The Elusive Tax Dollar


THERE’S SOMETHING ironic about living in Montclair. We’ve got oak-studded hills and wide-open spaces, but a lack of police protection and virtually no city money for downtown improvements. The Laurel District has its archways. The Fruitvale has its new transit plaza. And Montclair has its odd assortment of patio furniture resting on root-bound sidewalks that regularly catch heels and send shoppers tumbling.

“We’re having a really tough time,” says the head of the Montclair Business Association, Helen Wyman. Merchants have a plan for sprucing up Montclair, but they have to raise more money.

“We have to do it all on our own,” Wyman admits, adding that grants and city money are probably out of the question because of the area’s perceived wealth.

Thank goodness for guys like Henry Vortriede at Montclair Bistro. His celebrity bartender program (Wyman and I were both recent participants) helped raise $300, recently, for village improvements. Part of the money will go towards a citizen-funded park at the Moraga Road on/off ramp to Highway 13. The rest will be added to a fund to buy benches and signage and decorative tree grates with oak leaves and acorns.

But it won’t happen overnight. Montclair needs money and merchants are already paying through the nose for rent and assessments. So we continue to sit on splintered benches with loose slats and watch as our beloved village ages, ever so ungracefully. It’s the paradox of modern times, in a city where we always seem to be at the back of the line.

LOVING MEMORY: One of Montclair’s sweetest merchants has died, leaving a grieving husband and three children. Houng Le worked at Myrna’s Flower Shop, where she was known for her beautiful arrangements, many of which were made in her garage.

“You would see her every day delivering flowers with a smile in the morning, like sunshine,” remembers customer David Delgado. “Suddenly Montclair Village seems a lot less bright.”

Houng loved coffee and conversation, and everyone knew her at Peet’s, next door. At just 44, her life ended much too quickly, but her kindness left a glow that will shine for years.

HIP HOP: There’s a run on rabbits at the Oakland Animal Shelter. Interim director Dave Cronin says a barrage of bunnies came in last spring — mostly unwanted Easter presents. They’ve been spayed and neutered (so they won’t breed like — rabbits) and are ready for adoption. And what makes a bunny better than a more conventional pet? Cronin says they’re clean and cuddly (even litter-box trained) and they sit on your lap, just like a cat. And unlike some dogs, you never hear of a vicious rabbit. A silly rabbit perhaps — but never a vicious one. For adoption information, call 510-913-0422.

OTHER WORLDLY: If women are from Venus and men are from Mars, what planet do teenagers come from? It doesn’t matter. They’ll love the monthly Lunar Lounge night at Chabot Space and Science Center. Not only is there live music and munchies in the Celestial Cafe (with beer for adults), the Ask Jeeves Planetarium has an awesome alternative music show with jaw-dropping digital animation. Flaming lips soar through space, floating jellyfish surround you and galactic eyeballs dodge planets as you fly through giant worm holes. It makes the old Dark Side of the Moon Planetarium show look so — last century.

RED-FACED DAD: What macho guy could resist the allure of a free lunch at a Hayward tool shop? The fact that the Hooters girls were going to be there was like icing on the cake for reader John Van Krieken, who wasted no time pulling into the parking lot with his truck full of hungry construction workers. But John got the surprise of his life when he heard a voice calling “Dad.”

“There was my daughter — a Hooter girl,” he exclaimed, saying it wasn’t exactly what he meant when he told her to get a job. Perhaps the old adage is true. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

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