Piedmonters Unsettled On Blair Park

Piedmont political leaders seem a little unsettled about Blair Park development, in Moraga Canyon.  Since we all live nearby, Piedmonters and Oaklanders should hear about the upcoming city reviews.  We thought that sports field plans were effectively iced – but apparently that’s not correct.

The Piedmont City Council has placed Blair Park on their September 8th agenda, as part of the “EIR For Moraga Canyon Sports Fields.” There will be an environmental impact review of synthetic turf and lighting plans for Blair Park and Coaches Playfield.

Blair Park's Turkey Family

Piedmont and Oakland residents united to push back development earlier this year, when Piedmont’s school district considered placing portable classrooms at Blair Park.  At that time, talk turned to installing retaining walls, permanent playing fields, parking lots and an overhead walkway across Moraga Avenue.

Last March, Today in Montclair ran a survey to gauge opinions about playing fields and alternatives.  We asked whether Blair was the answer and more than 60 percent of survey-takers were against building soccer fields there.

We also asked about alternatives to solving the field shortage in the hills.  Over 70 percent of respondents said that local school and college fields could be used more often – and that city-owned fields could improve their schedules, too.

As the summer wraps up, it seems like what was settled is still unsettled.  Some sort of slow-moving force is pushing the Blair Park fields development by the Piedmont City Council.  Even without a clear funding path, there’s an important assessment scheduled right after Labor Day.

We don’t have details for this latest Blair Park review, because “the staff report for this matter will be available on the city web site by Thursday, September 3, 2009.”  You should be able to click here for more details.

In the meantime, we know that showing up is part of the battle.  Like before, we expect concerned hills residents to attend the Piedmont meeting – on Tuesday, September 8th at 7:30pm, in city chambers (map).  The future of Blair Park is still at stake.

First Time At Oakland Policeman’s Funeral

Today was the first time we witnessed, first-hand, the funeral respect paid to an Oakland police officer.  It’s very heartwarming to watch how the police force honors their officers.  Especially on little Thornhill Drive, we saw a massive show of group unity – an emotional and lovely sight.

We were able to snap photos as the procession unfolded for Officer Murray Hoyle, who had been part of the Oakland Police Department for 28 years.  Hoyle patrolled our Montclair district for decades, so it was appropriate that Montclair Presbyterian Church hosted his funeral.

Police Arriving

The Oakland officers came by car, foot and many gleaming motorcycles.  In the beginning of the procession, officers specifically drove to the church in formation.  Afterwards, all the motorcycles were lined up in tribute and we lost count of them.

Police At Attention

The officers lined the street and all faced south this morning.  They were directed from an officer standing on the street, and gave a long salute.  In this photo, taken shortly thereafter, you see them waiting at attention for Officer Hoyle’s casket to be carried into the church.

Police Presence

There were so many officers today!  We’re guessing that 100-200 officers were present, but aren’t quite sure.  More importantly, there was a real karmic energy at this point.  The officers were waiting to go inside, following right behind the family and friends.

Service Underway

With the service underway, the street became instantly silent.  Everyone had moved into Montclair Presbyterian by then, and we heard that the large sanctuary was filled to capacity.  Overflowing officers were able to enter the grounds, though.

It’s hard to understand the lives of Oakland Police officers and the basic stresses that lay-people don’t deal with everyday.  Officer Hoyle committed suicide last Saturday, with a single bullet.  He was respectful of his fellow officers, and even called and alerted Contra Costa 911 dispatchers beforehand.

It’s also hard to fathom any loss or death, yet the amazing support and tacit understanding from the Oakland Police was fantastic to witness.  Cops’ lives are special ones, and their common bonds were beautifully displayed during this morning’s ceremony.

Support Oakland’s Mai-Tai Campaign

After its summer somnolence, let’s re-activate Oakland’s Mai-Tai campaign and support the cocktail as the official drink of Oakland.  After all, the drink was literally born in our city.

A month ago, it looked like the City Council might put this all-important declaration on their agenda.  The pro-tiki, grassroots movement had made headway, as reported by Diablo Magazine and the SF Chronicle.  We even heard that one of the council reps was supportive as well.

While plans to get this formal recognition were lining up, other Council priorities like the budget pushed everything else aside.  It’s time to make sure the mai-tai matter appears on the city agenda, when the Council reconvenes in September.

Peck, Conga Lounge

We believe Oaklanders would unite behind something like the mai-tai, even though Hawaiians and chain restauranteurs have co-opted it as their own.  It turns out the drink was actually invented here, and a declaration could go a long way towards staking our claim.

Mai-tai cocktails were first served by Trader Vic, at his place on San Pablo Avenue.  Victor J. “Trader Vic” Bergeron set the record straight many years ago, explaining that he created the drink in 1944.  Here are the salient facts from Vic:

I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant.  I took down a bottle of 17-year-old rum.  It was J. Wray Nephew from Jamaica; surprisingly golden in color, medium bodied, but with the rich pungent flavor particular to the Jamaican blends.  The flavor of this great rum wasn’t meant to be overpowered with heavy additions of fruit juices and flavorings.

I took a fresh lime, added some orange curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy Syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle almond flavor.  A generous amount of shaved ice and vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after.  Half the lime shell went in for color.

I  stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Tahiti, who were there that night.  Carrie took one sip and said, “Mai Tai – Roa Ae.”  In Tahitian this means “Out of This World – The Best.”  Well, that was that.  I named the drink “Mai Tai.”

Your local tiki bars serve up the legacy cocktail today, including Oakland spots on College Ave, Piedmont Ave, 29th Ave, one place in nearby Alameda, and the Trader Vic’s in Emeryville.

Our opinion?  The sweet mai-tai would provide a boost for Oakland natives and visitors.  We are only asking for a positive push by the halls of city government.  Let’s make sure that our representatives are listening – and perhaps we’ll get this lovely concoction some long-deserved recognition.

Taking A Montclair Appreciation Tour

We decided to take an historical tour featuring Montclair today, but wondered how anyone could schedule 2.5 hours for such an event.  After all, we’re a far cry from ancient Rome.

After taking this walk and talk, we understood and have become disciples of the Oakland Heritage Alliance.  There’s plenty to learn about our area, the first Euro settlers, village development, landmarks and even buildings that usually go unnoticed.

Montclair Appreciation Tour - Firehouse Stop

Docent Kathleen diGiovanni is an Oakland librarian who clearly knows her craft.  She researched everything well, and told us what was documented versus hearsay.  She explained what “was there” or “happened there” all over the village.  And she brought along old photos so we could compare yesteryear with today.

Here’s some of what we learned this afternoon:

  • Texas Ranger John Hayes was the first Euro settler who owned all the land from north of Berkeley through part of Hayward.  He was legit, having purchased (rather than stolen) his land from the Peraltas.  He didn’t actually live in our hills, though.
  • The first Montclarion settlers were perched near the Thornhill-Moraga exit, on the Thornhill side.  Back then, they lived on Hayes Road.  The name later changed to Thorn Road, honoring logger Hiram Thorn.  When realtors hit town, they decided on Thornhill.  Today there are some stones along the northern reaches that might have edged the first settlement, but no one’s exactly sure.
  • Folks from a hundred years ago really didn’t understand the value of trees. It seems that everyone was obsessed with blue-gum eucalyptus trees.  After all the original growth redwoods were logged out, these trees were planted because they were supposed to remove malaria risks in the swamps and provide good hardwoods for building – but they were not particularly useful after all.
  • Original real estate developers wanted Montclair Village to look like Carmel, at least from an architectural perspective.  There are a few vestiges left in the village, such as the Spanish style bus depot that now houses Le Bonbon.  There also used to be a really nice building housing the Montclarion, but it was razed to build a gas station.  So much for preservation ideals back in 1961!
  • Fortunately, some of the original buildings stayed intact. The 1920s and 1930s storybook charmers remain in Fernwood, as well as the Montclair Library and old Fire Station.  Other later era structures have gotten covered up, such as a wood-clad, hip 1950s building where Noah’s Bagels sits.  As we walked south on Mountain, we looked at original buildings near Luckys – and realized they might seem nicer as time marches on.
  • Vestiges of the trains running through Montclair are prominent, when you poke around Montclair Park and Mountain Avenue.  You can imagine where the massive berm was located, as verified by Montclair School alums who used walking tunnels through it.  After the Sacramento Northern trains ceased operations in the 1950s, the earth-berm was removed entirely.

Anyway, kudos to the Oakland Heritage Alliance.  While there were a few dozen people appreciating Montclair on the tour, we’re pretty sure that most Montclarions would have gotten a big kick out of the stories told about our little burg today.

Montclarions Put Oakland Schools First

Community action has reached the hills!  Lately, concerned Montclarions have begun “good works” under the Montclair Community Action Group banner, and everyone is welcome to join them.  Their first efforts are focused on working with Oakland public schools, as the most practical way to reach and help disadvantaged kids citywide.

Oakland School Supply

Donate Supplies For School Kids

The group’s inaugural effort, a School Supply Drive, will be held this Sunday, August 23rd.  You may drop off new school supplies or donate money at the Farmers Market, from 9am – 11am; or the Montclair Cultural Arts Center (aka Women’s Club, on Mountain Blvd), from 11am – 2pm.

Organizer Claudia Huttner explained how this drive came about:

The idea came out of a simple desire to create a community service event that would make a difference for kids and provide an opportunity for volunteers to participate, even if they have very full lives and not much extra time.

Many of us are looking for ways to bring change to our community, and it doesn’t have to be monumental or complicated.  Every gesture counts.  School supplies are a basic need for kids and the cost can really add up.  Donating supplies to under-resourced schools takes a little of the economic burden off of already over-burdened households.

The requested supplies fit local student needs well, and include backpacks (any colors except red or blue), pencils, colored pencils, pens, pencil boxes, rulers, erasers, lined notebooks and glue sticks.

On a practical note, these items will be delivered through the Faith Network of the East Bay.  Huttner said this network is “already in the schools supporting kids and families.  They work with some 30 schools in the East Bay, primarily in Oakland, and have a distribution network in place.  The people at Faith Network have been terrific and very supportive.”

Everyone seems hopeful that Montclarions will step up and contribute during this Sunday’s push.  The group has already managed to collect several bags’ worth of supplies plus $550 in cash donations.  Huttner and her fellow volunteers hope this drive will become an annual event, so that disadvantaged kids get on a more level playing field.

Volunteer An Hour Or Two Weekly

Additionally the Montclair Community Action Group has announced a citywide Volunteer Faire for the schools, scheduled for Saturday, September 12th.  Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith will kick things off at 11am, at Oakland’s Main Library.  In a prepared statement, Smith declared that:

Strong schools arise not apart from the community, but spring from it through goodwill, hard work and unity of purpose. Volunteers play an essential role in not only filling gaps in the system, but in forging the essential bonds that allow school and community to grow in concert.

At this faire, potential volunteers may discuss and explore opportunities.  Risha Riley, of the Oakland School District’s Volunteer Office, will be on hand to represent volunteer gigs in all of the city schools.  There will also be representatives from Oakland libraries and at least 12 non-profits (see list), who support programs in our schools today.

Since the faire runs until 2pm Saturday, there should be enough time to consider roles such as teacher’s aide, library assistant, student mentor, financial literacy program participant, business & career coach, nutrition program participant, science coach, after school homework helper, playground monitor, or volunteer in school beautification, gardens and art projects.

Volunteering isn’t exactly a full-time occupation, you know.  Even if you only have an hour or two available weekly, the Oakland schools and students would benefit from your time.  According to organizer Carolyn Burd, “there’s an opportunity for everyone who may be interested in becoming a school volunteer.  Many of the organizations participating in the Faire have programs in under-served schools.”

It seems perfect, and we appreciate that Montclarions are doing the legwork.  All you have to do is show up, decide what looks interesting, and make a very minor commitment – and it’s guaranteed that some Oakland child will shine brighter from your attention.

More info:  Montclair Community Action GroupSchool Supply DriveVolunteer Faire