On Saturday morning, dozens of East Oakland residents gathered in Elmhurst Park to await the arrival of Mayor Libby Schaaf, who had been invited to take a brief tour to witness what neighbors describe as years of neglect and disinvestment in their flatland neighborhoods.
People organizing with the community group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) were calling on Mayor Schaaf to support “Equal Investment” in East Oakland – to fix crumbling streets and potholes and ensure that communities throughout East Oakland benefit from large scale development projects.
ACCE presented a letter to the mayor with two demands, asking her to sign her name at the bottom of the document to demonstrate her commitment to the neighborhoods.
The first demand in the letter was to work with the newly formed Department of Race and Equity to create a policy that “permanently sets aside a percentage of Oakland’s Measure BB funds for infrastructure repair to Oakland’s flatland communities, based on equity, race and income.”
The group suggested that the city’s current “80-20 model” for determining street pavement prioritization fails to take racial or income demographics into account and results in a great majority of Measure BB funds going toward fixing roads in Oakland’s “more upscale and “emerging” neighborhoods,” rather than in communities that need them most.
“The mayor claims the “80-20 model” is more cost effective because it costs less to fix streets that are not terribly crumbling,” said Kamara Wilson, secretary and treasurer of ACCE.
“But the places where more people of color and lower-income families live, where the streets are crumbling more and more and cars are torn up more, they don’t get prioritization,” said Wilson.
The second demand was to keep any Measure BB or any Public Funds out of the proposed Coliseum City Development without a written community benefits agreement, regardless of which developer is eventually chosen.
During the event on Saturday, neighbors shared personal accounts with Mayor Schaaf about the difficulties of living in their community caused by the safety risks associated with poor street conditions.
“It is difficult to leave our houses, and we have to take long detours to find a good path to reach our destinations,” said East Oakland resident and ACCE chair member José Paranguero.
“Our elderly can easily trip on the uneven sidewalks, our neighborhood is not wheelchair accessible, and mothers cannot walk through their own streets with their baby strollers,” said Paranguero.
The group led Mayor Schaaf on a short walking tour of an adjacent street, pointing out large potholes, crumbling asphalt on the streets and even a large hole that was big enough to hold an entire upside-down traffic cone.
Mayor Schaaf refused to sign the letter and was given the opportunity to respond in front of the crowd.
“I encourage you to become educated yourself about how you can better utilize the levers of government,” she said. “The systems of government are difficult and complicated to control because of how bureaucratic they are.”
Mayor Schaaf promised that the city would not enter into a development contract on Coliseum City without a community benefits agreement.
“The City of Oakland needs a public lands policy that must be approved by City Council, and I am happy to work with you on it before it is proposed,” she said.
The mayor also said she is willing to take a new look “80-20” funding model for allocating repair funds.
“We can open up and re-explore Oakland’s 80-20 policy to see if you really want to change the policy,” she said. “I think you want to look at the data to make sure it’s what you want.”
Members of ACCE said they had looked at the data and were certain they would like to the policy to change.