Town Crier: Montclair man’s mission is keeping hills streets safe

MONTCLARION: May 21, 2015

It’s no secret that Oakland’s police force is stretched beyond its capacity to serve. But a Montclair man is making it his personal mission to help police keep the streets safe.

At 6-foot-6, Vassil Mladjov cuts an impressive figure. And he admits that he’s not the kind of person who sits on the sidelines. Activism is in his blood after growing up in Bulgaria and protesting against the communist regime as a student in the 1990s.

Living in Montclair for the past 20 years, he’s noticed a pattern of increased crime and traffic violations. “It’s getting out of control,” he says. “The city has no resources.”

So when Mladjov sees cars flying down Shepherd Canyon Road near his house, he takes note. If he sees them in the neighborhood at a later point and time, he asks “Do you know how fast you were going?”

Often, they’ll respond with an excuse. Sometimes, with disdain. It’s the disdain that gets to him … the drivers “who don’t respect the rest of us and don’t care about the safety of our kids people and animals in the hills.”

In extreme cases, Mladjov uses the Montclair Safety & Improvement Council (MSIC) Yahoo group to post photos and video of speeding and/or suspicious vehicles. Sometimes they’re stolen, and sometimes they’re used in crimes like the vehicle he thinks might have been involved in two attempts to steal the ATM inside the Montclair CVS.

Over the years, Mladjov says he’s helped police track down vandals and even a man who was exposing himself to children. The goal, he says, is to make our town safer. That was the one good thing about growing up in Bulgaria — there was virtually no crime.

“You didn’t want to cough,” he says. “Something would happen.”

Celebrating nature: Reader Carol Bernau says it’s been 10 years since a small band of neighbors first organized to save Butters Canyon. They formed a conservancy, and resident poet Michael McClure even wrote a poem for the occasion. The group has just paid off the last of its loans on a scenic one-third-mile strip used by hikers and bikers alike. Congratulations on your achievement. Hope your mortgage-shredding party yielded lots of confetti for the celebration.

Dining Scene: A former Montclair restaurant owner/chef is packing in customers in Clayton. Jose Trinidad Garcia left a void when he closed Viva Voce Café on Thornhill, but our loss is La Veranda Café’s gain. Trini’s style of savory cooking seems the perfect complement to the traditional Italian dishes served at this warm cafe owned by the Maamari family. Dishes you might recognize from Montclair include bruschette on toasted ciabatta bread; sauteed clams and mussels in white wine, garlic and lemon; and his delicate petrale sole. For dessert, Trini’s chocolate ganache is so dreamy, my husband calls it “pudding in a cloud.” Plan to spend time in Clayton when you go. It’s a charming little frontier town at the base of Mount Diablo with its own bocce ball complex. See for more details.

Travel tale: Here’s a story that may make you think twice about how you pose for a passport photo. Suzie Rodriguez says she had to have her picture taken twice after the postal clerk told her the first photo exhibited “excessive smiling.” Apparently, travelers have been hassled at some borders because their “smiley happy-looking passport photo” doesn’t match the actual face of the “weary, excessively downtrodden traveler.”

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by email at or on the web at


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