Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Resolution of Blight--A Complaint Driven Phenomenon

One of the most frustrating aspects of resolving blight in Oakland and Berkeley is that it is largely complaint driven. Neither the City of Oakland nor the City of Berkeley appear to be taking pro-active steps to identify and resolve blight issues. Rather, their systems rely largely on complaints from concerned residents. When pressed to address complaints in an efficient and effective manner, both Cities complain they simply do not have enough staff.

The use of City staff to deal with blight only on a complaint basis seems highly inefficient. Some residents, due to socio-economic factors and lack of outreach, may not realize that there are resources available to deal with blight in their neighborhoods. Some may not have the time or are not able to navigate the local government bureaucracies to ensure adequate service and follow-up by City staff. Rather than targeting high need areas or neighborhoods that could use a little stabilization through code and blight enforcement, both Cities rely on a shotgun approach driven by complaints. The City of Berkeley does not even have a basic system to track blight related complaints and provide simple written status updates to the community. If you cannot track the complaints and provide quick status updates, how on earth can you measure success and ensure adequate follow-up.

V. Smoothe's Blog, A Better Oakland, has a great discussion about blight in downtown Oakland. Familiar and consistent criticism, however, emerges in the comments to her article. "Why isn't the City doing something about blight in Downtown Oakland?" "Why aren't our City Council members and the City staff aware of these seemingly obvious blight problems?" We hear these criticisms all of the time at neighborhood meetings.

Everyone seems to be looking to someone else to solve the problem. Resolution of blight, like community policing, requires the active participation of the community to let the bureaucrats and the politicians know that we expect basic community standards to be enforced. For the time being, resolution of blight is complaint driven. Consequently, each of us must make a pro-active effort to report blighted properties every chance we get. Get the properties in the investigation queue. Otherwise, little will be done by the City to enforce the blight ordinance. This is evident in Downtown Oakland as well as other neighborhoods.

Members of the We Fight Blight Team have the relevant blight numbers for Oakland and Berkeley stored in our cell phones. When we see a dilapidated property, graffiti, potholes, illegal dumping or other forms of blight we immediately report it. We also let our City Councilperson(s) know during budget time that we want to maintain and increase staffing for investigation and resolution of blight related issues and that this is a critical aspect of stabilizing neighborhoods and maintaining an adequate property tax base. If just one third of all Oakland and Berkeley residents took these simple actions, we could put more pressure on Oakland and Berkeley to address blight and possibly increase the staffing to deal with the influx of service calls.

Blight is complaint driven!! Stop complaining on blogs about blight and start picking up the phone and reporting blight to the City of Oakland and Berkeley.


Leila said...

Hi - Kos linked to you and I'm happy to discover your blog. I'll link to it on our yahoo newsgroup for the Laurel District (East Oakland, MacArthur corridor north of Mills College). Thank you for your good work.

I was just talking to a city aide who said Oakland has great politics but no polity. I said what about all those young Oaklanders blogging and selling Oaklandish teeshirts? How do we reach them?

Congratulations for taking action and encouraging us to act.

Baviv said...

Ah. The classic solution of attending meetings and political agitation. Everything you need to unfuck North Oakland ... except for the people willing to go out and perform the actual labor required. You will fail.

Fight Blight said...

Thanks Leila, we were very excited to see that the Daily Kos found our blog and provided a link. The more exposure we can get the better. Very few Oakland residents or business owners are aware of the blight ordinance. Education and action can make a big difference for Oakland.


Not sure what you mean. We are not necessarily advocating for more meetings and political agitation. Just education and action. If we each take individual responsibility for our properties and our communities rather than relying on others, collectively we can make a difference.