Changes coming to Mountain View Cemetery’s landscape

4 July 2016

Mountain View Cemetery is one of Oakland’s great civic ornaments for several reasons: its gravestones and tombs commemorate generations of historically important Bay Areans, and its plan was Frederick Law Olmsted’s second significant large-scale project in landscape design after New York’s Central Park. It’s a fine piece of open space that’s used by many different groups of people.

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I think of the cemetery as a great civic ornament for two special reasons of my own. First, it’s a superb display of Oakland’s natural landscape as the first settlers knew it.

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Second, it’s got some great exposures of Franciscan melange, the mixture of rock types that was created by the tectonic collision between the North America and Farallon plates about 90 million years ago.

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The cemetery’s operators are planning to reoccupy and develop the highest part of the grounds, the two heights in this photo taken from the Catholic cemetery next door.

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Here’s the view from up there. The cemetery proposes putting in roads and formal structures in the foreground and up on the hill beyond the fence, behind the greensward.

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The goal is to accommodate about 1500 more grave plots. A lot of dirt and rock will be dug up and moved around. The plan talks of building up the hilltop and tilting it toward the bay for better views.

The city’s master page for the proposed work is here. The draft environmental impact report is there, plus info on two upcoming hearings (July 11 for the Landmarks Preservation Board, July 20 for the Planning Commission). This month is the public’s most influential time window.

The land beyond the fence is a special bit of countryside . . .

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. . . with its own constituency.

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It also has its share of rock outcrops. To me these are precious things. Most outcrops in these hills either were blown up during development or are locked up in people’s back yards.

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I’m still thinking about what I want to tell the city. But my basic concerns are that the natural character of the land — its contours and vegetation — be respected and preserved as much as practicable. The project will affect a landmark that hundreds of thousands of people enjoy from their own windows and yards.

Olmsted considered these hills the essential setting for the elegant, transformative parkland he planned here in 1863. Mountain View was, and remains, an icon of the City Beautiful movement and a destination for landscape architects everywhere. It and Stanford University (designed in 1888) are the only major Olmsted projects in the Bay area.

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This amazing cemetery is Oakland’s cemetery. Let’s speak up to help keep it as beautiful as possible.

An icon lost: The Hayward fault’s Rose/Prospect curb

27 June 2016

Certain places are prized by geologists, especially teachers, for their educational value. Out-of-towners make pilgrimages to them. Sure we all enjoy the Grand Canyon, but real geologists have Siccar Point, Darwin’s outcrop, the Carlin unconformity and other obscure sites on their life lists.

One of those places was right nearby in Hayward, until very recently. At the corner of Rose and Prospect Streets is a corner curb that happened to be built precisely across the Hayward fault, where the steady progress of aseismic creep slowly wrenched it apart.

The best time series of this corner was compiled by Sue Ellen Hirschfeld, a now-retired geology teacher at UC East Bay. It goes back to 1971, and even then there was a sizable offset. Probably the curb was first emplaced in the late 1950s.

It’s a popular site for folks in the know, and there’s at least one Flickr group with lots of photos. The neighbors are probably sick of us, though. I’ve visited it many times, and I sometimes took pictures. This photo is from 2006.

RosePros-mar2006

We’re looking east across the fault. This side is moving northward a few millimeters per year. I came back the next year and took this shot of the “echelon cracks” in the street, with the iconic curb in the corner.

RosePros-sep2007

In 2012 I brought a few enthusiasts to see it; they asked for anonymity but I can show you where they stood.

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A closeup at the time shows that it had a total offset of about 7-1/2 inches, or 20 centimeters, since it was built. The painted arrow at the left shows the offset in the six years since 2006.

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Last week I joined a party of visitors there, and to my dismay the corner has been dismantled. It looks like the plan is to put in a cutout for people with disabilities, which is a good thing and undoubtedly overdue. Still.

RosePros-jun2016

Anyway, I’m here to put the word out: Rose and Prospect is defunct. It is no more. Come back in 20 years. In the meantime, downtown Hayward is full of other examples of bent curbs.

Haywardfault-downtown

There’s always the Old City Hall, too, which was built directly on the fault and has long been abandoned. The first time I visited there, maybe 25 years ago, I was looking at the street adjacent to it. As I watched, a little tongue of water emerged in the center of the street and started trickling downhill. Assuming that an old iron water main had just cracked, I found a phone booth and alerted the city. Cleaning up after a creeping fault never ends.

Faceted spurs along the Hayward fault

20 June 2016

A lot of geology involves glimpsing the ideal behind the real. As you look around Oakland, the Hayward fault isn’t easy to see without a bit of training. For this post, let me start you from the ideal. The process of faulting has very specific effects on the land that you can learn to look for, then see.

Motion on the Hayward fault is mostly sideways, but a small proportion of its motion is compression across the fault. Compression has been pushing up the east side of the fault for at least the last million years, building the Berkeley/Oakland Hills. Where streams cut their valleys across such a fault, the ideal result is something like this example from the Manti-La Sal National Forest, in Utah. The image is from the Open Topography site and is derived from lidar (laser “radar”) data.

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The flat, triangular faces of hillside are called faceted spurs. As you look at this, imagine the motions and processes that create the landforms. The high part is being raised; the streams are cutting downward; the low part is sinking while the streams dump their sediment onto it.

That’s about as geometrically perfect as faceted spurs get. In Oakland, they’re much more subtle. The rest of the images in this post are large; click each one to see it full size. Here’s a 1000-pixel view looking north from the top of Mountain View Cemetery.

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The numbers are as follows: 1 is the north side of Claremont Canyon, 2 is the south side, 3 is Grizzly Peak, 4 is Hiller Highlands, and 5 is the nameless ridge (Powerline Ridge, I guess I’d call it) south of route 24 as you approach the Caldecott Tunnel. Except for Grizzly Peak, those are faceted spurs.

Here they are labeled in the 1915 topographic map, made before the Caldecott tunnel construction changed the hills. The asterisk is where I was standing.

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I’ve also marked them in this view from above in Google Maps, turned so the fault runs straight across the image.

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And finally, here’s the same view in Google Earth, including the lidar data along the fault. The beauty of lidar data is that you can digitally subtract buildings, trees and so on to show the pure shape of the ground.

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Do these help you see? I hope so. There are other faceted spurs in Montclair and around Sheffield Village, at the far east end of Oakland.


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