Bay Area/ Oakland/ Politics & Govt
Published on February 20, 2017
'Adopt a Spot' Program Turns Oakland Residents Into Public Space StewardsOakland volunteers on Earth Day 2016. (Photo via Oakland Public Works Environmental Services)

All this rain is making Oakland green again, but there’s an unpaid task force also working to keep the city clean. The volunteers are part of Adopt a Spot, a city-sponsored program that lets residents become stewards of Oakland’s public space. Adopters can be seen picking up litter, painting over graffiti, restoring native plants and installing works of art throughout the city.

"Adopt a Spot folks agree to maintain a spot,” said Mike Perlmutter of the city's Environmental Services Division. “They see that there’s something that needs attention and say, ‘how can we do something about this?’ and we provide them with tools, guidance, and technical information."

More than 1,200 residents have signed up for Adopt a Spot, caring for parks, open spaces, creeks, sidewalks and rights of way. Some of the most popular sites adopted are also among the city’s least charismatic — around 800 people have signed up to keep storm drains clear.

“A lot of folks are motivated when the rains come,” said Perlmutter. For residents who want a direct way to benefit their block, adopting a drain is an easy way of keeping their street clean and safe. The program has been so popular the city even maintains a map of adopted drains.

Volunteer demonstrating how to care for a drain. | Photo via OPWES

The city provides litter grabbers, brooms, dust pans, rakes, shovels, pitchforks, paint (for graffiti removal) and more hefty tools for open space management. Because volunteers also work to restore environmentally sensitive areas, the program partners with the Friends of Sausal Creek to connect volunteers with resources such as know-how and native plants.

There’s no exact figure for how much money Adopt a Spot saves Oakland in maintenance costs, but volunteers prevent flood damage, remove trash from illegal dump sites and plant trees without adding to the city's bottom line. But the city cleanups and Adopt a Spot program are good in ways besides the budgetary, according to Perlmutter.

Leona Canyon cleanup. | Photo courtesy OPWES

"There are two types of benefits that this program provides,” he said. “You can see that the neighborhood is cleaner, you can see that there’s public art, healthier habitat," said Permutter, who added that participants are also "meeting their neighbors, are strengthening their communities. By cleaning up their streets they’re showing that there’s an ethic of caring out there."

"There’s  a lot of great volunteers in the city and lot of issues that need attention, a lot of opportunity to initiate and to bring in one’s own efforts,” sa Perlmutter. “If they want to take ownership of those issues, the city is here to support their efforts.”

“It’s unusual,” he says. “Not every city has this. It’s something that Oakland does that people have reason to be proud of."