Fire Anniversary Today, To Life!

We are reaching another Oakland Hills fire anniversary today, October 20th.  While our culture likes to mark the passing of decades, it has been 18 years since the last major fire.  And that lucky number equals life, which returned quickly to the decimated hills.

Eighteen Years

What happened in 1991?

The Oakland Hills fire wreaked total havoc, with 25 deaths and 150 injuries.  This wildfire quickly burned across 5.25 miles and 1,520 acres, destroying 2,843 houses and 433 apartments as well as damaging another 193 houses.  In financial terms, the fire produced over $1.5 billion worth of losses.

Shortly thereafter, Oakland Fire Captain Donald Parker declared, “the magnitude and scope of what is simply referred to as the ‘Tunnel Fire’ is far beyond the experience of any living American firefighter. Only those who fought the Chicago Fire last century or battled the Great Fire in San Francisco would be able to identify with this conflagration and firestorm.”

Where’s the evidence?

Since then, the tell-tale signs of destruction have pretty much vanished unless you notice the “newer” section of homes in the hills.  Vegetation has grown in quickly, although everyone living in the Wildfire Prevention District must adhere to regulations to protect their homes.

Even so, we need to keep history alive because many current hills residents moved here after the raging fire.  Let’s hope our community response to the next big one, whenever it happens, lessens that destructive force.  Here’s to 18 years – and counting.

More info:  How many Oakland firesHills fire historyFire captain reportOakland fire bookletOakland COREOakland Wildfire Prevention District

Montclair Virtual Art Gallery: Meet Marisa Muliadi-Kleiber

Sometimes, Today in Montclair is overwhelmed by the talented people hiding in clear view.  One of them, Marisa Muliadi-Kleiber, creates colorful and quite beautiful works of art.  She hasn’t shared them much, so we asked her for examples to display through our virtual gallery.

While Marisa’s quick to cite impressionists like Monet and Matisse as influences, she also explores styles and images that move beyond those early masters.  She explained that Balinese art and her emotions while painting are big factors in her creations.

From Impressionist To Abstract

Let’s begin with three paintings that demonstrate Marisa’s range.  The first one is very much like a traditional impressionist painting, complete with lightly colored flowers.  Next you see more vibrant colored-koi in their pond.  And the full-on abstract is called “Face,” so it must be there, somewhere.

Garden - Marisa Muliadi-Kleiber

Koi - Marisa Muliadi-Kleiber

Face - Marisa Muliadi-Kleiber

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Mr. Stamps Was Apprehended

A while ago, we believed that solicitors could be caring folks.  They knocked on our doors, even without city permits, and we responded in a kindly manner.  Heck, we thought these solicitors were trying to support good causes.

Clue Board Game

Then our faith was shattered, as it became clear that a series of “bad actors” were appearing and trying to case our homes.  This week, another bad actor named Donald Stamps knocked on doors and attempted to sell magazines as a ruse.

Some alert Montclarions were a bit suspicious about Stamps.  As instructed by Oakland police, these residents posted information about the solicitor to the Montclair SIC message board.  A few called and reported his whereabouts to the police as well.

And it worked, this time!  “We arrested these guys including the one mentioned,” said Police Officer Maureen Vergara, who covers beat 13Z.  “Keep calling them into our dispatchers; there have been numerous calls, all with excellent descriptions and locations.”

This is all well and good, but I can’t help thinking that Mr. Stamps sounds like a character from the “Clue” board game.  Was Colonel Mustard or Mrs. White in the drawing room, with the victim, while Mr. Stamps left the premises?

Traffic Travails Around Moraga Ave

Good ‘ole Moraga Avenue is under the microscope lately, from Oaklanders and Piedmonters alike.  The City of Piedmont is reviewing plans to build a sports complex in Blair Park, located on the avenue.

While the park area falls within Piedmont’s jurisdiction, its borders are adjacent to Oakland territory.  So this past Monday evening, about 40 concerned citizens showed up for a meeting organized and led by District 4 Council Rep Jean Quan and supported by District 1 Council Rep Jane Brunner’s staff.

How Moraga Might Look

Residents came prepared and one local, Kieran Turan, even created a computer simulation driving through the canyon.  We took a few quick snapshots, as Turan presented his virtual drive.

Moraga - Driving Near Bridge

Here’s the big picture view, as you drive east on Moraga.  After passing Coaches Playfield on the left (where you pick up Christmas trees), a large pedestrian bridge would appear overhead.  This concrete structure would enable kids to walk between Coaches to Blair Park, up the road.

Moraga - Driving Past Park

Then you arrive at Blair Park and see the elevation changes that would be made here.  As we understand the representation, the green part represents the new earth berm.  The blue part would be fencing that surrounds the sports complex.  When you drive by, there’s effectively a new frame along the roadside.

Moraga - Overhead Viewpoint

Finally, here’s an overhead perspective looking at Moraga Canyon.  Forgive the extremely-blurred image, but you now see where the changes would be made a little more clearly along the road.  It’s a pretty large project envisioned here.

Sports Complex Concerns

By the end of Monday’s meeting, many issues had been raised about traffic.  The big ticket items related to accidents from drivers entering and exiting parking lots; and from kids crossing the road, despite the walkway.  There were additional matters raised about overall traffic flows, including cars performing U-turns into nearby roads.

Beyond traffic, there were other environmental impacts to consider like sound pollution from the canyon walls, creek ecosystem problems from artificial turf, and wildlife corridor restrictions.  To top things off, Blair Park is built on landfill which raises liquifaction risk when an earthquakes strikes.

After hearing everyone’s concerns last Monday, it felt like the proposed plans for Blair Park were super-sized for that location.  While the park could be used for some sports or other purposes, there are so many traffic and environmental issues to address – and so many hurdles to jump over!

Today’s Traffic Concerns

As you all know, Moraga Avenue is a major arterial road through Oakland.  This thoroughfare has been mapped since Oakland’s earliest years, with Moraga and Thornhill serving as a corridor heading to and from the hills.

At the Monday gathering, we heard all kinds of stories related to traffic on Moraga, Harbord and the general area.  The traffic barreling down Moraga Canyon is bad news for anyone living in the vicinity.  Folks don’t heed the speed limits, and come whipping off Highway 13.

Many types of vehicles make their way down the canyon.  Years ago, there was a sign restricting large trucks but that’s long gone.  Things will get worse soon, when East Bay MUD (Municipal Utility District) begins repairs to reservoir areas nearby and trucks rumble through – but that’s a temporary problem.

With Moraga’s twisting and winding, this all-important emergency egress is not in good shape.  There are limited alternatives, and thus any uses of the adjacent lands should be reviewed and well understood.  When there’s a fire or earthquake, Moraga and Broadway are key arteries that need to get used.

What Happens Next?

Traffic safety concerns rang true for Council Rep Quan, who raised parallels to Shepherd Canyon and playing fields there.  After years of planning, Oakland banded together with Montclarions to build a parking lot and encourage secondary park access for cars.  In that case, all the decisions remained within Oakland’s city boundaries – so the next steps involve coordination with the City of Piedmont.

Wlad Wlassowsky, who manages Oakland’s transportation services division, attended last Monday’s gathering and explained more about the state-mandated environment impact review (EIR) process.  He went over what the City of Oakland covers in their reviews, and there’s a long list of traffic, parking, egress and pedestrian matters.  Like all cities, Piedmont will have to go through a similar process.

Wlad’s staff looks forward to codifying and addressing Oakland’s traffic issues here, as well as advising the City of Oakland about appropriate EIR communications.  The city will formulate an official response to Piedmont leaders, which undoubtedly focuses on traffic safety most of all.  Wlad noted that it isn’t the first time Oakland has worked with other jurisdictions!

Both Jean and Wlad surely got more than an earful from our neighbors, who have been pondering this sports complex proposal for months.  But the Montclarions and Piedmonters residing near Moraga and Blair Park have plenty to say,  and are making sure all the impacts are well-articulated as the City of Piedmont proceeds with their environmental review.  All citizens were encouraged to communicate their concerns directly to Piedmont officials as well.

More info: Visit City of Piedmont’s EIR for Moraga Sports Canyon Fields – Read Montclarion’s Hills residents oppose sports complex plan – Check Today in Montclair’s Piedmonters Unsettled On Blair Park – Link to our prior local sports field survey results here and here

The Elderly Trees Cut Power

After the storm passed through, the elderly trees had enough and wreaked havoc last night.  In the Merriewood area, one fell over and completely blocked the road while another dropped heavy loads down the block.

What happened to the power?  The transformer blew loudly, as all neighbors confirmed before 8pm last night.  Our Oakland firemen were on scene very quickly – a good thing since there were downed trees, live wires and even a snapped street light. Now let’s look at the repairs underway.

Merriewood - Road Closed

Roads Closed: Sometimes you welcome signs like “Road Closed Ahead,” when you know that the power is out and you really want it restored.  At least there was another egress down the hill.

Merriewood - Tree Cleanup

Crews On Site: There were crews hard at work, with these guys removing a huge tree lying at the Taurus and Merriewood intersection.  Another crew was working on the power lines above.  What a mess, but at least our Robin Hoods (sorry!) came to the rescue.

Merriewood - PG&E

Utility Fixes: You could hear trucks all night and the live wires were all removed by the morning.  This PG&E guy was probably pretty tired at this point.  Comcast also showed up – and I’m chomping at the bit for broadband access.

We’re not sure when the power will get restored near Thornhill Drive, but the outage felt like our “dry run” for a full-on disaster.  The neighbors were out and about, sharing what they knew, borrowing flashlights, and offering help.  It was nice to know we could rely on each other.

More info: Check out KRON4 coverage of the clean-up – click on “Crews Work to Clear Debris and Damage Left After Storm” in their video player.