Relief, Only A Four-Hour Conflagration

Do you hear our collective sigh of relief?  Our first responders performed so well on the Orinda fire today, after brush fueled a rapidly-spreading fire near Fish Ranch Road.  This 30-acre or so fire was reported at 3pm and out by 7pm – and that’s a truly rapid response.

Fish Ranch Fire - Sept 2009

What or who showed up? Well, this Orinda fire was declared a two-alarmer.  According to a local fire chief, there were 120 personnel, 32 fire apparatus (we think this means trucks), two helicopters and four fixed-wing aircraft.  The final tally will be out soon enough.

When you see all the standard fire-fighting maneuvers underway, it still creates a queasy feeling.  After all, we are now living in the dead of Fire Season:  (1) it’s September; (2) it’s bone dry; (3) winds have kicked up; and (4) it’s been 18 years since the last big one.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for now.  Although we’re definitely better prepared than ever, Ma Nature isn’t controllable – and we all know that!

More info:   The online video resources made it easy to keep tabs on this fire today.  Tip of the hat to KTVU which took great footage from their traffic copter – see this raw footage and later report.  Also the Oakland Tribune included photos and video.  The news is duplicated everywhere, with key links here to ABC7’s report and raw footage (great); CBS5’s article and video; and KRON’s video (requires search).

How Do You Create A Song?

How do you create a song?  No, not a melody with words.

We mean Strings of a Nubian Groove, and this S.O.N.G. was created by three Oaklanders who had been making music with kids in the ‘hood as well as jazz cognoscenti – and who now perform a new kind of classical, spiritual and jazz fusion as a trio.

SONG. After Performance

In their own words, S.O.N.G. is about this fusion:

S.O.N.G. is an ensemble of musical Mavericks!  Destiny, sound sculptress aka harpist from the hood, Tarika Lewis the rebirth of Jimmie Hendrix on electric BLUE violin and Vince Tolliver “The Preacher Man” on electric and acoustic viola.  We come together and create music!  We sometimes call it “Ethno eclectic, classical/crossover/jazz fusion.”  And sometimes it just feels so GOOD we don’t know WHAT to call it – but the main thing:  We are having FUN and that’s most important.

SONG. In Performance

The S.O.N.G. Concert

Since this music doesn’t fall neatly into a specific genre, it sometimes stays hidden from view.  Fortunately we were able to hear S.O.N.G. perform their ethereal music during a sultry afternoon, at Sundays In The Redwoods.  Using a concert-sized harp, violin, viola and voice, this ensemble took the audience on a spiritual trip – that wasn’t new-agey at all.

This group created original treatments based on familiar themes or melodies.  While we recognized classical, broadway, folk and rock melodies, the actual tunes were secondary to the performances.  Some of the arrangements flowed across the strings and others sounded almost like guitars jamming away.  And yet the music numbers worked well together in concert, whether more classical or jazzy in nature.

S.O.N.G. mostly performed instrumentals last Sunday.  However on Michael Row Your Boat, we heard a spiritual rendition sung by Destiny.  The sound of her voice and rhythmic repetitions were the appeal, rather than words themselves.  She contributed a soulful, fourth instrument during the performance.

The S.O.N.G. Musicians

They are a highly-talented collection of musicians!  The lead arranger, performer and self-described Harpist from the Hood is Destiny, who’s originally from LA’s Compton hood and now lives in Oakland.  Watch her video performance, including Amazing Grace (at 6:00).  This harpist-vocalist fearlessly treads across the genres, including more spiritual music on earlier albums like Sacred Bath.

The violinist, Tarika Lewis, teaches both classical and jazz violin to inner-city Oakland children.  She has also performed with jazz greats like John Handy, and her violin playing has tremendous range!  Tarika’s a multi-talented artist as well as musician, who illustrates kids books and does graphic designs.  (As a side note, she was an early civil rights activist with the Black Panthers.)

Last but not least, Vince Tolliver plays viola for the trio.  He has been part of the Oakland music scene for years, performing in eponymous quintet and quartet groups.  Listen to this piece called Sugar (click on MP3 here), which is a lovely traditional jazz number.  He also directs the instrumental music department at Skyline High’s Performing Arts Academy, including their marching band.

More info:   For S.O.N.G. updates and performances, please visit Destiny’s Harpist from the Hood web site as well as the S.O.N.G. MySpace page.  The trio has recorded a CD, and sells them for $10 each (plus $2 shipping and handling in the USA).  To buy a CD, please send snail mail to S.O.N.G. aka Strings of a Nubian Groove, 1428 Alice Street, Suite 406, Oakland, CA 94612; email to; or call 510-465-7794.

Montclair Safety’s Changing Of Guards

The Montclair Safety & Improvement Council (MSIC) was created in 2003, and has been working on quality-of-life issues ever since.  Now the founding steering committee heads plan to step down, so there will be an elected “changing of the guards” ahead.

MSIC is an all-volunteer group representing the Montclair core, which means the Village and areas south of Thornhill.  Like many Oakland neighborhood groups, they focus on crime prevention, traffic safety, beautification and emergency preparedness – but these guys do it with enthusiasm!

Montclair SIC Logo

What’s special about this Council is the level of communications occurring among its leaders, Beat 13Z cops and first responders, village merchants, elected power-that-be, city administrators and plain ‘ole Montclarions.  The Yahoo! message board is very heavily used as well, and lights up anytime there’s something cooking out there.

We have watched how locals can share something suspicious – like a person or car that’s been casing a street or two – and how that ultimately helps.  While the subject matter is mostly about problems or potential problems, at least there’s a way for Beat 13Z folks to share quickly.

In essence, the Montclair SIC acts much like an activist watchdog group for Montclair’s core.  Chairman Nick Vigilante and Vice Chair Jill Broadhurst should be applauded for their sheer stamina and commitment alone.  And it’s now time for the next generation of leaders to step up and influence the quality-of-life around here.

If you can devote sufficient time and energy, then please throw your hat in the ring for one of the MSIC leadership positions.  Below is a copy of Chairman Nick’s email which encourages neighbors to run for the MSIC steering committee – give it some consideration.

Hello Everyone,

The Montclair Safety and Improvement Council (MSIC) will be sending out an official email to let you know all the details about the elections.

As many of you know, I and several others helped form the MSIC in 2003, with help from Council Member Jean Quan’s Office.  MSIC thanks Council Member Quan and Sue Piper for their fantastic support through the years.

The MSIC Steering Committee tries really hard to help the Montclair community, and you as the members of the Montclair community play a big part in it.  I thank all of you for the great work you do for your neighborhoods, and for Montclair.  You make Montclair a better and safer home for us all.

Myself-Chair, and Jill Broadhurst-Vice Chair, have been with MSIC since day-one.  I have decided not to seek re-election as Chair.  Jill has decided not to seek re-election as Vice Chair.  This is not due to any internal problems or controversies.  Both Jill and I will continue with MSIC, but in other capacities.  I will continue with crime prevention, and help Doug Mosher with the great work he is doing with the MONS Groups.  Jill will continue with beautification and the great work she does with that group in Montclair.

There are lots of you out there (Other MSIC Steering Commitee Officers and Reps, MONS, CORE, Watch Group Leaders, etc.) who have great potential to contribute on a broader level for Montclair.  I ask you to consider the possibility of an Officer position on the MSIC Steering Committee – Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary.  There are other Representational positions on the MSIC Steering Committee as well, which may come open.

MSIC will soon publicize a public meeting in November; one which is a regular public meeting.  At this public meeting, there will be a interesting topic of interest to all of you.  I’ll keep that a secret right now!  The MSIC Steering Committee election process will also take place at the November meeting, but that is not the reason for the meeting.  MSIC is required to hold elections every year.

An official notification will follow from MSIC, as I mentioned above.

My email is intended to give everyone an advance opportunity to explore the idea of serving on the MSIC Steering Committee, which for me has been a great learning experience and opportunity to serve you.  Thank you,

Nick Vigilante

We Get The Money Views In Oakland

When living in the Oakland Hills, you get the “money views” of the Bay Area.  You may see local trees and hills, which seem like Europe.  You may glimpse the open waters of San Francisco Bay.  You may look at the Marin and Mt. Tam horizon.

However our favorite, endlessly changing view is due West.  Many of us can walk onto our decks and gaze from Oakland across to San Francisco.  It’s all about the changing light and fog, and is a local form of entertainment that beats what’s on air or online.

Typical Montclair View (Bennett Hall)

One of our Montclarion neighbors, Bennett Hall, recently stepped onto his deck and captured this extraordinary evening view.  When he shared the image today, I was simply amazed and had to pass it along – words don’t do justice to this surreal artwork.

Did we mention that we love Montclair?

Chase Bank Gets Crashed, In Front Door

There was big activity in Montclair Village this morning, when a car crashed into the Chase Bank branch at La Salle and Mountain.  Luckily no one was injured, but the front entrance and door are undergoing surgery and the branch remains closed until repairs are finished.

An elderly woman was about to park in front of the bank, but she drove a bit too far.  According to an eyewitness, she had been driving rather slowly, turned into the spot and hit the gas rather than brake pedal.  We saw her getting attention from Oakland police and medics, and she seemed shocked but none the worse for wear.

When the crash happened, there was another person using the ATM machine to the right of the entry.  Again the gods were kind and this person was spared completely.  The ATM machine looks unscathed, although it’s not working right now.

Chase, Tire Tracks

The door was completely wrecked and bent out, and there’s glass getting cleaned up everywhere.  The front entrance consists of a glass door as well as glass panels right, left and overhead. The workmen need to replace the glass, door and all-important locks…this being a bank and all.

Chase, Clean Up

What a mess.  We figure you need to go to the Chase branch at Broadway and Pleasant Valley, if you bank there.  Also think ahead and hit up another ATM, at least for the time being.

Reporting from center city, this is MontclairOak – over and out.

Butters Canyon Still Protected

When you look at the Oakland Hills from afar, you see many different canyons whether they are filled with homes or not.  Most of the open spaces are formally protected as parkland by the City of Oakland or East Bay Regional Park District.  Unfortunately, other natural areas like Butters Canyon are at risk unless locals take up the mantel themselves.

Where is Butters Canyon?

Well, the Canyon is nearby.  You head up to Joaquin Miller Park, turn right on Butters Drive and loop around narrow streets until you see the drop-offs.  We ventured over this afternoon, and were suitably impressed by all the open hills and steeps there.

Butters Canyon - View 1- Sept 23, 2009

In this first photo taken today, you can see the undeveloped hillside and trees in Butters Canyon.  You also glimpse a bit of the canyon floor as well as some open land peeking through the trees.

Butters Canyon - View 2 - Sept 23, 2009

This next shot was taken from a different section, where you look straight down from the road to the gully.  Now you have a better sense of the canyon floor.  Doesn’t this place already look like protected parkland?

Butters Canyon - View 3 - Sept 23, 2009

In this last shot, you can also see a clear path running through the canyon.  Keep in mind this trail isn’t actively maintained like those used in Joaquin Miller Park or even Dimond Park, but it’s just as nice.

Butters Canyon is home to the Peralta Creek headwaters, which flow down to the San Francisco Bay.  The open spaces are a little larger than you might expect, and filled with natural growth and wildlife that look familiar to East Bayers.

Conservancy Gets Started

The Butters Canyon Conservancy, formerly known as the Butters Land Trust, grew out of preservation efforts by concerned neighbors who collectively had formed Friends of the Last Wild Canyon – an appropriate cry for help years ago.

By the 1990s, the group had developed maps and understood who owned parcels in the remaining wild canyon.  Fast forward and this group currently owns four parcels, with conservation easements (or equivalent recorded restrictions) for six more parcels.

David Barron, who serves as Conservancy president, reported they have raised about $600,000 cash and $285,000 in land donations through the life of the group.  This amount also includes well over $300,000 from Oakland’s Measure DD funds, which jump-started the efforts and donations.

Conservancy’s Expectations

“For the immediate future, there is still one more creekside property we’d like to obtain, and we’d like to obtain conservation easements over a couple others,” explained President Barron.  “We don’t know how much that might cost us, or whether we’ll be able to obtain them.”

Unfortunately, the group can’t bank on more public funds for land acquisition or ongoing maintenance either.  Although Joaquin Miller Park, Leona Canyon and Redwood Regional Parks are fairly close, the Butters Canyon isn’t contiguous to any of them – and so it’s impractical to expect additional help.

Butters Canyon’s a special case, which was fortunate to receive a little Oakland support.  However the ecosystem depends on what the Butters Canyon Conservancy can do to keep it natural, protected and wild today.

How You Can Help Out

The Butters Canyon Conservancy still needs your financial support.  “We’re trying to raise funds to pay off an existing acquisition loan, and fund the acquisition of (or conservation easements over) the remaining unprotected properties,” explained David Barron.

We can all respond by showing up to the Butter’s happening party next Thursday, October 1st, at the Montclair Bistro.  It costs $25 at the door or $20 for pre-registration, with proceeds to the Conservancy.

Just drop by the Montclair Bistro anytime between 6-9pm on Thursday.  City Council Rep Jean Quan, who helped obtain the original Measure DD funding, will pour your drinks.  The Bistro will cater nice noshes, plus offer a $10 discount for more hearty fare.  In addition, there will be a silent auction and many door prizes.

You must be present for the door prize drawings, but they are definitely a lure from:

A. G. Ferrari Foods – Chabot Space & Science – Claremont Hotel & Spa – Crogan’s Montclair – Dashe Cellars – Farmstead Cheeses and Wines – Italian Colors Ristorante – Lake Chalet – Melt Massage Montclair Bistro – Montclair Physical Therapy & Wellness – re4m – William Gray Designs

So the Butters Canyon Conservancy is rolling out the red carpet to Montclair and other Oakland Hills neighbors.  While we all have our “home canyons” in the hills, the Butters group needs help to service their preservation debts.  Even if you can’t make it, try to donate a little something anyway.

More info:  Bistro RSVP appreciated to Lynette Cravens, or call (415) 694-3004.  You may send $20/person in advance, by making checks payable to:  Butters Land Trust, 3039 Burdeck Drive, Oakland, CA 94602.  You may also pay or donate online, by clicking here.

Welcome To Germany, Oakland

Germany, Oakland?  At least last weekend, German transplants and their heirs showed up at Dunsmuir to honor their roots.  There was a full-on celebration with dancing, flag waving, and local clubs in attendance.  The brats, sauerkraut and beers were plentiful too.

The 79th Annual German Fest was large enough that a German diplomat made a quick and unofficial appearance.  He marveled at the beers ‘n brats love from Americans and wanted to set the record straight.  Apparently Octoberfests are not, in fact, something that most Germans celebrate at all.  The Bavarian Germans are into them, along with Americans.

Flag Parade, Dunsmuir

The main ceremony was something called a Fahneneinmarsch, or Flag Parade, where folks marched up the stairs and were acknowledged by all – like these ladies in dirndle-inspired garb.  We don’t think anyone in Germany wears this stuff anymore, right?

Dancers, Dunsmuir

The dance troupe exceeded our expectations (!) and performed all kinds of traditional numbers.  My favorite was the dance featuring one man and two women vying for his attention, with one winning the prize.  It was entertaining to watch these evergreen performers and their kids.

Which Flag, Dunsmuir

Just to prevent cognitive dissonance, the flag bearers put California, the USA and Germany on equal footing.  The Alpiner band played the US and German national anthems too.  After all, the United German-American Societies of the East Bay (UGAS) organized the festival.

Where is Germany, Oakland? Around Oakland, there are vestiges of the settlers.  The German Tourist Club is a long-standing group which seeks to “foster, perpetuate and preserve the European Alpine social activities, cultural heritage and customs.”  The Club also holds a Biergartenfest every year in the “Oakland Alps,” at their Butters Drive clubhouse.

You also can’t miss the Altenheim, that grand old building on MacArthur Blvd.  The building has been well-renovated and recently celebrated 100 years on the hill.  There’s low-cost senior housing there now, and plans for more units.

The Excelsior German Center, which runs the Altenheim, has a much larger mission to encourage cultural and educational connections with Germany.  They run German language classes and have a library there.  According to Excelsior’s president, Michael Willis, there are some interesting plans afoot – so it’s not all beers ‘n brats really.