Next time you drive through a massive pothole in Oakland, remember to dial 311.
On Monday, the city announced the launch of OAK 311, a new service that facilitates communication between Oakland residents and the city’s various maintenance crews in charge of city services.
In a press release sent Monday, Mayor Libby Schaaf said that one of her highest priorities is to make Oakland a “responsive and transparent government.” Now, residents calling from within Oakland can simply dial 311 to report urgent problems and infrastructure emergencies that require immediate responses: from sewer floodings to trees falling down in the middle of the street.
“We need to hear about it right away,” said Sean Maher, a spokesperson for the city who works for the Department of Public Works. “We need the community to be our eyes and ears when it comes to the neighborhood-level issues that need fixing, and the more information our residents can provide, the better.”
Other routine services that residents can report include illegal dumping, destructive potholes, graffiti sightings, damaged sidewalks, parking meter maintenance needs and traffic signal outages.
Though 311 operators work typical bankers’ hours, callers have an option to get connected after hours to other dispatchers who can assist with urgent situations—and around the clock.
Though the idea has been discussed for many years, Maher said that it finally became an actionable priority under Schaaf’s administration. Prior to the launch of the service, he said, residents had to contact different services that were neither coordinated nor branded in a memorable way. “If you were trying to report a problem in Oakland before we launched [OAK 311], you had to track down a specific phone number or specific email address for a service department, or you had to find an app or use a website that was arcane and difficult to use—all of these things had different names,” he said.
So to make things easier, Maher said, the city has rebranded all of these service request methods under the name “OAK 311.” In addition to filing urgent requests by dialing 311, Oaklanders can continue to report via email at OAK311@oaklandnet.com or online at 311.oaklandca.gov. There is also an OAK 311 app available for download on Apple and Android devices. “But we want to make sure that folks know that if they need us there right away, the quickest way to get to us is a phone call,” said Maher.
This year, over 16,000 service requests have been reported in the city—of which 44 percent were related to the city’s illegal dumping crisis. Forty-six percent of those requests were filed via the mobile app, and 30 percent were phoned in. But with the launch of the 311 line that will expedite phone communication, Maher is hopeful that this percentage will increase.
To alert residents of the new service, city officials are currently working on designing a comprehensive outreach campaign. Soon, Oaklanders will notice bus shelter signs, billboards and newspaper and radio ads for OAK 311 across the city. “We want to make sure this is something that every Oaklander has heard about and that every Oaklander has access to,” said Maher.
“One of the things that is a strong priority for us it to make our services equitable, and that includes keeping our doors open and our phone lines open for Oaklanders in every neighborhood—and that is part of trying to simplify the process by which folks reach out,” he said. Maher is hopeful that OAK 311 will provide the opportunity for residents in neighborhoods that have traditionally been underserved to maintain connected with the city services, and to ensure that the city is hearing from them.