Think twice about this weekend’s road trip

Long delays on I-80 this weekend

Monstrous delays are expected on Interstate 80 this weekend, as road construction and Reno’s Hot August Nights celebration could combine for a very slow drive into the Sierra mountains. Read this.


Make books into art at free library session with artist

Artist Esperanza Surls made this book into a timely work of art.

Artist Esperanza Surls made this book into a timely work of art.

This looks like fun.

Spend an evening with artist Esperanza Surls cutting, folding, finding, painting and transforming a library discard into a work of art. Materials for images and collages will be provided or you can bring your own. Wednesday, Aug. 5, from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Main Branch of the Alameda Library at Oak Street. Registration is required in advance. Call 747-7713 or check in with the reference desk.


More reasons to stick around town

Just a note of caution. If you’re going to have dinner out in Oakland, it’s going to cost more. Not for the food, but for the parking. Parking meter and parking pay station hours have been extended to 8 p.m. This was put into place along with an increase in the parking rates. Things really are tough all over. Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen in Alameda.


Hey, that’s our money you’re spending

Some bad news bears repeating. With multi-media headlines vying for attention 24 hours a day, it’s easy for important stories to lose their punch, even those that directly affect your wallet.

Bay Area News Group reporters Matt Krupnick’s and Thomas Peele’s July 11 stories about Peralta Community College Chancellor Elihu Harris and other district leaders need to remain fresh in our minds. (For the full stories go to www.insidebayarea.com/elihuharris).

Peralta raises at odds with district rules

According to Krupnick and Peele, Harris “violated Peralta Community College District policies when he unilaterally approved raises for dozens of managers throughout the course of several months, according to district trustees and documents.”

Raises are supposed to be approved by district trustees, but Krupnick and Peele report, “beginning last year Harris handed out pay hikes of up to 16 percent for 57 top administrators, two of whom received two raises within six months. Trustees, who learned about the raises after fact, said they were upset about the policy violation but would not punish Harris or roll back the salaries.”

While the managers were enjoying their fattened paychecks, other employees were steeling themselves to make it through proposed furloughs and pay cuts.

Thuy Thi Nguyen is general counsel for the Peralta district. She and Harris are longtime acquaintances. When Harris was mayor of Oakland and Nguyen was freshly graduated from high school, Harris proclaimed June 23, 1993 “Thuy Thi Nguyen Day” for her contributions to the community.

Within about a year’s time, Nguyen former income of $148,000 bumped up to$165,000.

And Alton Jelks, Harris’ special assistant, has gained $20,000 for a current salary of $145,000, a raise in two installments in six months’ time. Jelks also worked in the mayor’s office when Harris was in City Hall.

The reporters state that Harris has declined numerous requests for interviews within the past three months. And Nguyen declined to answer questions, citing attorney-client privilege and professional ethics.

Several trustees said they were upset the chancellor had granted the raises without first bringing them to the board, especially since Nguyen, as district counsel, is supposed to make sure Peralta leaders follow laws and regulations. Board President Bill Withrow said he did not know about Nguyen’s second raise until the reporters asked him about it .

Trustees decided this year — without telling the public, as the state open-meeting law requires — to keep the manager raises in place and not to admonish Harris publicly.

At Peralta, lavish spending is routine

“Leaders of the Peralta Community College District have spent thousands of tax dollars on lavish hotels, East Coast trips and even clothing in the past 18 months.”

The reporters reviewed district records that showed some trustees — and Harris — broke the district’s rules on travel and related expenses, which require travel is preapproved at the “lowest possible cost.”

But Harris last year opted instead for more tony lodging options, and traded in his preapproved option for a Yosemite Lodge room ($140 – $170 per night) for a room at the Ahwanhee Hotel ($340 per night) during a conference for educational leaders.

A few weeks later, Harris’ wife, with a plane ticket purchased on a Peralta card, accompanied her husband to conference in Florida. The airfare was refunded more than a year later, after the Bay Area News Group questioned the $240 charge.

Counsel for the district censored the bills so that the reporters could not get information on exactly what trustees were buying with the cards. The story states that Trustee Marcie Hodge spent more than $4,460 in personal expenses since January 2008. Hodge has repaid the money, often citing using the Peralta card by mistake.

If you can read the full stories, please take the time. These seemingly nickel and dime violations aren’t just bad for the budget, they’re also signs of how little respect there is for the public, which subsidizes community colleges. Any conduct that raises red flags should lead to a vigorous review and re-evaluation of the district’s leaders.


Alameda real estate gaining assessment value

Alameda houses growing in assessed value.

Alameda houses growing in assessed value.

“Alameda, Piedmont, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda have all seen their assessed property values increase, albeit slightly, according to data from the Alameda and Contra Costa counties’ assessors’ offices.”

Remember good news? It seems it may not have left the planet after all, at least in terms of property value. Check out this story from the Alameda Journal.


10 minutes later, the curb wanted more

This empty MSG (monosodium glutamate) barrel was placed on the sidewalk near Park Street and Santa Clara Avenue, near a Chinese restaurant. This stuff has taken a public beating, reputation-wise, and maybe, like any so-called “flavor enhancer” it’s not necessarily nutritious, but according to Web MD, it’s also not the food demon that people have been led to believe. Check out this.


Crosstown “wake” set for Friday

This announcement about a “wake” planned for Friday to commemorate Crosstown Community Center (AKA Crosstown Coffeehouse) was submitted by one of Crosstown’s fans, Rick Dougherty. Friday will be the center’s last day of operation, unless it can find an affordable location to move to. The wake will be an opportunity for folks to pay their respects to a center that grew from a grassroots movement for a venue where open mike nights, socializing and relaxing were open to all ages. Come, hear the music play.

“On Friday, July 24th there will be a wake held for the closing of Crosstown Coffee on Alameda Island. All are invited for this final farewell.

The doors will be open all day as usual, so you can stop by any time. Please bring a flower, wreath, candle, or ribbon for the tribute. People planning to come after 6:00 pm are asked to bring a dessert for an impromptu potluck. The Circle R Boys will be performing with other musicians dropping in.

Crosstown Coffee served as a community center for the east end of Alameda Island, supporting musicians and artists and providing a place where mothers with young children, teens and business men could all meet and mingle. It became a focal point for many activities, including raising over $2000 for the local elementary school by providing free coffee for the PTA to sell before school.

Crosstown Coffee is located at 1303 High Street, Alameda, CA 94501 on the corner of High and Encinal. BUT… the High Street Bridge is closed until 6:00 pm each day for repairs. So use the Park Street, Fruitvale or Bay Farm Island bridges to get onto Alameda.”


New faces in school district

At the July 14 special meeting under consent items the following personnel appointments were approved:
School Trustee Mike McMahon reports these recent appointments at Alameda schools:
Lincoln Middle School Principal: Nicole Williams Browning from San Lorenzo, vice principal SLZ high school
Jonathan Osler, Vice Principal, Encinal High School
Tracy Allegroti, Dean of Students, Encinal High School
Rob Siltanen, Director of Adult and Alternative Education, Charter School Monitoring and ROP Liasion.
The appointments were announced at a special school board meeting July 14.

Broken bridge piles benefit fishies

Part of the ambiance of living in the Bay Area is homey sight of people dropping a line in the water in hopes of catching dinner. For some time now, that sight has been missing from the Fruitvale Bridge fishing platforms, both on the Alameda and Oakland sides. For months, the gate has been locked. Damage to the pilings after a tugboat incident prompted the county to send fishermen and fisherwomen and fisherkids elsewhere, said Ruben Briones in County Superintendent Alice Lai Bitker’s office.  Unfortunately, the county hasn’t been able to drum up the fix-it funds yet. The same is true for the planned seismic work on the Fruitvale Bridge. A contractor has been awarded the job, but so far, the buck has stopped at that point. Add to that the potential partial closure of the Fruitvale, Park Street and High Street bridges if the county, which maintains and operates those draw bridges, loses its gas tax revenues to the state. These are not good days for our bridges.

The fishing platforms on the Fruitvale Bridge have been closed for months.

The fishing platforms on the Fruitvale Bridge have been closed for months.