Wednesday, April 28, 2010

signs: Spitz Jewelers

Spitz Jewelers

This gem (ha!) of a sign is hiding behind a tree on International / East 14th in the Fruitvale. Founded in 1946, at some point they moved from Fruitvale to the pedestrian mall in City Center. I don't know if the new locale has a great sign like this one or not.

Home Energy Efficiency

blower door test

You may remember a while back I attended the Greening Oakland Homes fair. A lot of the info was familiar to me, but I was inspired to have a home energy audit done. My experiences with that were recently published on Jetson Green, a green building website I've done some writing for in the past. Whether you're a do-it-yourself type or not, it has some good info on making your house more energy efficient.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010


Happy 40th Earth Day! I spent the last 4 days at the Habitat for Humanity Earth Day Build-a-thon (day 1, 2, 3, 4). We framed 10 houses in 4 days, going from foundation to roof trusses, even with some rain on Tuesday morning. Habitat East Bay has been using green building techniques for years and continues to refine them.

Habitat for Humanity Build-a-thon

Oakland North has coverage of what Oaklanders have been up to in order to celebrate Earth Day and make Oakland a better place.

The Oakland Tribune writes about the improvements to Bay Area air, water and land quality in the last 40 years and the challenges that lie ahead. There's also a great article about ways to reduce, reuse and recycle for free by using sites like Freecycle. The article includes a list of other sites for borrowing and other ways to reduce the amount of stuff we buy.

lots of goats!

Finally, we have a great green solution for reducing the flammable undergrowth on Oakland hillsides. I took this picture while riding home today, and the goats clearly love their work. You can hear them happily munching away over the car noise from highway 24. Read more at Today in Montclair (though right now the goats are in Hiller Highlands.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Habitat Build-A-Thon 2010

Just a quick post to refer you to one of my other blogs, the Habitat for Humanity East Bay / Thrivent Builds blog. I'll be blogging daily coverage of the 2010 build-a-thon there. And thank you for the donations to support Habitat's mission!

day 1 volunteers and homeowners

Friday, April 16, 2010

signs: Neldam's Danish Bakery

Neldam's Danish Bakery

Not the greatest sign ever, but this venerable institution has been in the news recently. Neldam's Danish Bakery has been at this location in Oakland for 80 years. According to the Oakland Tribune, Neldam's is facing eviction. Declining sales forced them to sell the building and scale back operations, and they and the new landlords have been trying to work out a solution since. They're accepting donations to help finance a move and expansion, but time will tell if that's enough. I'm not sure where they plan to have the main bakery, but they mention a "new, more modern, and greener bakery, along with 4 branches" and list Oakland, Alameda, Emeryville, Pinole and they hope Antioch.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oakland Earth Expo

Oakland Earth Expo

Yesterday was the Oakland Earth Expo, a public fair for Oaklanders looking to be more green. There were a number of groups and companies I'm familiar with there, including:
There were also a number of groups I wasn't familiar with:
There appeared to be a good turn out for the event. I was there after noon so I missed the special Earth Day 2010 photo shoot that was planned, but I saw lots of people checking out the booths.

In a bit of irony, PG&E was there trying to to drum up some good press for smart meters after the problems they've been having with smart meters in Bakersfield; a couple of booths down was a group encouraging people to Vote No on 16. Prop 16 is sponsored by PG&E to the tune of millions of dollars, and they're putting it forth as a "keep governments from spending unlimited funds without a vote". In reality, it's because PG&E doesn't want municipalities like Marin becoming power producers and thereby competing with PG&E. On one hand, I love that PG&E sponsors the solar panels for Habitat for Humanity homes around California, but then they pull stuff like Prop 16. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

signs: Piedmont Piano

Piedmont Piano

This is a first for the Our Oakland signs feature in that it's the second showing of this locale, but with a different sign. It used to be an art supply store with a nice Drafting / Furniture sign. But it's been reborn in cool colors as the new home of Piedmont Piano.

Piedmont Piano was on the corner of Piedmont Ave. and Pleasant Valley since 1980. While it was a fixture on the end of Piedmont, that location acquired a tragic history. Back in 2008 a 10 year old boy was shot while taking a piano lesson, during an attempted robbery at the car wash and gas station across the street. In an odd twist, the shooter was also involved in a carjacking of state senator and now Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata.

great Art Deco entrance

Friday, April 9, 2010

signs: Schirmer Liquors

Schirmer Liquors

With the new Habitat for Humanity development in Woodland in East Oakland, I've been slowly branching out from my usual route to the previous development in Sobrante Park. It's not that far away, but Google Maps suggested different routes that were shorter. And the last two weeks I've been picking up my wife's cousin at Coliseum BART for him to come volunteer at Habitat, too. So it was on one of my new meanderings that I found this sign on Seminary. It's currently called Seminary Market, but the great sign still reads Schirmer Liquors. Googling on that turns up this interesting tidbit:
Leslie Ivan SUTTON was born on 19 Sep 1920 in Flagler, Kit Carson Co, Colorado, USA. He Graduated from Flagler High School in 1938 in Flagler, Kit Carson Co, Colorado, USA. He was a Flight Cadet in Army Air Corps in Sep 1940. He was a Captain in the Army Air Corps in Feb 1946. He was a Proprietor of Schirmer's Liquor Store between 1960 and 1982 in Oakland, Alameda Co, California, USA. He died in Jan 1982. He was buried at Flagler Cemetery in Flagler, Kit Carson Co, Colorado, USA.

No idea if the neon still works, but it appears to be in good shape at least on this side of the sign.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

where's the money?

Besides high unemployment and budget woes for the city, Oakland and Alameda County are facing other money problems. The Oakland Tribune reports that the property tax base is likely to be down another 2% this year. That's bad news especially for schools, as approximately 42 cents of each dollar of property tax goes to support public schools.

Meanwhile, Oakland Seen reports that Oakland participation in the 2010 census so far is geographically divided. Above 580, 73 to 78% have returned their forms. Below 580, the rate is closer to 50%. The East Bay Express reports even lower numbers for West and East Oakland, 32% and 37% respectively. Low participation in the last census is estimated to have cost Alameda County $43 million in federal funding since 2002. While only a some of that would have gone to Oakland, given the current budget, every little bit helps.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Rebuilding Together Oakland

Decent housing is a basic need for everyone. Habitat for Humanity is a great organization, working to eliminate substandard housing world-wide (BTW, thanks for the build-a-thon donations!) In the U.S., that's largely done through building new homes which are sold to low-income people currently paying too much of their income to rent sub-standard housing.

But a trip around Oakland or pretty much any city will show you a large stock of homes of another sort. These aren't people who are about to lose their homes because of sub-prime mortgages, or who bought something bigger than they can afford, or are paying most of their income for rent. These are people who own their homes, and have worked hard to purchase them. But because of age, illness, and/or income level haven't been able to maintain and improve their homes. That's where Rebuilding Together (RTO) comes in.


Like Habitat, they use mostly volunteers, and homeowners have to qualify for the service. Through the month of April, groups of volunteers descend on the selected homes and work to repair and upgrade them. I volunteered with RTO for the first time on Saturday, and joined a dozen or so others from around the Bay Area to help Mildred, a homeowner in East Oakland. She raised 7 children, most of whom she put through college, too. The home was one of the first in the area, built at least 100 years ago. The family added on to the back in the 1940s, but it's still a small house. Mildred is 83, and suffers from arthritis and other health problems, but she's still active at her church (where she's known as 'the mother of the church' because of her ubiquitous nurturing.) She uses a cane to get around the house, and a mobility chair (RTO put in a wheelchair lift last year) for longer trips.

There's a list of problems with the house, but the first problem was getting in to work on them. Every time any of Mildred's children moved, it was: "Hey mom, can I keep some of my stuff there? I'll get it later." Add to that donations collected for church and the homeless in her neighborhood. Add to that 30+ years of "stuff" from living there. So most of us spent the morning moving stuff from the house and storage in the backyard to 3 piles: (1) keep (2) donate or (3) dumpster. Fortunately several of her children (and one grandchild) were there to help sort through things. Unfortunately some of the stuff was water-damaged, so the dumpster pile was pretty big. But we set aside various items, and several different scrap haulers took at least one and half pickup loads to the scrapyard instead.

very full dumpster

After lunch, we split into different groups. One worked on sorting stuff from the attic; others cleaned out the kitchen and pulled down the water-damaged ceiling; a couple of people demolished the bathroom. The main electrical panel had been updated by RTO, but there were approximately three (3) outlets through the entire house. I worked with a volunteer contractor on installing some new electrical outlets. While he worked with another volunteer to run new wires under the house, I cut holes in the walls for new outlets.

There's still a lot of work to do, but we made good progress on repairing Mildred's home and making it safer and more comfortable for her, too. Rebuilding Together Oakland also works throughout the year with their Safe-At-Home & Energy Efficiency program. As with Habitat, you don't have to be skilled, but if you do have skills that's always a bonus! I'll be volunteering later in April (after the build-a-thon), but I'm not sure if I'll be assigned to Mildred's house or another.