new kind of city tour: Guided tours of a city's gems are a staple of the tourism industry in great cities across the country.
Richmond has its own, a guided tour by park rangers of the Rosie the Riveter Homefront National Park that has become a big hit.
But now some local volunteers have a new tour, with a twist: Check out the sites of Richmond's environmental disasters, past and present.
The Eye eagerly took the inaugural "Richmond Toxics Tour" on March 23, which began at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center at 1021 Macdonald Ave.
Along with about 25 others, the Eye boarded a bus and hit the road. Andrés Soto, Richmond organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, led the tour with his radio-silk voice and characteristic encyclopedic knowledge and caustic wit.
As Soto narrated ("Welcome to the gates of hell," Soto deadpanned as we drove by the front entrance of Chevron's Richmond refinery), we lumbered past sites besmirched by oil refining, World War II shipbuilding, landfills and chemical manufacturing.
Soto enlivened his monologue with anecdotes of racial and economic class discrimination and the resilience of the people of Richmond, whom he called "pioneers in the environmental justice movement."
The troupe stopped at several sites, and Soto opened up the dialogue, taking questions and hearing tourgoers share their thoughts and personal experiences.
During a pass through Point Richmond, Soto called it "an idyllic village," noted that three of seven council members live there and remarked that it hosted the only outdoor festivals where alcohol was permitted "without cops around."
"There's no drinking at the Cinco de Mayo Festival," Soto wryly noted.
After the tour, the group gathered back at the Bowens center and spent an hour "debriefing," and everyone agreed that the tour was great and Richmond's resilience in the face of environmental challenges is an inspiration.
Soto, a veritable historian on Richmond's last century, said he looked forward to hosting more tours. His pearls of wisdom knew no bounds, ranging from current events ("The county raided illegal dump sites in North Richmond just yesterday!") to relatively ancient history ("We haven't had a council member elected from the Iron Triangle since the 1970s.") The Eye has been educated.
Peace, Man!: Flower power was back in Livermore at least for one night. Hippies, the real thing and wannabes, donned their tie-dyed shirts and face paint for a sold-out showing of "Gimme Shelter" at the Vine Cinema on Tuesday. Even Mayor John Marchand got in the act, sporting a jean jacket and peace symbol armband.
The screening featured the film's executive producer, Ron Schneider, and drew many locals who reminisced about the fateful 1969 Altamont Rolling Stones concert.
Those who had been there described varied experiences, depending on where they'd been sitting. Kevin Ryan of Pleasanton, who sat on a hill far from the stage, said he "had a great time." Ryan wore his authentic '60s leather vest, beads and belt to the Vine to see the film for the first time.
"I'm sure I wore this belt to the concert," he said.
Carl Silva of Livermore said he and friends abandoned their car and hiked a mile to Altamont, finding themselves in the middle of the crowd. What began as a mellow rock show soon got "wild and crazy," he said.
"This 390-pound man started at the top of the hill, took off all of his clothes and started running down the middle of the crowd all the way to the stage," Silva recalled. "Everybody parted like the Red Sea to get out of the way."
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: There are two Berkeley houses for sale at a bargain price of $1 each, which means there's a catch. The two-story brown shingle homes on Walnut Street are making way for Acheson Commons, a residential/retail project that has been in the works for several years.
The project site contains three landmark buildings, but the 1905 duplex homes are not among them. That means the homes must either be relocated or demolished.
According to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, "the seller will pay the costs of moving the structures to the buyer's site," with the catch being that the buyer is obligated to provide property within the city limits that can "accommodate both structures in compliance with City of Berkeley zoning requirements" and "undertake all subsequent costs."
The other catch is that "interested parties must demonstrate the ability to accept the structures on the new site by May 2013."
Read more at berkeleyheritage.com/walnut.forsale.html.
Staff writers Robert Rogers, Jeremy Thomas and Chris Treadway contributed to this column.