Montclair Restaurant Walk, Going Once

The Montclair Restaurant Walk is one hot ticket.  We suggest you act now, or else miss out on this great excuse to graze around the Village and contribute to a good cause or two.

Tickets cost $25/person, and you’ll receive a ticket book filled with coupons for each restaurant.  Buy yours today at Montclair Book Tree, Pacific National Bank, Raimondi’s Paint & Wallpaper or Viewpoint Optometric in the Village.

From what we have learned, the confirmed participants include these sixteen places:

Amba Colonial Donuts Crogan’s Montclair – El Agavero Mexican Cuisine & Bar – Farmstead Cheeses and Wines – Flavors India Bistro – Grille OneItalian Colors Ristorante – Kakui SushiMetro Cafe & Bar – Montclair Baking – Montclair Malt Shop – Pararung Thai Cuisine – Taqueria Las Comadres – Toshi Sushi – Yogafina

After the inaugural events last year, the Restaurant Walk has become a proven success for the Lions Club.  Proceeds go to Lions Blind Center of Oakland; Oakland Fund for the Arts; Montera, Skyline and Oakland Tech Schools; Fred Finch Youth Center; Lincoln Child Center; Local Boy Scout Troops  and other Lions Foundations.

Going once, twice, three times.  Remember to buy your ticket and then pencil in the Restaurant Walk date:  Tuesday, April 20th, from 6:00 – 8:30 pm.

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Still Defined By A Van

Yes, we live in a time-stands-still bubble in Northern California.  At least when tourists think about Berkeley, it’s all tie-dyed dreams they imagine.  While we’re less brandished than our neighbors to the immediate north, visitors can’t seem to resist fulfilling their fantasies.

One LA-based photographer snapped this spiffy Volkswagen van during his visit to the Montclair District, as an iconic description of place.  While this VW is a nice specimen and all, it’s tiresome to still get defined by a van.

We would like to drop out as much as the next guy, but this yellow beauty isn’t resonating with your faithful blogger.  (However a white and blue-striped model triggers fond memories of my kindergarten transportation, but I digress.)

Nowadays, Montclarions move in and roots start to form pretty quickly.  We live in a place where you stay, invest and grow up.  Those yellow vans are a vanishing species, yet our wanderlust might be hidden somewhere.

More Acres For Zoo Or Not

There are some tough choices ahead for Knowland Park.  The Oakland Zoo leadership needs more space and would like to expand their acreage in the park.  Yet many locals, including the Friends of Knowland Park, want to ensure that undeveloped parkland remains untouched.

Knowland Pro-Development

Zoo administrators want room to grow, period.  They have an educational mission to accomplish, and want to improve their offerings to more than a half-million visitors annually.  One notable plan includes new exhibits featuring California species on their native turf, putting creatures who might (theoretically) run free behind fences.

In the map below, you see the expansion would add the orange outlined area to the current green area – another 40 acres or so.  Within the perimeter fence, you would find one veterinary hospital, the aforementioned California exhibits, a new service road and plenty of open space.

Knowland Anti-Development

What’s at issue in developing this area?  Well, the City of Oakland’s General Plan says, “the substantial portion of Knowland Park above the zoo and picnic grounds…is to remain in its natural state.”  This open space was supposed to stay completely undeveloped as a green corridor, leading to the East Bay Regional Parks next door.

Recently, the Chronicle published an urban outings report on hiking in the park.  We decided to take a quick trip this afternoon, and can confirm that it’s a little muddy and also dressed in green, spring finery now.  It’s nicer than we remembered.

Two Sides Meet

At this point, the train is revving up but hasn’t left the metaphorical station.  There have been all kinds of reviews and discussions taking place during the past year.

Next up?  The Oakland Zoo is holding a meeting this Thursday, from 6:30-8:30pm at the Zoo’s Marian Zimmer Auditorium (map), to obtain public comments and proceed forward.

More info:  Please read latest plans from the Oakland Zoo, as well as archived maps and documents from the Friends of Knowland Park.  To reach the Zoo, email communityinput@oaklandzoo.org.  To reach the Friends, email info@friendsofknowlandpark.org.

Merger Planned In The North Hills

Who said jurisdictional changes can’t be made?  At least two Oakland neighborhood councils noticed they shared interests and territories.  If all proceeds smoothly, then a peaceful merger will take place under the newly-created North Hills Community Association (NHCA) banner.

One of the groups, the North Hills Phoenix Association, formed after the 1991 Oakland Hills fire and initially helped locals re-build from the ashes.  Since then, Phoenix volunteers have focused on ensuring a safe environment for residents living between Claremont Avenue and just beyond Highway 24.

Meanwhile, the North Hills Neighborhood Council launched as a more typical Oakland crime prevention group and wanted to expand into other quality-of-life concerns.  Their larger territory mirrored all of Police Beat 13Y, ranging from the Berkeley border through Thornhill Drive.

With the new North Hills Community Association, volunteers will join forces.  Four representatives from each group are drawing up the structure and by-laws of their combination, and have already drafted a unified mission:

We strive to realize a cohesive community that is environmentally healthy, safe and secure in the hills area north of Thornhill Drive.  Our organization coordinates with the Cities of Oakland and Berkeley, especially the Fire and Police departments and City Council members, and with other government, neighborhood and volunteer organizations to accomplish these goals.

The organization represents the interests of the residents of the North Hills to the cities and beyond on matters addressed by the group with a particular focus on preparedness, safety, and security.  Our goal is to keep our community safe, beautiful and a pleasure to live in.

The new association seeks to help northern Montclarions with “emergency preparedness, vegetation control, erosion control or construction management” as well as crime-related matters.  Are there other priorities that concern you as well?  Please reach either the North Hills Neighborhood Council (at info@northhillsnc.org) or the North Hills Phoenix Association (at executive@nhphoenix.org) with your thoughts.

Why Zoning Matters: McMansions, Anyone?

Every so often, the City of Oakland examines its zoning ordinances and locals are given an opportunity to be heard.  Our big opportunity is related to new homebuilding density footprints, as McMansions aren’t terribly practical for the hills.  It’s possible to curtail the free-for-all taking place, by adding some kind of control and clarity to home sizes.

Zoning exclusions should end

These days in Oakland, homes built on properties with a 20 percent grade are completely exempt from coverage ratios required elsewhere in the city:  the home’s footprint of square feet vs. total lot size.  Also there’s another exemption from neighborhood consistency reviews in the hills.  Simply put, we should be subject to all these zoning regulations.

Several years ago, Oakland planners recommended another measure called floor area ratios (FARs):  the home’s total square feet vs. total lot size.  We agree this is an appropriate measure which should be applied to all Oakland homes.  The planners recommended a .50 maximum (50 percent) for 5,000 square foot lot sizes or less.

Tracking and comparing FARs

Montclair neighbors have seen changes that emerged after the 1991 firestorm.  When looking at all the North Hills homes which rose from the ashes, there were noticeable density changes as average FARs rose from .35 (1993) to .52 (2005) – a big leap during a relatively short time period.

During the real estate boom, we believe similar density changes occurred in homes built throughout our hills.  The lots remained difficult to develop, and perhaps more square footage was desired by the developers to justify their projects as well as to lure prospects.  But the recession’s changed the mindset of home buyers, so there’s likely less upward pressure.

There have been some comparisons made to other Bay Area cities, and we can continue looking at lots under 5,000 square foot.  Not surprisingly, Piedmont caps at 0.50 in a pretty densely-built city.  Palo Alto drops to 0.45, while Mill Valley maxes out at .35 instead.  We’re probably most like Mill Valley, with odd lots and steep hills.

Suggested zoning regulations

We would be pleased to get any caps in place, based on what the City of Oakland explored before.  For homes that are on 5,000 square foot lots or smaller, there would be a reduction in lot coverage from 40 to 35 percent maximum.  Also there would be a brand-new floor coverage ratio set at .50 for these smallest lots, and FARs would drop for larger landholdings.

Getting some zoning in place is long overdue and the timing works well.  First, there are limited new homes getting built right now.  Additionally, Montclair homeowners seem to be supportive of zoning controls.  If you would like to weigh in, then please come to next week’s meeting with city planners – held at Montera Middle School, on Tuesday, March 23rd at 6:30pm.

More info:  Visit the Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association site, which stores some of the zoning documents.  Next week’s meeting is hosted by the Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association, Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association, Montclair Village Association, Council Rep Jean Quan’s Office and the City of Oakland’s Planning Department.

Huffing And Puffing In Montclair

We can’t wait to see the Oakland Marathoners huffing and puffing their way through Montclair, as they reach the high point of this brand-new race.  At least they won’t head up to Skyline!

This marathon, which takes place on Sunday, March 28th, offers a new way to experience Oakland – as a runner, volunteer or regular old cheerleader.

Over 4,000 participants are expected in the three main races during the Running Festival Weekend, including 1,000 who will run the full marathon through Montclair.  These long-distance goers will leave City Hall at 7:30am, and are supposed to hit the Village between 8-10 am.

“Getting to Montclair was a little bit of a challenge and found Broadway to be the least ‘up’ of the streets,” explained Montclarion Tod Vedock, who’s volunteering and serving as assistant race director.  “Plus we figured running through Temescal Park would be a nice addition.”

You may greet these runners as they sashay south on Mountain Blvd.  Fortunately, there won’t be any Heartbreak Hill stories, since the throng arrives at the Oakland Hills early in the race:  Lake Temescal at mile 6; Duncan/Fernwood at mile 7;  Montclair Elementary at mile 8; and Mountain/Ascot at mile 9.

“Our goal for this race was to bring a positive and revenue generating event to the City of Oakland.  We are an outdoor community with bikers, runners [and] walkers,” said Vedock.  This kind of running event seems long overdue, and it’s nice to shine a light on Oakland.

P.S.  Want to make sure everyone’s headed in the right direction?  Volunteer as a course marshal for the Oakland Marathon by reaching Tod Vedock at tsvedock@yahoo.com.

We’re excited about greeting these runners as they sashay south on Mountain Blvd.  Fortunately, we won’t see any Heartbreak Hill stories, because the throng arrives at the Oakland Hills relatively early in the race:  Lake Temescal at mile 6; Duncan/Fernwood at mile 7;  Montclair Elementary at mile 8; and Mountain/Ascot at mile 9.

Shepherd Canyon Spring, While It Lasts

Like many Montclarions, we drive up and down Shepherd Canyon all the time.  It’s easy to forget all the preservation efforts, especially the push back on California Highway 77 decades ago.  With time to spare (or kill), we took a quick turn up Escher to appreciate the peaceful park.

These days, you can get your Shepherd Canyon spring while it lasts!  The park radiated lushness late yesterday.  Plenty of water flowed in the creek, the trails felt damp, and the greenery exploded everywhere.  This scene seemed perfect looking down into the park.

We walked down the trail and were amazed by the range of greens and yellows, especially from the blossoming trees and glistening grass underfoot.  It helped that the photo below was taken near that “bewitching hour,” when the colors seemed crisper.

In fact, the color palate just kept changing and looking glorious.   A couple and their baby were posing in the grass for a professional photographer.  Even a non-pro, like your faithful blogger, was able to capture this landscape painting.

We visited this little park when it was virtually empty.  There were a couple of young guys playing Tarzan across the creek, as well as a daughter who dallied in an inner-tube swing while her father cheered her.

This scene could have played fifty-odd years ago.