How The Budget Pit Feels

On Monday eve, we were able to hear about Oakland’s budget from one City Hall insider.  Oakland’s budget director, Cheryl Taylor, patiently reviewed the major points of the general purposed fund by department – and what’s left for the waning 2009-2010 fiscal year.

To us, it felt like a mining pit.  We’re already digging below ground level, with different parts of the budget carved from the earth and given away.  And at some point, we stop seeing any ground beneath our collective feet.  Nice metaphor, we think.

Although seemingly untenable, there must be another $10.5 million saved before this year’s over.  At least Director Taylor was clear about the challenges.   If we understood correctly, then only 12 percent of the general funds are even available.  Plus only a portion of that $52 million is game since we’re well into the fiscal year.

Taylor put things in perspective when recalling Oakland’s boom and bust cycle.  A while ago, we used to have “three people to do one job,” she explained.  “Now there’s one person to do three jobs.”  It’s not easy to figure out how to save and simultaneously maintain government services.

The Monday meeting enabled civilians like us to suggest or react to possibilities.  No one was crying “save my piece of the pie” here.  Instead, people were soberly considering how public safety or other services might be severed during the recession.

Beyond this fiscal year, there were very interesting rays of hope.  One idea was that work currently done by sworn officers might be civilianized.  Another suggestion was to dive into all the suppliers and contracts again, given these economic times.  And privatizing several city services or resources was raised as well.

However, the task at hand was solvency today.  Make Oakland Better Now!, a citizen initiative, organized this week’s meeting to identify and assess what could be done right now.  After all, the  City Council will be forced to find the remaining millions soon – and we might as well offer our two cents.

Another Day, Another Tree Fall

All those old evergreens are wrecking havoc, crashing and falling without warning.  Another one bit the dust this Sunday on Pinehaven Road, and our eyewitness said it was near the “left hook” on the road.  We also confirmed that tree detritus had been mostly cleared, by midday Monday.

Fortunately, no homes or people were damaged this time.

However the collateral damage was another power outage in the hills, with neighbors off-grid from around 8:00 am yesterday through 3:00 am this morning.  We know it rattles everyone to lose their electrical juice, and it feels particularly awful during chillier winter days and nights.

In addition, one neighbor tipped us about some flooding nearby.  We’re trying to understand what happened there, and whether any water-main damage is related to the downed tree.  There’s zero confirmation yet.

Anyway, another day does mean another tree fall.  That’s one of the risks of Montclair living, especially as trees planted 80-plus years ago reach their senior years.

Montclarions Speak: Your Best Reads

Based on our year-end survey, Montclarions were simply eclectic when asked about their favorite magazines, books and authors.  You shared interests in the economy, politics, tech, home-nesting and a bit of pop culture for good measure.

Montclair’s Favorite Reads

These “best reads” were naturally biased, coming from Montclair neighbors taking our entertainment survey.  You contributed a long list of titles there, with only a handful receiving multiple mentions.  We haven’t read some of the books picked above, and feel gently pushed to give ’em a try.

P.S.  But wait, there’s more.  Some Montclair survey results have not been revealed – like musicians and local eats – so there’s still time to make your suggestions here.

Our 94611 Foreclosures Not That Bad

Every so often, we have looked at real estate prices and foreclosures to see when the tide would turn. The foreclosures are not that bad lately, based on recent 94611 zip code filings that have slowed down.

Let’s start by comparing our foreclosures to virtually anywhere else.  We’re running about 25% of Oakland’s rate overall, some 0.08% vs. 0.32% during November.  For Montclair and Piedmont, our rate translates to around one foreclosure filing for every 1,216 units.

In the past few months, you can see that 94611 foreclosure filings have also dropped.  They ran over 40/month during the third quarter, and dropped to 20/month and below more recently.  Also notice that foreclosure sales prices are holding steady these days – so the tide seems to be turning.

We also took a look at the mix of distressed properties for sale.  While all area properties sold for under $700k last November (, the prices for foreclosures are lower and now average $523k (  What’s evident is a well-distributed mix among lower and higher-priced units.

In a nutshell, the 94611 foreclosure situation seems to be under control.  The volume of foreclosures, the prices and trends are all moving in the right direction.  It’s true that foreclosures are an epidemic in California and Northern California – but not right here.

A Typical Oakland Hills Painting

While walking today, we noticed a pretty winter scene due to the light and downed tree.  The sun was literally shimmering across the greenery, and it was absolutely gorgeous there.

We wish the intensity could be captured perfectly, but wanted to share this lesser-grade version.  With camera-phone at the ready, it’s always worth a valiant attempt!

In this case, a sad-looking tree and a little brush transformed into a misty Oakland Hills painting.  Have you captured any special views lately?  Please pass them along, and we’ll share them here.

Blair Park Leaves The Neighborhood

Did you catch the CBS-5 news last night?  Our Blair Park conservation vs. development concerns are no longer hyper-local, as they made the early TV newscasts.

First, the Friends of Moraga Canyon’s Sandra Pohutsky and Peggy Esposito appeared on air.  “I agree more soccer fields are needed,” declared Esposito.  “It’s a wildlife corridor, so you are destroying a lot to appease the soccer clubs.”  The Moraga Avenue traffic problems were discussed as well.

Then Steve Schiller, past president of the Piedmont Soccer Club,  explained that 1,200 Piedmont kids play soccer and “there isn’t any other space in Piedmont.”  The plans for two soccer fields, snack bar, overhead crosswalk and parking lot were mentioned in the newscasts.

In coming months, there will be environmental and other reviews by the City of Piedmont.  Oakland has officially submitted their concerns, with our city bordering the potential project.  Of course, sports field development is hardly a fait accompli.

From this TV coverage, we suppose that Bay Area viewers understood the classic conflict and little else.  This report merely wrapped up with a “stay tuned,” as Piedmont’s review process plays out.

The Rest Of The Bunny Story

As an unadulterated example of neighborly cooperation, the bunny story ranks up there.  A few days ago, the wires (and wireless) heated up over bunny sightings in Montclair.

Saving Multiple Bunnies

Yet Merriewood residents were getting a little confused, as they tried to solve the growing mystery.  At first there was one bunny, and then another.  One wrangler tried to straighten out all the cross-communications:

  • Some of you (email addresses hidden) HAVE a lost bunny.
  • Some of you have recently SEEN a lost bunny.
  • Some of you are just INTERESTED in lost bunnies?!

Montclarions jumped on the bandwagon because it was a quiet year-end.  Everyone was at home, and seemingly online too.  Two neighbors stepped up to the challenge, capturing and holding both bunnies safely.  We wondered about returning these bunnies to their rightful owner.

The Rest Of The Story

As Paul Harvey (R.I.P.) used to say:  and now, the rest of the story.

Montclarion Paula Moseley was the erstwhile bunny owner, having taken in several bunnies only a week earlier.  She shared her simple story of compassion:

I have only had the bunnies since December 22, when I was at the Oakland Animal Shelter and was waiting with a young woman who was going to turn in the bunnies.  She had already checked with San Leandro Shelter and they couldn’t take them.   She was concerned that Oakland would not take them either.  She had only gotten them that day when she met a man who found them in a box in the woods.  The young woman is a college student and had no place to keep them.

I said that I would take them since I have a large yard with a dog run.  Unfortunately the dwarf bunnies were small enough to hop through the wires, before I could reinforce it with chicken wire.  But they seemed to enjoy being in the yard and might keep to that area.  Not so.

They have explored the whole neighborhood munching all the way.  I have recovered the two younger bunnies but the larger one may still be at large.  I attempted to catch her on New Year’s Eve; I could be a foot from her but if I tried to restrain her, she hopped away.

At this point, there’s both good and bad news to report.  One bunny’s still at large.  One bunny’s been adopted.  And there are two more ready for homes.  Please reach Paula ( if you would like a bunny or find one running around your yard!

We mostly appreciated the whole show of compassion, with so many people helping these bunnies.  It’s a parable about how to treat fellow humans, not really a story about bunnies at all.