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Bond for Oakland cultural institutions placed on November ballot

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to place a $182 million bond on the November ballot to benefit five of the city's cultural institutions. 

If approved by voters, the money would be spent on infrastructure projects at the Chabot Space and Science Center, Children's Fairyland, the Oakland Museum of California, Peralta Hacienda Historical Park and the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts.

Such projects could include rehabilitation, construction, safety and security, exhibits and collections storage and visitor amenities, among other things. 

City Councilmember Carroll Fife, who coauthored the proposal along with councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb and council president Nikki Fortunato Bas, said she'd work hard to make sure the measure passes.

Fife said the city's cultural institutions "are the attractions that help make Oakland Oakland" and that while the proposed bond won't address all of the deferred maintenance and repair needs across the city, it's a big step in the right direction.

"I also believe that this is a step forward towards a renaissance that Oakland is going to experience by these types of investments," Fife said. 

Bas said that currently these cultural institutions compete with all of the city's other facilities for maintenance and improvement funds from Measure U, an $850 million bond Oakland voters approved in 2022 to fund everything from street repair to affordable housing and pedestrian safety projects.

Bas also said that a few of the beneficiaries of a new bond -- the museum, the Space and Science Center and Fairyland -- commissioned a poll of 500 Oakland residents who are likely voters and found that 86 percent of them would approve a similar proposal, which they tested at $173 million.

If passed, spending from the new bond would likely be managed by the city's existing Affordable Housing and Infrastructure Bonds Oversight Committee.

Specifically, it would allocate $94 million for the museum, $51.5 million for the Space and Science Center, $21.5 million for Fairyland and $7.5 million each for the Peralta Hacienda and the Malonga Casquelourd Center.

Brian Linke, the director of operations at the Chabot Space and Science Center, said the center's roof leaks, the elevators are in need of repair, the heating and air conditioning system no longer functions reliably and it lacks a backup power source, which means it goes dark whenever a tree falls on a power line.

"With the funds from this bond measure, we would be able to fix what is broken, secure what is not secured and create the safe and accessible learning experiences we hope to provide our visitors," Linke said before the council voted. "The citizens of Oakland take great pride in their cultural institutions. Please allow this measure to go to the ballot."

The council's vote Wednesday was on the first reading of the proposal, which requires a second vote, scheduled for June 26, before the bond is placed on a ballot. 

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