A Rat For Montclair Mayor?

In the past, only dogs have served as Montclair’s mayor – and Little Bear serves us quite well as head woofer these days.

However the 2010 primary season is presenting fresh alternatives, like a rat named Twitchy.  We asked Re4m’s owner, Lisa Tana, why she supported this unusual prospect.  “It’s appropriate that a rat would enter politics,” explained Tana, “and she’s one of our two pets at home.”

We’re excited by this year’s slate of 20 primary candidates which includes 12 dogs and three cats – as well as Twitchy the rat, Sparky the gecko, Willow the pygmy goat, Penny the hen and Figaro the miniature horse.  Primary season voting is open now through May 30th.

Let’s look closely at the pooches. Jasper belongs to Bo Obama’s party, and that might attract voters.  Hershey points like Gracie, a past mayor who’s retiring as furst officer.  Alice and Rico bring Village experience, serving as bark ranger and deputy dog respectively.  Some larger crowd-pleasers include Oscar, Drake, Rupert, Kai and Murphy, while feistier runners are named Reuben, Jay Jay and Talulah.

The cats bring contrasting views. Chi is a kitten who jumped on the opportunity with a youthful zeal.  Hank is a Maine Coon involved in Broadway shows at Woodminster.  And Stella has a classic insider’s edge, sponsored by Montclair Veterinary Clinic.  Frankly, I’m concerned about whether the felines will be civil when they meet other species along the campaign trail.

Remember, voting is open now.  Do you want to stick with the species you know, or try out something completely new?  It might be worth checking out the scene at the Sunday Farmer’s Market, because candidates often make appearances there.  The 2010 primaries are intriguing, indeed.

P.S.  Each vote costs a buck, and goes to the Pet & Wildlife Fund.

May 22nd Update:  Our City Council rep, Jean Quan, has supported the fundraiser and ever-so-slightly tipped her hat.  In her weekly newsletter, Quan declared that “I have not yet endorsed but I do personally know Figaro, the miniature pony who often volunteers at Maxwell Park events.”

What Montclarions Said To Perata

When Don Perata held a community meeting at Montclair Presbyterian Church on Monday, we wondered what issues our neighbors would raise to this mayoral candidate.  Bar none, the biggest concerns revolved around the effectiveness of City Hall.

One Montclarion observed that the city government seemed bloated and employeers weren’t doing their jobs.  Another neighbor pointed to ethical, legal and honesty problems from the highest level down.  Yet another chimed in about the problems that were revealed by the city auditor, and the need to provide her with more funding.

There’s plenty of skepticism about mayors lately, at least from the people who turned out this Monday evening.  One neighbor declared, “the last two mayors wanted to do parts of the job.  We’ve all suffered from that!”

After getting thanked by an attendee for running, Perata replied that “most people think I’m crazy.”  He expects to adhere to the strong mayor form of government, making department heads more accountable and then backing them.  Crime, jobs and solvency are on the top of his priorities list.  “I’m not afraid of tough decisions,” he explained.

The mayoral role is imbued with our hopes and dreams (!) about Oakland.  The role is unbelievably challenging, and it makes me wonder what makes candidates Don Perata, Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan truly tick.  We’ll take a couple bleacher seats and watch them visiting the neighborhoods during the months ahead.

Blockbuster’s Leaving The Village

Blockbuster’s leaving Montclair Village!  After getting a tip earlier today, we confirmed that our very last video store is supposed to bite the dust on June 19th.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions:  this Blockbuster wasn’t “making it” due to seismic shifts in movie distribution.  After all, movie rental stores have been fading away and getting replaced by Netflix subscriptions, store kiosks and various on-demand options.  Our movie viewing behaviors contributed to this corporate decision.

On this rainy Monday, our local outlet still attracted plenty of locals.  The parking lot was full, people streamed in and out, and customers queued five-deep at the checkout.  You could find the latest releases, lots of popular flicks, evergreens and video games for the taking.

We understand that Blockbuster’s still out there.  Apparently the company offers movies first, during an exclusive, one-month window after leaving theaters.  And they provide a by-mail service, without any subscription requirement.  They are trying to compete for your now-fickle attention.

Good old Blockbuster in Montclair didn’t seem very troubled, so what gives?  When we spoke with a Blockbuster employee today, her emotions ran high.  Apparently, the building owner seeks to raise rent and intends to lease the building to yet another…bank.

So the end is near for Blockbuster.  No more video game release parties, like last year’s Beatles concert.  No more box office hits proudly stocked along the back wall.  No more browsing for an arcane movie that strikes your fancy.  Your movie habits are about to change, unless we rise up and try to save this outlet.

Neighbors Sharing Bees Extraction

Apparently the bees are arriving on some homeowners’ doorsteps, not to mention their in their pipes and walls.  Yes, Montclarions are hosting bees in addition to termites, ants, and good old house flies.

Recently on the North Hills Phoenix Association forum, a neighbor asked how to deal with bees who had settled inside his home.  These hive inhabitants could be heard from a particular room, not exactly a pleasant experience.

Forum readers came to the rescue with suggested bee whisperers who extract bees live and relocate them.  Khaled Almaghafi (510-524-5168) works both sides of the equation, with a bee removal service as well as a honey shop on 3622 Telegraph Ave.  Another bee expert is Earthwise’s Deb McKay (510-566-2027).

Members of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association volunteer for swarm removals.  “The MDBA requests a $50 donation for swarm removal services.  This money is used for our educational programs,” explains the association web site.  In addition, some beekeepers on eBeeHoney offer swarm removals.  Here’s a combined list:

John Adkins (877-723-5467) – Steve Arnold (805-466-4649) – Bobby Baty (510-268-8466) – Bradley Brandon (925-497-6101) – Bill Hoskins (925-258-0279) – Patricia Indries (831-325-1382) – Laural Roaldson (lists Montclair, 925-705-2880) – Alice Rosenthal (415-272-0596) – Steve Sparks (510-913-8155) – Richard Sullivan (510-590-1706) – Joan Weir (415-845-7749) – Sara Willis (510-531-9423)

Are bees a real problem for you?  We’re wondering how many Montclarions have chased bees from their homes, either this season or in earlier years.  Please feel free to share your war stories and lessons learned.

P.S.  You may join the Phoenix Association’s forum anytime (subscribe here).  Phoenix and North Hills Neighborhood Council will officially merge in June, so Northern Montclarions will be able to reach one group for their safety, environmental and other neighborly concerns.

Yawn, Top School Scores In The Hills

As the blog of record, we need to report this real yawner:  top API scores were achieved by Montclair and Thornhill Elementary Schools again, and acceptable scores came from Joaquin Miller as well.  The newest Academic Performance Indicators (APIs) were released yesterday by the State of California.

It’s not surprising that our students perform well on these standardized state tests.  Montclair delivered 957, up some 35 percent over last year.  Thornhill registered 944, increasing 20 percent over last year.  Joaquin Miller scored 886, also rising 18 percent over last year.

We decided to check out the top 100 schools across California this time, and the scores do correlate with well-heeled places.  When you look through this list, you can easily imagine involved parents in each location.

To receive an “A” grade from the State of California, each school must achieve an 800 API – and that number isn’t even in the rear-view mirrors of our three schools.  Across Oakland Unified’s results, the elementary schools fell well below this number by yielding a 758 average and 746 median.  The city numbers still inched up four percent versus last year’s scores.

Anyway, the highest API scores are something Montclarions expect and probably don’t worry about very much.  It’s like handing out gold stars to pupils who are used to receiving them.

Pay More For Your Sewage Services

Someone has to pay for city sewage services, and  Oakland homeowners are about to get hit with increases.  To comply with EPA standards, Oakland Public Works has proposed 16 percent annual hikes – for the next four years!

Although the dollars are far from huge, the proposal is making its way through approval processes.  As a single-family homeowner, you currently pay $267 and would fork over $483 by 2014.  Increases would get pegged to CPI thereafter.

To put this in context, take a look at this summary of the operations and maintenance budget.

Our aging infrastructure isn’t a city secret.  Like most Oaklanders, we can share rainy-day stories about neighborhood sewer overflows and pipe bursts. Even if you are sick of paying more for city services, check out this section of the California Constitution:  “revenues derived from the sewer service charge shall not be used for any purpose other than that for which the charge was imposed.”

Recently, the City Council approved this latest round of sewage fees through 2014.  If we understand what happens next, then there will be a “majority protest hearing” and you’ll be notified by mail.  In addition, the public is invited to a special City Hall hearing – pencil in July 6th at 7pm.  To learn more, please read this Sewage Charge report.

Neighborhood Endorsers Make First District 4 Council Picks

Tonight a group of active neighborhood leaders made three picks for the upcoming District 4 council race, after meeting and interviewing candidates a week ago.  They endorsed Libby Schaaf and Daniel Swafford as “most qualified,” and Melanie Shelby as “very strong.”

Although the election is next November, there’s high interest in assessing who might follow Jean Quan into this position.  The  District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee is comprised of neighborhood volunteers, listed below.  Their group recommendations are perhaps the earliest ones to come down the pike.

Here’s the group press release, in its entirety:


Oakland, CA – May 10, 2010. The District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee is made up of a volunteer group of District 4 residents who are involved in a range of neighborhood initiatives and activities in this district.  This Committee came together to identify preferred qualities in a candidate for City Council.  The goal was to recommend a candidate who will continue to support local neighborhoods. The Committee has decided to recommend three candidates for consideration by District 4 voters.

Potential candidates for the District 4 City Council office submitted a short application and one hour interviews were scheduled.  Following the interview process with seven candidates the weekend of May 1 and 2, and Committee deliberations, the Committee deemed Libby Schaaf and Daniel Swafford the most qualified to represent District 4.  Melanie Shelby is also a very strong candidate.

All three candidates are strongly committed to supporting neighborhood-based initiatives that will help empower the residents of District 4.  These candidates are also able to address critical citywide issues in the areas of finance, public safety and economic development.

All three candidates spoke to the importance of maintaining the highest ethical standard and transparency in government and how they would work to achieve these standards.  These candidates indicated they intend to be full time council members.  They all possess an understanding and appreciation of the diversity of District 4.

Libby Schaaf has a strong policy and neighborhood organization background, with considerable experience in city government, which gives her the knowledge to both maximize revenue sources and eliminate inefficiencies in existing programs.

Daniel Swafford has an extensive record of leadership in local organizations in District 4.  His experience includes the development of economic corridors in neighborhoods and the capability of creating and managing major merchant and neighborhood events.

Melanie Shelby, with experience in running both large and small businesses, is a consensus builder and will work to bring divergent viewpoints together.  She has served on the boards of several Oakland based commissions and is knowledgeable about the city as well as state and federal agencies.

To review a copy of the District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee mission statement, questions posed to the candidates, and candidate application forms for participation in this interview process, email krussell@russell-gordon.com.

The members of the District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee include Roger Brett (Montclair West), Jim Clardy (Fernwood), Jose Corona (Allendale; youth member), Krista Gulbransen (Maxwell Park), Nancy Karigaca (Maxwell Park), Jeanne Nixon (Fairfax), Dale Risden (Joaquin Miller Hights), Sharon Rose (Dimond), Kathleen Russell (Dimond), Nick Vigilante (Shepherd Canyon), Stan Weisner, chair (Montclair).