The Oakland Museum of California got approval from the City Council last week to spend almost $7 million in a new contract to enter the next phase of its massive renovation project -- though it won't cost the city anything.

The museum raised the money from private donors to help fund its ongoing, $63-million capital improvement project, Executive Director Lori Fogarty said Thursday. The Council still has to approve of contracts because of how the project was initially funded, she said, but it should have no real economic impact on the city while it's in progress.

The chief project is the Natural Sciences gallery, which will see big changes as Cahill Contractors performs the work.

"We're completely transforming the gallery," Fogarty said. "In the past it's been habitat cases, mostly showing plant and animal life. What we're focusing on more now is stewardship and conservation, and how California is a biodiversity hot spot in the world."

The focus will be on Oakland's own habitats, "encouraging us not to think of nature as a place in a state park three hours away, but the incredible biodiversity right in our backyard," Fogarty said.

The museum will remain open during the work, and the new exhibits are on track to be unveiled in the summer of 2012, she added. For more information, go to www.museumca.org.

Youth leaders welcomed


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A program aimed at engaging Oakland youth from disadvantaged neighborhoods in the true workings of their government will welcome a new generation to its ranks in the coming weeks, with several new members to be confirmed.

The Oakland Youth Commission, formed in the 1980s but "an off and on kind of thing" in the years since, is a group of up to 25 Oaklanders ages 13 to 21 that analyzes local issues and city policies relating to youth issues and gives presentations to city leaders.

Korey Gibson, 19, grew up in deep East Oakland and joined the commission about a year ago, he said.

"We go in depth, understanding bylaws and initiatives that involve youth services," he said. "Youth are a community that definitely needs to be addressed, so we're about having us involved in learning about what's really doing on."

Chantal Reynolds, a coordinator with the program, said she used to be a teacher struggling to give children an opportunity to grow, but "when they went back to their home and other environments, drugs were there, gangs were there, and there's only so much you can do. So with this we're working to change the environment."

Said Gibson: "There's lots of death and destruction going on, but a lot of positive things going on on the flip side in Oakland.

"For someone just finding out about this, I'd say start attending youth commission meetings and get an ear in, first off, on what's going on. It's the first step to really making something happen within your community."

For information on the group, call 510-238-3245 or e-mail youthcommission@oaklandnet.com.

Targeting vehicles involved in crimes

The Oakland City Council is expected to pass new city laws Tuesday making prostitution a city crime, so city attorneys don't have to rely on an overburdened county prosecutor's office to take the cases to court. It allows police to tow and impound for 30 days vehicles used in the crime, including those driven by johns.

The laws are a joint effort by police and the city attorney's office, sponsored by Councilmember Pat Kernighan (Chinatown-Lake Merritt), who said she's heard numerous complaints about an increasingly severe prostitution problem in different parts of the city.

The towing law also applies to those who engage in illegal dumping, though in both cases, a suspect must have been convicted of the same crime in the past three years.

Residents are encouraged to help enforcement efforts by taking pictures of cars or trucks they see being used to drive or pick up prostitutes or illegally dump in neighborhoods. Photos can be e-mailed to police at youthandfamilyservices@oaklandnet.com or to the Public Works Agency at pwacallcenter@oaklandnet.com. Police also have a nonemergency prostitution tip line at 510-238-2373.

Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.