Um, maybe they should put a sign up warning trucks at the 7-Eleven in El Cerrito

A tow truck was having trouble freeing a beer truck that got stuck at high tide entering the parking lot of the 7-Eleven store in El Cerrito to make a morning beer delivery April 30.

On Monday morning, for the second time in just over two weeks, a truck got its trailer wedged from underneath trying to enter the parking lot of the 7-Eleven on Stockton Avenue.
Trying to elevate the big rig proved difficult, with Albermarle Avenue blocked off as the rescue truck rose off its back wheels as it tried to lift the heavy trailer.


Hercules councilman makes case for selling two city properties

In the following letter, Hercules City Councilman William Wilkins talks about his city’s financial condition and opines about the need to sell the Victoria Crescent and Parcel C properties to residential developers.
Wilkins is a retired supervising real estate agent for the City of Oakland.

Madeline Albright recently stated words to the effect that “Leaders should make decisions based on facts, not on wish making.” The recent actions of Council are a subject of debate regarding the proposed sale of City owned real estate. Here are the facts!

Why must Victoria Crescent and Parcel C be sold now?

When I was elected last June, I joined a Council that inherited a horrendous financial mess (over $314 million dollars of debt) which continues until the present time. This has required that the Council take extraordinary steps to keep us solvent. We are making tough decisions to stop wasteful spending and keep the City solvent.

The reality is, we are at a point where the sale of Victoria Crescent and Parcel C is necessary. There is no other viable way for the City to avoid insolvency.

• Due to ongoing and accumulating obligations, including unpaid debt to Oliver Company for work done on Sycamore North last year, the City owes about $2 million dollars. This debt is secured by a note against Parcel C. This debt is now due and payable.

• As the result of changes at Sycamore North to eliminate the affordable units from the housing mix, the City owes CALHFA a total of $5.3 million dollars. This debt is now due and payable.

• The City also owes about $5 million dollars to AMBAC as settlement of their lawsuit against the City and redevelopment agency this year. This debt is now due and payable, and we will soon be accruing interest on that debt. The debt is secured by notes on Parcel C and Victoria Crescent. This settlement agreement was the only thing that kept the City from having to declare bankruptcy in March of this year, and has kept the City solvent up to this time.

These facts and more information will be reviewed and discussed at the upcoming Town Hall Meeting that Council recently agreed to hold.

CBRE Commercial Brokers were selected to market these two parcels for the City. The properties were offered to all interested parties in the commercial development industry. In addition, Parcel C was offered to Bio Rad for expansion of their facility or as a possible location for a hotel. Bio Rad expressed no interest in the parcel. After four (4) months, all offers were brought before Council for review. Of the nine offers received, there were no offers for commercial development for either parcel. All of the offers were for either multifamily or single family residential development.

Council was disappointed that there were no offers for commercial development, but with the $12.3 million dollars in debts, and accruing interest, the City was left with little choice but to select the best offers, move forward and secure the deals. These deals are not final, and may not close unless the entitlements that are sought by the buyers are achieved. There are no guarantees that the property use changes requested by the buyer will happen, which puts the City at continued financial risk.

In the background of all this is the State of California. With the elimination of Redevelopment Agencies throughout the State, all former redevelopment agency owned-parcels are subject to what is called “clawback” by the State. The “clawback provision,”(Section 34167.5) California Health & Safety Code provides that the state auditor-controller:

“…shall review the activities of redevelopment agencies in the State to determine whether an asset transfer has occurred after January 1, 2011, between the city or county, or city and county that created a redevelopment agency or any other public agency, and the redevelopment agency”.

“If such a transfer did occur and if such asset is not contractually committed to a third party for expenditure or encumbrance, AB 26 provides that, to the extent not prohibited by law, the state audit-controller shall order the available assets to be returned to the successor agency”. The successor agency is required to dispose of real estate assets to pay debt. Assets are to be disposed of “expeditiously and in a manner aimed at maximizing value” ( Section 34177(e). As noted in the West County Times article this week, Hercules has in excess of $314,000,000 in debt and the State has notified all former redevelopment agencies of the clawback.

Unless sufficient funds are secured from the sale of these parcels, Hercules could be looking at the possibility of bankruptcy once again. There is no other viable way for the City to pay the outstanding $12.3 million dollars. We have no reserves and no other sources of funding to pay these debts. I do not believe it is possible to avert bankruptcy without selling these parcels.

If the City becomes insolvent, and goes into bankruptcy, we will not receive grant funding from State, Federal and Regional authorities for the Intermodal Transit Center project or any other project. In a time when we are relying on grant funds to move forward on the ITC, for this reason and many more, the City must remain financially solvent.

These are the facts and for these reasons I believe that the City must sell these parcels now to pay our debts.


Free apple and cherry trees will be distributed Tuesday in Richmond

Fruit trees. Tomorrow. Distributed 5-6 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot at Civic Center Plaza on Macdonald Avenue.
The trees are being given out by the group Self-Sustaining Communities (www.self-sustainingcommunities.org), which has distributed almost 10,000 trees in the East Bay since 2009.
Most recently, there were 400 trees handed out at Richmond’s compost giveaway on Saturday.
The group was started in El Cerrito and is now based in Richmond and most of the trees have been directed to low-income communities in West Contra Costa as a way to help people provide for themselves.
The trees are donated by growers in the Central Valley.
This time there are no qualifications and almost 900 trees that need homes and may bear nutritional fruit with the proper care.
Here is the announcement from group founder Linda Schneider.

We were unexpectedly given 1308 apple and cherry trees, somewhat at the last minute. They are all bare root.

They are Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji apples, and Bing, Rainier, Van and Brooks cherries.

Thanks to Jennifer Ly with the City of Richmond, Eduardo Martinez and Tony Wolcott, 400 trees total were given out Saturday with the compost giveaway.

The City is having another giveaway between 5:00 and 6:30 in front of the Richmond City Hall, in the parking lot, tomorrow, Tuesday. Because we have so many, and time is of the essence, we would like to get these out as quickly as possible.

This will be open to all — the goal being we want as much local food and greening throughout entire neighborhoods as possible, and because it also creates meaningful social activity and community. These are not for resale or business.

Thank you so very much.


El Cerrito leaders cut the ribbon to the city’s new Recycling and Environmental Resource Center

Council members cut the ribbon to the new El Cerrito Recycling and Environmental Resource Center on April 22, 2012.
City Environmental Analyst Garth Schultz gives the introduction to the cutting led by Major Bill Jones, who beckons a large turnout to see the ultra-modern and expanded facility.
The “ribbon” was made of repurposed newspaper rain bags that were knotted together.


Richmond has a first-ever poet laureate

You can meet the first-ever Richmond poet laureate on Tuesday at City Hall.
Here is the full text of the announcement:

Richmond poet Dwayne Parish will be named the City of Richmond’s inaugural Poet Laureate Tuesday, April 24, at the Richmond City Council meeting at 6:30 pm. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin will read the proclamation installing Parish in the new position for a period of two years, from April 2012 through April 2014. Parish will read a new poem written especially for the occasion.

“The Academy of American Poets established April as National Poetry Month in 1996,” explains Richmond Arts and Culture Manager Michele Seville, “and we have been inspired by other Bay Area cities’ emphasis on placing poetry prominently in the life of a city, and helping to give voice to its citizens. In addition, the success of our Richmond Writes! poetry contests of the last two years have spurred us to make poetry an ongoing part of official civic life in Richmond. Once the decision was made to create this post, Dwayne Parish was the first candidate who came to mind.”

Parish, 55, a Richmond resident for the last ten years, was born on Travis Air Force Base and grew up in Vallejo. He started writing poetry shortly after learning his ABCs in grade school. “I’ve always been a poet,” says Parish. “I think in rhymes.” Seven years ago, he attended a California Lawyers for the Arts event in San Francisco and met a young poet there “who broke me open. I’ve written hundreds of poems since.”

Parish’s preferred style is acrostic writing (writing the title down the side with each letter beginning a sentence), taught to him by his father.

At the time he moved to Richmond, Parish says, “I had no idea I could use my art to expand awareness and inspire support for worthy causes. I feel like a seed that found the right soil and sun.” Serving as a Richmond Arts & Culture Commissioner from 2006 to 2010, Parish had the opportunity to write poems for specific occasions and to read his work in schools and other public forums.

His duties as Poet Laureate will similarly call on him to visit schools and attend city, library, and other public functions, and to write a poem about Richmond that will be placed in a notebook to be available at the library. His first official duty is the new poem that he will read Tuesday evening at the ceremony marking the beginning of his two-year term.

The position carries an annual stipend of $1000. In the future, a poet laureate committee appointed by the Arts & Culture Commission will be responsible for selecting a poet laureate for a two-year term and for reporting annually to the Commission on the progress of the Poet Laureate Program.

“I’m deeply honored to have been selected for the position,” says Parish, “which seems to me to be yet another expression of Richmond’s renaissance. I look forward to finding and sharing the words.” •


Richmond Progressive Alliance announcing two new contenders for City Council

It looks like retired teacher Eduardo Martinez and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s longtime aide Marilyn Langlois will be the first two challengers to throw their hats in the ring for City Council in the Nov. 6 election.
Their candidacies are set to be announced at 4 p.m. Sunday at 1021 Macdonald Ave.

Both are members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, as McLaughlin and Councilman Jeff Ritterman, who is going to make a special announcement.
Ritterman’s term is expiring, as are those of Nat Bates and Tom Butt.
Here is the RPA announcement:

On Sunday, April 22 at 4:00 P.M., the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) will host the campaign kickoff for two candidates running for Richmond City Council in the November election. Because RPA-endorsed candidates accept no corporate contributions, an early start to their campaigns allows for grass roots involvement and support to gain momentum right up to Election Day.

In addition to introducing candidates Langlois and Martinez, the event will feature Pierre Labossiere as a special guest speaker. Labossiere founded the Haiti Action Committee, is a board member of Global Exchange and a former Richmond labor organizer.

Las Bomberas de La Bahia, an Afro-Puerto Rican drumming, dancing, and signing group will provide live music.

The event will be held at 1021 Macdonald Avenue, Richmond, California

Eduardo Martinez, who retired from teaching in Richmond after 18 years, won 6500 votes when he first ran for a council seat in 2010. Since then, he co-founded the Richmond Safe Athletic Fields for Education (SAFE) Coalition of sports clubs, leagues, and teams, which negotiated with the City and WCCUSD for increased access to existing playing fields. Martinez says, “My campaign takes not a dime of corporate money. I’m a progressive democrat responsive to Richmond residents and small businesses. I stand for jobs for all, education, peace and solidarity, and for building together a great city for all our children.”

Marilyn Langlois recently resigned from the office of Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin where she had worked as Community Advocate for a number of years. Langlois, a founding member of the RPA, stated, “I am running for Richmond City Council because I want to work together to continue building a healthy Richmond for all, where each of us can contribute to the well-being of everyone. I understand there are differences within the community and bring mediation and conflict resolution skills.”

Jeff Ritterman, whose term on the Richmond City Council expires at the end of 2012, will make a special announcement at Sunday’s event.


El Cerrito’s new recycling center is singled out by an environmental blogger

El Cerrito Recycling Center on Schmidt Lane, back when it was known as E.C.ology.

Informational signs were put in place today at the new El Cerrito Recycling and Environmental Resource Center, one of the finishing touches before the long-anticipated — and delayed — opening of the new facility on Sunday.
The city went to great lengths to minimize the carbon footprint of the center and maximize the kinds of material it will accept for recycling or (better yet) reuse.
And that effort hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Matt Hickman, who writes a blog about eco-living, touts the upcoming ribbon-cutting as one the highlights of Earth Day — not just regionally, but as a national model.
From his intro: “Is the coolest new green prefab project in the Bay Area a recycling facility? From the looks of the soon-to-open El Cerrito Recycling and Environmental Resource Center, I’m leaning towards ‘yes.'”
We wonder, however, how much better the project could have been if El Cerrito was a location that got a substantial amount of sunshine.

Artist's conception of how the center should look on Sunday.


Crew repairing small sinkhole this a.m. on Pomona Ave. in El Cerrito

A worker jackhammers the compromised section of pavement Wednesday to reveal the hollow area underneath.

A crew from Stege Sanitary District examines the sewer line Monday morning on Pomona Avenue.

UPDATE: A crew began making repairs at 8 a.m. Wednesday and expected the job to be done before the morning is over.

The saga of the Pomona Avenue sinkhole isn’t generating the buzz that the Great Via Verde sinkhole in Richmond did two years ago.
That one was so large that it “swallowed two cars” and still hasn’t been fully repaired.
The Pomona Avenue sinkhole — more than a foot deep and more than twice that around — might have swallowed the tire of a single car before someone called authorities Saturday afternoon.
Except that someone did.
That triggered investigation into the cause and what repairs would be needed on the block next to El Cerrito High School.
A small of the block section is closed to traffic.
Work has proceeded to check the sewerlines and be sure of the location of underground utilities, understandable after San Bruno.
Bottomline: The manager of the Stege Sanitary District says Wednesday at best for repairs to be completed, Thursday if an unexpected problem arises.
Or sinks.
Parking around the high school has relocated for the moment.

A view into the 2-by1.5-foot crater.


Sinkhole closes El Cerrito street to traffic

Police have closed a portion of the 700 block of Pomona Avenue to vehicle traffic after the El Cerrito Fire Department determined a small sinkhole had opened up, making the roadway unsafe.
The area involved is near the intersection of Eureka Avenue by El Cerrito High School.
“The fire department checked it and thinks it might be a worn out sewer line,” said El Cerrito Police Cpl. Susan Garman. “A neighbor looked outside and thought something just wasn’t right and reported it.”
A worker from Stege Sanitary District was been out to inspect the site later this evening and set up lighted barricades. He said the district hasn’t determined if its line is the cause and that a repair crew will come out Sunday or Monday.


A two-wheeled party rolled through El Cerrito, Albany and Richmond on Friday night

Scenes from the April 13, 2012 East Bay Bike Party, which gathered at the Del Norte BART station for an evening ride through El Cerrito, Albany and along the Bay Trail to downtown Richmond, where Richmond Spokes hosted a post-ride block party.

The theme of this month’s ride was “Under the Sea.”

A contingent of El Cerrito police bicycle units escorted the riders through town and many residents who heard the commotion came out to cheer the passing parade.