City offices to be closed Dec. 24-Jan. 2

Walnut Creek city offices will be closed from Monday, Dec. 24 until Wednesday, Jan. 2, for the Christmas and New Year's holiday.

Police and other public service workers will continue to work during the holiday break. The only city facilities open to the general public during the holidays will be the Clarke Swim Center (closed Christmas and New Year's Day) and the Lesher Center for the Arts box office, open Dec. 29-30. The Heather Farm Community Center and the Civic Arts Shadeleands Center will be open certain days for rental only.

For more information go to http://www.ci.walnut-creek.ca.us/

Changes planned for Encina Grande center

A relocation and expansion of the existing Walgreens store, facade improvements throughout the whole shopping center and removal of approximately 25 mature trees are all proposed for the Encina Grande shopping center, near the intersection of Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove Roads.

The renovation plans call for the Walgreens store to move from its space west of the Safeway store into the space on the far eastern end of the center, recently home of Alexander Kat Furniture and Hardwood Flooring. That store would be expanded, and a drive-in pharmacy window built on its east side.

A new facade would cover storefronts in the entire development, which also includes Ace Hardware, Rocco's Pizza and Applebee's, among many other eateries and retailers. The basic appearance of the center hasn't changed since it first opened in the 1960s.

Also part of the plan is the removal of at least 25 oak, camphor, hackberry and ash trees throughout the center, to accommodate changes in the parking areas.

The city's Design Review Commission must approve the remodel and the Walgreens building expansion, and a use permit must be obtained for the drive-through window, which Walgreens hasn't had there. The Planning Commission must approve the project, likely sometime in early 2013.

Hawthorne Drive fire station set for closure

Contra Costa County supervisors voted Dec. 11 to shutter four fire stations, including the station at Walnut Creek, Station No. 4 on Hawthorne Drive, in an attempt to keep the county's financially struggling Contra Costa Fire Protection District afloat.

All four stations would close by Jan. 15, and Walnut Creek would be left with three stations.

Contra Costa Fire Chief Daryl Louder explained that the stations selected for closure were picked taking into account response times, mutual aid availability and what would help the district's entire system maintain service. He added that ConFire would need to close an additional one or two stations by next fiscal year if no new revenue is found.

The other stations to close are in Martinez, Lafayette and Clayton.

Welcome to 'Open Town Hall' discussions

The City of Walnut Creek has activated "Open Town Hall," online forum for civic engagement, which can be reached by going on to the city's website (http://www.ci.walnut-creek.ca.us).

The first topic up for discussion is the city's "wayfinding" program, a nascent effort to create a series of signs whose visual elements -- including clear letters and simple messages -- will make it easier for residents and visitors to find the most efficient routes to what they're looking for in Walnut Creek.

While Open Town Hall is sponsored by the City of Walnut Creek, it is run by Peak Democracy, a nonpartisan company whose mission is to broaden civic engagement and enhance public trust in government. Peak Democracy will keep your information confidential, as required by a strict privacy agreement.

City officials will read the various posts to see what people are thinking.

Upon posting a first statement, suers are asked for their name and home address. This confidential information is used to identify which statements are from local residents.

Rocklin runner wins WC Half Marathon

Ryan Hodgens of Rocklin was the winner of the Walnut Creek Half-Marathon Dec. 8, with a time of 1 hour, 14 minutes and 38 seconds.

Among local runners, Marty Kinsey of Moraga placed sixth (01:20:21), Dan Madigan of Walnut Creek seventh, and Jack Bradley, Tommy Kisylia, Tobin Bolter, Kent Sasaki and Caroline Gregory, all of Walnut Creek, placed 11th through 15th. Gregory recorded the fastest women's time, at 1:25:15.

Sixteen-year-old Kellen McDonald was the top finisher in the 5K event, with a time of 20:37.

Assistance League helps schoolchildren

Assistance League of Diablo Valley's eight hands-on philanthropic programs target every age group in the community, helping those who are at-risk and in need.

One meeting the needs of students -- some 4,000 this year -- is nationally acclaimed Operation School Bell that provides clothing for elementary schoolchildren.

The Assistance League also supports foster youth through its scholarships and community programs. Don Graves, coordinator for Contra Costa County Independent Living Skills Program, recently thanked the organization for the scholarships, and noted recipients received more than money -- they got a feeling of self-worth and the knowledge that someone believes in them and their future.

To learn more about Assistance League of Diablo Valley's other philanthropic programs, its Corporate Partnership Program, and primary fundraiser, the Way Side Inn Thrift Shop, at 3521 Golden Gate Way in Lafayette, visit diablovalley.assistanceleague.org. To learn how to help foster youth, visit www.cocoilsp.org.

Saint Mary's College's 'Jan Term' speaker series

The theme of the 2013 January Term Speaker Series at Saint Mary's College is "Inspired,"and the featured guest speakers for the "Jan Term" lecture series explore black catholic gospel traditions, indie culture and the catholic church, modern day slavery and leadership to change the world.

Speakers include Jason Connell, who heads up Ignited Leadership, a dynamic Washington, D.C.-based human service organization dedicated to building a better world, one leader at a time,; Father Edward Branch, the Catholic chaplain for the Atlanta University Center; Kaya Oakes, the celebrated author of "Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture," with observations on popular culture and on how a lapsed Catholic rediscovers her faith; and humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine, author of "Slavery," who will share her stories about traveling the world for two years while documenting human trafficking and the horror of modern-day slavery.

The speaker series is an annual staple of Saint Mary's intense monthlong "Jan Term," when students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones, explore new intellectual territory and take classes that often embody the Lasallian tradition of social action.

All lectures are free and open to the public and, unless otherwise noted, will be in the Soda Activity Center at Saint Mary's College, 1928 St. Marys Road, Moraga.

East Bay Women's Conference is March 4

The 2013 East Bay Women's Conference, with keynote speaker Marlo Thomas and featured speaker Lisa Kristine, takes place March 4, at the San Ramon Marriott.

Both women have had significant impact on the lives of women around the world and continue to act and speak out for positive change.

Thomas is an actress and a social activist, and is national outreach director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Kristine is a photographer who has traveled the world for 25 years to tell human stories, including some tragedies.

ABC 7 news anchor Dan Ashley will emcee the conference that blends keynote and featured speaker presentations; breakout sessions focused on contemporary issues; exhibitor booths; a fully stocked bookstore and author signings.

The conference is presented by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and Chevron Corporation. The $195 ticket price includes continental breakfast, lunch and afternoon reception.

Tickets for the conference, which has sold out its previous seven years, are now on sale to the general public. Go to http://www.walnut-creek.com and click on the Women's Conference photo on the face page.

'Peaceful Schools' conference Feb. 2

The Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center in Walnut Creek will hold its second annual Creating a Peaceful School Conference from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at Seven Hills School, 975 N. San Carlos Drive in Walnut Creek.

The conference is designed for anyone who works with young people in grades K-12, including parents, teachers, administrators, classroom aides, school personnel and after-school program providers.

The aim is to help participants develop the skills they need to make the classroom, the school and the community a more peaceful place.

The keynote speaker is Ron Claassen, a professor of peacemaking and conflict studies at Fresno Pacific University and director of the Restorative Discipline Project. The focus of the conference will be the use of restorative justice in the classroom setting.

Workshops and classes will cover a variety of topics.

Registration is $35 through Jan. 7, and $40 thereafter. A catered lunch is included. Continuing education credit will be available through Saint Mary's College for a small additional fee.

Full descriptions of presenters and topics and related information will soon be available online. For more information or to register, go to www.mtdpc.org; call 925-933-7850, or e-mail margli@mtdpc.org.

-- Compiled by Sam Richards