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.

Rains: So Far, So Good?

In our Montclair neighborhoods, we are seeing the expected overflows from a rainstorm.  So far, so good in my local hills…but yours may be behaving differently.

From this first image, you can see the smaller streams heading downhill.  Like other well-known spots in Montclair, Valley View always produces some overflows when it rains. This particular storm drain just can’t take the load.

Hills Overflow 1 - Oct 13, 2009

During more intense storms, the water simply follows gravity and cascades down the streets.  In this second image, you see the sheeting effect of the water. The temporary river is many times wider than the open ditch on the roadside, which only channels a small stream.

Hills Overflow 2 - Oct 13, 2009

While this flooding is typical, we’re not sure how everyone is faring in the hills. There could be water-logged spots that are now causing more severe damage, with continued storming. Meanwhile the crews are out in force, trying their best.

October 14th Update: We’re experiencing a power outage in the northern reaches of Montclair. Last night, a tree fell and left a Merriewood street light dangling in mid-air. Neighbors heard the transformer blow and still await power restoration. (This update comes from a blackberry.)

Mother Nature Paying A Visit

Mother Nature is arriving in all her glory, on Monday through Tuesday night.  With monsoon rains as well as winds that could top out at 45-60 MPH, take a little time to prepare for her arrival in the Oakland Hills.

Here is a copy of the Tuesday forecast from the National Weather Service, which says the storm isn’t Armageddon but still presents a real threat.  It turns out to be the vestiges of a typhoon, which hit Japan a few days ago.

NWS Forecast, 1181 Ft

What The National Weather Service Says

The National Weather Service (NWS) is blowing all three horns loudly about the intensity of stormy weather ahead, with several warnings.

  • High Wind Watch – NWS forecasts high winds from late Tuesday night through Wednesday night, with “wind speeds increasing to 20 to 40 MPH along the coast and in the hills by early Tuesday morning.  Gusts to 60 MPH are possible in these areas.”
  • Special Weather Statement – NWS said that “in the hills, rainfall amounts could range from 3 to 6 inches.”  They also warn against mud and debris flows, flooding of small streams, power outages from downed trees, and slippery driving conditions.
  • Hazardous Weather Outlook – NWS chimed in again about the blustery storm, forecasting “strong and gusty winds [which] are expected to continue through the day Tuesday and begin tapering off after midnight Tuesday night.”

What You Can Do Today Or Tomorrow

What does this mean for Montclarions?  Batten down the hatches, of course!

There are going to be high winds. You can expect a few elderly Pines to topple around here.  So make sure you are equipped for a power outage, whether that means batteries, flashlights, water, sustenance, etc.  You have been through this drill before, but it’s been a little while.

There are flood and mudslide risks. To prevent damage, take a look around your property before the storm hits us.  You might see some debris to clear from your home gutters, and do that now.  Or there might be some problem areas underfoot, so get a few sandbags or plastic sheets from the nearest fire station (or Shepherd Canyon’s Public Works, which usually has a good supply).

On the streets themselves, offer up your prayers.  We have plenty of creeks and old culverts and, well, you never know what will happen.  On a slightly more practical note, at least step into your street and check the drainages – and remove obvious blockages to protect your nearby castles.

If you live here, then you know its a small (or large) price to pay.  It’s not all bad, as Fire Season should be over now.

When Yusuf Ran A Bakery

There was a time when Yusuf Bey opened an organic bakery, and he seemed quite proud of the new place.  Take a look at nattily-dressed Bey, who’s talking up his baked goods to KPIX’s Belva Davis in this 1971 archival footage.

“Most organic foods don’t taste too good even though they’re good for you,” admitted Bey.  After experimenting and tinkering with recipes, the bakery was able to offer good-tasting items – like a honey-prune cake!

KPIX Meets Yusuf Bey, 1971

Most of the video followed bakery workers as they prepared or packaged breads, and generally tried to ignore the camera.  Then the taping wrapped with Belva Davis reporting about the three daily shifts of workers, as she signed off for Eyewitness News.

Your Black Muslim Bakery seemed like an innocent place, in a more innocent time.  It was a legitimate business back then, with organic ambitions that adhered to Muslim dictates.

Who could have possibly foreseen what would happen later, as Bey was accused of rape on multiple counts?  Or what happened as subsequent generations took over, and violent crimes multiplied?  That’s history we won’t forget.

Kudos to the San Francisco Bay Area Archive, which has been digitizing 100 hours of more than 4,000 locally-filmed hours in their collection.  Check out what’s already accessible, as it’s fascinating stuff.

Hiding In 94611 Real Estate Forest

How is the real estate market in our beloved 94611 zip code?  If you look at median prices and foreclosures, then the market appears to be leveling out.  When you look at sales volumes, that’s where the trouble spot seems to emerge.  Let’s go visit the forest and trees.

Median Sale Prices Moderated

Cyberhomes most recently reported $709,980 median price (from August) versus $718,918 six months ago, only a 1.2 percent seasonal drop.  These medians each reflect 14-15 percent declines since last year, so they have steadied now.

Another source, City Data, shows quarterly price trends since 2004.  When you check the fat red line below, it’s obvious the 94611 zip prices crashed back in 2007 and declined further last year.  But things are relatively flat these days.

City Data, 94611 - Q2, 2009

Far Fewer Homes Sold

Now there’s a real story behind the precipitous drop in sales transactions, which began in earnest this year.  Take a look at City Data’s blue-colored bars, in the chart above, and you see the plummet during the first half of 2009.

Over 50 homes sold in the first quarter, or about a one-third drop from the same quarter 2008.  Things seemed to get even worse second quarter, with fewer than 50 homes sold – a two-thirds drop since last year.  Yup, potential sellers aren’t selling.

Foreclosures, 94611 - 2008-2009

Foreclosure Levels Declined

RealtyTrac reports the grimmer foreclosure facts related to defaults, trustee sales and bank-owned properties.  Over the past six months, overall 94611 foreclosures have gone down – and this contrasts with overall Oakland and Alameda County trends.

We wonder if there’s a flash point for homeowners, though.  Many people have been been hit hard by this recession, though it’s impossible to say whether that translates into a trickle or stream of “must sell” homes ahead.

So there is a real estate forest, and it’s easy to hide there! You can walk by and conclude that market is settled, but a little quiet and tamped down.  When you stop and really stare at the trees and wildlife, you see plenty of dynamic influences too.  We’ll have to wait patiently and watch the post-recession changes and equilibrium in there.

Parking Meters Rolled Back To 6pm

“I have directed staff already to roll back to 6pm,” declared City Administrator Dan Lindheim at last night’s Oakland City Council meeting.  We’re not exactly sure when the city parking meters will get adjusted, but believe it will only take a week or two.

The City Council just voted six-to-one to rescind their summer decision that extended hours through 8pm, as well as to study parking at retail district levels.  Their projected $1.3 million revenue gap would primarily close from new billboard revenues.  If these revenues don’t materialize, then the Council would revisit the matter next January.

Grand Lake Marquee, Parking Changes

What’s interesting is that every single Council member admitted they were too hasty, and offered mea culpas.  Rep Ignacio De La Fuentes claimed, “We made a mistake not checking, not checking in.  Our common goal is to restore the confidence.”  Rep Jean Quan added, “I know there are a lot of bad feelings.”  And Rep Pat Kernighan, who sponsored the roll-back measure, explained that “people don’t want to feel like we’re balancing the city budget on their back.”

Kernighan pointed to coverage by Parking Today about Oakland’s challenges:  “Oakland is attempting to raise parking rates.  They have done some good things in the face of the recession, but can’t seem to get any respect.”  The industry pub also acknowledged that parking is always super-sensitive:  “Screw with a person’s taxes and you have a heated discussion; screw with their parking, and you have a revolution.”

Last night, there was a long parade of speakers who demonstrated that sensitivity:

  • The Driver: Montclarion Janette MacKinlay declared, “I wanted this measure to have as much support as possible.  For every one person here, there are thousands who are really irritated.  It’s just one thing after another.  I’m just asking you to have heart.”
  • The Rabble-Rouser: Alan Michaan, who’s gotten attention from his Grand Lake Theater marquee, apologized a little for his behavior at the last Council meeting.  At his movie house, Michaan said that “business is off by 50%.  I know what my numbers are.”  He was clear that parking has been impacting his neighbors, too.
  • The Urbanist: Several speakers argued to keep the longer meter hours.  Jonathon Bair explained that we need “to resolve conflicts between users…workers, residents and shoppers.  Shoppers are less sensitive to meter rates.  Most cities do implement parking meters to 9pm or later.”
  • The Old Guard: Former Oakland City Manager Henry Gardner felt that parking changes were bad but the all the budgeting challenges were terrible too.  He said that “what we have attempted with the parking enforcements is the worst [alternative]…but it’s better than the others.”

Clearly Oakland’s parking policies aren’t fait accompli.  At-Large Council Rep Rebecca Kaplan said, “I’m grateful that we’re now going to do parking studies [as there are] differences by parts of the city.  I don’t believe that early is always better or later is always better.”

So what about the idiosyncratic needs of each retail district?  From all of the speakers tonight, it does seem like Grand Avenue was hit, while College Avenue wasn’t suffering nearly as much.  Over in Chinatown, the merchants registered high concerns with parking changes.  Here in Montclair, the merchants have been clear about their challenges.  And so we’ll stay tuned for studies – and further parking policy adjustments.

October 8th update:  The meter hours were rolled back yesterday.  Montclair Village Association’s Roger Vickery said, “we are delighted our concerns about the adverse affect the night time rates were having on business have been heard.”

Top Ten Reasons Montclair Works

Don’t worry, we aren’t wearing 100% rose-colored glasses.

After a nice weekend when we kept running into friendly faces, I started thinking about why Montclair works for us.  It’s a mix of the geography and the people, for starters.  Yet we are making a conscious decision to live in Oakland, even though there are plenty of great places in the Bay Area.

Fall Flowers In Montclair

What gives?  As the season abruptly changes, it felt like time to describe why Montclair works – but with caveats included as well.  So here are the Top Ten Reasons Montclair Works:

10.  Flowers bloom all year – Right now there are lovely purple flowers, and last month we saw the naked ladies (really called that, too).  Downside? Mother Nature also delivers mudslides, droughts and fire seasons.

9.  That weather, that weather – In the hills, the weather cools at night and warms in the days.  It’s nice up here.  Downside? Some days, we crave a little morning sunshine and curse that marine layer.

8.  Historical buildings aren’t old – We’re already preserving and honoring buildings less than a century old, like the Fernwood Drive storybook cottages.  Downside? We don’t have anything on downtown Oakland, where it all really started.

7.  Older guys standing sentinel – If you are living on the right block, then you know the older guy who’s been here for at least two score.  Downside? He may know everything, maybe too much.

6.  Shopkeepers who know you – Around here, merchants will remember you, know your preferences and likely trust you.  Downside? Forget turning into a complete recluse, as it takes effort to do.

5.  Schools of people – If you had or have kids in grade school, then you know about the intense parent, teacher and principal engagement.  Downside? Putting money into buildings, grounds or maintenance isn’t a priority.

4.  Our little, cute critters – We do like spotting deer, turkeys, airborne birds and occasional coyotes.  Downside? We’re less fond of the raccoons, skunks, rats, spiders or ants invading our turf.

3.  Oakland’s polyglot – There’s such a mix of different people, from so many different walks of life.  Downside? The economic and geographic divides are very stark.

2.  City or no-city – Montclair Village seems suburban or exurban, with the city this-close.  Downside? Nothing like the hills as a magnet for stealing cars or robbing homes!

1.  There’s a somewhere, there – Montclair boundaries are a bit amorphous, and we like it that way.  Downside? Oakland divides us into pieces, for police beats and council representation.

With these reasons in hand, you should feel pretty good about living here but hardly complacent.  As Hillary Clinton must have declared, “it takes a Village or District to make a difference, to speak up and pitch in.”