In a labor of love one recent Saturday, Oaklanders took a bite out of the trash and dumping problem in their neighborhoods by cleaning up more than 46 sites around the city during the 21st Annual Creek to Bay Day.
In Deep East Oakland, volunteers worked on 98th Avenue and other streets, Sobrante and Arroyo Viejo parks and local creeks.
“It feels good to give back to the community,” said Becky Salas, a Maxwell Park resident who regularly cleans up Arroyo Viejo Creek. “If everybody gave two hours in service to their communities, we could keep these spaces clean. Many hands make light work.”
Across the city, more than 1,000 volunteers contributed approximately 3,100 hours to cleaning and greening Oakland creeks and watersheds, according to organizers of the clean-up. They removed more than 16,000 pounds of trash — more than 800 garbage bags — and 33,250 pounds of green waste from Oakland’s streets, parks, creeks and shoreline.
Many of the volunteers at Arroyo Viejo, near 75th and Bancroft avenues, came from Keep Oakland Beautiful (KOB).
“We come out every so often and clean and mulch the creek, ” said Annette. She and Bob are KOB volunteers who preferred to only give their first names. That Saturday, they collected eight bags of trash and pulled a bicycle and a tall dresser out of the creek.
“There just was an egret in the water, ” Bob said. “That makes it all worthwhile.”
Jennifer Stern, an environmental stewardship analyst for the city, said the weeding, trash pickup, and habitat restoration also helps areas downstream.
The dumping problem has gotten so bad that earlier this month, neighbors near the 86th Avenue Boys’ and Girls’ Club joined members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) to collect trash and mattresses littering East Oakland blocks and bring it all down to Oakland City Hall for a rally.
“Our children are forced to walk through hazardous waste to get to school and wade through toxic trash on our playgrounds,” Lizzie Holloway, an East Oakland resident and ACCE member, said at the rally. “The city needs to address this crisis now.”
Nehanda Imara, an organizer from Communities for a Better Environment, agreed. “Illegal dumping is another example of health and environmental justice issues,” she said. “Let’s call it what it is. If this was happening in wealthier areas, and in the hills, this problem would have been solved years ago.”
Mayor Libby Schaaf pledged to work with ACCE on the problem.
“It has really been heartbreaking to me, as someone who has lived in and loved this city all my life, to see the deplorable state of trash everywhere,” Schaaf said. “We believe that most of this trash is coming from people who live outside the city. We also have a lot of people moving in and out, and a lot of construction. East Oakland has definitely taken the brunt of this problem.”
She said the city is restoring its reward program for people who identify dumpers, encouraging residents to take down the license number or look through the trash to find where it came from.
That isn’t always easy. Residents often fear reprisals if they report dumpers, some of whom are neighbors. Ken Houston, a former mayoral candidate who also founded the East Oakland Beautification Council, said he directly confronts graffiti taggers and illegal dumpers.
He said he coordinates his actions with city departments and the District Attorney’s office to get results. Using a tactic that has worked for the Ceasefire program in limiting gun violence, he approaches vandals and encourages them to change their behavior or face enhanced criminal penalties. For example, he points out that placing graffiti tags on church or mosque walls is a crime and can result in jail time.
“It’s gotten much worse recently but the city just cleans it up faster,” he said. “Everybody is just throwing more money at it. But we really need to deter the mindset of people doing this activity. I have property here and family and this is the city I love. I have a an interest in making this better.”
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