Measure KK aims to solve Oakland’s pothole problems

A large pothole outside of the Rene C. Davidson Alameda County Courthouse.

A large pothole outside of the Rene C. Davidson Alameda County Courthouse.

Drivers and bikers may hate one thing more than traffic … potholes. But for the thousands of residents who ride on Oakland streets everyday via car, bike or public transit, bumpy roads have become normal.

In November, voters will decide on Measure KK, which asks if the city should approve a general bond that would invest up to $600 million for street and sidewalk repairs and to fix aging public buildings and parks. The majority of funding from the bond would be used for road and sidewalk repairs, but $150 million would be allotted to improving city parks, libraries and facilities for the police and fire departments. Another $100 million would be used to preserve affordable housing throughout the city.

 The measure is on the November 8 ballot, and requires a supermajority—or a two-thirds vote— to pass. The bond, if passed, would be funded through a property tax paid for by homeowners, based on the assessed value of their home, not its market value.

“With the way it stands now, Oakland streets are only paved once every 85 years,” said Chris Hwang, president of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, a group that supports the measure. “This measure is a way to start investing in our infrastructure and is a financial instrument for long-term sustainability for the city of Oakland.”

More than half of the money would be allotted to the improvement of streets and sidewalks. According to language on the ballot measure, the city has a paving and street repair backlog of more than $430 million. Road repair issues are constantly being reported. For example, this September the city’s Public Works Agency (PWA) received 221 complaints of potholes, of which only four have been repaired so far.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the PWA use a pavement condition index to grade Oakland streets from a score of excellent (90-100) to poor (0-49). According to the Infrastructure Report Card conducted by the PWA annually, 23 percent of Oakland’s roads are considered to be in poor condition.

Potholes often begin as cracks and then develop into bigger holes when an area experiences substantial rain. They can ruin a car’s alignment, cause motorcyclists to crash and destroy the tires of buses. “Potholes can be deathly to bicycle wheels,” said Hwang, who crashed on a bike ride home from dinner after she hit a pothole. “Evening lights on bikes can only shine so far ahead of you, so I got a serious case of road rash.”

If the bond is passed, AC Transit could reap benefits because they will possibly need to replace fewer bus tires. According to Robert Lyles, media affairs manager for the agency, a third party tire company rotates out, on average, 3,600 tires annually. AC Transit operates 151 bus routes throughout the Bay Area, and each line requires approximately 23 tire changes per year.

 Some public transit advocates say that repairing roads will benefit the entire community by saving AC Transit money, it saves riders and taxpayers money. “Buses belong to all of us,” said Joel Ramos, regional planning director at Transform, a non-profit advocacy group for public transportation and walkable communities. “This measure will allow it to be affordable to operate buses, which in turn makes it better for us because we can keep the cost of riding those buses down.”

Supporters of KK, including Hwang, said that passing the bond would be a step in the right direction, but that investing in Oakland’s long-term maintenance of roads is the real goal. Hwang said that the city can’t take a “reactionary approach” to fixing problems, meaning the city should fix problem areas before they become worse, and must budget for road maintenance moving forward as well.

Although the majority of the funds would be used to repair city streets and sidewalks, Measure KK has garnered some support through its pledge to help fight unaffordable housing for middle and low income families.

According to language on the ballot measure, rental rates in Oakland have risen 34 percent since 2011, outpacing every other city in the country. The measure will provide funding for the construction of affordable housing to be built by nonprofit affordable housing developers that the city will choose through an application process. The money will also be used to buy, restore and outfit housing for vulnerable communities, including seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.

“A particular part of the measure that is especially important to the mayor is the reservation and rehabilitation of existing housing in the private market,” said Gloria Bruce, executive director of the Easy Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), a group that has endorsed KK. “This would mean a nonprofit [affordable housing developer] could use KK funds to purchase a privately owned building, improve it and make sure the rents are affordable.” In the example given by Bruce, current tenants of a building that is bought by the nonprofit agencies would not be forced to move out of the building.

According to Bruce, this part of the measure was added because housing is a critical part of the city’s infrastructure in the same way that roads are. “When the mayor conceived this bond, I think it was more of a traditional infrastructure bond,” Bruce said. “But when she started talking to the community and staff members, [she] realized that housing is really the number one issue for most Oaklanders right now.”

“This measure addresses the needs of folks who are the most vulnerable,” Ramos said. “And it couldn’t be a more pressing need. I think that’s why I haven’t heard any opposition to it, people understand the urgency.”

Ramos said any critics of KK have been close to silent. While there’s no organized opposition to the measure, meaning no groups have placed a counter argument on the ballot, Ramos said homeowners may not support the measure because of the already burdensome cost of living in the Bay Area.

But Ramos said he thinks the long-term payoff is worth it. Homeowners “are going to get every cent back when you turn over the property,” Ramos said. “Your home is going to be worth more if it’s on a nicely paved street without potholes.”

There may not be any organized opposition to the measure, but at least one candidate for city council has said he will vote no on KK. Kevin Corbett, a candidate for District 1, outlined why he is opposed to the measure on his website, writing that “residents are already overburdened by paying very high taxes to the city and not getting the services we are currently paying for.” He also wrote that the city cannot continue to “raise taxes without accountability.” Corbett declined to be interviewed further on the issue.

For Hwang and others, a really “important component” of the measure is that it requires citizen oversight. According to the ballot language, a citizen oversight committee will “review all bond expenditures, conduct annual independent audits, and report their findings to the city council.” The commission will also evaluate its review completed projects.

Measure KK has garnered support from Mayor Libby Schaaf and council members Annie Campbell Washington (District 4) and Abel Guillen (District 2).

“Voting YES on Measure KK will our community invest in improving Oakland’ infrastructure, prevent the displacement of residents due to rising housing costs, and increase the supply of affordable housing,” Guillen said. “Measure KK will fund much-needed street and sidewalk repairs, bike paths, public-safety facilities, parks and libraries, which benefit everybody.”

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