How Do The Mayoral Candidates Plan To Meet Oakland’s Public Works Needs?

Make Oakland Better Now!’s Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire was answered by 8 of the ten candidates.  All of the completed questionnaires are available for viewing at our web site, here. Since some Oaklanders may want to compare candidate responses to each of the questions, we will be publishing the responses sorted by question here at Oaktalk over the coming days.  You’ll find these posts for the first eight questions directly below this one.

One of Make Oakland Better Now!’s core areas of concern has to do with public works.  Sewers, streets and parks don’t vote;  yet a city that can’t maintain its infrastructure can rapidly find itself on a downward spiral.  We asked all the candidates what their plans were to address the city’s public works needs.

Question No. 9.            In its April, 2009 performance audit of the Oakland Public Works department (, Matrix Consulting Group, which conducted the audit, recommended that:

a. The City should be replacing or rehabilitating an average of 1% to 2% of its sanitary sewer mains each year” at a cost of about $7.5 million; and

b. The City should be spending approximately $30 million annually for the repair and replacement of the City’s streets (at the time of the audit, the annual expenditure was $7.2 million).

Matrix also noted that the General Purpose Fund contribution to the Public Works budget was far less than that of comparable California cities, and made a series of recommendations (at pages 24-25) for adequate funding of the city’s public works needs.  Which of these recommendations do you support, and how will Oakland meet its obligations to repair and replace sanitary sewers, streets and infrastructure if you are mayor?


The moral of the City needs to change. The people of the City are doing a great job, it is the City government that is running the place into the ground. If you keep the same people in power it is only a matter of time before they run it into the ground, they have been doing a great job running things into the ground, that is why we need historic change rite here rite now. I know where the rubber hits the road and bring that spotlight to shine on the corruption and I am the Mayor that will do it and turn the City around. Guaranteed.


I’m in complete agreement with this report and have stated so many times. Personally I think our total one billion dollar budget is wrongly allocated but that too complicated an issue to discuss here. The general fund has to be balanced in a way that meets all of the cities needs. Until we fix the employee compensation issue the budget cannot be balanced.


I strongly support the need to increase Public Works maintenance work in order to stop the cycle of ever-increasing expenses for road repair. This is a key part of budgeting for the long-term, because engaging in repairs early in the cycle costs less than waiting for a road (or other public infrastructure) to get into worse condition. As Mayor I will aggressively seek new sources of funding for these vital needs, from working with AC Transit and the Metropolitan and County Transportation Commissions to identify funding for road repair in regional transportation funds, to working with EBMUD and others on sewer repairs and upgrades. I support many of the recommendations in the Matrix audit, though I would seek significant public input before proposing new taxes. I will immediately implement some of the recommendations, including through the use of new funds I helped obtain from the County vehicle registration fee, and implementing coherent and effective maintenance and planning so our funds go further, and ensuring the Redevelopment Agency is budgeting adequately for infrastructure needs in connection with those projects. In addition I will work to adopt innovative cost-saving strategies such as use of recycled asphalt and having our asphalt locally obtained (to avoid wasted time of repair crews driving out of town to obtain materials), and  incorporating local plants and drought-resistant plants to reduce costs of that maintenance for the long-term as well.


This is exactly the kind of issue that makes me think we should have a budget reform and better oversight. This is not the only Auditor’s report worthy of attention. The report on Hiring Practices should also be part of our discussions when electing our next mayor.

Our local library, which houses the tool lending library is badly damaged because of the state of our sewers. Many other examples abound, but here in Temescal, this one stands out.

As part of the budget reform that I propose, we need to include this. I am not sure how we can deal with our infrastructure problem without a reform. If we ever get to the point that we actually will put money aside during good times and spend it during downturns in the business cycle, then we could do this in spurts about every 10 years when unemployment is high.

Another source of funding MAY be the stimulus funds and the redevelopment funds, but the get them focused on real long term infrastructure instead of speculative projects is a reform of its own.


There is no doubt the city has long neglected its infrastructure; not only what we cannot see (sewers), but what can – and use daily: our streets. You can measure the prosperity of a society by the state of its public infrastructure.

Because as public infrastructure crumbles, so do the taxes that the City collects. These blighted conditions tell investors, businesses, and families that Oakland has an unresponsive city bureaucracy that can’t even manage the small things, let alone the big issues. Opportunity goes elsewhere; the cycle continues.

As best as I can determine, there is NO PLAN in city hall evaluating and prioritizing either. It’s hard to say “how long” accurately when you have no idea about the dimensions of the problem. Again, failed leadership.

I know a little about infrastructure, and I know more about management and leadership. I flatly do not believe public works cannot repair and maintain Oakland streets better than it has. The crew workers themselves have straightforward, best-practices solutions to improve performance with money now allocated.

There was a huge pothole on Oakland and Santa Clara Avenues. City Hall had thrown tens and thousands of dollars in fixing this ONE pothole over 12 years, without ever dealing with the root cause: a leaking pipe that forced the asphalt to disintegrate after each and every repair.

You don’t have to be a civil engineer to figure that the ubiquitous lake of water that filled the hole isn’t coming from traffic. I had figured it out, the City Workers I had spoken with had figured it out, but City Managers continued to re-write the same work order over and over again.

Most homeowners know that if there’s damage repeatedly inflicted on their property, they need to tackle the root cause to stop throwing good money after bad. City Hall doesn’t take that view; it has little regard for the efficiency of the public dollars it spends. Waste and inefficiency is endemic, from management through to the City Council. They misspent redevelopment funds. They misplaced parking revenue. The city’s management bureaucracy has grown while services have been cut. The rainy-day fund was squandered in the sunshine. They blew the chance in June to keep $15M a year, here in Oakland, in the sales taxes that we are now giving back to the state.

So given the inefficiencies in management at City Hall, we should question the efficiency of current spending. We should question the value for money in the $7.2M of our dollars presently spent on repairing the roads.

There is no excuse. The mayor hires the public works director. Presently, Oakland HAS NO PUBLIC WORKS DIRECTOR. I will and the paying public will see the difference.

Of the recommendations offered in the performance audit, the ones that of most interest to me would be:

1.         The Redevelopment Agency should provide funding required for street, sidewalk, and storm water capital projects in the redevelopment project areas;

2.         The Public Works Agency should seek sponsors / partnerships for the rehabilitation of its parks and landscaped areas;

3.         The financial resources of the sanitary sewer fund should be appropriately used for the maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation of the City’s wastewater collection system;

4.         The City should address the use of the Sewer Service Fund as a source for operating expenditures by Engineering Design and Construction Department / CEDA that exceeds immediate requirements and immediate necessity.

In addition, there are creative, revenue-generating proposals based on green-technology fill, grading, paving and construction industries (such as the recently submitted “Green Streets” proposal) that offer untapped potential to address streets and infrastructure needs.  I would aggressively pursue and encourage such ideas.


The City has already passed a sewer fee to comply with the EPA lawsuit. The back log in road repairs is the major challenge as is the structural deficit in the Landscape and Lighting District (LLAD) which has not received a cost of living since 1993. Many Public Works expenses have been pushed out of the General Fund to make room for more funding for police and fire, like the LLAD. We passed a cost of living increase to the LLAD but legal decisions on the structuring of LLAD’s from elsewhere require a new measure. We need to get a cost of living increase passed or our park infrastructure, tree maintenance, and lighting costs will continue to operate in deficit. We should also consider construction impact fees to help our streets and hopefully pass Prop 22 this year so the state cannot take gas and vehicle license fees; that will stabilize our street repair funding.


This kind of audit provides terrific material, but it leaves me at a disadvantage for answering your questions because the report is a year old, and I am unable to tell what, if anything, the City has done with its recommendations (btw pages 24-25 do not deal with ―recommendations for adequate funding—as your question implied). Nevertheless, I’ll try and answer your questions as best I can.

I do think maintenance, rehabilitation, or outright replacement of sewer lines should be a priority for the City; waste management (a quaint euphemism) is a core function of government. The problem with making sewer lines a priority is that they are underground, and as the saying goes, ―out of sight, out of mind.  These become the infrastructure issues we don’t think about until a massive rainfall occurs, sewage lines back up, or the lines break from lack of repair or age. In short, we only think of the problem when it becomes a problem. I believe in regular maintenance and prevention.

This report makes a lot of recommendations—including the two you mention above. I am unable to tell from the report why or how they reached the numbers ―1 to 2%‖ of sewer lines to repair on a yearly basis; my guess is that they reached this conclusion based upon existing revenues. That hardly speaks to the question of need, or the urgency of rehabilitating or replacing this infrastructure. Consequently, I can’t comment on whether that is the right number for replacement or rehabilitation (as opposed to 5% or 7% or whatever). The report notes at page 15 that the City had not met this benchmark (1-2%) in the previous fiscal year (before the study).

Likewise, the recommendation that Oakland be spending $30 million dollars annually for repair and replacement of streets seems obvious enough—but why it was $30 million and not a larger number—I cannot say. It is obvious there are more than $30 million worth of repairs to be done on our city streets. Failure to repair these problems creates a sizable amount of damage to automobiles (and bicycles!), and clearly can lead to possibilities for accidents. This serves no one’s interest.

How do we pay for any of these things? I believe they are a core function (like that for rehabilitation and replacement of sewage lines) of government. They will be a budget priority for me—but how much we can spend will turn (in all honesty) on what decisions are made about closing the deficit in January of 2011.


I think that, because there is less revenue coming into the city, due to a complete lack of innovation on the part of our entrenched politicians, the bare minimum would need to be spent on critical areas of both. However, once I am elected, the measures proposed by the Friends of Candell, which have already received thousands of signatures, will go to the ballot. Then, we can afford to make complete changes and repairs.

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

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