Odds and Ends – January 2024


As we reported last month, Hood Design Studio has been commissioned to design a memorial in honor of the Dearings — the first black family to reside in Piedmont — who were forcibly driven from their home on Wildwood Avenue in 1925. On November 7, in Piedmont’s Alan Harvey Theater, Walter spoke about his team’s ongoing efforts to honor history and incorporate community input in the creative process — illustrated by slides depicting major projects they’ve completed in the past two decades. The above photo is from one their most recent projects, the International African-American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina. This is a detail from a pond that rises and falls like the tides and in the process vividly reveals a representation of victims of the slave trade crammed side by side in the ship’s hold. Here’s a link to a video of Hood’s presentation in Piedmont.

When I first saw these planters installed on the freeway underpass on both sides of Grand, filled only with dirt, my immediate reaction was, “This is going to be a disastrous waste of money.” I posted that sentiment online, figuring the planters were going to be vandalized and/or not watered adequately and/or plants wouldn’t grow in deep shade. When I saw that the city had, in fact, selected plants that thrive in shade, I was a little less skeptical. Shortly thereafter, when Freya at Brother and Sisters Flower Shop told me I was being overly pessimistic, I began to feel guilty. And when Debra Israel, the Community Liaison from Nikki’s office, reported that the planters have an internal reservoir that lasts a couple of weeks and they’re being serviced with a city water tanker, I became a little more hopeful. A week ago, I happened to be driving by and stopped to meet two city employees who were replacing some of the plants that had disappeared. They’re members of the crew assigned to maintain traffic islands, plus these planters, on a biweekly basis. Still, after seeing Splash Pad’s California Native Garden trashed so severely this year and knowing that planters up and down Grand, Lake Park, and Lakeshore have been regularly vandalized over the years, I’m not taking any bets. I still feel this is an iffy project, especially if the homeless situation isn’t resolved.

That brings us full circle to the actual rationale for installing the planters: the expectation that they will prevent the reemergence of the homeless encampment that has been problematic in this location for a decade or more. It also relates directly to the city audit of Measure Q funding mentioned in C. J. Hirschfield’s article in The Oaklandside and in this month’s Splash Pad Park update. The audit’s conclusion was that the funding that was specifically designated for park maintenance and homeless services — especially in and adjacent to parks “was underspent by $22 million over a 4-year period.” My assumption is that Public Works will be trying to make up for lost time, and I’m really hoping that the planters thrive.

Exiting the Trader Joe’s parking lot this past Thursday, I happened upon a small crowd gathered around a gentleman in obvious pain whose own car, by all accounts, had somehow rolled over him  after he stepped out of it. Since I hadn’t heard any yelling, this must have happened at least a few minutes before I arrived. Since I didn’t hear any sirens, I also guessed that the witnesses who had called 911 were still on hold. I called the Fire Department Emergency number (510) 444-1616 and reached an operator in less than a minute. I was asked lots of questions and given advice, including that the gentleman shouldn’t be moved, which I shared just as bystanders were about to do so. The fire engine with the EMT crew arrived within five minutes and an ambulance a few minutes later. I believe we shared this same advice in a recent newsletter, but now that I’ve experienced this first-hand, it bears repeating: Put the above number at the top of your contact list and call it (not 911) if you’re reporting a fire or a medical emergency.