Oakland, California is in the midst of some tough financial times. The city is facing a $25 million operating deficit this year, and providing all of the basic services that those of us living in better-managed cities take for granted — like parks, street lights, and adequately maintained roads — just aren’t within Oakland’s current budgetary capabilities.
Right now, Oakland has 7,700 unaddressed service requests to fix potholes on Oakland city streets. The quality of streets in Oakland has been found by a recent study to be among the worst in the country, with bone-jarring potholes and other street-quality issues estimated to cost Oakland drivers an extra $1,000 a year in car repair and maintenance costs. And to add insult to injury for hapless Oakland drivers, Oakland officials have decided that $2.9 million in money that has been generated by California’s high state gas taxes — money that is supposed to be used for road repair — will be used for street lights and parks instead. Rather than providing some immediate pothole relief with the money earmarked for that purpose, Oakland is promising that it will move forward with a project to spend $100 million on street repairs over the next three years.
So what’s a frustrated Oakland driver who is tired of having to pay hundreds of dollars in car repair costs out of pocket because city fathers aren’t providing basic services to do? Two Oakland residents have decided to take matters into their own hands. They call themselves the “Pothole Vigilantes,” and at night they’ve gone out to tackle potholes in certain Oakland neighborhoods. After they’ve made their repairs, they post videos of their work on Instagram, where they also solicit suggestions for new pothole projects, and donations.
Oakland city administrators asked about the work of the “Pothole Vigilantes” say that they sympathize with the frustration about unrepaired potholes, but they “can’t recommend anyone do this work themselves, not least because it raises safety issues while people are working in the streets.” No kidding! People pay taxes so their cities will do the work in a way that is safe, planned, and handled by people who know what they’re doing — but if cities fail to deliver on basic services, they shouldn’t be surprised that some people will take matters into their own hands.
If you had to drive every day on a street with a monster chuckhole that was never fixed and growing ever larger, wouldn’t you be tempted to try to fix it yourself? And while the safety issues involved in citizens going out to do road repair under cover of darkness are obvious, there’s also something admirable about people who aren’t content to sit back and wait forever for an inept city government and its budgetary shell game to complete repairs, and instead have decided that some self-help is in order. Don’t blame the fed-up “Pothole Vigilantes,” blame the city government whose failures produced the conditions that gave rise to their vigilantism in the first place.