the amount.

Council members should admit and mea culpa their role in blowing the surplus we had a few years back, due to the house-flipping that jacked up transfer tax revenue.  Of course, the council had a feeding frenzy on that, and saved not one dime for a rainy day.  Not learning a thing, at least one council member continues to beat an old dead horse to rifle its saddlebags for money.  Money to buy his own glory to build a boondoggle which he probably wants to name after himself, while his district crumbles apart with no grocery stores or drugstores or youth centers, but lots of murders.

A majority of council members use these funds on projects that don’t get other funds because they are poor uses of money.  It is used to reward cronies.  Get rid of it.

Beyond Pay-Go, many respondents felt the need to suggest other Council budget changes.  Several of you wanted to reduce headcounts in staff offices or else make substantial cuts to the elected reps’ salaries.  One respondent went straight to the stomach, noting meals budgeted by the city clerk:  “The Council should pay for their own meals, not the tax payers.”  I guess every morsel counts during the 2009 recession.

June 20th Update: Still want to weigh in?  Please feel free to take this quick survey and share your thoughts.  Living in the O, which is an active Oakland-wide blog, has asked for survey takers and we’re wondering if these preliminary results will hold or change as survey takers pile on.

Our Council Rep, Jean Quan, also offered her take today on how Pay-Go gets used in our district.  These funds help “prime the pump” on city funding or else fill gaps when there are simply no resources available.

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Vote Here: Thumbs Up or Down For Pay-Go?

We’re kind of obsessed about the Oakland budget, as it races to some conclusion.  Among all the cuts is something called “Pay-Go” funds.  For those not in the know, each Oakland City Council member receives $125k annually for district priorities.

How do you feel about these funds?  Do you think they should be kept in the budget or cut now?  Please take this quick survey and let your views be known.

Survey Guy

Yesterday, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums declared these funds as an anachronism as best.  “I personally think we’ve got to end the practice of pay-go, and just move on,” he said to the the Tribune.  “I don’t think it is good public policy.”

Pay-Go funds have come in handy.  In Montclair, these funds plus private fundraising efforts led to the Shepherd Canyon parking lot.  Smaller amounts are spent on things that people appreciate, such as Joaquin Miller Park maps.

It seems like Pay-Go funds enable the Oakland City Council reps to do things they can’t get approved or done through the city itself.  On the other hand, the choices are up to each rep about best uses for these funds.

We look forward to sharing your opinions soon, thanks!

Quan Says That $18 Million Is Ours

Today we visited the Save Your City site where anyone can upload videos that communicate their budget views to Sacramento and the Governator.  When I searched for Oakland, there was Jean Quan saying leave us alone – that $18 million the State wants to grab from property and gas taxes is ours.

Save Your City - Rep Quan

As the City Council’s finance committee chair, Quan forcefully makes her case along these lines:

The State of California has lived on credit cards and hit their limits.  They have already made enough funding cuts, directly impacting Oakland which has a higher percentage of seniors and poor residents.

The State wants to take eight percent of our property taxes, which is $11 million.  More recently, they want to take most of our gas taxes, which is around $6 million.  (This adds up to $17 million but later the $18 million is cited.)

Oakland is looking at an $80 million tax cut because our sales, property, real estate taxes are down.  This affects our quality of life – we need our libraries, police officers and streets maintained, etc.

Oakland has plenty of company, as there are 200 California cities declaring severe fiscal hardship.  When you search around other cities and their reps, you hear the same push-back on the property taxes grab and the same “leave us alone” echoes.

Save Your City is a grass-roots initiative organized by the League of California Cities.  They are encouraging folks to join the coalition or upload videos, and help deliver a thumbs-down message to elected officials in Sacramento.

My take?  As a citizen of Montclair Village, Oakland, Alameda County and California during the great recession of 2009, this feels like an internecine budget battle – but I’m siding with Oakland because this one’s patently unfair.

Update: Our State Assembly finalized and delivered a statewide budget on July 23rd.  The bad news is that Oakland must lend nearly $12 million in property taxes to Sacramento, and be repaid in three years.  Yet there’s some good news because Oakland gets to keep $6 million in gas taxes, along with 30 city workers who maintain streets and sidewalks.

Some Civic Things Are Budgeted

Right now, the City of Oakland is making all kinds of news with our budget shortfalls.  Like every major metro area, we are dealing with huge gaps and have to get to some final and solvent budget.

Mayor Ron Dellums’ first shot has been poured over and worked through by the City Council.  Beyond the big nut with police funding, four Council representatives have recommended many, many changes – including some civic-minded things that are now budgeted.

Oakland City Officials

We’re betting that you didn’t look at what our council rep, Jean Quan, and her colleagues adjusted in their budget.  It seems like Montclarions are so fed up that even paying attention to the shortfalls and responses can be headache-inducing, but some of our hot-button issues have been addressed:

  • Branch libraries stay open five days a week – While we won’t have six days a week, these hours are certainly better than two or three days which had been proposed by the mayor.  (It will be nice for Montclair to re-open on July 5th, finally.)
  • Two park ranger positions stay in place – There’s been lots of noise from Montclarions, and rightfully so.   This current staffing isn’t ideal, but we will take something rather than nothing!  We hope the rangers will attend to Joaquin Miller, Shepherd, Dimond and other key spots over the summer.
  • Twelve public workers keep their jobs – As Mother Nature takes its toll, it’s good to see four workers handling trees.  Of course, visitors also take their toll on our city parks and eight maintenance workers will be saved too.  This isn’t full-force, so volunteers are still needed to keep parks clean.
  • The CORE program will live on – Some sanity prevails, and the safety coordinator will still be training citizens in handling all the typical Oakland disasters.  We’re overdue for both fires and earthquakes, so it’s important that neighbors know what to do.  Apparently, the fire department agrees now.

What’s next?  The “first reading of the ordinances” takes place this Tuesday, June 16th at 6pm, in the City Council chambers.  This means the Council’s budget motion is reviewed at that session.  There’s a second reading scheduled for June 30th, which would include revisions and changes.

Meanwhile, the wheels spin slowly but sometime the budget does have to get done – even without clear understanding of the impacts from federal, state and county levels.