HAPPY WAKE-UP CALL: Dozens of young ballet dancers from Rio Vista to Antioch woke up to a happy surprise this month that might have had some of them doing an impromptu grand jeté.

The Ballet Company of East County notified 81 children and teens that they would be performing in "The Nutcracker" this Christmas by posting the good news in their front yard while they were sleeping.

With the exception of the dancer cast in the lead role of Clara -- that teen is notified in person -- young people traditionally have found out whether they made the cut from a cast list that's posted online and at the ballet company's Brentwood studio, said Managing Director Nina Koch.

However, a couple of parents on its advisory board suggested expanding on a marketing tactic the business had used last year in which some families bought signs advertising the show and placed them in their yards.

Why not have all the kids participate this time? they said.

So Koch, along with half a dozen choreographers and parents, ordered plastic signs and customized each with a handwritten announcement of the role that child would be playing.

They launched their top-secret mission at 10 p.m. Aug. 18, and over the next four hours visited homes in Rio Vista, Mountain House, Discovery Bay, Brentwood, Oakley and Antioch, tiptoeing onto lawns and hammering in signs with mallets.


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"It was complete shenanigans," Koch said, recalling the time she jumped over a hedge while sprinting from the scene when a parent unexpectedly pulled into the driveway.

The father of another child spotted the furtive activity through a front-room window ("He saw the whole thing!"), so Koch & Co. found themselves gesticulating assurances that they weren't there to burglarize the home.

The merry band of messengers took photos as it made the rounds, posting its handiwork on Instagram and Facebook.

What form "The Nutcracker" casting announcements take next year remains to be seen.

"We might make it bigger, we might do something else," Koch said. "We definitely like to do things different every year."

RICHMOND PRIDE: Beware to those who dare report flaws in Richmond's housing market, for such scalawags must face the wrath of the city's most powerful family.

This month, a consumer website called Wallethub.com published a ranking of the nation's 300 best and worst cities for first-time homebuyers. It had the gall to rank Richmond dead last. The ranking was driven mostly by the chasm between average home price (high) and median income (low). High crime (Richmond has improved, but it remains worse than the average city), high taxes, small houses and a tough local job market also hurt Richmond. Realtors were quoted in a local news report saying that the study didn't give Richmond points for being one of the best bargains in the Bay Area.

The news sparked the ire of mayoral candidate and Point Richmond stalwart Tom Butt and his two adult sons, who gnashed their teeth on social media over the ill repute visited upon their town.

Son Daniel pounced first, taking to a website exclusively for Point Richmond neighbors to savage the dastardly news, questioning how a city in Oklahoma could possibly outrank Richmond and imploring his fellow Point Richmonders to "stand for Richmond and express our distaste with pop-journalism hit pieces on our city."

Not to be outdone, son Andrew -- not typically the enfant terrible of the clan -- drew his own sword and hastened into the cyber fray. Facebook was the arena where he expressed incredulity that any young family would opt to buy their first estate in some Middle American wasteland ("top locations are among the least desirable areas I'd ever consider living. North Texas and Oklahoma? Seriously?" Andrew wrote).

Patriarch Tom Butt, busy with a mayoral race and content to let his sons shred this rogue report, merely reposted the rebukes on his popular online forum -- Point Richmond's digital tableau du jour -- and praised his progeny for "debunking this erstwhile negative portrayal."

Councilman Jim Rogers, perhaps in a late audition to become an honorary member of the Butt clan, was quoted in the e-forum as well, asking, "Does Daniel now rate a special recognition in Eye on the Bay" for his trenchant media critiques?

Yes, yes he does.

OVERHEARD IN COURT: The Eye recently was in a Martinez courtroom seated behind two attorneys who were exchanging pleasantries as they waited for their case to be called. One barrister happened to look down at the computer-generated notes of the other. "I can't believe it," he said. "You use the same font size as my grandpa."

An ANTIOCH, DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF: For years, The Eye has observed the divide between two distinct areas of Antioch: the more-established area near the freeway and waterfront, and the area built over the past two decades to the southeast.

However, The Eye has struggled to channel his inner Charles Dickens in musing about Antioch's Tale of Two Cities.

But one anecdote related to the Mello-Roos tax expenditures of years past may help explain the uneven playing field a bit. The assessment district was created to fund projects in the southeast to support that area's development.

In describing the available uses for the funds, Mello-Roos board member Larry Osorio said a lawn mower purchased with money for Deer Valley High School could not be used at Antioch High School.

Staff writers Rowena Coetsee, Robert Rogers, Gary Peterson and Paul Burgarino contributed to this report.