Following the money: Oakland’s stimulus funds

By Callie Shanafelt/OaklandNorth

More than a year ago, on February 17, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Commonly known as the stimulus bill, the goal of the program is to boost the United States out of the recession by creating and saving jobs. The act claims to “foster unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in government spending.”

The website Recovery.gov was developed by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to track which communities receive stimulus dollars. In this project Oakland North attempted to follow the stimulus dollars around Oakland. The figures cited in this project represent grants reported in Oakland zip codes in the first round of funding that ended on October 10, 2009.

About a third of the stimulus funding has been spent so far according to ProPubulica.org. As agencies consider how to spend the rest of the funds, perhaps there is something to be learned from where the money has been allocated and spent thus far.

When searching Recovery.gov projects in Oakland zip codes, it appears that the most stimulus money coming into the area is for transportation projects. But this is only because the District 4 CalTrans office, which serves nine counties, is located in North Oakland. In reality, of the more than $524 million coming to the office through the Department of Transportation, only $2.4 million is allocated for projects in Oakland.

Most of this money is going to street resurfacing and curbside repair. $70 million was allocated for construction of a BART-to-airport connector, but as reported on Oakland North that project has been canceled, so the money is not included in this tally.

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The majority of the $14 million from the first round of stimulus funds that ended up in Oakland’s classrooms went to meeting the needs of students with disabilities — roughly $10 million. $3.8 million went to Oakland’s charter schools. Charter schools have been a source of much controversy in Oakland . However district spokesman Troy Flint has said the 17 percent of Oakland’s public school students who attend charter schools deserve the funds. “We’re trying to get away from an adversarial mentality and just get at what’s good in either system,” he said.

Flint is more concerned about the potential $36 million the district still has to cut from the budget this school year. “This year when we don’t have this luxury [of stimulus funds], the effects of the budget cuts are going to be more severe,” Flint said.

Oakland North also took a closer look at education stimulus dollars including grants received after the first reporting period.

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One of the main objectives of the stimulus is to create jobs. “You know, you don’t need to be an economist to know that jobs are the engine of our economy,” Vice President Joe Biden said when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed into law. The two purposes of federal Department of Labor grants are to provide job training and extend and expand unemployment benefits.

The Department of Labor granted more than $7.5 million to the Peralta Community College District and the City of Oakland. These grants are a part of the Workforce Investment Act grants for laid-off or unemployed adults and youth to assist with job training programs. “We are trying to solve the problem of poverty by placing people in jobs that are good for the community and the environment,” said Margaretta Lin, Oakland’s senior advisor on the stimulus.

However, between the time that President Obama signed the legislation in February of 2009 and that November, the unemployment rate in Oakland increased from 14.1 percent to 17 percent.

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The bulk of this money — $5.1 million — went to the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit district for “tunnel hardening,” according to the grant statement on Recovery.gov and was allocated “for costs related to enhancing the nation’s transit infrastructure to prevent, protect, respond to, and recover from threats or acts of terrorism.” A smaller grant of approximately $530,000 was also issued to Alameda County for port security.

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The City of Oakland received the majority of the Environmental Protection Agency’s grants issued within Oakland zip codes. More than $2 million went to help 1,000 truckers at the Port of Oakland retrofit their diesel trucks in order to reduce emissions. The city wants to help another 1,000 truckers.

$4.7 million is going to “the financing and construction of wastewater treatment facilities and associated infrastructure, green infrastructure, nonpoint source projects, estuary projects, and program administration.”

The Oakland Housing Authority also got $200,000 for cleanup at the mixed-income Lion Creek Crossings Phase 4 project site to tear down and rebuild what used to be Coliseum Gardens low-income housing project.

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The majority of these funds coming into Oakland zip codes are going to the City of Oakland for energy conservation projects. According to Margaretta Lin, Oakland’s senior advisor on the stimulus, city staffers coordinated the efforts of different city departments and community organizations to create jobs and upgrade public infrastructure. “These monies by themselves are not very much,” said Lin. For example, by coordinating green jobs training programs with weatherization and energy retrofit construction projects the city was able to spread the money twice as far.

“Oakland expects to: create or retain 31 jobs, while avoiding 2 million kWh per year of electricity use, 77,000 therms per year of natural gas consumption, 534,000 gallons per year of vehicle fuel consumption and over 5,500 metric tons per year of greenhouse gas emissions through these projects,” according to the grant report on Recovery.gov.

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One might assume the Department of Commerce grants would go to increase trade or support small businesses. However, the majority of the $377,000 coming to Oakland through the Department of Commerce (about $263,000) is actually allocated for environmental conservation and restoration. Recipients include the East Bay Regional Park District, the California Wildlife Fund and the Student Conservation Association, Inc

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Half of this money went to the National Federation of Community Broadcasters—a national alliance of stations committed to community radio—to save jobs “that are threatened by declines in philanthropic support during the current economic downturn.” The other half went to save the jobs two staff people at The Crucible arts education facility in West Oakland.

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The Department of Agriculture contributed the smallest portion of the stimulus funds coming into Oakland. One $5,300 grant went to the school lunch program at the Oakland Military Institute charter school.

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The focus on energy efficiency and green jobs training programs helps Oakland, according to City of Oakland stimulus advisor Margaretta Lin. But she hopes the next round of stimulus funds will provide more flexibility to individual cities and let Oakland channel more money into needed projects like infrastructure repairs. “Local needs look different from one another,” she said. “We have one-hundred-year-old infrastructure below our buildings.”

Overall, the stimulus funds have helped programs and organizations throughout Oakland stave off deep budget cuts, but many of the grantees are still facing tough budget choices.

The City of Oakland has created a coordinated effort among city staff to monitor and apply for future stimulus funding. Oakland North will continue to follow the money.

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4 Comments

  1. rosamramirez@hotmail.com

    Great story and graphics.

  2. joey

    Also like the story and graphics. Wondering why I didn’t see this earlier.

  3. KW

    I like the story concept and article – this is something that the mainstream media has not really covered. However, the way the Recovery Act projects is somewhat misleading. While each department heading indicates the total amount allocated based on the reporters research, the text description typically only covers one project in the category. It would be good to add a list of all of the projects so that a reader understands that the total funds listed are going to a variety of projects in Oakland. Also, it would great to see an update of this article with Summer 2010 facts.

  4. Izaree Peterson

    Hi, My name is Izaree Peterson I am 20 years old and I currently attend Chabot College in Hayward and work at Nordstrom Rack in Emeryville I am completely independent not living with either one of my parents going house to house every month. I’m really ready to be in my own place, but with all my bills already and including my own place with utilities and everything makes it really hard for me to find my own place for anything under $700 a month including utilities if you can contact me with any advice I would really appreciate it.

    Thank You,
    Happy New Years
    Izzy 🙂

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