Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Using Inmates to Fight Blight

This article showed up recently in Commercial Appeal regarding Memphis Tennessee. Memphis shares similar problems as Oakland with crime and blight. This program provides an opportunity to address issues of blight, while giving inmates an opportunity to contribute back to their community. With the large number of inmates and parolees that originate from Oakland, coupled with our massive budget deficit, large number of foreclosed properties and opportunities for economic stimulus money, this type of program is timely. In fact, this type of program seems to be just what Mayor Dellum's is all about.


Fighting blight: Inmates help clean up near Booker T. Washington High SchoolProject was part of Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives
By Linda A. Moore / lmoore@commercialappeal.comThursday, January 15, 2009

Eight years ago Markenis Benton was a senior at Booker T. Washington High and a member of its state championship basketball team. On Wednesday, Benton was part of a work crew from the Shelby County Division of Corrections that cleaned the vacant lot in front of the school. Benton was embarrassed by his aggravated robbery conviction, but said clearing the property near his alma mater is work he's proud of.

Inmates from the Shelby County jail clean up an abandoned apartment complex and vacant lot adjacent to Booker T. Washington High School Wednesday morning as part of a community action project launched by Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives. And he hoped the school kids were watching. "I hope they'll stop all the violence, do the right thing, stay positive and don't do what I did." Benton said.

The cleanup at Mississippi and Lauderdale was organized by Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives as its inaugural Community Action Project. FFUN partnered with the Shelby County Division of Correction, and Memphis' Division of Community Enhancement.

The cleanup marks a departure from the stop-the-violence rallies typically organized by activist Stevie Moore, president and founder of FFUN, who said blight has a direct correlation to crime. Removing trash, overgrown brush and cleaning graffiti from a nearby overpass is a positive for the school children who travel the area to and from school and for the entire neighborhood, he said. Moore, who served time in the 1980s, believes using inmate labor helps convicts understand their obligation to the community. "They took from the community," he said, whether it was joining gangs or selling dope. The men, most in the early 20s, need to learn to have pride in the work they do, Moore said.

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton was one of many officials attending the cleanup. "I've adopted a theory a long time ago that no public money should serve a single purpose," Wharton said. The same money that covered the inmates' daily expenses, he said, also paid to clear the lot and to teach a lesson to the young people.

About 20 inmates, all part of The 3R Project (Rehabilitate, Renew, Reconnect), volunteered for cleanup duty. "Our philosophy is you've got to give something back to the community. You're part of the community and that's what people do who are productive," said Andrew Taber, correction division director.

The 3R Project is a pilot program, funded by federal grants, that is aimed at reducing recidivism. Components include substance abuse rehabilitation, behavior management, vocational and educational training and parenting and life skills training. "Nobody sent out invitations. You did something to come here. We just don't want you to come back," Taber said. Cleanup participants were minimum- to medium-security inmates and, like Benton, who will be paroled in February, are near the end of their sentences.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The City of Oakland Fills Potholes on Shattuck Avenue

We recently got this response below from Jaime Ramey, PWA- Department of Infrastructure and Operations Street and Sidewalk Maintenance, regarding the problems with potholes on Shattuck Avenue from Woolsey Street to 58th Street. We appreciate Mr. Ramey's quick response and his dedication to fixing the potholes. However, we have to wonder with Oakland's infrastructure being in such a poor state, what liability claims the City faces when they knowingly have and maintain dangerous conditions for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.

We filled approximately 40 potholes with a cold patch material on our first pass of Shattuck between 58th Street and the Berkeley Line. The cold patch will not hold up in the smaller holes. The asphalt plants have not been open on a regular basis where we purchase a finer grade of material to fill smaller potholes. We will return once it comes available and we will continue to monitor the street until such time it is resurfaced, but as you stated and I confirmed with the Community and Economic Development Agency, Pavement Management section this morning that Shattuck Avenue is not on the five year paving plan.

This is unfortunate, but keep in mind there are 830 miles of asphalt pavement in Oakland and both the Public Works Agency and the Community and Economic Development Agency are working together to keep our streets safe for vehicle and bicycle travel.

Jamie Ramey
PWA- Department of Infrastructure and Operations
Street and Sidewalk Maintenance
7101 Edgewater Drive, Bldg. 4
Oakland, Ca 94621
(510) 615-5472

It is abundantly clear that many of the problems with our street infrastructure rest at the hands of PGE, EBMUD and other utilities that tear up the streets for utlity repairs and improvements and then fail to patch and repair the gutted streets to appropriate standards. Take a hard look next time at your local streets and you will see that many of the failures are related to poor quality patch jobs from the utility providers. One has to wonder what the City is doing to ensure that utility providers are leaving the streets in substantially the same condition after their job is done as before they cut into the pavement.

It is also abundantly clear that the City must return to focusing on core City services such as infrastructure and stop trying to be all things to all special interests. We cannot rely only on federal and state funding to repave our streets. Tough budget choices need to be made to address the huge and ever growing backlog of infrastructure repairs and ensure additional funding is available to begin chipping away at the mounting problems. As the budget discussions occur, you need to ask your City Councilperson, "What are you doing to preserve, maintain, repair and replace the City's infrastructure?" The problems we are leaving for future taxpayers--our children-- by our own lack of action and leadership are astounding.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Potholes on Shattuck Avenue--58th Street to the Berkeley Border

As many of you are acutely aware, the section of Shattuck Avenue in North Oakland between 58th Street and the Berkeley Border at Woolsey Street is replete with potholes. The ride is nothing less than rough and is worse than some of the Third World roads we have encountered in impoverished countries abroad. Some neighbors have reported damaging their vehicles when negotiating this treacherous stretch. There is no doubt in our mind that the potholes are dangerous to motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. Not to mention that the City is violating its own blight ordinance by maintaining (or not maintaining) streets with potholes.

Given these dire conditions, we recently started a community campaign to encourage residents, neighbors and businesses to express their concerns about the condition of Shattuck Avenue to the City of Oakland and to our City Councilwoman, Jane Brunner.

The City's own Jamie Ramey from the Department of Infrastructure and Operations, Street and Sidewalk Maintenance has been very responsive in getting City crews out to fill some of the potholes on Shattuck Avenue. But this is not enough. There are still any number of potholes remaining to be filled.

While the goal is to have smoother, better maintained streets, filling potholes is a short term remedy. This section of Shattuck Avenue needs to be ground out and repaved. Unfortunately, the City is on a 85-100 year repaving cycle and Shattuck Avenue does not currently show up on the City's 5-year repaving plan. Go figure. Our only hope is to push for the City to use some of its Economic Stimulus money from the Federal Government to repave Shattuck Avenue.

Why is this important? The current condition of Shattuck Avenue contributes to blight in our community, is dangerous, and results in higher maintenance costs for drivers. Moreover, Shattuck is a major gateway into Oakland. When people leave the newly repaved section of Shattuck in Berkeley and enter Oakland they are faced with a rude welcoming--potholes. Berkeley has taken care of it's portion of Shattuck Avenue, why can't the City of Oakland do the same?

We need your help. Please contact:

To report any more potholes on Shattuck Avenue, please call or email Jamie Ramey at (510) 615-5472 or mailto:jramey@oaklandnet.comYou need to identify the location of the pothole--an address is best and the specific lane either northbound or southbound.

To request that some of Oakland's Federal Economic Stimulus money is used for repairing important infrastructure, such as repaving Shattuck Avenue, please call or email Councilwoman Jane Brunner at (510) 238-7001 or jbrunner@oaklandnet.com

To get greater public pressure on the City of Oakland to fix this problem, please request that Chronicle Watch take up this issue at chroniclewatch@sfchronicle.com

The only way we can get an appropriate level of service is to collectively make our voices heard. Please take this opportunity to help our North Oakland Community get what it deserves.