OAKLAND -- There is a new group aimed at stamping out the ongoing litter problem in the Dimond District. Longtime Dimond activist Kathleen Russell and Stan Dodson have joined forces again, this time in a fundraising effort to augment the district's current biweekly volunteer litter patrol effort.

They call themselves "Help! Keep Dimond Clean." The new group is a partnership between La Farine Bakery and the Dimond Improvement Association.

About 230 pounds of litter a week, or six tons a year, are being removed from the Dimond's central business district, radiating from MacArthur Boulevard and Fruitvale Avenue. But the volunteer effort cannot keep up with the amount of litter that accumulates in the area each day.

"It really needs a daily cleanup," Russell said.

The estimated price tag for hiring a cleaning crew five days a week to supplement the volunteer effort is $12,000 a year.

The good news is that the group is already halfway to its goal because the Dimond Improvement Association and the Dimond Business and Professional Association have chipped in $3,000 each from proceeds raised by the district's Oaktoberfest, leaving the group to raise the remaining $6,000 from local residents and individual businesses.

The Dimond District is not a Commercial Benefit District, which taxes property owners and uses proceeds to improve the neighborhood. While the formation of such a district has been under discussion for sometime in the Dimond, it remains uncertain if landlords, many of whom do not live in the area, would vote to tax themselves.

Furthermore, the formation of a district requires a study that runs anywhere from $11,000 to $17,000. In the past, the city of Oakland would bankroll such studies. However, because of budget constraints, the city will only earmark $5,000 for the cause, Russell said.

Other challenges facing the community group revolve around AC Transit and the city Public Works Department's inability to coordinate efforts within the district.

"The city's (Public Works) lackluster effort contributes to the problem," Dodson said. "We can't even get them to empty the garbage on a regular basis. We always have to call and request service every time."

Dodson has timed his own efforts in emptying the trash.

"It took me seven minutes (to complete the task)," he said. "It took Public Works a half-hour."

The cans in question are located in a parking lot in the business district. The cans actually fall under the jurisdiction of the city Parks and Recreation Department, according to Brook Levin, assistant director of Public Works.

"I am aware of the problem, and we are looking at ways in which we can increase service. My staff is currently looking for options," Levin said.

"Parks and recreation staff has been cut 55 percent since 2008. Everything outside the parks has become a lower priority," Levin said.

The epicenter for the trash is at the AC Transit bus stop. There are some 14 bus lines that transit through the district, making the Dimond one of the city's major transportation hubs.

"There is nothing that is a bigger litter magnet than a bus stop," Dodson said. "But AC Transit and the Oakland Police Department will not take responsibility for the situation."

AC Transit does not participate in the cleanup effort, Dodson said.

"The Oakland Police Department has never written a ticket for littering" he said. "It wouldn't be hard.

"This has got to change," he continued. "This is a major problem. I would love to see a bus driver ask a customer to throw their trash away. But they say that it is not their problem."

Sgt. Arturo Bautista of the Oakland Police Department said: "I sympathize with the concerns. We hear those concerns and are aware of them. We have the responsibility to prioritize calls. Life-and-death situations come first. That's the responsibility we have. This is an opportunity for us to come together with the community and search for solutions."

Bautista explained that officers much catch litterers in the act in order to write a citation.

"The problem belongs to all of us," Russell said. "We have 28 dedicated volunteers, but a lot of people don't like to pick up litter. Now they have an opportunity to donate to the effort."

In addition to donations from residents and community organizations, the group hopes to get donations from the areas corporations. Donations will be processed through the Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation.

In the meantime, Russell is searching for a nonprofit entity with local ties in order to keep money in the community.

"This is a community effort," Russell said. "We are coming together and doing this. We can't wait."

For more information, go to www. keepdimondclean.com.

FYI
For more information about the efforts to clean up the Dimond District, go to www.keepdimondclean.com.