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After Two Years, Wood Street Safe Parking Site Opens

The struggle to open the site began in the summer of 2019 when Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf announced plans for the city to sanction the opening of a safe parking site near Wood Street, saying the site would open “in the coming months,” but the project soon faced delays.

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The City of Oakland has opened a safe parking site, where people can legally live in RVs and trailers and receive services, through a Berkeley based non-profit called Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency. Mayor Libby Schaaf announced plans for the site in the summer of 2019, but the project faced delays. Photo by Zack Haber on July 9.

On July 7, the Berkeley based non-profit Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) opened a site, sanctioned by The City of Oakland, for people to legally park and reside in RVs or trailers while having access to electrical hookups, fresh drinking water, and portable toilets.

It sits just west of Wood Street in West Oakland and in the middle of a large community of homeless people. The site had been planned since 2019 but took over two years to open in part due to protests and an occupation.

As of Tuesday, people living in six RVs and one trailer have moved into the site. Some homeless residents who live nearby have shared concerns about their ability to access the site, skepticism that it would meet their needs, and worries that it could displace those in their community who are not able or interested in moving to the site. City of Oakland Public Information Officer Autumn King said the site could accommodate 40 total RVs or trailers.

The struggle to open the site began in the summer of 2019 when Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf announced plans for the city to sanction the opening of a safe parking site near Wood Street, saying the site would open “in the coming months,” but the project soon faced delays.

In early November of that year, Oakland oversaw a two-day clearance of a 1.5-acre parcel of land just west of Wood Street in order to make the land available for a non-profit to open the site. City workers and a contracted towing company removed vehicles, both inhabited and abandoned, from the parcel along with possessions and trash. Oakland’s Police Department also asked people to leave the property with their possessions, but faced resistance from a group of over 35 protestors.

During that year the handful of residents remained on the parcel, and the safe parking site was not constructed. In July of 2020, released e-mails between members of Oakland’s City Administration, City Council, and Game Changer’s lawyer, Patricia Smith, showed the company planned to lease the land to the city for $1 a year to allow a non-profit to use it for a safe parking site.

A proposed lease in an e-mail Oakland’s City Administration sent to Smith led some to believe, increasingly, that the site’s construction could displace residents. The lease quoted The City of Oakland Geographic Emergency Shelter Intervention Policy and stated that one goal for such a parking site is “alleviating the impacts encampments have on the surrounding community.”

It also stated that when such sites open “the city determines an area surrounding the site that is considered an invitation zone,” where those living nearby are invited to participate, but that once the site fills up “the invitation zone becomes the closure zone and enforcement is used to remove or prevent the return of any encampment in that area.”

The parcel for the proposed parking site sits in the middle of a community of homeless residents who live on land owned by Oakland or CalTrans. While no one knows exactly how many people live there, and the population often changes, recent articles in The SFChronicle and The Guardian suggested the population to be in the hundreds. While residents and supporters worried that many members of this population who could not access or were not interested in accessing a safe parking site would be evicted from the area, it was also unclear what would happen to residents living on site after the lease ended. In an interview from November 2020, Smith stated Game Changer planned to develop the land within two or three years.

In November 2020, about 60 advocates and residents showed up to protest Alameda County Sheriffs evicting the handful of people who still remained on Game Changer’s land. Some protestors locked arms in front of the entrance to the gate, delaying the sheriffs’ work. While all residents left the tract of land, their property remained onsite, and some returned later in the day.

After another smaller protest, Game Changer agreed to a settlement with the residents. Several residents received about $2,200 each on the condition that they leave, while another received a large storage unit and yet another received a trailer to live in. With the land cleared of occupants, the city signed a lease with Game Changer LLC to use the land, and eventually contracted with BOSS to open the site, although that process took an additional eight months while the parcel sat vacant and fenced off.

Now opened, some residents fear eviction and are skeptical of the site

The Oakland Post interviewed six residents who live near the recently opened safe parking site. One of them, who goes by the name Puffy, is in the process of moving into the site but is pessimistic about it.

“I don’t want to move in there,” he said. “But I pretty much don’t have a choice.”

While pointing to an area where homeless people live along Wood Street, he said “They can’t have this in a photo op. When it’s open and going, everybody around here is going to have to go.”

The City of Oakland has not posted any eviction notices near the safe parking site recently. Janis Mara, a spokesperson for CalTrans, said that agency has not currently scheduled any clearances for the Wood Street homeless community. But residents are still worried.

Another resident, who asked not to be named because they fear being excluded from the site, had been evicted by the City of Oakland and CalTrans in the past, and is considering moving into the safe parking site. The resident is hesitant to move to the site but seeks security from eviction.

“I don’t want to lose what I’ve established here as my home,” he said. “I’ve gotten used to the area and the community we’ve developed here. But the site is a place where you don’t have to worry. There’s this constant threat of eviction looming over my head.”

Ramona Mason, who lives on CalTrans owned land near the site, said she would not move to the site because she believes it would not allow her to bring her dogs. Another resident, who asked not to be named because he wants to maintain a good relationship with those who operate the site, said he was surprised that no one had approached him about the site since he lives right outside its gate. He stays in a self-made home.

“I would absolutely consider moving there,” said Gill Vasquez, who lives in an RV near Wood Street. “But no one’s reached out to me. What I would like to see is them notifying people, letting us know if there’s an opportunity for us to have a space.”

Vasquez also noted that a portion of land next to the Safe RV Parking site was left vacant and fenced off. He wondered why the safe parking site did not include that portion of land. County records show this area is part of the same parcel the city is leasing from Game Changer LLC. It makes up about a third of the total parcel. When asked if the city had plans for this portion of the parcel, Oakland PIO Autumn King said, “there are no finalized plans for the other side of the site at this time.”

Puffy claimed that when he agreed to move to the site, representatives from BOSS told him he could not cook and that only one person was allowed to live in each RV or trailer, although they would allow one visitor per day.

“They expect you to eat their food and you can’t live with your girlfriend or boyfriend,” he said.

BOSS has not responded to e-mailed questions including a request to share the list of rules they ask residents of the site to follow. Puffy said he was not given a copy of the rules.

One resident, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation from the city or CalTrans, said the site would not offer them anything they did not already have. They noted that many residents had already figured out how to access electricity and water from nearby sources.

“What can they offer me except more rules?” they said.

Bay Area

Council Approves Additional Public Safety Investments

Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland Community Centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response. 

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Stop typography on a sidewalk in Sterling Virginia during the fall photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador via Unsplash

Councilmember Sheng Thao

Councilmembers, community leaders, and city staff,  approved public safety investments for Oakland recommended by Councilmember Sheng Thao

These additions, approved Monday afternoon, included investments that align with the city’s reimagining public safety goals. The City Council unanimously approved Councilmember Thao’s budget amendments, which included investments in:

  • Traffic Calming and Sideshow Prevention
  • Faster 911 Response
  • Restoring Foot Patrol officers in business corridors during the holiday season
  • Business District Ambassadors
  • Adding Public Restrooms near homeless encampments
  • Investments to job training and resources

“My top priority is public safety, which means addressing violent crime, street safety, poverty, and homelessness,” said Thao.

“These budget amendments invest in our community and increase our Police Department’s ability to prevent and respond to violent crimes. These amendments will also protect our business corridors so Oaklanders can feel safe while they shop, and in turn, invest in our Oakland businesses.”

Said Oakland Police Chief LeRonne L. Armstrong, “I would like to thank Oakland City Council Member Sheng Thao and other Council Members for their vote and support with additional funding.

“These funds will provide walking officers in our business districts across the city during this holiday season. The funds allow us to restore much needed public safety services, walking officers, while our community and visitors shop across our city.”

Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland Community Centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response.

“These amendments also help address decades of divestment from our BIPOC communities in East Oakland,” she said. “By bringing investments into street safety, beautification, and city services. It is important that we stay committed to equity for East Oakland.

“Our office made a point to work with Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor to bring these amendments forward, and I thank them for their strong partnership in this work,” said Councilmember Thao.

 

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Bay Area

Where Do Negotiations Go Now After A’s “Howard Terminal” or Bust Ultimatum?

The A’s are seeking to develop 55 acres at the Port of Oakland. The proposal includes a 35,000-seat baseball stadium, which would cost $1 billion, or 8.3% of the total project.

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Oakland A's Photo Courtesy of Rick Rodriquez via Unsplash

FILE – In this Nov. 17, 2016, file photo, Oakland Athletics President David Kaval gestures during a news conference in Oakland, Calif. TheAthletics will be phased out of revenue sharing in the coming years as part of baseball’s new labor deal, and that puts even more urgency on the small-budget franchise’s plan to find the right spot soon to build a new, privately funded ballpark. Kaval, named to his new A’s leadership position last month, is committed to making quick progress but also doing this right. That means strong communication with city and civic leaders as well as the community and fan base. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

John Fisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikki Fortunato

Rebecca Kaplan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oakland’s City Council rejected the A’s proposed non-binding term sheet, which the team had presented to the City along with an ultimatum, “Howard Terminal or Bust.”

At a packed City Council meeting last week, attended by 1,000 people on Zoom, many residents were angry at what they viewed as the A’s real estate “land grab” at the Port of Oakland and either said that the team should leave or stay at the Oakland Coliseum in East Oakland.
Rejecting the A’s term sheet, councilmembers at the July 20th meeting voted 6-1 with one abstention to make a counteroffer, approving city staff’s and Council’s amendments to the A’s term sheet.

Council’s vote was to continue negotiating with the A’s, and the A’s gained substantial concessions, $352 million, enough to return for further negotiations, in Oakland. The Council’s vote didn’t derail A’s pursuit of Las Vegas.

Now, over a week since Council’s vote, neither A’s President Dave Kaval nor owner John Fisher have spoken publically on the A’s intent to continue bargaining with Oakland for their proposed $12 billion waterfront development at Howard Terminal.

The A’s are seeking to develop 55 acres at the Port of Oakland. The proposal includes a 35,000-seat baseball stadium, which would cost $1 billion, or 8.3% of the total project.

In addition to the stadium, the development features 3,000 condominium/housing units; over a million square feet of commercial space (office and retail); a 3,500-seat performance theater, 400 hotel rooms and approximately 18 acres of parks and open space.

The most fundamental sticking point, along with all the other complications, is whether a commercial/residential development, ‘a city within a city,” in the middle of a working seaport are compatible uses for the land. Many experts are saying that the existence of upscale residences and thousands of tourists strolling around will eventually destroy the Port of Oakland, which is the economic engine of the city and the region.

According to Kaval, who had pushed for the Council to approve the ultimatum, “We’re disappointed that the city did not vote on our proposal … we’re going to take some time and really dig in and understand and ‘vet’ what they did pass and what all the amendments mean.”

Although the A’s stated a willingness to be open to the amended terms Council approved, Kaval expressed uncertainty whether the Council’s amended term sheet offers “a path forward.”

“The current [amended] term sheet as its constructed is not a business partnership that works for us,” said Kaval, saying the team would have to examine the Council’s counter-offer before deciding to resume negotiations or return to Las Vegas or focus on finding a new home someplace else.

City Council President Bas and Mayor Libby Schaaf joined city and labor leaders to discuss the Council’s vote. Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan made it clear that the amended term sheet the Council approved should be considered a “road map for future negotiations … a baseline for further discussions.”

Upon Kaval’s dismissal of the Council’s stated positions, Fife said, “I don’t know where we go from here,” abstaining from the vote on the proposed term sheet.

Many find Kaval’s statement confusing because he used words like partnership but apparently ignored and/or disregarded the City of Oakland – the A’s major stakeholder and a business partnership since 1968, more than 53 years.

Some are asking if the A’s understand that Oakland’s 53-year relationship with the team is the basis for the meme “Rooted in Oakland?” Are the A’s willing to accept, as the Council has determined, that the terms of the business “partnership” must be equitable and mutually beneficial for all of “us”?

And the question remains after a 53-year relationship, is it reasonable to terminate that relationship or negotiate further for an equitable and mutually beneficial business partnership?

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Bay Area

East Oakland Fire Brings the City’s Struggle with Homelessness Into Light

Just after midnight on July 24, 2021, an empty warehouse in the Melrose District of East Oakland caught fire; by 12:30 a.m. the structure was engulfed in flames, the intense heat snapping power lines and causing nearby transformers to blow, leaving nearly 1,500 customers without power.

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Firefighter sprays water toward the remnants of a structure that caught fire in the early morning hours of July 24, 2021. The intense heat snapped power lines and blew transformers leaving 1,486 customers without service (Photo Credit/ Franklin Avery)

Just after midnight on July 24, 2021, an empty warehouse in the Melrose District of East Oakland caught fire; by 12:30 a.m. the structure was engulfed in flames, the intense heat snapping power lines and causing nearby transformers to blow, leaving nearly 1,500 customers without power.  

Days before the fire, a homeless encampment with a few tents were pitched up against an outside wall of the wood warehouse, according to a resident of the neighborhood. 

Early Sunday morning, just before 1 a.m. an alert of a structure fire went out on the Citizen app. Videos posted by citizens in Oakland showed different angles of a two-story structure on fire on the corner of 12th St. and 45th Ave near High Street. 

According to an eyewitness account, the building was completely engulfed in flames at 12:30 a.m. Firefighters arrived on the scene at 12:40 a.m. and went to work on the flames, containing the fire to the warehouse and preventing it from threatening nearby buildings. 

An apartment building next door was evacuated for a short time. One resident hosed down the roof as large embers threatened the building before firefighters arrived. Eyewitness video shows firefighters walking through a smoke-filled hallway of the apartment building. 

Although the fire is still under investigation, an eyewitness to the fire and resident of the Melrose District, Franklin Avery, recounted his experience. “Two evenings ago, while walking my dog Roosevelt, I met up with Gerald, one of the street people I know…He confirmed my suspicion that one of the new tents that was placed on the sidewalk caught fire. He was there at the time, and he said that he tried to put it out by running across the street to the smog place to get buckets of water to throw at the blaze. Gerald said that the fire kept spreading because he couldn’t run back and forth fast enough.” 

As Oakland struggles with a swelling homeless population, fires in encampments have tripled over the past 2 years, according to a KTVU article.   

Garbage, hazardous materials, cooking equipment, generators, and illegal wiring have contributed to many of the fires throughout Oakland, adding pollution to the air and burnt out structures and cars dotting the landscape. Housed residents worry about keeping their homes safe from fire. What is the solution? 

In 2019, Oakland opened its first 24/7 safe rv parking location for recreational vehicles. Today there are three sites open to the homeless with a fourth planned. Each site has power and plumbing. No fires have been reported at any of the sites to date. More resources need to be put into finding all the unhoused safe, sanitary living conditions. 

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan told The SF Chronicle “When RVs are parked in managed locations with proper utilities, they don’t tend to have fire problems.”

Information in this article is sourced from eyewitness accounts, Citizen app, KTVU, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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