What a City!

Lots of great letters in the paper today! I’ll weigh in soon with my thoughts on the general plan, but I hope plenty of you will log in and leave your own comments here. (I’ve fixed the comments so you just have to verify a word to post, not log in as a registered user.) …

In a perfect world …

A great new Walnut Creek downtown library would include about 150 underground parking spaces with a design that puts an expanded building over the current parking site without encroaching on the tennis courts or rose gardens. That’s the kind of design I’d be willing to pay for with a November bond measure. …

Can you hear me now?

There’s a funny Walnut Creek City Council quote I keep seeing in the Contra Costa Times. It goes something like, “You know, the folks who show up at Council meetings probably don’t even represent the real feelings of the people.” … Councilman Charlie Abrams gets The Quote in Sunday’s Times, where he’s paraphrased as saying “(I’m) not sure those who attend public meetings truly represent a cross-section of the public.” … Well, Councilman Abrams, I don’t attend many public meetings, and I can tell you, the folks out here are just as concerned as those in your halls. You see, when a city council begins to lose touch with the people it represents, those people just might not want to waste their breath bending its ear. … It also strikes me that if the council has strong local grassroots support for its actions, it should be able to stack rooms of people in favor of those policies. Its inability to do so shows clay feet. … It’s not just “prominent old-timers” (apologies to JoAnn Hanna) that the Council has to worry about. It’s people like me and my neighbors: renters and first-time homebuyers, folks who live in the condos on Oak Road and down Ygnacio Valley, who push their infants on the swings and play tennis at Civic Park. … You might be aggravating folks who remember what the town was like 30 or 4o years ago, but you’re also waking up a whole new generation who came to Walnut Creek because it’s the best darn town in the East Bay, and who don’t want another Dublin-Pleasanton. Middle-class, educated, progressive people. … You see, when we hear about things like the Council booting the recycling center to make way for auto dealers; threatening the future of great downtown businesses like Mark Morris and La Fogata; converting working-class rental units into unaffordable condos; throwing the Veterans Hall in the dustbin of history in favor of speculative commercial development; ignoring the needs of dog owners; and threatening to put hundreds of superfluous parking spaces in our park, we get a little upset. …

Round 1 goes to Save Civic!

There are plenty of happy folks around Walnut Creek this weekend, as citizen action forced the Council to shelve any thought of eminent domain for Casa Cristina (and to scale down the library project and scrap plans for new retail stores in Civic Park, according to City Manager Mike Parnessremarks in the Times.) … We also made the top headline in the Times (Save Civic co-editor John Morse is quoted, and this site is referenced, though not by name). … This is big folks. You all deserve a round of applause . … I’ve also updated the flyer to reflect this victory. …

Friday Flash

FLASH: CC Times to report no eminent domain for Casa Cristina. … Sunday update: The original online version of the story Friday was a bit different than the one that appeared in print on Saturday. The original version states that no commercial space will be sited in the park. … Maybe people wouldn’t have complained about eminent domain if councilmembers hadn’t stated that they were considering it. It’s also interesting that the council took the time to put a $21 million bond on the ballot before its recess, but not to clear up the eminent domain issue. That had to happen at a scarcely noticed special closed session. …

A growing effort

Things are booming for Save Civic Park. John Morse, a Parkmead district resident concerned with the land-grab development going on in Walnut Creek, joins the site this week as a co-editor to talk about issues such as the new General Plan that goes before the City Council in coming months. … Theresa Harrington, our local C.C. Times reporter, has an article in today’s Walnut Creek Journal about the City’s efforts to lure more business to the office parks around town. Read it online, then post your comments below and send them by e-mail to Journal editor Aaron Crowe at acrowe@cctimes.com. … Tell him Save Civic Park sent you! … Also today, I spoke to a key member of the Diablo Greens about the library project, sharing concerns such as the impact on the Farmers Market. Hopefully all the town’s political parties will see the worthiness of our effort here. … Thanks for reading! …

Market photo courtesy the Real WC.

Not in my name

While the City uses our tax dollars to slap around one of Walnut Creek’s oldest families, the women of Casa Cristina have been digging into their own pockets for decades to protect their property. The home’s history is documented in Bay Area publications back to 1933, and in 2001 architectural and landscaping surveys found national historical significance in details such as the backyard picnic area with walls and fireplace constructed of Australian basalt. The rock was first used as ship ballast, then to pave the cobblestone streets of San Francisco before H. Lloyd Drury put it to use behind his new home. … It’s this kind of history documented in the old guest book that Julia Maxwell and Elizabeth Heidt showed me today. You can trace the family’s history through that book, from the yellowed news clippings to the children’s scrawled signatures from Easter dinners. …

See that creek? They’ve been good stewards

When Elizabeth Heidt was a child, she remembers the creek very green, gunked up with algae. Occasionally stinky. Ducks were the only wildlife in sight. … Things have changed since then. Sunday I watched a blue heron take off not 50 feet from the wooden steps that lead from Casa Cristina to the creek. Herons and egrets dine in the slow-moving waters, as do raccoons that lunch on the smaller critters that hide in the mud. … Preserving the creek didn’t just happen, though. Rip-wrap and rebar line the creek on private property, while concrete fills the streams the City got its hands on. … Some 50 years ago, Heidt’s grandfather, Kendric French, rebuffed attempts by the Army Corps of Engineers to pave the creek bank. … “He said, ‘What are we going to call it? Walnut Ditch, Walnut Gutter, Walnut Sewer?’ ” recalls Heidt. … When you look from Lincoln into the creek, you see a family’s stewardship. Walnut Creek should be grateful. …

Fighting City Hall

“I’m not against the library … I’m against the destruction of my family home,” says Elizabeth Heidt. … Heidt is a seventh-
generation Californian and mother of the sixth generation to occupy Casa Cristina, the adobe-style residence on Live Oak. For what seems like the umpteenth time in the 70-odd years her family has lived here, Heidt and her mother, Julia Maxwell, are in a pitched battle with City Hall over the fate of their beautiful creekside home. … At the dinning room table in Casa Cristina on Sunday just after the Farmers Market, Heidt and Maxwell describe their latest plight in a story peppered with the history of Walnut Creek and the state itself. For a relative newcomer like myself, it strikes odd that the Council would play such hardball with a family that helped pioneer California and that has already given up its orchard for the current library. … Maxwell, a teacher, nurse and now antique dealer, though, is having none of it. She’s stubborn, and younger than her mother Betty French, who into her 90s beat back City efforts to force her out. “They don’t want to deal with you when you’re in your 90s,” Heidt says to her mother. “They don’t want to deal with me now and I’m only 66,” Maxwell says with a grin. “I’m going to stop them.” And if stubborn fails, she’s ready to play to pity. “I’m a senior citizen living in my own home with the support of my family …” … And though the family might not always see eye-to-eye on how to deal with the City, they’ve agreed on one thing. Casa Cristina lives on, even if the City forces them to load it up on a truck. …

Misuse of eminent domain

The C.C. Times ran an interesting editorial today that should help pressure the Council on the wisdom of planting a parking garage and new retail stores in Civic Park. … Times editors, while coming out strong for support of a new library, counseled City leaders to do away with the issue of eminent domain for the beautiful Casa Cristina. “The city either should alter its plans and use the park space or offer the landowner a substantial buyout package,” the Times editors’ opined. … No, that’s not really the good part. The light in this editorial comes in form of a critique of the design that puts a monster garage and retail stores in the park. … From where we sit, if the Council wants to bring the growing ranks of bond detractors on board, it needs to do a lot more than slide the library further into our open space. For a start, it needs to stop fooling around with the Maxwell/Heidt family on what it really intends for Casa Cristina, and it needs to go back to the drawing board for a design that’s more park, less parking. …