Credit: Amir Aziz

With drivers on Oakland’s dangerous roads continuing to claim lives, including a recent tragedy of a 100-year-old man killed in a hit-and-run, a local advocacy group is seeking to bolster the city’s road infrastructure budget with millions of dollars in new funding. The Traffic Violence Rapid Response group is petitioning city leaders to reallocate $20 million from the city’s general fund that’s currently dedicated to the Oakland Police Department and spend this on upgrades to road safety instead. 

Over 800 people have already signed the petition, which will be delivered next week to Mayor Sheng Thao, in advance of Oakland’s budget process that is starting this month. 

According to the most recent budget, $26.3 million is the amount that it currently receives from the general fund for street safety infrastructure for the 2022-23 year. Nearly doubling this would help OakDOT put up new speed bumps, traffic circles, and possibly new traffic lights, which each tend to cost in excess of half a million dollars. 

OakDOT doesn’t have a position on the petition. The Oakland Police Department also did not comment on it. 

Carter Lavin, a volunteer for Traffic Violence Rapid Response who is leading the petition, told The Oaklandside the shift of funding from OPD to OakDOT would benefit residents by meeting both departments’ goals of saving lives.

“OPD and OakDOT are both in the business of keeping Oaklanders safe. And if you look at the number of deaths and the numbers of killings in Oakland through traffic violence, OakDOT should be getting more funding from the general fund for it,” Lavin said. He pointed to the fact that 35 people died on Oakland roads last year, as The Oaklandside reported. Most of these were classified as “accidental” deaths with no one at fault, however, some were homicides. The total number of traffic-related deaths is about one-third of the number of homicides that OPD is tasked with investigating, most of which are firearms related. 

OPD’s budget is currently about $342 million a year with most of this coming from the city’s general fund, a part of the budget that includes unrestricted revenue that can be spent for any purpose.

The petition is critical of OPD’s share of funding compared to other departments, stating that “despite receiving the lion’s share of the budget for years, the Oakland Police Department is not preventing roadway collisions due to poor traffic enforcement and because the roads themselves are designed to be dangerous. If more funding to the Oakland Police Department was the solution to a safer city, it would have worked by now.”

The City Council is expected to go on a retreat this Friday, March 3, to discuss their budget priorities. According to the city’s budget timeline, councilmembers discuss priorities “based on the assessment of stakeholder needs, concerns, and priorities.” 

The final council priorities in the budget process are due by March 15. Thao will make her final policy decisions, including the budget, by the end of the month, with the help of the city administrator. The mayor’s proposed budget is expected to be released on May 1, 2023, and will be followed by community forums and a Police Commission hearing during the summer. The deadline to adopt the full city budget for the next two years is June 30, 2023. 

Sean Maher, a spokesperson for the City of Oakland, told the Oaklandside that once the budget draft is made available in May, the Thao administration looks forward to hearing from “community  members and groups to voice their feedback and priorities.”

Traffic Violence Rapid Response’s Carter Lavin handed out fliers in Spanish at the Fruitvale BART station during the work commute earlier today. Source: Carter Lavin

The Traffic Violence Rapid Response group grew out of a vigil in June 2022 for East Bay resident and sommelier Jonathan Waters who was struck and killed by a driver on Shattuck Avenue in North Oakland. Over the following months, the group organized other protests around traffic violence including for a Samoan family that was hit on the sidewalk on International Boulevard during an illegal police chase, causing the death of Lolomania Soakai, and for William Jackson Sr., a long-time West Oakland resident who was hit and killed as he returned home from visiting a sick friend. 

The Traffic Violence Rapid Response organizers say they’re trying to build as big a coalition as possible to advocate for increased road safety funding. They are seeking support from other local and regional transit and social organizations. The Sierra Club, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and the Alameda County Democratic Party are supporting their petition, while the board of directors at Bike East Bay has not yet made their decision known. 

Bike East Bay advocacy director Robert Prinz told the Oaklandside that the organization has previously recommended moving traffic enforcement responsibilities and associated funding from the police to OakDOT as part of Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force.

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.