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    Oakland Needs a Pro-Active System to Solve Trash, Illegal Dumping and Blight Problems

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    Addressing how we deal with trash, illegal dumping and blight in our community—so that we all live in a clean and healthy city—is one of the fundamental tasks of local government. As can be seen by anyone who tours Oakland, the current, complaint-based efforts are failing, and particular neighborhoods are especially hard-hit.

    More personnel and enforcement are required. However, the current complaint-based system significantly contributes to the accumulation of garbage on our streets and must be replaced by a pro-active system to effectively utilize our resources. I and others have been asking for a change in Oakland’s strategy of dealing with the growing problems of trash and illegal dumping to switch away from the current complaint-based system, and instead to focus primarily on geographic zone-based assignments to clean up everything in that zone, without waiting for members of the public to call it in.

    As the city administration has been documenting, the trash problem has been getting worse and worse, and it is long past time to admit that the complaint-based strategy isn’t working. That is why, during last year’s budget debate, I proposed not only additional crews to pick up illegally dumped garbage, but also proposed that the crews be assigned to areas of need, to pro-actively clean up, without waiting for complaints. And I have included it again in my list of budget requests for Oakland’s next budget hearing.

    Recently, a small area within a subset of one council district has received a “pilot” program of pro-active cleanup, which has demonstrated that it is a better and more effective system. Some in management have been surprised to learn that there is so much trash out there that wasn’t on the complaint list. This should not surprise us, as this same problem has been found for all complaint-based systems.

    For example, some in OPD management for years had assumed that 911 calls about shootings represented a reasonable estimate of where and how many shootings were taking place. However, when gunshot detection technology was used, it was shown that there were many shootings taking place for which there were no 911 calls, and some of the areas with the most shootings were calling them in the least. A pro-active system, based on facts and data, is more effective and more equitable than a system based on complaints.

    And so, instead of encouraging a culture of complaining, and leaving trash on the street, we should promote a system of accountability that assigns crews to zones, including targeting known hot-spots, for both enforcement and cleanup. Litter officer’s assignments should include enforcement and ticketing, and personnel should be assigned to times of day and locations to maximize their ability to deter illegal dumping and to catch the people who trash our community, and also to clean heavily-impacted areas. This will help to put a stop to the cycle of illegal dumping, trash and blight.

    Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( and Facebook (