A kick-off meeting of the Beautification Council in East Oakland this week brought together community, city and county leaders seeking ways to make a dent in out-of-control trash dumping and graffiti that are blighting Oakland neighborhoods.
Community members and officials said they will make it a priority to identify and prosecute those who are responsible for the dumping, some who reportedly come to Oakland from other cities to leave their trash.
The meeting was chaired by Ken Houston – in charge of community and government relations at Turner Group Construction – who serves as a community advocate under the direction of Vice Mayor Larry Reid, District 7.
“I’m a third generation Oakland native,” said Houston, explaining why he felt so passionately about blight. “I saw kids on the way home from school walking through this trash one day. What’s the state of mind of kids walking through this trash? What effect does it have on them?” He asked.
“Someone dumped tons and tons of dirt in West Oakland, dumped it in a closed building. Do people think they can just come here and dump trash? It’s bigger than District 7, it’s about Oakland as a whole,” said Councilmember Brooks.
Attending the meeting were councilmembers Reid, Desley Brooks and Noel Gallo, as well as community members, representatives of local businesses, representatives of the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, Oakland Police Department officials and officials from the Oakland Unified School District, Public Works Department and other city agencies.
According to city numbers, over 35 percent of Oakland has signs of illegal graffiti and dumping. In 2011, city litter enforcement receipted 11,336 calls for service, including more that 5,000 in East Oakland.
Efforts to clean up the trash have been overwhelmed by lack of funding, a failure to prosecute cases and cleanup crews flooded with illegal dumping calls, according to a report presented at the meeting.
The city is negotiating with Waste Management of Alameda County to pick up trash on the weekends on busy commercial streets and to increase the number of bulky trash pickups, from two to six a year.
“They’re the ones that control the dump. They are the ones in that are in the trash business,” said Councilmember Gallo, who organizes volunteers to clean trash in District 5 neighborhoods every Saturday.
The Beautification Council meeting ended with concrete commitments to solve the problem, including plans to increase community involvement.
The Alameda County D.A.’s office committed to prosecuting dumping offenders. Seeing graffiti as a issue that is better solved with positive than punitive measures, Houston is looking into incentive programs to channel young graffiti artists to use their talents to beautify the city and win prizes and recognition for themselves.