Opinion: Make Routes to Oakland Schools Safe and Clean


By James Harris

Over the last few years, the illegal dumping problem in Oakland has become a city-wide crisis. There has not been one single day when I drive through District 7 and see absolutely pristine streets- not one day since I joined the school board in 2013.

I have seen construction debris, landscaping debris, junked cars and trailers, old tires, clothing, purses, household garbage, blood, urine, feces, even an abandoned boat. And this was all before the homeless encampments became a major part of the crisis in 2016.

Not that we in District 7 have an embargo on illegal dumping. I have seen incredible dump sites in and around the Fruitvale District, the railroad tracks in District 6, just west of the Oakland Coliseum and wild amounts of garbage in West Oakland’s “lower bottoms” and sometimes in plain view on 14th Street.  So, I know it’s happening all over the city, but we have lived with the crisis for so long, that we have been conditioned to expect that garbage will be on our streets. We have to change that expectation.  Our community certainly deserves better!

As we start the school year, it is the impact illegal dumping is having on the students and families of Oakland that I worry most about.  Just down from Encompass and Koramatsu Elementary schools are two of the largest and most frequently used dump sites in District 7.

Near OUSD’s kindergarten to 12th grade continuum at Madison Park is yet another illegal dumping site. Blocks away from Rise and New Highland Elementary schools, right outside Allen Temple Church on E.14th is a nomadic homeless encampment along with more frequent illegal dumping.

Our students and families have to walk through garbage and growing homeless encampments- sometimes alone, sometime with their friends- to get to school and to get home.

What would you think the city thought of you if you were seven years old and this was your daily experience?  It happens all over Oakland, but I’ve never seen illegal dumping just once in Piedmont or even in Montclair or up Snake Road, or in Trestle Glen or in the shops around Park Boulevard.

Why does it seem that illegal dumping is preserved for the flatlands of Oakland?  Why does it never seem to be a problem in the more affluent areas of the city?

Our educators are working hard to encourage our students to be good stewards of their communities and their neighborhoods, but in many cases, when students leave school, they receive a more powerful message from the garbage and waste that is filling our streets. How can we expect our students to grow to love and protect our city when we don’t set that example for them?

Last year, Burkhalter Elementary school- in District 6- had to delay the start of their school day one February morning the driver of an 18-wheeled garbage and debris truck decided it was appropriate to unload a block load of garbage from curb to curb on Sunnymere Avenue, so much garbage that parents could not drive down the street to get to the drop-off line. (http://www.ktvu.com/news/93824524-story)

Our city leadership has been vocal about the issue, but nothing has changed.  It has only gotten worse.  The Illegal Dumping hotline takes thousands of calls each week, but cannot keep up with the volume of trash produced by illegal dumping.

Please help us keep the streets clean for our students and families. Call (510) 615-5566 or visit www.oaklandpw.comwhen you see illegal dumping in your neighborhood. Please call and appeal to your council members to find a solution to the problem. We can and we will do better.

James Harris is president, Oakland Unified School District Board of Education, representing District 7.


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