Oakland's 'Pothole Vigilantes' Take Street Repairs Into Their Own Hands

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A group calling itself Oakland Pothole Vigilantes have taken it upon themselves to fix every pothole in the city. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The so-called Pothole Vigilantes started as two friends with a simple goal: fix every pothole in Oakland.

Bay Curious

"Every single one," said Brian, who asked that his last name be withheld. He started the group about a month ago with his friend Eric, who also didn't want to give his last name.

"I grew up in the East Bay Area," Eric said. "Then I recently moved back to Oakland in February, and I just realized it's riddled with potholes."

Then one day, Eric says he had "an epiphany": he and Brian could fix the potholes.

They started with the ones they knew about and eventually started taking requests on their Instagram account. They set up a GoFundMe page where people would make donations to help them pay for asphalt.

Brian and Eric estimate they’ve raised around $6,500 and filled about 30 potholes, but they need more than just money to reach their ultimate goal of filling every pothole.

"So we decided to come up with this meetup to have the community come out and fill the potholes in their streets," Brian said.

On the Streets With the Pothole Vigilantes

Oakland's Pothole Vigilantes held a meetup to train more people to fill potholes and to hand out T-shirts.
Oakland's Pothole Vigilantes held a meetup to train more people to fill potholes and to hand out T-shirts. (Sonja Hutson/KQED)

On a Thursday evening in Oakland, Brian and Eric pull up next to a park with a U-Haul carrying bags of asphalt for their first "Pothole Vigilante Meetup."

People start to trickle in, loading the bags of asphalt into their cars, grabbing Pothole Vigilante T-shirts and getting quick tutorials from Eric and Brian.

"It says a lot about the culture here," said Riley Laws, who came to get tips and supplies. "Oakland isn't just a city that's just rampant with negativity. You have people there that are actually doing something."

Once it gets dark, Brian and Eric climb into a black pickup truck and head to a quiet street near Lake Merritt that they know has a lot of potholes.

"Let's get this one," Eric says as they pull on to Bellevue Avenue.

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The vigilantes hop out of the truck, put a flashing yellow light on top of it and get to work.

The process for filling a pothole is pretty simple, Eric said.

First, kick any debris like rocks and leaves out of the pothole. Next, pour in a couple bags of asphalt (the vigilantes usually use a couple 50-pound bags per pothole).

Then, use a tamper to hit the asphalt until it's compressed and there's a half-inch of asphalt above the rest of the street. Finally, the vigilantes run over the potholes with the truck to compress the asphalt even more.

Right as they are finishing up, a woman drives by and opens her window.

"Are you the Pothole Vigilantes?" she asks.

"We are!" Eric replies.

"Oh my god, I honor you, I worship you, I wish I could vote for you guys for mayor of Oakland," she says.

City Planning $100 Million Repaving Program

Brian and Eric have no plans to run for mayor, but they have captured the attention of the current mayor, Libby Schaaf.

The City Council greenlit the $100 million dollar repaving plan, although the funding still needs to be approved, with a vote set for June.

The plan calls for around triple the amount of money Oakland usually spends each year on street repair, said Ryan Russo, director of the city's Department of Transportation.

"We haven't really prioritized maintenance and infrastructure in the way we should," Russo said. "But this paving plan really means that help is on the way."

Under the new plan, the city will take into account an area's income and racial makeup when deciding which streets to prioritize repaving.

But Brian and Eric say that’s not enough, and they'll keep filling as many potholes as they can.