Archive | December, 2008

The Million Pound Holiday Food Drive

The Million Pound Holiday Food Drive


Anyway you stack it – in red food donations barrels, in giant cardboard boxes, or on shrink-wrapped pallets – a million pounds of food is a lot of food. That’s about how much now sits in the massive warehouse of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties in Concord.

The million pounds of donated food is the result of the last two months of community food drives and will help get the 178 non-profit pantries, soup kitchens, assistance programs, or schools – and eventually the 98,000 people a month that this food feeds – through the winter. Read the full story

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SLIDE SHOW: El Cerrito’s Sacred Spot

Boulder in Canyon Trail Park


In Canyon Trail Park there is a boulder inscribed with petroglyphs – mortars, cupules, and fertility symbols. The site is also home to a grassroots conservation project that aims to protect native plants as well as preserve the rock.

To learn more about the efforts of the Canyon Trail Volunteers watch the slideshow below. Read the full story

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Political Philosophies Divide School Board

Political Philosophies Divide School Board


At the December 10 meeting, the West Contra Costa County school board will discuss a new proposal that would have Richmond’s Leadership Charter School move onto the site of Castro Elementary School. The proposal was abrupt and some say it speaks to the discord among board members.

Veteran school board member Charles Ramsey placed the Leadership relocation on the agenda. Ramsey says that if Castro closes as planned in June, then they should consider putting Leadership at the site. The charter school is currently housed at Gompers High School in Richmond, which is also set to close at the end of the year.

The meeting’s original agenda was to swear in its two latest members: Antonio Medrano, a retired teacher and Tony Thurmond, a member of Richmond’s city council. The inaugural meeting usually has a celebratory spirit, filled with friends, family members and other supporters. However, Medrano believes the Leadership proposal was put on the agenda as a divisive strategy with the intent to get a lot of reaction. “To do that side run, on the remaining days of the old school board to me is not fair,” said Medrano. “I would use a stronger word but I’ll just say it’s not fair.”

Medrano is not only against the move but he also disagrees with how it was proposed. He only learned of the proposal through an email.  After talking with contacts at both schools, Medrano realized very few people were informed about the potential relocation. “We have to involve the community and it has to be transparent,” he said. Medrano believes the old school board members have a history of ignoring community input. “What they’re doing is indicative of what they’ve been doing for the last four years,” he said.

In fact, Medrano and others have said school board president Karen Pfeifer, Madeline Kronenberg, and Charles Ramsey had a tendency to vote together, creating a 3-2 divide that was impossible to penetrate. Valerie Snider, a member of the Save Castro Park and School group, says their alliance made the two remaining school board members, Audrey Miles and David Brown, “ineffectual.”  Brown decided not to run for reelection.

With this thought in mind, Snider and her group members directed their efforts to prevent Pfeifer’s reelection in November. Despite having over $100,000 in campaign contributions, Pfeifer lost the race. The election brought two new school board members, Medrano and Thurmond, with strong community ties. Snider believes their addition will change the dynamics of the school board and will provide school board member Miles with much needed support on votes. “We’ve broken that block now that Karen Pfiefer is gone,” said Snider. “And not only are we happy that she’s gone but we actually feel excited about Antonio Medrano and Tony Thurmond.”

Although many residents have embraced them, not everyone is happy with Medrano and Thurmond joining the school board. School board member Charles Ramsey is one of their most vocal critics. “I oppose both of them. They’re good people but I don’t believe we share the same philosophy,” he said.

Before they were even sworn into office, the new elects had their first challenge.
On November 12, the board held an open meeting to discuss school closure criteria.  President Karen Pfeifer was noticeably absent. The district’s superintendent Dr. Bruce Harter presented his case for the closures through a series of charts and graphs that illustrated the dire financial straits the districts now faces.

Enrollment has been steady decreasing over the last five years, an almost 12 percent decline since 2002. Year after year, expenses have continued to grow even as the budget shrinks. The district will need to cut $1.5 million each year for the next two years according to the approved budget. They plan to reach their goal by selling district owned property, reducing services, containing the costs of benefits and school consolidation. Closing an elementary school will save $300,000 and $800,000 for a middle or high school.

School board member Ramsey projects they will need to close five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.  Its tough.  It’s not a nice place to be,” he said. “Life does not have an infinite amount of resources. You have to try to make good decisions within the tax base that you have.”

Both Medrano and Thurmond believe the district should examine test scores, facility conditions and geographic equity of every school in the district before making a decision about closures. This would include even recently built schools such as LovonyaDeJean in Richmond and El Cerrito High School, a suggestion that increased the divide between them and the old board members. “I don’t think that’s compliant with our fiduciary duties to be good stewards of the money that we have been possession of,” said Ramsey. “I think that would be a tragic mistake.”

Save Castro leader Snider believes the school board had an obsession with rebuilding schools in El Cerrito. Before the November elections, three of the five school board members, including the president, were residents of the city. “They continually said El Cerrito needs a middle school. However this is not the El Cerrito Unified School District, its the West Contra Costa Unified School District,” Snider said.  Miles, Medrano and Thurmond are all Richmond residents who will bring attention to struggling area schools like Kennedy High and Adams Middle School.

The school board next major contention may also involve Castro’s site. The school is expected to close in June. However, that may change if Medrano has his way. “It’s not going to close. We have the votes to say no. The old board: yes. The new board: no,” he said.

The December 10 meeting will held at 6:30PM at Lovonya DeJean Middle School and will be last meeting of the year.

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She Knows How to Get Her Point Across

Students practice at the Sport Fencing Center in Richmond.

Students practice at the Sport Fencing Center in Richmond.


Karen Ladenheim has been operating the Sport Fencing Center in Richmond for seven years, bringing a lifetime of fencing experience along with her as she coaches East Bay youth on the art of swordsmanship. The El Cerrito resident gives us some insight on the center, her students and how we all have a little swordsman inside of us. Read the full story

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Finding Voice in ECHS Radio Class


A popular, vibrant radio class at El Cerrito High School is highlighting the importance of youth voice and activism.

Check out the video below to listen to what’s going on. Also be sure to check out this link for more info and to listen live!

Read the full story

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Local Theaters Holding Their Own Against Economy


In a time of economic strife and hardship, laughter appears to be prevailing.

The house was packed at the Contra Costa Civic Theater in El Cerrito for Saturday night’s performance of Greater Tuna, a “comedy with Tex Appeal.”
Read the full story

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VIDEO: Improved Safety Along Upper Fairmount Avenue

VIDEO: Improved Safety Along Upper Fairmount Avenue


In October, the city of El Cerrito began work to improve the upper stretch of Fairmount Avenue from Richmond Street, just east of the Plaza BART station, to Colusa Avenue at Sunset View Cemetery.

Funded through the city’s redevelopment agency, the project has two key goals: to improve pedestrian safety and enhance physical beauty throughout this important community corridor. Read the full story

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SLIDE SHOW: San Pablo Avenue Looks to the Future


San Pablo Avenue is a major economic force in El Cerrito, supplying the community with everything from nail salons to novelty shops. Now, a new plan to regulate future development along this major thoroughfare is nearing completion.

Watch the slideshow below to learn more.

Read the full story

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Holiday Fun – In Your Own Backyard


The one-two punch of the turbulent economy and the holiday financial squeeze leaves families across America looking for ways to save money. Well, look no further than your own backyard. With the kids out of school and holiday vacation time, El Cerrito offers plenty of opportunities for outings, fun, and maybe a little adventure. Read the full story

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SLIDE SHOW: Going Green Saves Green for Windrush School

The new environmentally friendly middle school building at Windrush School.


The Windrush School in El Cerrito opened its new “green” middle school building in September, earning a gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in the process. Read the full story

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