This Tuesday, after a dramatic multi-week negotiation, Oakland City Council passed the “Oakland Together Budget”. Supporters of Save The Bay, along with many others, called Council Members, emailed the Council and City staff, and attended meetings to ask the City for funding to address Oakland’s greatest needs. The resulting budget will steer the course of Oakland’s work for the next two years, determining how far the City goes to address pollution, local flooding, sea level rise, and many other critical issues.

Wins for the Bay
A few highlights in the new budget will benefit the community by helping to keep pollution off of city streets, and out of creeks, Lake Merritt, and the Bay:

  1. Continued funding for Oakland’s illegal dumping crews and the addition of one more team: Oakland’s illegal dumping crew program has been incredibly successful, with crews responding to tens of thousands of requests every year. These crews remove large and small trash items like abandoned furniture and mattresses from Oakland’s sidewalks and streets. This helps to keep the sidewalks safe for children to walk to school, reduces community blight, and keeps trash and contaminants from flooding and leaching into creeks, streams, and the Bay during rainstorms. The addition of one more team will help keep our communities clean, and help properly dispose of illegally dumped waste before it enters our waterways.
  2. $1,000,000 for Downtown Streets Team and other community clean up work: Downtown Streets Team hires unsheltered residents to remove litter from illegal dumping hot spots around the City, while providing employment training and building community among those struggling with displacement. Programs like this help to address pollution in our waterways while providing support for another critical issue facing Oakland residents: displacement and homelessness. After proving to be so successful over the past budget cycle, we are disappointed that these programs won’t see funding until year two in this budget, and we hope other resources can be achieved to continue this work in the interim.

Room for Improvement
While there are a number of exciting achievements, the approved budget does not go far enough to protect our communities and waterways from trash, runoff, and other harmful pollution. There are two key items which need additional funding:

  1. More funding is needed for trash capture devices: We are glad to see the inclusion of some funds in the budget to install trash capture devices, which collect trash in the storm drain system and keep it from flowing to the Bay. However, the $250,000 included in the budget will only pay for a fraction of the devices the city needs. The City must spend more than eight times this amount to achieve the pollution controls required by the Clean Water Act, and ongoing maintenance for these devices. More funding for these devices is critical to keep trash out of our creeks, Lake Merritt, and the Bay.
  2. An update of the Storm Drainage Master Plan – which remains unfunded – is still a critical step in addressing Oakland’s storm drain needs: Oakland must spend $2 million on an evaluation of the City’s 400 miles of storm drains and pipes that carry polluted water to the Bay. The City’s storm drain system is in a concerning state of disrepair, but no one knows just how bad it is because the last assessment was 13 years ago. Re-evaluating this critical infrastructure was ranked priority # 2 among all of the City’s proposed capital projects, so it is frustrating that the Council chose not to fund this project. Oakland must update their Storm Drainage Master Plan to ensure Oakland’s infrastructure is resilient in the face of climate change, sea level rise, and flooding from large storms.

In addition to these funding needs, we are disappointed to see that a remaining balance of over $400,000 in Oakland’s revenue from their Excess Litter Fee Fund remains unspent in the budget. These funds are collected specifically to prevent trash and litter from entering the City’s storm drain system and polluting our waterways, and they should be allocated as soon as possible to address this pressing need.

What’s Next?
While the budget is set, there are many avenues for Oakland to achieve its work to stop pollution from entering local waterways. Save The Bay will keep pushing the City to find opportunities to increase the number of trash capture devices installed, and to update its Storm Drainage Master Plan.

Save The Bay will also continue to encourage the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to collaborate with Oakland City Council to address trash and runoff on highways that spills over into Oakland communities and waterways. Caltrans, like Oakland, is required to clean up trash from roadways before it enters the storm drain system and eventually the Bay. Caltrans is under a strict enforcement order to carry out this work in the next year (read more here!), and partnering with Oakland will help both Caltrans and Oakland achieve their pollution prevention goals more effectively, more quickly, and at a lower cost than working on this issue alone.