Who would have thought that denuding would be the hot topic in Oakland? Sexier than crime prevention and more topical than the weather, when Caltrans starts clearing the trees along scenic Highway 13, tongues wag.

"Those trees formed a noise barrier. Now I can hear -- and see -- the traffic whizzing by," says Ron Zaluder, who's lived on Trafalgar for 50 years. He says other neighbors are unhappy, too, complaining they weren't notified about Caltrans' tree removal plans.

Roquel Johnson, Caltrans branch chief, says they've fielded some complaints, but the intention was to protect the highway from falling trees and brush fires. "That was one of the main reasons why we went in," she says. "Noxious weeds, scotch broom, poison oak ... all removed to make sure the overgrowth didn't get out of control."

In a letter to the Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association back in December, Caltrans promised to "take care to preserve the existing screening and character of the scenic route. The number of trees planned for removal accounts for only 10 (percent to) 15 percent of the entire stand within the quadrant and includes dead, dying or unstable trees."

"I think it is obvious that quite a bit more than 10 (percent to) 15 percent of the trees were removed from that site," says a neighbor. But Johnson says Caltrans' efforts will bear fruit.

"Within one to two years, the new growth will be much healthier and will help existing trees to grow," she says.


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Foodie alert: Two Berkeley restaurants -- one old and one new -- are attracting attention. Ajanta, a Solano Avenue mainstay for 20 years, is drawing big crowds for its new chef's tasting menu. For $27 ($24 for the vegetarian offering), your dinner includes three appetizers, four main dishes, numerous sides and a dessert. What reportedly makes Ajanta one of Alice Waters' favorite restaurants? I can only imagine it's everything from the freshly sourced ingredients to the tandoori oven that turns out succulent chicken and lamb and signature naan. The new kid on the block is Build Pizzeria Roma on Shattuck near Bancroft. This place rocks from the eclectic cocktails kept cold by rock-sized chunks of ice to the build line, where chefs stand by to help you create your own Roman-style pizza. Napa hospitality gurus Lisa Holt and David Shapiro came up with the idea based on Holt's childhood in Italy, where she learned just how a pizza should taste.

"Americans make pizza with super-thick crusts. I want something that accentuates the toppings," she says.