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Sale of city's Coliseum share gives Oakland budget breathing room

Coliseum sale gives Oakland temporary budget cushion to fight blight, crime
Coliseum sale gives Oakland temporary budget cushion to fight blight, crime 05:29

Oakland city leaders have announced that a deal to sell the city's stake in the Oakland Coliseum has opened up a budget cushion that avoids serious cuts to city programs - for now.

"We're gonna pick up all the little papers, and pieces, and needles or whatever it is," explained Ken Houston of the Oakland Beautification Council. "It's called micro cleaning and sanitization right."

For Houston and his team it is another day taking on one of Oakland's most noxious problems, wrapping up a massive job on Bancroft, much to the delight of neighbors here.

"See all of those bags and over there," said resident Valerie Jones. "That's just a little notion of what they've been doing."

"This is 236 bags that were on the street between 82nd to 73rd,," Houston said. "Three blocks. East Oakland blocks."

"They let us know," Freddy Burgess said of teh neighbors. "We thank y'all. We thank y'all for cleaning our block. My block feels better now. You know what I mean? It really helps us to know that we're safe out here. They've got our back. Because they see what we're doing for them in the community. "

And the Oakland Beautification Council does this work by paying its workers a competitive wage, and that takes funding.

"We've been working with the state, the city, the county and the feds," Houston said of his funding sources.

But that city funding is set to expire this year, and for nonprofits across the city, future funding is going to come with more uncertainty.

"We will continue that hard work and the long overdue cleanup of our city with essential and basic services," Mayor Sheng Thao said Thursday,

Thao says the city will manage its budget deficit without layoffs or public safety cuts, but that will require a hiring freeze and the blockbuster sale of the city's half of the Coliseum site. So painful cuts have been staved off - for now.

"I mean, I'm happy today," said District 6 Councilmember Kevin Jenkins. "But in 6 to 9 months, we're gonna run into a situation where we're in another structural budget deficit."

Jenkins says the real challenge will be finding some budget stability before deficits do start to cut into services.

"We have to get in the mindset of.growth," Jenkins added. "What is Oakland going to look like in the next 10 to 15 years. And we have to develop industries that are going to pay for the services that we desperately want to provide our residents."

"Just to see the bags right there," James Stokes said of the cleanup work. "You know, it's one of those things where it's like wow you can see what Oakland can be. Not even what it was, but what it can be."

Houston has managed to find private funding to offset what he might lose from the city. And he says funding for efforts like this, provide more than clean streets.

"This is crime prevention hiring these two individuals out here on the street," Houston said. "It's crime prevention. Because when you're paying 2353. On up, and giving them respect, responsibility dignity at the same time at the same time prevailing wages to have a good life, that's when change happens." 

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