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Newsletter Archives 

Select Articles from the first decade of the new mellenium. 

Photos: Lewis Stewart unless otherwise noted



For years, Mary Ann Robinson looked out from her Port Costa home at the weed-choked vacant lot across the street in dismay. "It was a mess, she said. "It was nothing but thistles and tall grass." Except for a few neighborhood cleanups, the vacant lot remained an annual eyesore and a fire hazard to boot.

Today, Mary Ann’s former bleak landscape is a beautiful rose garden, red and white and pink and orange, a colorful sight to behold from Canyon Lake Drive. "We started clearing the lot in 1980. We chopped down weeds and filled in low spots with dirt and started planting." Now, roses abound, with such unique names as Ink Spots, Tower of Roses, Perfect Moment, Bewitched, Betty Boop, Blue Girl and Frankly Scarlet. 

"If you want a good one, get a Betty Boop," said Mary Ann. "The flowers last a long time."

Some of the roses have been planted in memory of departed friends, neighbors and relatives, she explained. "There are even a couple in honor of departed dogs."

The rose garden is watered with a drip system, and is surrounded by a deer fence. "The deer were wiping me out," said Mary Ann, "they were leaving me with nothing but stems." Here and there little critters made of stone peer out from the foliage – a racoon, a frog, an owl, squirrel, a rabbit or bear, a skunk and even a pig. "We had a deer, but somebody took it," she lamented.

Providing welcome shade nearby are several stately 50-foot pine trees, planted years ago as $2.99 seedlings from Safeway. Complementing the rose garden, a concrete foundation once planned for a firehouse now serves as a giant planter box.

Mary Ann credits her brother-in-law, Ricky, for putting in hours and hours to help tend the garden. "It’s a lot of work," she said, "but it’s worth it. The roses are very pretty, and everybody enjoys them."


 Grizzly Peak Bike Race




Peter and Kaui DeMarzo of Foster City take a welcome break at the Port Costa School during the 2007 Grizzly Peak Century tour. The school is one of four designated rest stops along the 112-mile course from Moraga to San Pablo Reservoir, the Carquinez Strait, Crockett, Port Costa, McEwen Road, Franklin Canyon, Briones Park and back to the starting point. An estimated 950 cyclists will take part in this year’s sold-out Century ride on Sunday, May 4. For details, go to


Photos: Lewis Stewart







High over St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, painter Jim Campbell carefully applies red trim to the eves to complete the sparkling new blue and white paint job completed on the historic church in June. The picturesque church, built in 1898, has served Port Costa and Crockett parishioners for 110 years.




The Crockett Community Foundation (CCF), which has long been supportive of improvement projects at the Port Costa School, has put its stamp of approval on a plan to renovate the swings and slide area of the school grounds. At its meeting on June 5, held at the Port Costa School, the CCF Board voted to fund up to $54,000 of the cost of rebuilding and refurbishing the tanbark areas surrounding the swings, slide and jungle gym.


The project includes replacing the original sidewalk that runs from the front gate to the school steps. As well, a walkway of smooth and porous graded aggregate, similar to pathways in national parks and public gardens, will be laid down along the fence line adjacent to the swings and around the front steps of the school.



In a vote of support for the Port Costa Sanitary District, the CCF Board also voted at its June 5 meeting to match up to $30,000 in industrial grants being sought by the Community Service District (CSD) to operate the Port Costa sewer plant until tax revenues are available in December to pay for maintenance and operating expenses. Operation of Sanitary District No. 5 was officially passed on to the CSD on May 14, 2008, but transitional funding has not yet been forthcoming.







A trash rack of galvanized steel pipe is wedged into place in the spillway below Port Costa Reservoir to prevent flooding as occurred in 1995 and 2005. Both years, debris jammed the storm drain, flooding the Port Costa School and damaging homes and property on Canyon Lake Drive. The trash rack is designed to keep large items such as tires, tree limbs, plastic floats, sheet metal, wire fencing and other debris from entering the storm drain system.


Mandated by the Contra Costa County Department of Public Works, DPW monitored the trash rack project through the permitting process, the design phase, construction and installation. The Ehler Company of Antioch and Kirk Welding of Brentwood performed the work. The project was paid for by the owner of the property on which the spillway’s culvert is located.



Workmen carefully move a 1200-pound steel trash rack into place in the spillway below Port Costa Reservoir. The structure is built to keep large objects out of the storm drain without restricting the flow of water




At 4:30 a.m. on Friday, August 31, the fire siren sounded at Station 77 in Port Costa. A grass fire, fanned by light winds, was advancing rapidly toward town. Within minutes, Port Costa Engine 77's firefighters, shouldering heavy hose packs, were scrambling up a steep hill to meet the oncoming flames. At the same time, two firefighting crews from Crockett accessed fire roads to fight the blaze, now throwing sparks into the air as it consumed dead trees and debris.

Within 15 minutes, the flames were contained and brought under control. Firefighters completed the job by extinguishing hot spots and potential flare-ups. It was one of 14 callouts in August for the Port Costa volunteer fire crew.

The Crockett-Carquinez Fire Department conducts training exercises once a week to prepare firefighters not only for fires but also medical emergencies, car and motorcycle accidents and non-emergency public assistance calls. At times, volunteers are sought to combat major fires in the state. In October of 2003, Monica Greene and John MacKenzie of Port Costa joined more than 4,000 firefighters to battle the Old fire in the San Bernardino National Forest, an arson-created inferno that raced through 91,281 acres and destroyed 940 homes.

"Being a firefighter is more than just jumping on the back of the fire engine," said Monica. "You have to know a lot of things. It can be scary when it’s a burning building or somebody with a heart attack. The Crockett-Carquinez Fire Department has a great training program. We get comprehensive medical and rescue training, auto extrication, ladder raising and wild land fire training. Once we even got to rappel off the San Mateo Bridge."

Tom List has served six years as a Station 77 firefighter. He singles out lead firefighter John MacKenzie for his ability to see the big picture in an emergency incident, and Terry Parker, a longtime firefighter now retired, for his volunteer work as Engine 77's maintenance engineer. "You can be doing something completely unrelated during the day or sleeping in the middle of the night and – boom! – the siren blows and everybody’s at the firehouse working together," said Tom. "It is an absolute pleasure to work with this crew."



Left to right, Port Costa volunteer firefighters Jeffrey Gray, John MacKenzie, Scott Drummond, Nick Arnold, Tom List, Monica Greene and Aaron Greene. Not shown: Terry Parker and Mark English.


Persons wishing to make donations to the firefighters for safety gear and emergency supplies may do so by sending a check to Crockett-Carquinez Firefighters Association, 746 Loring Avenue, Crockett, CA 94525.



Continuous heavy rain that drenched the Bay Area over New Year’s weekend left its imprint on the Port Costa School. Waterborne debris created a blockage in the storm drain that runs beneath the school, forcing water up to three feet deep into the building, high enough to float refrigerators. The powerful hydraulic force of the water buckled the concrete floor in several places, leaving a 7,500 square-foot layer of mud in its wake.

The resulting damage is a setback for the Port Costa Conservation Society (PCCS), whose volunteer members have been working for the past several years to rehabilitate the 1911 school building.

All of the debris that jammed the storm drain has since been removed, including two sheets of corrugated tin roofing and an 18-foot log which had to be sawed into three pieces to get it out of the line. At the peak of the downpour, the swift-moving water gouged deep holes on the ballfield and tore up asphalt on the playground..

A small army of more than two dozen volunteers responded to a request for help, rising to the challenge with water blasters, shovels, brooms and squeegees. Volunteers lugged out the entire contents of the first floor for cleaning and/or disposal. Water-soaked materials and ruined furniture as well as two refrigerators formed a great mound of junk outside, later hauled away to the dump by Tom and Suzanne List. Salvageable materials, such as tools, lumber, ice chests, pots and pans and other equipment were cleaned up on the spot. Brian Staggs brought his Kubota backhoe from home to scoop up great quantities of mud from the school building. Among the many mud-spattered workers was Ciera Johnson of Rodeo, who put in ten hours of slogging through mud to earn special volunteer credits for her class at John Swett High School in Crockett.

Hazardous holes on the ballfield and playground have been fenced off for safety. An insurance adjuster has visited the site and will be reporting back to the PCCS board in the near future on whether the extensive damage and property losses will be covered. Also, the board is conferring with county officials and flood control personnel trying to determine what alternatives are available for repairing the storm drain.


With a squeegee and pushbroom, volunteers Michael Pugh (left) of Port Costa and David Gonzalez of Crockett were part of the cleanup crew on Saturday and Sunday, January 7 and 8. Ciera Johnson (below) of Rodeo hauled lumber out of the tool room.

Tom List (above) wrestles a refrigerator onto his truck for a trip to the dump. The kitchen had 3 feet of water, enough to float a refrigerator. 



A new book on the history of Crockett and a 2005 calendar of colorful photographs of Port Costa provide a gallery of compelling images of life on the Carquinez Strait, both past and present.

John Robinson of Crockett follows his recently published book on the construction of the Alfred Zampa Bridge with a new book, "Images of America -- Crockett," featuring historical photos from the early 1900s up to the present. "I always liked photography, and started reading books by Ansel Adams," he says. A former iron worker, John’s job experience and interest in photography led him to record the construction of the Zampa Bridge, a two-year project resulting in his first book, "Spanning the Strait."

John’s book on Crockett covers activities of early days on the Carquinez Strait, from Tormey and Valona to Eckley and Port Costa, documenting business and commerce, ferry boats and trains, civic functions, sports and social events. Several of John’s wide-angle, bird’s-eye views of the Zampa Bridge construction are included in the 128-page collection of photos, maps and drawings.

Veronica Crane of Port Costa first became acquainted with photography as a yearbook staff member at John Swett High School. "I started making gifts of pictures for friends and family, and then other people began asking me for pictures," she says.

Veronica published her third annual Port Costa photo calendar in December. With her camera she captures quiet scenes, often recorded in early morning or late afternoon light – sunflowers, the Burlington Hotel, cows munching hay, St. Patricks’s Church, mistletoe silhouetted against an orange sunset. "I hike a lot," she says. "When you live here, you take for granted the views you see every day. But taking photos makes me pay more attention, and a picture makes the same old stuff look different."



Photo:  Jerry Graham

Princess Po-Mo-Na in 2002



The Port Costa Talent Show will celebrate its tenth anniversary at the historic Port Costa School on Sunday, August 22, marking a decade of spectacular hometown entertainment.


Many famous entertainers got their start in talent shows. Frank Sinatra launched his career as one of the Hoboken Four on radio’s Major Bowle’s Original Amateur Hour. Tony Bennett, Gene Kelly, Patsy Cline and Gladys Knight gained stardom after winning talent shows. Elvis Presley himself entered a talent show at age ten, standing on a chair to sing "Old Shep."

One need not be a professional singer, dancer or comedian to enter the Port Costa Talent Show. Amateurs are welcome. Many contestants make their stage debut for the very first time. Who can forget the fabulous Crockettes, tap-dancing their way into Talent Show history. And the Who-La-La’s, in their crinoline skirts and coconut shells, where are they now?


The Port Costa Talent Show is the main fund-raiser this year for the Port Costa Conservation Society. It is staged by all volunteer workers. Proceeds from the show will be used for restoration work on the school and to keep the playground and ball field open year around.The fast-paced show is performed on a 20x10-foot stage on the steps of the school, each act timed for three minutes or less. Giant tents shade the audience, which at the 2002 Talent Show exceeded 600 exuberant fans. Delicious barbecue and ice-cold beverages are sold, along with commemorative Talent Show T-shirts and posters.



Planning is underway to repair a closed section of Carquinez Scenic Drive and restore it as a pedestrian and bicycling trail. The 1.7-mile long section of pavement was closed by the county in 1982 after heavy landslides, and has remained in a state of disrepair ever since. The winding country road offers spectacular views of the Carquinez Strait. The beauty of the historic road, once a state highway, was noted as long ago as 1900 in Sunset magazine: "The landscape and the combination of grand hills, the bluffs along the strait and the picturesque bits on the further shore is said to rival in natural beauty any six miles of the famous eighteen mile drive of Monterey."

At a public workshop on February 26, Contra Costa County Public Works and the East Bay Regional Parks District presented plans to convert the damaged road into a "multi-use, paved pathway" for hikers and bicyclists. The closed portion of the road begins just beyond TXI-Pacific Custom Materials (The Brickyard) and ends approximately 2.3 miles west of Martinez. Extensive soil stabilization as well as reconstruction of existing pavement will be necessary, officials say. Initial planning phase of the project is sponsored by the State Coastal Conservancy and the San Francisco Bay Trail Project.

"I think it will be a long-time project," said Al Schaal of Contra Costa County Public Works. "We are waiting for the next report from Cal Engineering and Geology on development plans and ways to finance and phase it. Our next step, which should be in the next couple of months, is a public hearing at the County Board of Supervisors."




No schedule, no umpire, not even a third base coach, they just came to play baseball. The game was work-ups, usually lasting from late afternoon until dusk. Pausing for a group photo at home plate on the Port Costa School baseball field one June day last summer are  Alisha MacKenzie and her dog Sam (far left), Austen Crane, Aaron Greene, Billy Bryson, Isaac Crane, Sydney Liebes, Monica Greene, Bailey Liebes, Clare Greene, Tim Crane and David Smith. Photo by Clayton Bailey



Port Costa Conservation Society  volunteers installed several benches on the school playground November 10th.  The benches were donated by Dennis Nelson of Danco Services.



   The weather was perfect and the atmosphere warm and neighborly for the third annual Port Costa Flea Market, held on Saturday, August 11, as over 500 bargain hunters passed through the gates of the Port Costa School playground. The day marked a down-to-the-wire photo finish for construction workers and volunteers laboring to complete the school’s new restrooms in time for the Flea Market. The day was also profitable for the Conservation Society, as proceeds from the summer fund raiser netted $3,501. This amount includes a $1,000 fund-raising matching grant from the Crockett Community Foundation. The Society’s earnings came from space rentals, gate admissions, and food and drink sales.

   Our hats are off to the Crockett Community Foundation for its financial support, and to the many volunteers who worked before, during and after the event to help make it a success. A special note of thanks for extended volunteer work goes to Veronica Crane for handling vendor reservations, and to Dee Stewart for organizing the many jobs it takes to run the Flea Market.

   The Conservation Society gratefully acknowledges the many volunteers who helped to make the event a success. Crockett artist Kathy Kearn's ceramic plate (left) was among the hand-crafted art for sale at the Port Costa Flea Market on August 11.



The first Port Costa Talent Show was held in a small park at the end of town. People brought their own chairs and blankets and spread out on the grass to enjoy the show. The program featured a dog that howled in harmony with "Glow Worm" played on a clarinet, a woman who demonstrated the art of spinning wool (still the longest Talent Show act on record), and a piece from a Sam Shepard play, interrupted twice by passing freight trains.


That was nearly 20 years ago, and yet today the Port Costa Talent Show retains its crown as the avant-garde of hometown entertainment. 


The Port Costa Talent Show this year asks a hypothetical question: What would have happened if the Blues Brothers had ever met the Andrews Sisters? A re-creation of this speculative moment in show business history will be presented as one of more than 20 acts at the July 23 show. Another historical moment appears at right, where in 1995 Lewis and Diane Stewart reprised the Nelson Eddy - Jeanette Macdonald classic, "Indian Love Call."


Today the event is staged at the Port Costa School as a fund raiser to restore the old school building. Admission is $5.00, kids under 12 are free. The show is held outdoors, on a stage built in front of the school. This year about two dozen acts are included, most of which are performed in three minutes or less. A glance at the entertainment roster shows a bumper crop of talent from Crockett in the categories of song, dance and comedy. The July show has already lined up some legendary performers, including the celebrated Ooh-La-La's and Who-La-La's whose 1998 faux aquacade was a choreographic triumph. Also poised in the wings are championship tap dancers, blues singers, piano players and the return of Ginger the Wonder Dog. 









Under the watchful gaze of sons Forrest and Nathan, Nick Arnold puts the finishing touches on a miniature dinosaur (or is it a Tyrannosaurus Rex?) at the last Clay Day at the Port Costa School playground.  Kids and adults are invited by Port Costa artist Clayton Bailey to participate in the next Clay Day on Saturday, July 1, 9:00 a.m. to noon 2000.  Past Clay Days have produced unique art in the form of gargoyles and mugs.  All materials are supplied by Clayton.  "If you want to make something out of clay, come to Clay Day," he says.  For a look at Clayton's ceramic work and robot collection, check his Web page,

photo by Ovid Holmes

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