Is Montclair A Real Place Without Its Post Office?

Is Montclair a real place without its post office?  Would it still feel like the wonderful little village we know and love today?  Imagine having to drive for miles to mail holiday cards and gifts, or your tax return.  Think about the impact on your daily schedule, the inconvenience, and even the wasted oil.

To us, Montclair without its post office…seems like a body with its heart ripped out.  And yet the U.S. Postal Service is deciding whether or not to perform this “major surgery” right now.

Our village is one of five Oakland P.O. locations that’s on a closure hit list.  In the Montclarion, Postal Service spokesperson Augustine Ruiz said they will begin making decisions or taking actions on October 2nd.  That means we have precious time to act, and to prevent this untimely demise.

U.S. Post Office - 41st Street

Postal Service Is Declining: In the new world order, it’s all about dollars and cents.  The snail mail business is definitely hurting with our wholesale shift to online communications, not to mention fierce competition from FedEx and UPS.  No one uses their post offices like before, including Montclarions.

Still, we have practical needs and stopping by the post office seems as natural as breathing air.  It will be tough on us if this Mountain Ave office closes down, because that means a several-mile drive down Broadway or Moraga to 41st Street (map).  Don’t get me going about the service there, either.

Local Office Needs Money, Stat: One Montclair neighbor, Karen Silverberg, decided to ask the postal workers what to do.  “I talked to one of the clerks at the Montclair P.O. and he said that the review would be based upon revenues received by each station, bottom line,” she explained.  “We should all go buy lots of stamps, ASAP.”  This seems like wise council, along with shipping a few more packages.

The Montclair Village Association will address the threatened closure at their next Board meeting, and welcomes concerned Montclarions to attend as well.  You may join them on Wednesday, August 5th, at 6:15 pm – down at the Pacific National Bank office (1998 Mountain Ave, map).

C’mon, folks!  We’ve gotta show the USPS that we mean business.

More info:   Besides making the point to visit our local post office (map), you can become an activist and register complaints too.  The USPS District Manager, Kim Fernandez, may be contacted at 1675 7th St., Rm. 307, Oakland, CA 94615.  Our Oakland Postmaster, Lowana Gooch, may be called at (510) 251-3031 or reached at 201 13th St., Rm 212,  Oakland CA  94612.  Or you may ask for assistance from U.S. Congress Rep Barbara Lee, click here for contacts.

Summertime Means A New School Yard

The kids, parents and teachers are nowhere in sight, but things are hopping this summer at Thornhill School.  Over the past month or so, the paved school yard was completely dug up to reveal the dirt underneath.  We wondered what would happen next.

Thornhill School - Getting Ready

Today a full battalion of earth movers, pavers, pumpers and all kinds of other equipment arrived on site.  As lay-people, we were left gawking at these heavy duty machines but couldn’t make heads or tails of the proceedings.  What the heck is a soil stabilization unit?

Thornhill School - Trucks Ready

Fortunately, I ran into a well-informed construction worker outside the school yard fences who was supervising things a bit.  He seemed pretty enthusiastic, and shared a few details about re-surfacing the whole yard.

They won’t pour regular wet concrete over Mother Earth, which was standard procedure years ago.  Instead, dirt and dry concrete will be mixed together and delivered to the ground.  Then this mix gets transformed into real concrete.

We’re sure things will start shaping up in the next day or two, if you or your kids want to see the work underway.  It’s surprising, but this new school yard should be completed well before everyone returns next month.

Oakland’s Museum Temporarily Fades From View

Like most Oaklanders, we’re saddened by the upcoming closure of the Oakland Museum of California.  Where will we go for our traditional wildflower and mushroom shows?  Where will we take visitors, who always get a kick out of the old timey, California galleries?  And where will we get a reliable, satisfying hit of art and culture?

Assuming the Oakland Museum holds on to its unique identity, we’re all for overdue improvements to the physical plant.  These are the first renovations since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon (and the Hornet, but that’s another Oakland story).  In fact, the museum and gallery design plans look terrific and you can view them here.

Favianna Posters

As Oakland’s museum temporarily fades from view, the natives are curious about what happens after August 23rd.  We already know the history and art galleries are supposed to re-open in May 2010, while the natural sciences gallery re-emerges sometime in 2012.  Meanwhile, the museum will continue living, breathing and transforming itself.

Museum Collection Moves Out

Well, there’s a lot of time involved in dismantling rooms, exhibits and an entire museum.  “It depends on the size and complexity of the exhibition.  A painting show will dissemble more easily than large sculpture or fragile artifacts,” explained Elizabeth Whipple, Communications Manager for the Oakland Museum.  “Think of the water pump truck used in the 1906 fire and quake:  valuable, fragile, hard to move and store, essential to the History Gallery.”

The difficult move means that the treasure trove won’t move (or hasn’t moved) far away.  Back in 2007, the museum opened their state-of-the-art California Collections and Research Center.  So the trove is getting sorted, conserved and stored in a safe and undisclosed location within city limits.

It’s mind-boggling to deal with more than 1.2 million objects in the collection – including over 70,100 works by California artists, one million objects and photographs about state history and people, and 112,090 objects documenting the local ecology.

Museum Brain Trust Keeps Working

Whipple said the staff remains hard at work, as usual.  “Curators do much of their work at their desks (on the phone and internet), in meetings, and visits to other museums and artists’ studios.  That won’t change.  They don’t work in the galleries, except to give occasional tours to peers and the public.”

More importantly, no one will lose their jobs at the museum.  Due to the one-time nature of the renovations, some  staff will be assigned to other roles – and there’s plenty to do before next spring’s launch and reopening.

Even the museum docents will continue their training courses.  The history docents have received initial training at a live exhibit, and will attend storytelling and improv workshops.  Their art counterparts are learning how to look at art carefully, and will train in the unfinished art gallery this winter.

Museum Offers Cultural Snacks

Oaklanders won’t be left completely high and dry during the closure period, because the museum will offer cultural snacks to all takers.  Keep on the lookout for a range of talks, presentations and displays in the months ahead.  Here are few things already planned:

  • Public Art – The construction zone will become an art zone instead.  Oakland arts activist Favianna Rodriguez has been asked by the museum to install public art on the plywood wall fronting Oak Street.  She does beautiful and provocative work, including the posters shown above, and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do with all that space.
  • Native Crafts – Ohlone historian Linda Yamane has been commissioned to create an authentic basket, which Whipple declared as “the first Ohlone basket created in California in hundreds of years.”  Yamane will grow, dry, flatten, design and weave it herself – and visitors will be able to see her working on the heirloom.
  • Online Dia – A “Virtual Day of the Dead” is in the planning stages, where Oaklanders would submit ofrenda images for this composite, online show.  Oakland celebrates Dia de los Muertos on a grand scale every year, so why not pay homage to it?

Museum Still Visits The Public

Educational programs will be available without interruption as well, including presentations at classrooms and other city venues.  On the agenda are the Gold Rush, a nature sciences class about birds, and the California Indian Lifeways program.  If you would like more information, then please reach Joan Collignon, at (510) 238-3515.

Last but not least, the Museum Store will be available online.  While this store offers only a few books and maps today, it’s supposed to get stocked more fully.  We depend on their selection for many “what should I buy” gifts, especially around the holidays.

Remember, the countdown begins now.  You have only a few weeks, until August 23rd, to drop by the museum before it shutters for eight full months.  We suggest checking out the current exhibits – about Africans in Mexico,  Berkeley-based artist Squeak Carnwath, and the Giant Sequoias – as a fond farewell to this unrenovated friend.

How Do You Really Feel About Parking?

Well, there has been a lot of hoopla and reaction over Oakland parking changes and rate increases.  It’s not bound to stop for Montclarions, who will soon see village garage fees raised to $2/hour.  We just picked up on this ordinance amendment, which we believe confirms the City Council’s decision to increase fees in city parking garages.

We know there’s grumbling out there in the hills.  The Town Crier asked whether the new parking rules would drive away Montclair business, and some 90 percent said the tunnel’s looking more appealing to them!  With this response in mind, we wanted to know more – and have seven quick questions for you.

Survey Guy

In this parking preference survey, it’s pretty much a multiple choice affair.  Where do you park in Oakland and nearby burgs, and how often?  What are your attitudes towards the different Montclair Village options?  And finally, do you really intend to alter your shopping habits and locales?

Keep in mind that parking kiosk irritants will get fixed soon.  If you buy a ticket from a kiosk, then it will be good for the full time even if you are parked elsewhere in the village or city.  If you buy a ticket after 5pm, then you will have the option to buy three rather than two hours’ time.

Still with the rate increases overall, we are very curious about your collective reactions.  There’s nothing like sharing results from a scientific survey, skewed by whomever wants to vote.  Thanks in advance for your opinions, all.

Never A Dull Moment In Community Safety

You thought the City of Oakland’s budget was done for the next fiscal year?  There’s never a dull moment during the biggest and baddest recession we have ever known.  And there’s never a dull moment when it comes to community safety, either.

In case you haven’t heard the news, the great hopes for Uncle Sam to “rehire” all the Oakland police that were getting cut to balance our city budget…didn’t pan out.  The cops will need to tighten their belts and there will be fewer on the force.  Our residents already participate in neighborhood councils to help police, and might have to redouble their efforts somehow.

Montclair Safety Councils

Even with scarcity, it feels like some public safety resources provide a bigger bang for the buck.  We think these priorities matter most to Montclarions:

  • Let’s make sure enough police are patrolling key places – Today there are public safety officers assigned to the two Montclair beats.  These officers are tuned into what’s happening here, in part based on priorities shared by residents.  Yet resources are scarce, and patrols are mostly limited to major arteries.
  • Let’s ensure a few beloved park rangers survive – We need patrols in places like Joaquin Miller or Shepherd Canyon during the sultry evenings and weekends.  There are only two in place and regular cops can’t do it all.  While Friends of [insert place] groups are useful, they still need help to protect the places from vandals, fires and even unruly dogs.
  • Let’s continue to support citizen safety groupsNo one argues with the importance of community policing and preparedness, yet the city’s neighborhood services program is on the chopping block.  Where does that put residents and active groups like the Montclair Safety & Improvement Council and North Hills Neighborhood Council around here?

It’s a logic problem to us.  If there can’t be sufficient police and rangers in the hills, then citizens need to be able to share priorities and hot spots so fewer cops can do their jobs better.  The city has a few positions to ensure that community policing works and now wants to cut them out?  You can’t have it both ways.

Update: As of month end, logic has prevailed.  The City Council decided to keep the existing park rangers and neighborhood services program.  Uncle Sam gave Oakland enough to cover 41 cops, and the cops have made pay and pension concessions as well.