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Neighbors gather to clean up Golden Gate district

on July 18, 2011

The wind is blowing in Larry Bragg’s face as he pauses his shoveling and points out a median with plants, trees and flowers—and usually a few pieces of trash—in the middle of San Pablo Avenue. The median was installed by the City of Oakland as part of a redevelopment project a couple years ago.

“It looked really great the first year,” Bragg said, turning to motion to his side of the street. “But this being the Golden Gate, the wind keeps blowing and garbage was collecting in these bushes.”

Bragg is a resident of North Oakland’s Golden Gate district, a neighborhood that used to offer a straightaway look at the Golden Gate Bridge before buildings crowded out the view, and still has a constant breeze coming east off the bay. On Sunday afternoon about 40 people joined him in spending part of their Sunday afternoon picking up trash, weeding and shoveling dirt along two blocks of San Pablo Avenue, from 65th Street to 63rd Street. The cleanup was the second organized by the Golden Gate Community Alliance, a group of residents and business owners who meet monthly to discuss how they can improve the neighborhood.

The cleanup days are scheduled once a month, and 20 people showed up to the inaugural cleanup day to work between 67th Street and 65th Street in June. The number doubled Sunday thanks to a large influx of volunteers from the Downs Memorial United Methodist Church, located on 61st Street a couple blocks from San Pablo Ave.

A group of adults and children wearing sunglasses, hats and bright green vests lined San Pablo Avenue mid-afternoon, before a lunch break at Actual Café. With backs bent and green trash bags, the volunteers picked up litter, swept re-mulched tree wells.

Some volunteers brought their own tools, a few even wheeling out their city-issued residential green waste carts to handle some of the trimmings, and some of the tools, like shovels, brooms, wheelbarrows and gloves were on loan from the city. Actual Café supplied sandwiches and limeade, and James and the Giant Cupcake, which recently opened next door, donated cupcakes.

“It’s great to see the diversity in the neighborhood, and see everyone having so much fun together,” said Kendra Poma, a Golden Gate resident and one of the cleanup’s organizers.

Bragg, also a cleanup organizer, said the Golden Gate Community Alliance formed three months ago as a way for area business to get together, and for residents to organize community events. The monthly cleanups are the first events the group has organized, and Bragg said the plan is to gradually clean up San Pablo Avenue down to Emeryville, and then go back later to plant trees. The group would also like to add more public art to the area, such as murals that would cover graffiti-strewn walls, and is not asking for any money from the city.

“Our primary goal is to activate the community and get more people involved,” Bragg said. “We can actually [clean up Golden Gate], and we live here.”

Bragg said so many people signed up this week, the organizers ran out of space on the sheet and had to write names on the back, and he’s encouraged more will show up next month. As Bragg, Poma and a few others finished up, shoveling topsoil from a tree planted at 63rd Street and arranging the green trash bags for the city to collect on Sunday afternoon, another volunteer and area business owner, Dan Woloz of Bike Man Dan, offered a bit of hopeful news.

“Somebody just showed up now,” he said, “and said, ‘How can I help?’”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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