Category Archives: Public Works

Make Oakland Better Now! Endorses Measure Q


On March 3, vote YES on Measure Q.
Join the
campaign at its kickoff event this Saturday.

Measure Q is a March 3 ballot tax measure, designed to generate revenue to be used for city parks improvement, homelessness services and clean water. The Make Oakland Better Now! board has voted to endorse it, and urges Oaklanders to support it. We join a wide coalition in support of this measure. Among other organizations, it is supported by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club, SF Bay Chapter, League of Women Voters of Oakland, Outdoor Afro and Oakland Tenants Union. Continue reading

A Guide to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA)

15 years and over $30 million later, the Oakland Police Department is still under federal oversight. 

On January 22, 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved the settlement of a lawsuit between the City of Oakland and 119 plaintiffs who alleged that Oakland police offices had beaten, kidnapped and planted drugs on them in the summer of 2000. The plaintiffs, who were represented by attorneys James Chanin and John Burris, received a payout of $11 million, and the City agreed to reforms embodied in the Settlement Agreement, a list of 51 different tasks which OPD must come into compliance with. These tasks includes reforms in areas such internal affairs, supervision of officers, police use of force, and community policing. Continue reading

Mayor’s State of the City Address: Accountability, Infrastructure, and Housing


In our last post we analyzed Mayor Libby Schaaf’s strategy for “holistic community safety” outlined in her State of the City address. Today, we’ll continue our discussion, looking at her other three stated top priorities: responsive, trustworthy government, sustainable infrastructure, and equitable jobs and housing. 

Responsive, trustworthy government 

The Mayor’s total policy discussion on accountability was as follows:

“I could tell you about our transparency and ‘gov 2.0’ projects—like our Digital Front Door website redesign, our employee civic lab or plans for a 3-1-1 call center, but it really starts with the people.”

She then praised top staff members, the City Administrator, and other recent additions to her team.

Our take:
We don’t criticize the Mayor for publicly and openly supporting her people—that’s an important part of leadership. But we call for more emphasis on policy. A starting point might be these initiatives from her campaign white paper on how to “bring Oakland government into the 21st Century”:

What I Will Do 

Implement 311 System for better service delivery:
Do you know what number to call to report illegal dumping or a pothole? Most big cities use a 3-1-1 system to make it easy for residents to request help from their government. As Mayor I will implement a world-class 311 customer service center that transitions the City to a new generation of technology that centralizes citizen requests and makes the process and resolution of each request accessible to the public 24/7 on our website.

CityStat and the Office of Strategic Performance:
I will link the 311 service request system with a CityStat performance accountability system led by a newly established Office of Strategic Performance (see Louisville, Kentucky for a good model). I will work with department heads to establish clear performance measures and nurture a culture of continuous improvement within City Hall. In pursuit of this goal, OSP will help City departments and agencies deliver high quality services to citizens in a cost-efficient and transparent manner. Three core efforts include strategic planning, performance management, continuous improvement consulting and training. We can save on technology procurement dollars by conducting internal and external user research to scope projects more efficiently, determine what the needs are and design a scope of work to fulfill those needs. Too often contracts are signed without a clear understanding of the pain points, and key opportunities to solve actual problems are missed.

Sometime soon, Oaklanders should hear about where we stand on these efforts.

More after the break. Continue reading

Budget Bits No. 4: The Matter of Deferred Capital Expenses

This is the fourth installment in our series on the 2015-17 budget process. The mayor’s budget is scheduled to be released on Thursday, so between now and then, we’ll summarize some of the observations in the city’s recently published Five-Year Fiscal Forecast, which help set context for the budget decisions to be made over the next two months. In this post, we look briefly at the City’s severe deferred capital problem.

Anyone who lives, works, drives, rides a bicycle or walks in Oakland knows something about our city’s deferred capital expenses. This problem is readily apparent from the horrible state of our streets and sidewalks. According to the Public Works Department, Oakland has 806 miles of streets and 1,120 miles of sidewalks. As the City acknowledges, the streets are on an 85 year resurfacing cycle, compared to the industry standard of 25 years. And (again, according to the City), 38% of the streets are in good condition, 38% fair, and 23% poor condition.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s recent evaluation of Bay Area city streets paints a bleaker picture. MTC assigns a point value, or “Pavement Condition Index” (PCI) score to cities. This year, MTC assigned a 59 PCI to Oakland. This means the streets are “at risk,” a designation when the city has  “[d]eteriorated pavement requiring immediate attention, including rehabilitative work.”

But the issue of deferred capital expenses goes well beyond streets and sidewalks, and includes storm sewers, technological enhancements, buildings and facilities, including the Police Administration Building, which is in terrible condition.

The Five Year Forecast projects an average of $9 million per year for capital projects, and also states that there are projects that total $1.5billion that are key unfunded capital needs, that is, capital projects that are not included in the annual budget. Given that the average forecast total for all fund revenues over the 5 years is a little less than $1.2billion, that is like telling someone who makes $70,000 a year that they will need to a $70,000 repair on their house. And, like the homeowner who needs to make the repairs, the most likely source for Oakland to fund these projects is either to borrow the money (that is, issuing bonds)or to ask for help from the relatives (that is, go to the voters with a special parcel tax request). Let’s look at the projects listed in the Five Year Forecast and decide what needs to be done, and how to do it. The project categories and projected costs are these (and we would like to see a great deal more detail than appears in this table, or in the forecast):

Key unfunded capital needs

When then-Mayoral candidate Libby Schaaf was campaigning, she promised that if Measure BB passed, she would “bond against the new $8 million per year allocated to Oakland for road maintenance to make immediate upgrades in road conditions that will reduce maintenance costs going forward.” This is an important part of the plan for catching up. But there will undoubtedly have to be more.

The next steps for the city government is to prioritize the above projects, determine which to move forward with most quickly, and develop a plan for doing that.

Fact Checking The Mayoral Candidates’ Positions, Part Five: Public Works

By Jennifer Inez Ward, Contributing Editor, Oakland Local

(Editor’s note: Oakland Local and Make Oakland Better Now! – MOBN! – have teamed up to take a close look at the accuracy of candidates’ response to an online questionnaire from MOBN!. We want to know if candidates are being truthful and accurate in their responses, or are they veering from facts and offering opinion without any solutions? Each day, Oakland Local will run a fact checking story on seven important questions.)

Today’s Question: How do the mayoral candidates plan to meet Oakland’s public works needs?

Arnie Fields

Fields believes “city government” has run Oakland 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.”

Fields said he will “bring that spotlight to shine on the corruption.”

What We Found: Fields provides no details on how he plans to tackle local government corruption.

Greg Harland

Harland said he believes the general fund has to be balanced in a way that meets all of the city’s needs. “Until we fix the employee compensation issue the budget cannot be balanced,”

What We Found: Harland’s response did not specifically address the question regarding public works.

Rebecca Kaplan

Kaplan said under her administration, Public Work maintenance repair orders would increase.

“Engaging in repairs early in the cycle costs less than waiting for a road (or other public infrastructure) to get into worse condition,” she wrote.

Kaplan, a former AC Transit board member, said she will aggressively seek outside funds for public works, and will work with agencies like AC Transit and the Metropolitan and County Transportation Commissions to identify funding for road repair in regional transportation funds.

The councilmember said she agrees with many recommendations in a report issued last year on  increasing the city’s general fund contributions to the Public Works  Department.

Kaplan cautioned that she would, “seek significant public input before proposing new taxes.”

In addition, Kaplan said she will tap Alamada County vehicle registration fees, and will implement “coherent and effective maintenance and planning”.

Kaplan’s office will also make sure the city’s redevelopment agency is budgeting adequately for infrastructure needs in connection with the plans.

And, as mayor, she wants to implement 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).”

What We Found: Kaplan’s public transportation background shines through in her response to this question. The plan is detailed and ambitious. Nevertheless, she’ll have a bumpy road ahead.

First, even with innovative cost measures, the city’s public works department is in a world of hurt. In a recent report, the department said it’s more than $400 million behind in repairing city streets.

Second, Kaplan’s regional transportation agencies have their own challenges; MTC has been accused in the past by both AC Transit and others of focusing too much on rail, and less on supporting bus service. AC Transit meanwhile, is struggling with serious financial problems.

Any new tax proposal for improving Oakland streets will have to garner significant support from residents who may feel overwhelmed with continuous tax proposals.

Don Macleay

Macleay said serious budget  and strong oversight of the city’s hiring practices should be part of the discussion during the mayoral race.

The report on Hiring Practices should also be part of our discussions when electing our next mayor,” he wrote.

Macleay said budget reform for the city needs to be developed before tackling public works.

“I am not sure how we can deal with our infrastructure problem without a reform,” he wrote. “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.

Macleay said stimulus funds and redevelopment funds could be used to improve public works.

What We Found: Macleay’s response did not have an specific information on how he would improve the city’s public works program.

Don Perata

Perata said because he believes the city currently has no plan in place to deal with Oakland’s crumbling streets, so that it’s hard to know the dimensions of the city’s infrastructure problem. It doesn’t help that there’s currently no director for the agency, Perata said.

“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,” Perata wrote.

However, if he becomes mayor, Perata said he will put in place a variety of measures including having the city’s redevelopment agency pay for street, sidewalk, and storm water capital projects in redevelopment project areas; encouraging sponsors or partnerships for  Public Works’ rehabilitation of its parks and landscaped areas; and tapping the sanitary sewer fund for certain operating expenditures by Engineering Design and Construction Department / CEDA.

Perata said he is also supportive of innovative “green” technology that can address streets and infrastructure needs.

What We Found: If Perata wants to use Oakland’s redevelopment agency to shore up streets and sidewalks, he’ll have to work hand-in-hand with city council on how to redirect the agency’s funds. That may be a challenge if the agency’s budget continues to stay thin.

While Public Works seemingly has used some limited partnership programs in the past, the agency seems primed to develop more programs, perhaps with Alameda County’s public works program.

As for redirecting the city’s sanitary sewer fund  for other projects, Perata will have to go against city code which restricts such actions.

Perata is joining a growing number of politicians calling for more green solutions in dealing with municipal public works.

Jean Quan

Quan acknowledges the challenges facing Public Works and noted that the City has already passed a sewer fee to comply with an EPA lawsuit. She also touched on the backlog in road repairs and the structural deficit in the Landscape and Lighting District, which she said has not received a cost of living increase since 1993.

Quan called for a cost of living increase for park infrastructure, tree maintenance, and lighting costs; otherwise the department 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,” she wrote.

What We Found: Quan didn’t attach any numbers to her response—How much money may be needed for park infrastructure repair, for example. Quan also didn’t say what she will do as mayor if Prop 22 does not pass.

Joe Tuman

Tuman said he believes maintenance, rehabilitation, or outright replacement of sewer lines should be a core priority for Oakland.

“I believe in regular maintenance and prevention,” he wrote. “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.”

Tuman said how much can be spent to do maintenance and repairs will depend heavily on what decisions are made about closing the deficit in January of 2011.

What We Found: Tuman did a great job summarizing the MOBN! question, but he provided almost no details on what he would do to address the issue.

Terence Candell

Candell said that once he is elected mayor, “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.”

What We Found: There were no details provided about ‘Friends of Candell’ or the candidate’s forthcoming ballot measure addressing public works issues.