Friday, March 26, 2010

Oakland Earth Expo

Come celebrate 40 years of Earth Day at the Oakland Earth Expo. It runs from 10AM to 2PM on Wednesday, April 14th, in Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of city hall.

Visit over 100 dynamic local green exhibitors: • green businesses • environmental and social change organizations • artists • government agencies • community groups.

Find tips, products and partners to: • reduce waste • compost • green your workplace • drive less • build or remodel green • reduce energy use • become a smarter consumer • bring your own bag • conserve water • practice bay-friendly gardening • hold a ZeroWaste event • reduce your carbon footprint • restore our creeks • eat seasonally • volunteer • much more!

Read more on the Oakland Public Works Earth Expo page.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

food: Brown Sugar Kitchen

Brown Sugar Kitchen

Today after taking K to Kaiser for an appointment, we headed off to West Oakland to try Brown Sugar Kitchen. I'd had some of their food at the open house for Central Station, but neither of us had been to the restaurant itself.

In short, the food was great. Chef/owner Tanya Holland has done something a lot of people like, because the place was packed even though it was a Tuesday at 11AM. We lucked out and got a parking place in front, and the last free table. K had the Baked Egg Tart (kinda like a meatless quiche) and I had the signature Cornmeal Waffles, which are served with brown sugar butter and apple cider syrup. Yum!

The food is prepared with "organic, local and hormone-free ingredients as much as possible". The coffee is roasted locally by Roast Coffee Company (based nearby in Emeryville). Well worth checking out next time you're out for breakfast or lunch.

Monday, March 22, 2010

rain barrels for Oakland

Civicorps loading rain barrels

Part of my home improvement efforts have been to make our house more resource efficient, not just a bit bigger and nicer. As part of that, I added a 60 gallon rain barrel to use for watering plants in our yard. As you know, the rain patterns in California mean that wouldn't get filled from roughly May until November, so 60 gallons won't last the whole dry season.

Eventually I'd like to have a larger tank to collect rain water and gray water from the washing machine, but that's a long ways down the line. So I was delighted when I heard that the city of Oakland was going to be selling rain barrels to residents for only $45. Saturday I header over to Kaiser Elementary in Hiller Highlands to get some. I don't know if they're planning on selling more in the future, but if so, it's a great deal. The barrels hold 65 gallons, are made from recycled plastic, and come with all the necessary fittings for a faucet and the overflow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oakland: an industrial city?

Forget arguing about 'view corridors'. The real question about Oakland's future is whether it wants to be an industrial city again or not.

An article in the Wall Street Journal says the city wants West Oakland to be a 'clean-technology, manufacturing and industrial hub', but that doesn't sit well with all West Oakland residents. It would, however, be a return to some of West Oakland's historical roots, which besides the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad, had a number of less-clean industries like the Phoenix Iron Works. More recently West Oakland has seen housing being developed.

In the Oakland Tribune, this article talks about the desire to create more housing near the estuary in what's currently largely an industrial area. But Oakland City Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente is opposed to a similar proposal for the nearby Owens-Brockway Glass Containers plant.

What's the right answer? I don't know enough to know. But I would hate to see the glass recycling plant closed for more housing, as Oakland currently has enough housing even if it's not all affordable, but not enough jobs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

still tilting at windmills: Idora Park

Idora Park windmill
Or if you prefer: Windmills? In Oakland? MooOOOooo! I'd noticed this windmill years ago, but saw it again when I was in the area shooting the Steele's sign a while back. According to this post, it's the last remaining vestige of Idora Park. NOTE: According to the folks at Steele's and city historians, it was not part of Idora Park, but was a lemonade stand.

Idora Park was an amusement park, with rides, a baseball field, a zoo, and an opera house. It was built by the Realty Syndicate that also owned and operated what later became known as the Key System transit company, and lasted from 1903 to 1929. Oakland's own Jack London took his daughters there, riding the rollercoaster repeatedly until one was no longer afraid of it, because as he said, "No child of mine is ever going to be afraid - of anything!".

Check out this great collection of Idora Park postcards at and read more about Idora Park at Wikipedia.

signs: Real Estate

Real Estate

Across from Steel's Discount Scuba is this dilapidated sign for Real Estate.

Friday, March 12, 2010

signs: 353 Grand

353 Grand

The musically motifed sign at 353 Grand has been on my "to shoot" list for some time. The neon is in good shape so I keep hoping to see it fully lit, but all that I've ever seen lit is the clock at the bottom.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

blog pulse: bike routes in Google Maps!

showing bike paths and lanes

Sure, there's some local discussion about street cars in Oakland. I'd love to see it happen and agree with 21st Century Urban Solutions that streetcars would help revitalize Oakland, but I'm not expecting it anytime soon.

No, the big news that's not just in Oakland but all over the blogosphere is that Google Maps at long last has bike routes and mapping. You can read the official pronouncement at the Official Google Blog. It's still in development, but it looks like they've got a good start, with maps in over 150 cities. The routes give priority to bike paths and lanes, and attempt to avoid steep routes. For example, coming back from Kaiser, the first suggestion was coming up Moraga. At the cost of an additional 0.9 miles, the second suggestion was to go up Broadway and around past Lake Temescal which is less steep. On the other hand, it didn't suggest going up the Shepherd Canyon Trail behind Montclair Village, but instead riding up Colton Blvd. Using the trail adds 0.8 miles, but Colton is hecka busy and hecka steep. The trail keeps you off the street for much of the way (and on less busy and steep streets for the rest), so is well worth the added mileage.

Additional reading:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Habitat Build-A-Thon 2010

I'll be participating in Habitat for Humanity East Bay's annual Earth Day build-a-thon. It's not just a blitz build to kick start the construction of homes for deserving families, it's also Habitat East Bay's biggest fundraiser. Any amount you can contribute is appreciated! Or if you want to participate, check out the build-a-thon page.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Greening Oakland Homes

Yesterday in Montclair was the first of a series of info fairs to help educate Oaklanders about making their homes more energy and water efficient. It was put on by Greening Oakland Homes, an out shoot of the Montclair Community Action Group.

Exhibitors included:

greening Oakland homes fair

The fair was aimed at average homeowners here in Oakland, informing them of the range of products and services available. Besides a small exhibit floor, several of the exhibitors spoke on different subjects. Levi Blankenship of Building Solutions talked about what's involved in a home energy audit, and what's commonly recommended to improve things. I've been following green building for 5+ years as part of the work for the addition I built and remodel, the main focus of my other blog, DIY Insanity. But I learned some things, too, like that on average, there's 30% leakage from forced-air HVAC ducts in Bay Area homes, even some with relatively new HVAC systems. If the ducts are in a crawlspace or attic like most, that means almost a third of the energy is wasted.

One of the main take-aways is that it pays to look at the process in 3 stages: better sealing of the building and ducts, then correctly sizing HVAC and appliances, and then consider things like solar panels. Photovoltaic solar panels may be a lot sexier than sealing your HVAC ducts and adding insulation, but they cost a lot more, too. In terms of comfort, overall efficiency, and payback of your investment, it makes sense to make your building more efficient before trying to power it with solar.

The next fair is tentatively scheduled to be part of the Temescal Street Fair in June. If you're a homeowner, or just interested in how to make homes more energy and water efficient, it's worth checking out.

Friday, March 5, 2010

my Oakland map

Finishing off map week is the most accurate but least useful map: how I visualize Oakland. It's by definition 100% accurate because it's how I think of things, but it's not terribly useful outside of telling people how I think of our fair city.

View my Oakland map in a larger map
It's kind of like a single data point in the Mapping Oakland project. Not nearly as useful as a bunch of maps like this aggregated together.

Some good news is that I heard back from Robert, the researcher behind the Mapping Oakland project. Although the web page hasn't been updated, he's still working on things:
I am actually finishing up the analysis for Temescal and Fruitvale districts... I hope to have the maps up on the web page sometime by mid April. I'm presenting the results in April, so after I complete my presentation I will have a bit of time to start uploading the maps to the net.

Back to my map. You may be wondering why some large areas are a single district, while a few small neighborhoods get labeled. In no particular order:
  • Hiller Highlands - this is known (at least by name) to most residents of the Oakland hills, because it's where the 1991 Oakland firestorm started
  • Sobrante Park - this neighborhood at the far south end of Oakland is where I've been volunteering to help build houses with Habitat for Humanity East Bay for the last several years (and an older development 10+ years ago, too)
  • Village Bottoms - I first heard of Village Bottoms because of a workshop at West Coast Green last year
  • Ghosttown - I heard about Ghosttown because of Ghost Town Farm, Novella Carpenter's urban farm. It got a big jump in publicity when she published Farm City, a book about her experiences with urban farming.
The rest of my map is much more arbitrary, depending on how much time I've spent in different parts of Oakland and their proximity to different landmarks like Lake Merritt or the zoo.

All in all, not a particularly useful map. It'd be great to be able to compare other people's similar maps, though not very practical because of the difficulty in creating them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oakland Council Districts

Continuing with my map mania, I've created a Google map of the City Council districts. It's based on the City of Oakland Council District Locator map, but being in Google Maps means you can easily layer it with other maps. Some interesting things I noticed: District 1 includes a swath of the hills north of Panoramic Hill, all the way up to and beyond Grizzly Peak Blvd. -- I didn't know that was part of Oakland. Also of note are the large areas of the bay included in districts 3 and 7.

View Oakland City Council Districts in a larger map

As with the neighborhoods map, any errors are likely mine, not from the source map. In many places the district boundaries follow roads or streams, but I had to make a few guesses here and there, and the areas over the bay are approximations based on the original map.

How are the districts divided? According to the city charter, it's based on the previous districts, but every 10 years after 1993 or if significant territory is annexed the boundaries can be adjusted:
Section 203. Nomination and Election of Councilmembers... The districts shall be as they exist upon the taking effect of this section, until revised by ordinance. In the year 1993, and every ten years thereafter, and whenever any substantial territory is annexed to or consolidated with the City, the Council shall form new districts not exceeding seven. Districts shall be composed of contiguous territory, as equal as possible in population, and as geographically compact as practicable. No change in the boundary of a district shall operate to exclude an incumbent from office before the expiration of the term for which he was elected or appointed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

signs: Baptist Church

Evergreen Missionary
Baptist Church

I spotted this sign on my way back from Pill Hill. We've been over there frequently the past week, as K's sister had open heart surgery to replace part of her aorta that had an aneurysm. She's doing well, and will be going home in the next day or so to start the next stage of her recovery.