Downed trees along Redwood Road caused a street closure during January's storms. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

This was a winter of record storms across California, including a series of  atmospheric rivers that dumped incredible amounts of rain on the East Bay. Oakland experienced more than 18 inches of rain over just the first 23 days of this year, totaling over 69% of the annual average rainfall. 

A new city report documents the impact this winter’s storms had on public infrastructure. 

The Department of Public Transportation’s assessment focuses on landslides and washouts that led to road closures, and potholes that were created or grew in size during the storms in January 2023. 

According to the report, the month-long storm event left a significant mark on the city and had workers scrambling to respond to a flurry of repair requests. Oakland activated its Emergency Operations Center to deal with the unusually large number of problems caused by the severe weather.

Six roads in the Oakland hills were damaged by excessive water that washed away soils and caused pavement to collapse, requiring permanent repair. And eight roads had to be closed because of problems like the massive sinkhole that popped up in front of the Oakland Zoo’s main entrance, and flooding that submerged part of 42nd Avenue.

Oakland residents reported in January 369 potholes and other roadway depressions through the city’s Oak311 app—the main place for residents to report downed trees, flooding, and landslides. These new requests were in addition to the approximately 1,000 outstanding requests for pothole repairs received via Oak311 in 2022.

The report documents only a fraction of the winter storms’ lasting damage. Atmospheric rivers continued to pummel the Bay Area throughout February and March, and have led to flooded highways, the displacement of residents of an East Oakland apartment building, and the death of a man who was living in a tent near Lake Merritt. 

Winter storm damage isn’t a new occurrence. In 2017, the city  received over $3 million in relief aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Office of Emergency Services to repair public infrastructure damaged by storms. And 2019 began with an atmospheric river event that resulted in 543 requests to Oak311 for pothole repairs. 

This year’s report, however, recognizes the growing threat of climate change for the Bay Area, including more frequent and more intense atmospheric rivers. OakDOT staff wrote in the report that communities of color are affected the most by recent storms because “aging infrastructure” in lower income areas “is more susceptible to storm damage.”

City staff is working with the state and federal government to seek reimbursement for all eligible storm-related damages. The winter storm resulted in about $7 million in damages to public infrastructure. Public Works staff recommend the city establish a “Disaster Emergency Restoration Fund” to make needed repairs without waiting for federal aid to be processed.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.