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.

The Friends Of Parks Phenomenon

Especially for our nearby city parks and open spaces, the spirit of volunteerism is alive and kicking.  After months in the works, Friends Of Parks groups will be officially baptized for the Montclair Railroad Trail and Joaquin Miller Park.  These blessings should make things easier when attracting volunteers, raising funds and getting a few projects done.

Friends of Montclair RR Trail

Last year, we witnessed plenty of upset over Shepherd Canyon’s old railroad right-of-way.  This trail is well-loved by walkers, bicyclers and dogs heading back and forth to the Village.  To improve the path, a group of volunteers has been cleaning areas monthly and getting more organized about priorities.

Now these volunteers and others are invited to join the “Friends of Montclair RR Trail.”  The fledgling group will be holding their first annual meeting soon – on Saturday, April 10th, 12:30 – 2:30 pm at the Montclair Rec Center.  (More info here.)

Friends of Joaquin Miller Park

Nearly ditto for Joaquin Miller Park, after this crown jewel was left tarnished last year.  Park rangers had decamped from their office, and then were eliminated altogether.  In their place came bonfires and troubles, and then volunteers who decided what needed short and long-term attention – including projects like Joaquin Miller’s homestead restoration.

“Friends of Joaquin Miller Park” has evolved into a more structured group, which will hold their first formal meeting and all-day celebration – on Sunday, April 25th, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm, at Sanborn Drive.  Come prepared to picnic and hike as well.  (More info here.)

Montclair Park Without Friends

Only kidding!  Beyond the Friends Of Parks phenomenon, we have long appreciated the volunteers who support Montclair Park, from planting flowers to leading weekly hikes.  Maintenance and clean-ups have become a problem with staff reductions, something that Park Director Mark Zinns has been trying to manage with help from all willing hands.

Teens may provide an answer, especially those invited to hang out at the park.  Besides having a place to go after school, “Teen Power Project” volunteers hope to encourage kids to participate in spring clean-ups.  By the way, there’s a kick-off for teens and families to celebrate with snacks, skateboarding and teen singers – on Wednesday, April 21st, 2:30 – 6:30 pm at the park.  (More info here.)

While there have always been volunteer efforts, it feels like neighbors are more involved than in earlier, more flush times.  There’s no question that a core group of volunteers are motivated to keep parks safe and cleaned up, to conserve remaining open parcels, and to honor the historical heritage around here.  The progress is slow and steady, but heartening.

Picking Up After Park-Goers

Montclair Park is our local oasis, loved by many who hang out there.  Easy Bay Dads appreciate the park because it “has a fenced-in tot lot as well as a bigger playground for bigger kids, plus grass to run on, fake horses to sit on, geese to get bitten by, and a small lake to fall into.”

However you use the facilities, the reality is that Montclair Park needs additional resources to stay clean and green – which won’t be coming from city coffers anytime soon.

As you are aware, Oakland is under water financially and has already cut back on Parks and Recreation dollars this year.  The department funds will likely get tapped again, to help close the $70+ million budget gap soon.

Montclair Park Celebration

Cleaning Up The Park

Montclair Park’s trash situation is simmering since the staff cutbacks a few months ago.  If you frequent the park, then you may see litter, graffiti and random vandalism of bathrooms.  Something should be done here.

Remember those after-school kids who hang out at the park?  Maybe they could be put to work for a nominal rate, via donations.  Alternatively, a volunteer corp of kids might be assembled by kids (!) to clean up, on a scheduled basis.

Adding More Greenery

For plantings, the park is entering a fallow period too.  We caught up with Jill Broadhurst, leader of Montclair SIC’s beautification team, who said that plantings are on hold but there’s still work to do:

We need money for new plants which the city does not have.  Nothing has been planted.  Right now, we need to focus on removing the reeds in the pond, the broom on the hillside and mulch all the beds.  Planting is a few years away.  We will eventually apply for larger grants to accomplish new plants selections.

She still enourages interested neighbors to offer their resources and elbow grease.  Please reach her at gncmontclair-at-yahoo.com to find out what’s happening, and join the Montclair GreenNClean facebook group.

Who Cares Enough

We know that Montclarions have plenty of civic pride, and cherish their Montclair Park.  Park Director Mark Zinns is also doing a nice job with his hands tied, and there are many activities and offerings underway for everyone.

However with some financial support and volunteerism by locals, it seems like we would keep the place spit-shined.  In honor of the real Earth Day tomorrow, are there folks out there who can step up with resources and leadership?

Montclair Park Faring Well

Given the Oakland budget cuts, we wanted to see how Montclair Park has been faring these days.  We checked with Mark Zinns, recreation supervisor, who sounds like he’s managing pretty well in the downturn.

“The plan from the beginning has been to keep programs for all age levels, at all recreation centers in Oakland, operating,” explained Zinns.  There are a mix of recreation center activities here, especially dance and art classes.  Sports include tennis, t-ball, basketball and hiking, as listed in this schedule.

Montclair Pond

The funding was cut for Montclair Park and across the Oakland Park system, though.  “Because of great leadership by our Director Audree Jones-Taylor, the impact on OPR has been minimized somewhat,” said Zinns.

“We have taken huge budget cuts in the last three months and all parks and recreation centers close at least once a month on mandatory shut-down days.  We have also lost several key staff as well as cut back on hours for part-time workers.”

Yet Montclair Park is open and welcomes all comers – especially local teens who are daily visitors.  Through the Teen Power Project, Zinns offers “relaxed supervision, equipment check-out and a place for the teens to congregate and socialize.”

“Between myself, my staff and two wonderful parents (Deane and Tamara), we know and interact with most of the teens who come to Montclair Village,” boasted Zinns.

Did you know that Montclair Park was a Depression baby, constructed by the WPA?  Thus it only seems right for the Park to remain open for everyone, during this economic downturn.

March 12th Update: The Teen Power Project is seeking to raise $700 to purchase a large tent, a lock box, and an outdoor heat lamp for cooler and wet winter afternoons.  To help, please reach Supervisor Zinns at mzinns-at-oaklandnet.com or 510-482-7812.

Local Public Works Almost Done

We’re racing to the finish, to complete several road and park construction projects before the official rainy season.  Oakland Public Works has been doing surprisingly well, finishing work at Shepherd Canyon Park, Montclair Park and Skyline Boulevard.

At Shepherd Canyon Park, the parking lot has been completed already.  This lot should improve safety for everyone driving by the park.  It’s built with water-permeable materials, since the canyon has flooding issues.  There will be a dedication sometime soon.

On the other hand, the Shepherd Canyon Road sink holes may re-appear this season.  Nearly $1 million had been approved to replace the ancient storm drainage pipes that cause the problem.  However the fixes have not been funded or scheduled yet, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed about future floods.

Down the hill, the improvements to Montclair Park paths will be done this month.  The remaining tasks include pouring concrete as well as installing fencing, drainage and handrails.  Montclair SIC plans several beautification efforts ahead, including daffodil plantings on November 15th.

Since late September, Skyline Boulevard has been shuttered to make permanent repairs caused by last winter’s storms.  We’ve been blocked from Berkeley, the parks and tunnel detour since then, waiting for Oakland Public Works to re-open the road by early December.

It turns out Public Works has made rapid progress on Skyline.  This weekend, local realtor Laurel Strand declared “whoopee!” in the Montclair Yahoo group, sharing that “Skyline Blvd at Snake to Grizzly Peak Road repair is finished!  We can now travel over the tunnel to Orinda.”

Even with the city’s budget crunch, we seem to be plowing through the projects scheduled before the winter storms.  That’s important because Oakland Public Works will undoubtedly be responding to the storms, floods and other winter travails soon.

Your Hills Budget Meeting, Monday at 7pm

Before the City of Oakland makes its final budget cuts, there’s one opportunity for you to participate in the discussion.  Our city rep, Jean Quan, organized a meeting for District 4 constituents tonight at 7pm, in the Redwood Heights Recreation Center (map).

Given the Oakland budget gap, this is an important opportunity to discuss where the cuts should be and should not be made.  Among other city services, our well-loved parks and libraries are at risk – and we must provide guidance in these areas.

To understand the current budget, this chart (above) shows how funds are distributed to each department.  There’s not much to work with, with some 64% that gets directed to the police and fire departments.

Late last month, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums issued a full report covering the budget and where the city recommends cutbacks.  According to the report, Dellums and his team explain that “having only $110 million in discretionary budget leaves little flexibility when attempting to eliminate a $37.4 million shortfall.”

Just like private industry, the recommendations to freeze hiring, lay off current staff, minimize salary increases, and shorten the work weeks are appropriate – if painful – steps to close the gap.

Mark Zinns, who supervises Montclair Park, confirms the cuts:  “Yes it’s true that Montclair Recreation Center and Park is facing some serious cut-backs because of the city’s financial crisis.”  He expects to shutter the Rec Center every Friday, and make cuts/layoffs to maintenance, gardening and recreation staff.

The City also plans to eliminate the remaining handful of park rangers, who specialize in park safety.  This past weekend, for example, Joaquin Miller was closed due to high winds and fire danger.  Are the replacement beat cops, who earn more than the rangers, ready to handle new assignments?

Finally, local libraries are under examination – and Montclair’s hours and programs are at risk too.  No one needs to argue about the educational resources available both online and on the shelves.  Our storybook library has been a source of pride for years, and it should stay opened six days/week.

Cutting back on parks and libraries doesn’t solve the bigger budget gap, because their numbers are quite small.  As you can see, only six percent of the budget is spent on them.  While there’s no question that some minor reductions could be made, we have to make sure that these civic resources don’t get decimated.

We live in interesting times.  Keep in mind that the WPA was busy building up these neighborhood gems during the Great Depression, and now we are thinking they are places not worthy of sufficient resources with this economic downturn.

Appreciation For Montclair Park

When I drive by Montclair Park, I pretty much take it for granted.  It’s the place where villagers gather for large events, kids play sports or hang out, and various recreational programs are offered.

Sometimes our local park can seem magical.  Last month, a flickr photographer snapped this shot and was able to clarify the colors using HDR (high dynamic range) techniques.  The trees and carriage/horses look like they were painted in this image.

Another artist, Jason Quisenberry, created this nice charcoal sketch of the park: “I would have drawn more, but a girls softball team started to play nearby and I decided to move.  I just didn’t want to be hit in the back of the head with a ball.”  The work seems complete to me, as an almost-abstract landscape.

With these odes to Montclair Park, I’m wondering what will happen to the place.  This year, we were able to bid for improvements to the park.  Additionally, the park has scheduled a full slate of programs, classes and activities for our kids.

However, Oakland is dealing with financial crises and all budgets are at risk.  Like all city-supported services, there’s going to be cutbacks soon.  Is it time to “queue up” the local philanthropists?