By Gregory K. Taylor
Would you feel comfortable eating at a restaurant whose façade boasted of faded-chipping paint? Would you use the restroom of an establishment which had one stall cordoned off with yellow tape demarcating a crime scene? Of course you wouldn’t, but that is exactly what the city of Oakland asks its ever dwindling visitors to do. Oakland is not unique when it comes to a crumbling infrastructure. One hears, all too often, about a collapsing bridge, levee, or a sewer line rupture somewhere in the contiguous USA. The recent PG&E blast of 2010 that killed people and destroyed homes in San Bruno, California was just another example of Rome’s decay and decline.
Oakland, however, exacerbates the problem by taking it out on its weary citizens. The city fathers in their infinite wisdom think, as do many cash-strapped municipalities, that the way to raise revenue is by sticking it to the public they are elected to serve through higher fees, taxes, and fines. One Strategy for such a revenue grab manifests itself through traffic enforcement in the form of longer hours and shorter minutes for parking meters, no street parking for free or for very long, a massive recruitment of, once euphemistically called, meter maids, and a scheming of an appeals process so convoluted and Byzantine that one would rather sleep on a bed of cyanide-tipped nails than fight city hall.
To fill the tax void caused by falling home prices, failed businesses, and an obscenely high unemployment rate the new mother lode of fools gold and once pilloried medical-marijuana outlets, known as Potshops, have moved in. I imagine, eventually, these Potshops will be as ubiquitous as Liquor stores—providing a splendid tandem of mind-numbing services and a steady problematic tax stream. Why not? If the State can embrace a “Lottery” system once deemed illegal and defined as a tax on the statistically-challenged, why can’t a city take in revenue from erstwhile-dubious sources? And how far off can legal prostitution be? Welcome to the new Amsterdam!
At some point, however, roads have to be maintained and the potholes filled. Otherwise, no one will traverse this city that breaks rims and undercarriages. The potholes in Oakland are so plentiful and deep that it is rare when you don’t drop into one within a two or three block area. Cars are required, much like a sailboat, to tack left and tack right in very short distances to avoid these landmines. And if you thought these foxholes were confined to the poorer-flatland areas you would be wrong. There’s a patch of road on Mountain Blvd near Ascot Drive that is as bad as any I’ve seen. It’s such a visual metaphor for what’s wrong with this town. One can judge the viability of a city, among other things, by the streets it does or doesn’t maintain. If the public conveyances are too dangerous for a shopper to ride then the city must make it safe and convenient to drive on its streets. Who will spend money here if it’s an expensive, unsafe, and--most of all--unfriendly experience?
Welcome to Oakland--enter at your economic peril.