Alameda: Infrastructure a Priority

Alameda: Infrastructure a Priority

Alameda is a special place, as was clear soon after I joined the City’s Public Works Department back in 2012. Eight years later, as I transition to a neighboring city, the specialness of Alameda is all the more clear. 

This is a city with an active, engaged community, committed City Council, and dedicated city staff trying to maintain aged infrastructure. More than 500 hundreds miles of street, sidewalk, sewer, and storm drains name just a portion of this infrastructure, all valued at more than $1 billion. Yet Alameda maintains these public goods with a staffing level that is far below peer cities.

In spite of lower staffing levels, Public Works has persevered and even thrived. Over the last five years, more than 20 miles of our streets were paved, resulting in the 2nd fastest improvement in pavement condition index of all cities in Alameda County. Eighteen miles of sewer and 14 pump stations were replaced, helping us reduce sewer overflows that can harm the Bay and lead to costly regulatory penalties. Ten miles of sidewalk were repaired, 21,000+ street trees trimmed, and a street sweeping program that prevents 823 dump trucks full of trash and debris from entering the Bay every year. All the while, staff completed necessary day-to-day maintenance, responded to 4,500 requests for service annually from the community, and remained on call through long nights of wind and rain to protect Alamedans and their property.  

Targeted investments in internal infrastructure leveraged our staff’s considerable talents and improved our public services. Master plans for most of our significant assets are complemented by a modern, GIS-based work order system; a much used online and mobile-friendly service request portal; less costly and more modern repair methods; and accreditation by the American Public Works Association, a distinction earned by less than 1% of all public works agencies in North America.

None of this would have been possible without a City Council and community who prioritize public infrastructure. This prioritization was exemplified when Alamedans elected to spend more on these public goods. In 2014 and 2019, property owners along Park and Webster streets voted to increase their own assessments to enhance maintenance of these important public spaces. In 2018, Alamedans approved a sales tax increase, enabling the City Council to fund Alameda’s first flood protection project in decades and finish construction of a nearly mile long portion of the Cross Alameda Trail. This past November, Alamedans approved a new stormwater fee to protect Alameda’s clean water program and, with time, help fund more sea level rise and flood protection projects. 

Close, trusting partnerships with community groups such as Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda (CASA), Bike Walk Alameda, Sierra Club, local business groups, and our homeowner associations were critical to improving these public goods. In particular, CASA helped Alameda become the first city in the Bay Area to prohibit plastic straws as to-go foodware, and then was a catalyst in City Council’s adoption of an award-winning climate plan already being put into action, including $1.6 million in CARP-related investments approved in the current budget.

Challenges remain. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and a long-frustrated push for racial justice and equity. Alamedans are rightly focused first and foremost on public health, public safety, and racial equity. In time, the City Council, community, and Public Works will have the time and space to address the $800 million in remaining infrastructure needs, new measures to eliminate deaths or life-altering injuries on our roadways, and accelerating progress toward the goals of our climate and zero waste plans. I am optimistic these goals will be achieved, and that optimism arises from my experience with a solutions-oriented city staff, engaged and active community, and a City Council continuing to tackle big, tough issues head on.