Public Stairs | Background
When Oakmore was first being developed in the 1920’s, multiple stairs/paths were included in the planning. They were intended to allow pedestrians to cut through the hills both as a convenience and as a means to safety in an emergency. Four of these planned paths were built; the remaining have become overgrown and are now blocked paths. The four existing sets of stairs are located between:
- Arden Place to Bridgeview Drive (stairs #1)
- Bridgeview Drive to Leimert Boulevard (stairs #2), beginning across the street from the top of stairs #1
- Leimert Boulevard to Oakview Drive (stairs #3)
- Hoover Avenue to Oakview Drive (stairs #4), at the end of the cul-de-sac
After 60+ years, the stairs began showing varying amount of decay and stress. Deferred maintenance for about 25 years contributed to the deterioration. Stairs 2 and 3 were in dramatically bad condition. #2 was concrete, with rail tie nosing for many steps near the top. All of the rail ties eventually disappeared due to decay and the abuse caused by an incident when motorcyclists rodeup the stairs; the foreshortened treads could not accommodate a size-6 foot placed squarely on them. #3 was in even worse shape. The asphalt and rail ties had disintegrated; with the added hazard of decaying vegetation coating the stairs, going down the stairs was akin to tobogganing by foot. Neither set of stairs had handrails.
Remarkably, Oakmore residents and neighbors adjacent to Oakmore were still using all of the stairs. Property owners living adjacent to the stairs needed access to their rear yards, and people in general were using them for the very purpose they were designed, namely cutting through the hills.
In 2000, the Oakmore Homes Association undertook the challenge of getting the stairs repaired. They had become a public hazard, but with the public unwilling to give up using them, it was important to restore them to safety. Since these are city-owned public paths, OHA initiated contact with city officials about improving the situation.
February 2000: OHA called the Public Works Agency (PWA).
May 2000: After 3 months and 17 calls, an inspector came to evaluate the condition of stairs 1 and 2. He said that #1 could be repaired, including replacing the handrails. #2 would require reconstruction rather than repairs, and that amount of money was not available. The inspector suggested shutting down #2. The director’s reply to that suggestion was that it was not an acceptable solution.
June 2000: Signs appeared without notice at the top and bottom of stairs 1 and 2.
July 2000: Both sets of neighbors at the top of #2 wrote to then-Councilman Dick Spees. Petitions protesting this ‘solution’ were posted at stairs 1, 2, and 3 and garnered 77 signatures in just one weekend. OHA wrote to Councilman Spees and included pictures of the poor condition of the stairs. OHA also began an email campaign with PWA and Mr. Spees’ office.
August 2000: Niccolo DeLuca, Mr. Spees’ community liaison, made a site visit to all 4 sets of stairs. He reported back to Mr. Spees that Oakmore had a real public safety issue surrounding the stairs and that posting signs was not an adequate response. It was during this time that the dilapidated condition of the Merriewood stairs (also District 4) became known through highly effective publicity by its own advocates. (They prepared a short film showing, among other things, a dog fleeing down the stairs ahead of a loose rail tie.)
September – December 2000: Spurred on by the requests from Oakmore and Merriewood, Councilman Spees asked the Public Works Committee for attention on repairing these public paths. The Committee asked PWA to prepare a report on the state of all of Oakland ’s public stairs and paths, the costs for repairing and maintaining them, and a timeline for repairs. This report showed that out of about 75 stairs and pathways in the city, about 50 were in poor condition and in dire need of repairs. The estimated cost of repairs was approximately six million dollars.
The Committee then asked the staff to rank the stairs and paths according to the severity of condition and to give an estimate for repairing the top 10 on this list. The supplemental PWA identified Merriewood as being in the worst condition and had closed it. Oakmore’s stairs #2 was ranked as 4th worst, and #3 was 8th on the short list. The estimated the cost of repairing the 10 most severely damaged stairs was over three million dollars.
January 2001: Councilman Spees, Claudette Ford (then Director of PWA), and Berry Weiland Jr. (Asst. Director, PWA Maintenance) met with the Oakmore community. They described the process of site preparation, design, seeking and allocating funds, and contracting out the work.
April 2001: Funding for fixing Merriewood’s stairs was located.
July 2002: Funding for Oakmore’s project was identified. Oakmore’s repairs would have to wait until after Merriewood was finished. Their project was anticipated to take about a year to design and build, but in actuality, it took more than 18 months. The City first started the work as an in-house project. The scope of work turned out to much more than expected and a contractor was brought in, thereby delaying the original timeline.
January – September 2003: PWA staff met with the Oakmore community several times. Design, timelines, and logistical details were discussed. The City hired a contractor to carry out the work. $250,000 was available from Measure B to pay for the project.
The sidewalk and culvert at the foot of stair #4 was also repaired. Last bit of follow-up was that in September 2004, coir blankets were installed beneath stairs #3 to halt soil erosion during the rainy season until the slope was re-vegetated.
July 2004: In July of 2004 the project was completed. We felt it was important to promote this accomplishment and increase public awareness of similar historical assets. We also wanted to publicly thank our elected representatives, the Public Works Agency and our neighbors, for contributing to this revitalization of Oakmore. To that end, our organization co-sponsored a celebration and ribbon cutting ceremony with 4th District Councilmember Jean Quan.
Together, we spread the word and rallied the neighborhood to stage an event that was prominently featured in the local press. We are proud to have helped not just our local neighborhood, but also the larger community of Oakland by publicizing our restoration efforts and making sure that the City officials and employees involved received credit for making something positive happen.
November 2004: In September 2004, the Oakland Heritage Alliance solicited nominations for their annual Partners in Preservation awards. Board President Kurt Lavenson submitted the project as a candidate, and it won an award for rehabilitation. The honor and the press that accompanied it provided support back to the Association’s volunteers, the Public Works Agency, and Oakmore’s City Councilmembers.
Oakmore salutes the following Public Works Agency personnel for all of their invaluable assistance and work on our stairs: Raul Godinez II , Director; Claudette Ford, former Director; Mike Neary; Wlad Wlassowsky; Julius Kale; David Lau; Eric Uddenberg ; Emad Mirsaeidi ; and Berry Weiland. Furthermore, Oakmore is very grateful to former Councilmember Dick Spees and his chief-of-staff Niccolo DeLuca (who is now an assistant City Manager) and Councilmember Jean Quan for their help and intervention.
The PWA staff is justifiably proud of the work done on our stairs. They are particularly pleased with stairs #2, which they feel are the prettiest stairs in Oakland . Due to the heavy price tag of the construction, this design will probably not be repeated, so Oakmore has a unique set of stairs.
~ By Virginia Lew
~ Photos courtesy of Kurt Lavenson