Guest Post: Paying Homage To Montclarions

Over Thanksgiving weekend, your blogging alumna decided to appreciate her old neighbors.  It’s easy to pay homage to Montclarions, who have somehow joined forces to create their unique Valhalla.

Top Ten Reasons To Appreciate Your Valhalla

  1. Amazing people — Everyone seems to have an expansive world view or passion they pursue.  No one’s boring.
  2. Food, real food — Remember those great avocados, fused cuisines, and bakeries?   Even non-foodies eat well.
  3. Political spectrum — While the spectrum’s left-of-center, there’s discourse and range.  You don’t notice it.
  4. Local elections — Bless the energy out there, and congrats to Libby, Jean and Jerry.  Some voters might care.
  5. School funding — At least you try to find money to use.  And you try to figure out better ways to spend it.
  6. Debate is good — On any subject, on any day, in the Hills.  Try that debate in places that are, well, more patriarchal.
  7. Protected nature — Yeah, you have done that forever.  When there’s any available land, it’s ready to protect.
  8. Culture anytime — Check out music, art, readings and other events.  There’s almost too much happening.
  9. Disasters anytime — The “gotta prepare” attitude?  Just live well and through a earthquake, fire or mudslide.
  10. Weather perfection — Cool summers and comfy winters are par, and nothing remarkable for all Oaklanders.

Last summer, your faithful blogger left the Bay Area.  The Utah scenery and cultural mores are other worldly!   However Montclair’s Valhalla is more rooted in the real world.  To my old neighbors, take this time to give thanks for your unsung every-days.


Good News and Goodbye

Dear Today in Montclair members,

As you may know, your faithful blogger started the Today in Montclair site on a lark.  There just wasn’t enough coverage about our Oakland Hills and, as this site grew, it started to fill gaps in local reporting.  Over the past couple years, we somehow entered the firmament of Bay Area sites and are here to stay.  This membership site was also established to share events, listings and social posts here and on the main site.

Although we have been a little quiet, the past two months have been all about transition:  handing the keys to Alex Gronke and his team at The Oakbook.  It’s been a privilege to align with this well-known and respected Oakland publication.  We’re excited about what they have begun doing with the site, especially covering more news along with features.

The Oakbook has a thoughtful and reasoned take on what makes Oakland special.  The writers love Oakland, yet aren’t afraid to report good, bad and ugly aspects about the city.  Reporting about the hills was already attractive to Oakbook’s publisher, who coincidentally had written for The Montclarion more than a decade ago.

So why did your faithful blogger bow out?  While I am missing Oakland terribly now, I left California to accept a VP position at a higher-education marketing company.  My role is to lead marketing and product management, and focus on helping schools and students find each other.  While there’s no appropriate way to say good-bye, our transition is complete — and you are in even better hands now.


Debby Richman

P.S.  Please reach Alex anytime.  He’s on this network, and reachable at as well.

Montclair Recreation Center, RIP?

Next on the budget chopping block is the historic Montclair Recreation Center.  While we’re philosophical about our city’s budget travails, the news about shuttering the Rec Center and all its programs feels like a sucker punch.

Admittedly, we’ve had time to adjust to Montclair Park’s staffing and facilities cutbacks over the past couple years, but are saddened about completely closing our park building too.  Read this note sent yesterday by Mark Zinns, Montclair Park’s recreation supervisor:

Hi Friends,

As you may know, there are some extreme cuts coming to Parks and Recreation because of the City’s budget shortfall.  No center is exempt including Montclair from complete closure.

If you can help, we need you to come to City Council this Thursday and speak on behalf of Parks and Recreation.  We will be having a rally around 4:00pm and council starts at 5:00pm.  You can register to speak on the City Council web site or fill out a card when you come.

Also, please spread the word to your friends and family about the dire circumstances.  Thank you.

Yes, every little drop of money matters now and the City of Oakland must remain solvent.  We aren’t sure that trying to save these remaining Parks and Recreation centers would even work out.  How depressing!

Well, we should do something. There are volunteers working on Montclair Park’s grounds today, and that same kind of local spirit might flow into the Rec Center itself.  We don’t know exactly how programs are organized without a director, but a couple classes soldier on:   the Montclair Hiking Club’s outings continue, right?

Perhaps another non-profit entity could ride in like a white knight.  There’s a modest model in place, with “Friends” groups who provide time and energy devoted to local resources.  While it took a while, the Shepherd Canyon Railroad Trail and Joaquin Miller Park groups are up and running now – and that’s due to efforts by local citizens who value our shared places.

We have to figure this out, and avoid saying:  Montclair Recreation Center, RIP.

Montclair In Name, Or More?

Are we Montclair in name only, or more?

Lately, a larger group of Montclarions are declaring independence from Mother Oakland.  Neighbors peer over to Piedmont, which shares our zip code, as historic inspiration for peaceful co-existence with Oakland.  Splitting from Oakland is hardly a new idea, but it’s picked up steam during the recession.

We are going to leave aside all the discussion about whether this is realistic or desired.  You may join a Facebook or Yahoo group for more discussions, and you should check out neighbor Tony Morosini’s original Montclarion piece as well as nascent presentation.

Whether we’re together or not, our zeitgeist is already established.  We are well-defined by our Village and shopping district, weekly newspaper, canine mayor and overall sense of hills identity.

Our borders are a little murky, extending slightly north beyond Highway 24 and west beyond Route 13.  We’re represented by two city council districts and two police beats.  The lines would need to be drawn more clearly.

Even this blog had to struggle to be known as a real place, often clashing with Montclair, NJ more than any other locale.  While Montclair, CA exists, we have experienced very few online clashes except in the directories.

Let’s consider the naming opportunities

Today denizens and visitors say they are in Montclair, Montclair District, Oakland Hills or just plain ‘ole Oakland.   Maybe we should mull over other candidates, presented for your worthy consideration:

  • District Montclair – Nice vibe, but a little hoity-toity.
  • Montclair Hills – Well, it’s really straightforward.
  • Montclair Canyons – How about the flip side of the coin?
  • Oakclair – Keeping the history intact, sort of.
  • Thornclair – Recalls the first big logger, Hiram Thorn.
  • Peralta – Honors our first Europeans appropriately.
  • Chabot Hills – Will the East Bay Park District object?
  • Feltre – Our Italian inspiration would be in the hills.
  • Tuscany – We hear this pedestrian name was proposed before.
  • Phoenix Hills – Perfect reference to our rising from the ashes.

One neighbor suggested some great alternatives, especially if we could loosen up and bestow a unique moniker on our place.  How about Redwoods-No-More?  Weather Perfection?  Gentle Green?  Or should we continue status quo, after all?

Vote For Loved Twice, Honor A Montclarion

Have you heard about Montclarion Lisa Klein and her Loved Twice non-profit?  The group provides baby clothing and blankets to underprivileged mothers, who typically leave the hospital without the basics needed to care for their newborns.

“It’s all about the babies,” explained Klein.  “It’s all about keeping the babies warm, clean and cozy.”

How Loved Twice Works

Klein collects what parents use during the first year of a baby’s life, including clothing, blankets, toys and sometimes diapers.  Volunteers sort and pack items into individual boxes for girls or boys, and then put them in the hands of low-income parents.  Check out this video interview, to see how it all works.

There’s no question this non-profit fills a gaping need in our community.  When we checked with Klein two years ago, she had collected some 10,000 pounds of donations.  Now donations have passed by the 20,000-pound mark, with an astounding 3,000 newborns supported locally.  Loved Twice has delivered boxes to over 20 local hospitals, prenatal clinics, shelters and safe homes.

Vote for Loved Twice

Since this is Election Day, we wanted to make a campaign pitch to vote for and support Loved Twice.  Please cast your ballot by visiting this web site, clicking on the Oakland A’s, and then selecting Lisa Klein.  The election is open through June 19th, so vote soon.

All the league winners will be honored as “All Stars Among Us,” during the Major League Baseball’s All Stars Game airing July 13th – and that should attract even more attention and donations for the cause.  Here’s hoping our Montclair candidate receives this honor, justly deserved.

Montclarions Hear From Captain Toribio

Oakland Police Captain Anthony Toribio gets high marks for candor, after addressing a full house at the Montclair Safety & Improvement Council’s (MSIC) community meeting last night.  It’s gotta be tough to try doing more…with less.

Responsiveness In the Hills

On the topic of police responsiveness, Captain Toribio agreed that sometimes police don’t come when called in the hills.  “We have officers assigned to 13, but may call them down to the flatlands” to deal with life-and-limb priorities.

However the problem solving officers (PSOs) do review all beat crimes and, after two years, Officer Maureen Vergara keeps a tight watch on 13Z with help from Montclarions.  She described the current investigations underway, during this gathering.

When asked about private security, the Captain felt it might be useful.  In fact, downtown ambassadors serve as “eyes and ears” for the police today.  Yet he and other safety speakers focused on how neighbors could help in this regard too – by noticing anything suspicious or amiss and reporting it.

Police Cuts Ahead

The City of Oakland currently has a budget deficit pegged at $31.5 million, and this 2009-2010 gap must be closed in June.  With 85 percent of the general fund directed to police and fire departments, things don’t look good for the status quo.

Our police department is already getting prepared for new cost-saving schedules.  While standard patrols do matter, the priority will be responding to 911 calls related to violent crimes.  Captain Toribio foresees changes where police are scheduled for eight hour shifts, five days a week; right now, they work longer shifts three or four days a week.

Toribio didn’t know exactly what would happen next because the police union agents need to meet with the City and “paying into the pension systems is a component.”  According to Sue Piper, from Council Rep Jean Quan’s office, some $12 million is spent annually on the pensions.  After those negotiations play out, cuts to the police force could be inevitable.

None of this bodes well for city safety.  Although violent crimes have decreased, that might change.  And the property crimes we’re experiencing, including auto and home burglaries, are on a upward swing lately.  This community meeting provided a wake-up call:  batten down the safety hatches in Montclair.

Not Hopeful About Dunsmuir

We just learned that Dunsmuir-Hellman Estate will shift operations from a non-profit group to direct city oversight.  Knowing how our cash-strapped city has been cutting back on cultural and park resources, we’re extremely worried this special place will get mothballed.

Like so many places, Dunsmuir has been challenged by the recession.  While owned by the City of Oakland, an independent non-profit organization has managed the estate for decades.  There are weddings and events booked this year and next, but not enough to pay $380k in annual operating costs required for estate upkeep.

Over the past 40 years, the estate has figured into the traditions of East Bay residents.  Well-known Christmas celebrations takes place through December, when the mansion gets decorated to the hilt and plays host to tours, teas and Santa Claus.  It’s part of our cultural fabric!

In more recent years, Easter celebrations, Halloween festivities, picnic days and movie nights have joined the annual roster.  Various groups also host great events, notably the Scottish Highlands Games.  Plus the mansion has figured into a couple movie shoots as well.

We’re pretty depressed about Dunsmuir’s change of control, as reins get handed to Oakland Parks and Recreation now.  We know that our city administrators and elected officials can’t wave a magic wand and support the estate.  Are there any white knights in shining armor out there?