The East Oakland Beautification Council, while only in existence for less than 90 days, is already beginning to have an impact on illegal trash dumping and graffiti, forms of urban blight that have long frustrated community cleanup efforts.
“We had 20,337 illegal dumping complaints last year. We’re trying to cut that in half,” said Ken
Houston, chair of the council, speaking Monday afternoon at the second meeting of the new group.
The council is spearheaded by Houston, supported by City Council Members Larry Reid, Desley Brooks and Noel Gallo.
They are bringing together community activists and business leaders, City Public Works staff, police and representatives of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, as well as clergy and nonprofits that work with youth.
The council is making progress on 22 solutions identified by the group to respond to the multiple causes that contribute to dumping and graffiti, said Shelly Garza, a community activist who works for the beautification council.
“I’ve been in this city working on this for14 years, and we were not able to do what we’re doing (now) – it’s getting cleaned up quickly, though the efforts of everybody in this room,” said Garza.
To make a dent in illegal dumping, the council is setting up designated dumping sites, working with community members so they will know how to document and report illegal dumping to law enforcement, increase police surveillance at chronic dumping sites and increase lighting and warning signs in blighted areas.
Many of the dumpers come from out of town, leaving their trash on the street in order to avoid paying fees at a city dump. In addition, a number of the taggers who vandalize Oakland buildings also come from other cities. The District Attorney’s office is already investigating several of these cases.
With little fanfare, Councilmember Gallo holds a volunteer community cleanup event every weekend in his district.
In conjunction with Houston, Gallo is creating a trash collection site to reduce illegal dumping in East Oakland. Houston said he is focusing on cleaning up four impacted areas. One site – at Louisiana Street and Railroad Avenue in East Oakland – was chronically overflowing with debris and trash.
Houston worked at the site and contracted Public Works, which picked up the trash within a few days Houston also contacted a man in Modesto, whose name was listed on some of the trash that had been dumped. The man came to Oakland and took it away. The District Attorney’s office is investigating and will possibly prosecute the case.
Taking an alternative approach to controlling graffiti, the beautification council is seeking to encourage youth to develop their artistic talents and reduce vandalism on businesses and other buildings, which is infuriating many local residents.
One plan is to create an area called “Graffiti Cove.” A youth program, “Get Active Urban Arts,” is sponsored by Safe Passages in Oakland and headed up by program manager Jonathan Brumfield. He explained that the young people he works with paint murals on buildings after gaining the support of the owners, with the result that the graffiti stops.
“It’s a big deal. We’ve taken the blight out of the community,” said Alex, one of the teenagers who is part of urban arts.
“It started with me being mad at the world and not being able to express my anger,” said Nimrod, another graffiti artist in urban arts. “I learned how I could use what I do to make my surroundings better.”