Archive for December, 2007

Golden Gate bridge

27 December 2007


Broadway heads up into the hills, and just past the connection to Route 24 it passes over a sturdy WPA-era concrete structure. A pocket valley here holds the College Preparatory School, and Golden Gate Avenue, one of Upper Rockridge’s main arteries, goes under Broadway here to its end at Chabot Road where Temescal Creek enters a culvert. The Golden Gate bridge (formally it’s the Golden Gate Avenue undercrossing) is built to last, but the ground around it is slumping. After the next big quake on the local fault, the bridge may still stand but be unusable, blocking Broadway, because vehicles won’t be able to get up onto it.

Meme of four

24 December 2007

I was tagged last month with this meme, but it slipped my mind til now: ten different fours.

4 jobs you’ve had:

  1. Radio deejay
  2. Made fiberglass tape in a factory in Newmarket, N.H.
  3. Garbage collector
  4. Scientific editor

4 movies you’d watch over and over:

  1. Repo Man
  2. 8 1/2
  3. Ulysses (sorry, that’s a book)
  4. Leaves of Grass (that is too)

4 places you’ve lived:

  1. Oakland, California
  2. Pleasantville, New York (yes, THAT one)
  3. Kensington, Maryland
  4. Newmarket, New Hampshire

4 TV shows you love to watch (mind you, I haven’t watched TV regularly in almost 20 years):

  1. Max Headroom
  2. The original Star Trek
  3. Time Tunnel
  4. MTV’s 120 Minutes

4 places you’ve been on vacation:

  1. San Marino (the nation)
  2. The 1964 World’s Fair
  3. Brawley, California
  4. San Francisco during the hippie era

4 websites you visit daily:

  1. Geology on (incredible place)
  2. Salon
  3. Recent Earthquakes in California-Nevada
  4. Jon Carroll’s Fine Home Page and Archive

4 of your favorite foods:

  1. Beer
  2. Olives
  3. Beans
  4. Eggs

4 places you’d rather be:

  1. Oakland, California
  2. Manhattan
  3. Na Pali Coast, Kauai
  4. Florence, Italy

4 lucky people to tag:

  1. Kris’s Archaeology Blog
  2. John Fleck at inkstain
  3. Allartburns
  4. ACME Updates

The wider setting

22 December 2007


Yesterday I hiked up into the hills again, this time through the Hiller Highlands neighborhood. It was clear enough to see the Farallon Islands standing crisp against the Pacific Ocean horizon. From a saddle on Grizzly Peak Road, just south of its intersection with Marlborough Terrace, I looked down into the steep, rocky swale where the fire of October 1991 began. It was sobering to sense how strenuous firefighting must be in this setting. Then I looked east, past the shoulder of Frowning Ridge, past a glimpse of wooded Orinda, past the inhabited hilltops of northern Lafayette, the bare ones beyond Clayton Valley and a few whitish hilltops behind them. Wait a minute, I thought, there ARE no hills beyond; that’s the Sierra Nevada. Apparently the area around Lake Tahoe. My little bayside city is a part of something very grand.

Boom disneyfied

14 December 2007


The Hiller Highlands neighborhood was wiped clean by the October 1991 Oakland Hills fire. Once a quarry site, it later became a woodsy enclave of cottages. Then all that was wiped out, and an architectural monoculture succeeded it, the precious lots built to the edges with large structures—SUV homes—financed by insurance money. The area will not achieve any charm for many decades, if ever.

This is what the big Hayward fault earthquake will do, only the transformation will be a hundred times larger and extend up and down the East Bay. And it will affect the flats as well. That is why I try, every single day, to take pleasure in Oakland as it is. One day, in the twinkling of an eye, it will be gone, or changed irrevocably.

The high hills

7 December 2007

Last week I climbed from my place in the flats up to Skyline Drive, a gain of about 1400 feet in elevation. My house is a hundred years old; the houses on Skyline are new. My house is conventional and built on firm, level ground; the Skyline houses are contrived and installed in hostile settings.


The views are grand when the weather permits, and it’s a pleasant thing to look up and see lights nestled among the hills at night. But I deplore almost everything else about the houses in the high hills. Sure, much of my attitude is cultural—I was raised in sociable lowland street grids with friendly neighbors, where people walked and bicycled and threw block parties. Skyline is different, a string of isolated fortress dwellings that rubs me wrong. Okay, not my style. Part of my problem is aesthetics. These homes have nothing to say to the world; they exist only to flatter their inhabitants and frame for their owners the views that they ruin for everyone else.

But I oppose them politically too: I deplore the hazards of these houses and the expensive services they demand from the city. Fire protection, water and sewage service, bus lines and waste pickup, all are very costly on these steep, narrow streets. They place city workers at risk. But (of course) there’s geology too. Take a look at what’s right across the road from this house.


It’s a fresh landslide scar, exposing crumbly shattered rock. The light-colored stuff is volcanic ash as friable as sand. That curving line to its right is a fault. As I stood there, grit was tumbling down in steady trickles. And when the next moderate earthquake comes on the Oakland fault, no more than a mile to the west, this cliff will collapse. Houses simply should not be allowed up here.


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