Thursday, January 15, 2009

Temescal Tool Lending Library Fights Blight

One of our favorite public institutions is the Temescal Tool Lending Library at the North Oakland Public Library. While small, the Tool Lending Library is chock full of tools for the house and garden. Everything you need to maintain your home in tip-top shape is available. Really, there is no excuse for property owners or renters to not fix a problem with their house for lack of tools. With a library card and attention to a few simple rules, you can get access to carpentry and woodworking tools, floor and wall tools, plumbing and drain cleaning tools, concrete and masonry tools, ladders, clamps, material handling equipment, power tools, electrical equipment, and mechanical tools.

In addition to tools, they Library has a wealth of books on every imaginable subject related to home repair and maintenance and several very friendly and helpful staff.

Lending Guidelines:
  1. Lending period is three (3) days, seven (7) days for house jacks only.
  2. Fines: $1.00-$20.00 for each day a tool is late, depending on the value of the tool.
  3. Up to two (2) renewals if no prior requests; renewals in person only.
  4. Tools must be returned to the Tool Lending Library during open hours.
  5. No registrations after fifteen (15) minutes before closing time.
  6. Because of high demand, tools marked with an * are not renewable.
  7. For new patrons, limit 3 tools (1 power tool only) per checkout for the first 6 weeks. After 6 week probationary period, patron is allowed 8 tools (no more than 3 power tools) for each checkout.
The Tool Lending Library, located at 5205 Telegraph Avenue, is open Monday from 12:30 pm to 8:00 pm, Tuesday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, Friday from 12:oo pm to 5:30 pm and Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. For more information please see the Tool Lending Library Web Page.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Letter to Caltrans

Messieurs Kempton, Sartipi and Eshqipour:

We wish to bring to your attention several significant conditions with the highway and overpasses in North Oakland that create safety problems for the traveling public and contribute to the appearance of blight in our community. We understand that some, but not all, of the ongoing conditions were brought to your attention by the City of Oakland's lawsuit alleging poor maintenance practices in the Caltrans right-of-way located in the City of Oakland.

These conditions of concern focus on the Highway 24 on-ramp starting at 52nd Street (near Children's Hospital), and the Highway 24 overpasses at 52nd Street, 54th Street and Shattuck Avenue, 55th Street, and 56th Street and Telegraph Avenue.

Highway 24 On-ramp at 52nd Street

  1. Uneven/failed pavement: There are several significant areas of uneven or failed pavement on the Highway 24 on-ramp at 52nd Street that create safety concerns. This on-ramp was not part of the scope of work when Highway 24 was recently repaved. As you enter the on-ramp off 52nd Street you pass over the 52nd Street overpass. At this juncture, there is an uneven and jolting transition between the roadway and the 52nd Street overpass. Proceeding in a southerly direction, as you transition to the right lanes towards downtown Oakland from the 52nd Street overpass until you merge with 24/980, the pavement is failing with large cracks in the roadway. As you cross the 40th Street overpass, MacArthur Boulevard overpass and then under the San Francisco bound overpass to merge onto Highway 24/980, this section of the on-ramp has significantly failed causing areas to be severely uneven and very rough particularly at the transitions between the overpasses and the roadway. In addition, an area around one of the footings under the San Francisco bound overpass has settled causing the square footing to jut upwards several inches into the roadway. We are requesting that the roadway from the 52nd Street on-ramp to Highway 24/980 transition be repaved as necessary to achieve a safe and smooth ride for the traveling public.
  2. Damaged guardrails: After accessing the Highway 24 on-ramp at 52nd Street and crossing the 52nd Street overpass, immediately to ones right the metal beam guardrail has been damaged and several of the posts have been pulled out of the ground causing an unsafe condition for the traveling public. We are requesting that this metal beam guardrail be repaired or replaced to current design standards. We are also requesting that all guard rails in north Oakland be evaluated for safety and replaced as necessary.
  3. Graffiti: From the 52nd Street on-ramp until the transition to Highway 24/980 and the 27th Street off-ramp, this corridor has been the subject of multiple ongoing graffiti hits. While Caltrans has attempted periodically to cover the graffiti, the response itself has been unsatisfying as Caltrans has used several colors of mismatched paint. It is not clear why the Caltrans Maintenance staff cannot find or have paint mixed that actually matches the existing columns/structures rather than using a myriad of shades. While we appreciate the attempts to cover the graffiti, the response is aesthetically unpleasing and contributes to an appearance of blight. We request that Caltrans step up its graffiti abatement in North Oakland and use matching paint to cover the various shades of gray.
  4. Litter: From the 52nd Street on-ramp until the transition to Highway 24/980 and the 27th Street off-ramp, this corridor has been the subject of ongoing litter and debris accumulation.We request that Caltrans implement a more frequent litter pickup response in North Oakland.
  5. Landscaping: From the 52nd Street on-ramp until the transition to Highway 24/980 and the 27th Street off-ramp, the landscaping is either dead, dying, missing or overgrown. The lack of well-maintained landscaping contributes to an appearance of blight and my encourage graffiti and litter. We request that Caltrans maintain the existing landscaping and replace dead or dying landscaping in this North Oakland corridor with appropriate drought tolerant landscaping that can survice in the harsh urban conditions.

Highway 24 Overpasses at 52nd Street, 54th Street and Shattuck Avenue, 55th Street, and 56th Street and Telegraph Avenue.

  1. Overgrown vegetation: The landscaping at each of these overpasses is often overgrown, creating areas for homeless encampments and potential hiding spots for criminals. We are requesting Caltrans implement a more frequent vegetation control program as the current vegetation management efforts do not appear to be adequate.
  2. Litter/debris/refuse: These overpasses are subject to ongoing litter, refuse and illegal dumping. We are requesting that Caltrans implement a more frequent and comprehensive litter pickup response as the current litter removal is not adequate.
  3. Graffiti: These overpasses are subject to ongoing graffiti tags. We are requesting that Caltrans implement a more frequent graffiti abatement response using matching paint as the current graffiti abatement efforts are not adequate.
  4. Homeless encampments: Various homeless people have taken up residence in the landscaping under the overpasses, contributing to crime, graffiti and litter in the area. This is a significant concern as they use the concrete ledge/bench just at the top of the slope under the overpasses as areas to camp. We are requesting that Caltrans secure the concrete ledge/bench with fencing or other materials on each overpass that will for allow maintenance activities, but prevent the homeless from camping on the concrete ledge/bench. We believe the concrete ledges/benches provide an attractive nuisance. Should someone attempting to access these areas fall and hurt themselves, Caltrans could be held liable. We also request that Caltrans work with the California Highway Patrol and/or the Oakland Police Department to ensure that the areas are properly patrolled to enforce trespassing laws.
  5. Barriers to Pedestrians: When originally built, the overpasses created significant physical and psychological barriers for pedestrians moving under the overpasses on local roads and sidewalks. The current conditions of the areas under the overpasses contribute to an appearance of blight and crime, and create a "no mans land". We believe that many of the maintenance problems/issues associated with the overpasses could be remedied with some strategic investments/improvements that involve creative lighting, security cameras, new landscaping, a dog park, basketball courts and/or public art. By engaging the community to take ownership of these areas through the development and implementation of overpass improvement projects, a relatively small investment could significantly minimize Caltrans' future maintenance costs. We would like Caltrans to identify funding for such projects and work with local community leaders on appropriate improvements.
Members of the North Oakland community have expressed concerns about the conditions of the Caltrans right-of-way as they greatly affect the quality of life in North Oakland by creating safety problems and contributing to an appearance of blight. Crime and blight are inextricably linked. We do not believe that each of you would knowingly tolerate these kinds of ongoing conditions in your communities. While we are unclear why Caltrans can spend billions of dollars in new highway improvements for congestion relief, but cannot seem to maintain its existing highways and structures, we are confident that you will address our concerns because of the potential safety implications to the traveling public.

We request that the specific problems be remedied in a reasonable time frame and look forward to sharing you proposed plan and schedule for resolution with the rest of the community.

Executive Director
We Fight Blight

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Infrastructure and Economic Stimulus--Can Oakland Get Its Fair Share?

Apparently, our new Councilwoman, Rebecca Kaplan, has made it known that she intends to lead the charge to ensure that Oakland gets its fair share of federal economic stimulus dollars. We applaud her and find her perspective to be refreshing.

Becks at Living in the O reported that: At Kaplan’s reception yesterday, she told her supporters that her first focus in office is to add to the infrastructure requests that Mayor Dellums drafted to submit to the Obama administration. I got a chance to talk to her in depth about her plan and asked her what her top priorities would be for infrastructure funding. First, she focused on two projects that are entirely ready to go - street paving and implementing the Bicycle Master Plan. Street paving requires no EIR and could be implemented immediately (and I think we all know that parts of Oakland desperately need it). As for the Bicycle Master Plan, the plan itself is great and the EIR is already done - now we just need the funding to complete it.

We Fight Blight reported our dismay that the City of Oakland's request for only $2 million for repaving projects was woefully inadequate given the approximately $27 million dollar annual funding need to maintain our streets through repaving projects. We are extremely happy to see that Councilwoman Kaplan gets it. For those who were concerned about her liberal credentials, early indications are that she is indeed pragmatic and understands the fundamental need for local government to address our crumbling infrastructure.

To begin to understand how woefully inadequate the Mayor's request for $2 million for repaving is, we have to understand how little Oakland has invested in its streets. Currently, there is an approximately $300 million backlog in street repairs, overlays and rehabilitation needs. Through its Pavement Management Plan (PMP), the City has identified an ongoing need of approximately $27 million to keep our streets from further crumbling. The problem is that the City, through various funding sources including Measure B, Department of Transportation, Proposition 42, and the General Fund, gets only $5-7 million per year. That means there is an approximately $20-22 million annual shortfall when it comes to funding our street maintenance.

Unfortunately, our City Council and Mayor have not made it a budget priority to address this underfunding of our streets. Because we are significantly underfunding street repairs on an annual basis of approximately $20-22 million, the approximately $3oo million backlog increases year after year. As well, the longer we wait to repair our ailing streets, the more it costs. Streets that once could get by with an overlay, may require a substantial rehabilitation if maintenance is deferred for too long. Rehabilitation can cost five times more than an overlay. Consequently, the $300 million backlog will grow exponentially larger as we continue to defer maintenance. We are moving in the wrong direction.

As Councilwoman Kaplan noted, paving jobs do not typically require significant CEQA review. Repaving jobs can be made shovel ready in a relatively shorter period of time as compared to constructing new streets or replacing bridges or other transportation infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas. The challenge, however, is whether the City of Oakland Public Works Department has the capacity to manage a significant number of paving jobs by getting the plans, specifications and estimates ready for bid, putting the projects out to bid and then overseeing the actual construction.

Interestingly, one well positioned insider at City Hall confirmed that the Mayor's team putting together Oakland's Economic Stimulus wish list did not consult with key Public Works staff responsible for managing the City's roadway infrastructure and repaving programs. Perhaps that is why there is such a disconnect between what the Mayor has requested and the City's true needs. As one commenter to this blog pointed out, Santa Ana CA, a City of comparable size to Oakland... listed $122,014,000 for street improvement projects alone. That's right, they listed more for street improvement projects than Oakland did for its entire "ready to go" list. If the Mayor's Office can't even coordinate on something as simple as street repaving, one has to wonder what other major infrastructures needs are left wanting.

In all fairness, however, we have also heard that the Mayor's list does not represent the City's true needs for street improvements because transportation funds will be funneled through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and provided to cities, counties and transportation authorities using well established formulas. Consequently, what shows up on the Mayor's list for transportation infrastructure is irrelevant.

Even so, it doesn't hurt the City to make well known what its needs are. We have a $300 million backlog and an annual need of $20-22 million. The $2 million noted by the Mayor doesn't even come close. Where is the advocacy? If you can list $2 million, why not put down $300 million. We are in a fight with hundreds of other communities who want a share of the pie. Oakland should not go hungry. We need to be absolutely clear what our needs are. The Obama Administration has signaled that it doesn't want any pork in the stimulus plan. Repaving jobs are fundamental to maintaining our roadway infrastructure--they certainly are not pork and are not a bridge to nowhere. The odds are in our favor. What are we waiting for?

Rebecca, welcome to the fight. Put on your boxing gloves. Oakland needs you. We are desperately hungry for a piece of pie.

While you're at it, can you get us some federal funds to plant more street trees in downtown Oakland to address blight and fight global warming?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Economic Stimulus and Oakland's Streets

In looking at other East Bay Cities such as Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Concord, one has to wonder.... how do they manage to maintain their streets and keep them repaved to avoid third world conditions? Why does the City of Oakland have such a difficult time repaving its own streets? We often hear that in Oakland we pay a disproportionate amount of taxes, yet get so little in return. Keeping our infrastructure, such as streets, well maintained is a basic function of our local government. In this regard, the City of Oakland fails miserably. As with crime reduction, the problem here is priorities. The City Council and Mayor are too interested in funding other programs to pay attention to something as basic as streets. Thankfully, our newly elected Councilwoman, Rebecca Kaplan, wants to focus attention on rebuilding our infrastructure including our potholed, cracked and axle-breaking streets.

Oakland has a tremendous opportunity with potential federal economic stimulus dollars to invest in our infrastructure. Not surprisingly, what little we are hearing is not encouraging. Oakland has been late out of the gate in putting together its wish list thus far, and there has been scant public discussion and debate as to what should go on the list. We think that the City's transportation infrastructure should get top billing and that the Pavement Management Program (PMP) should be used as the basis for requesting funding from the Federal Government. This really is a no brainer. Repaving our streets benefits all Oakland residents and businesses.

In the City of Oakland, the City does a Citywide Street Survey as a way to update its PMP. The PMP is used to schedule repairs for the City's street network in the most efficient and cost effective manner. Regional, state and federal agencies that typically provide funding for street resurfacing projects require local jurisdictions to utilize a PMP and maintain updated street condition data to be eligible for future funding. To be certified by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) as having a PMP, all arterial and collector streets must be inspected every two years and all residential streets must be inspected every 5 years.

Depending upon the source (the numbers vary), the City of Oakland reports that it needs at least $27 million per year to maintain its 836 centerline miles of paved roadways on a consistent basis. According to MTC, Oakland's Pavement Condition Index is 52 on a scale of 0-100 (100 being the best). In October of 2006, MTC reported that Oakland's Pavement Condition Index of 52 ranked it as one of the worst in the nine Bay Area Counties ( 99th out of 107) with only eight other communities having a Pavement Condition Index lower than 52.

What is even more troubling is that the City, due to a lack of priority and funding, is on a 100 year resurfacing cycle.

Sorry, that was not a typo. One hundred years. This means that in your lifetime, and perhaps not even in your children's lifetime, you are unlikely to see your street resurfaced. Best management practices recommend a 25 year resurfacing cycle.

Clearly, something is amiss at City Hall. We know that our streets are poorly maintained. We feel the repercussions of this every day and we have a PMP to prove it. Yet, where is the priority with the career bureaucrats and the career politicians? With the federal government poised to distribute billions of dollars in economic aid, the City of Oakland should step up and request its fair share. The media reported the City putting together an $89 million infrastructure wish list of which $20 million would purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed properties as affordable housing. That leaves another $69 million for "other infrastructure projects" including street resurfacing. If you assume that all of the $69 million would be available for street resurfacing, which is likely not the case, it would only fund 2-1/2 years of resurfacing projects. While we have not been able to secure a copy of the $89 million infrastructure wish list, it is clear that the math does not add up when it comes to repaving our streets. The longer we wait to repair our crumbling streets the more it will cost. Rehabilitating our streets is five times as expensive as resurfacing. One has to wonder if the City of Oakland is simply waiting for the Hayward Fault to rupture and relieve it of its maintenance responsibilities, as repairs would then likely qualify for disaster relief funding.

Shattuck Avenue--the City of Oakland Maintains Blight

The purpose of the City of Oakland's Blight Ordinance is to promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens by requiring a level of maintenance of residential, commercial, and industrial property which will protect and preserve the livability, appearance, and social and economic stability of the city and which will also protect the public from the health and safety hazards and the impairment of property values which results from the neglect and deterioration of property. (Ord. 12046 § 1, 1998: prior code § 15-1.01)

Shattuck Avenue, between Woolsey Avenue and 60th Street in North Oakland has a large number of potholes and cracked surfaces in violation of the City's Blight Ordinance. When driving down Shattuck Avenue it feels like a third world country with pothole, after pothole, after pothole. Why does the City of Oakland feel that it is exempted from its own Blight Ordinance and is allowed to maintain many of our streets in conditions that are unsafe and contribute to the appearance of blight? According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the City of Oakland has some of the worst street conditions among all communities in the nine Bay Area Counties (99 out of 107). We think this is completely unacceptable.

The following request was sent on January 4, 2009 to the City of Oakland Code Enforcement Officer:

Shattuck Avenue, between Woolsey Avenue and 60th Street in North Oakland has a large number of potholes and cracked surfaces in violation of the City's Blight Ordinance. In part, the City's Blight Ordinance defines blight as parking lots, driveways, paths, and other areas used or intended to be used for commercial and industrial business activities including, but not limited to, selling, manufacturing, processing, packaging, fabricating, treating, dismantling, processing, transferring, handling, transporting, storing, compounding, or assembling which are inadequately maintained and pose a risk of harm to public health or safety including, but not limited to, unpaved surfaces which generate fugitive dust and paved surfaces with cracks, potholes, or other breaks. Shattuck Avenue is a paved surface with cracks, potholes and other breaks and it is used for commercial and industrial purposes--transporting goods and people. We are requesting that the Code Enforcement staff open a complaint against the Public Works Department and enforce the City Blight Ordinance. The potholes, cracks, and other breaks on Shattuck Avenue create a public safety issue and contribute to the appearance of blight in North Oakland.

We do not think that the City of Oakland Code Enforcement has the chutzpah to actually enforce the Blight Ordinance against a sister department. However, we are willing to push this issue because we believe that it is vital to the economic prosperity of the City. Well maintained streets are a signal to the business community and residents that Oakland cares and is willing to invest in its infrastructure and support the efficient distribution and transportation of goods and people.