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As Unhoused Community’s Eviction Approaches, City Council Discusses ‘Alternative Shelter’ Options 

Residents claim over 35 people live in the park and that City representatives told them they would be cleared in the first week of February and offered shared space in the City’s Community Cabins, also known as the tuff sheds. For Edward Hansen, 65, who’s lived in the park for over seven years, was born in Oakland, and just got out of the hospital after having a stroke, accepting the space would mean sharing a room with a new person he does not live with. Hansen plans to reject the offer.

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Edward Hansen, who was born in Oakland and has lived in or near Union Point Park for 7 years, holds a painted anchor at the park. Union Point Park's homeless community is set to be evicted before February 12. Photo by Zack Haber on January 17.

At a January 12 meeting, Oakland’s City Council discussed, but did not vote upon, amendments proposed by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Nikki Fortunato Bas requesting the City offer unhoused residents extended shelter stays and individual shelter units following evictions of unhoused people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Out of concern for possibly spreading the COVID-19 virus, Kaplan said that “people should not be made to share a room with those who they do not already live with.” A resolution, passed unanimously by Council on March 27 of last year, requested the City to only clear unhoused communities if it offered residents “individual housing units or alternative shelter,” but the Council still has not decided what “alternative shelter” means.

The delay will likely soon affect unhoused residents at Union Point Park, as the City plans to clear the park but does not yet have codified guidance from the Council as to what alternative shelter options they should offer unhoused people when they execute the clearance.

Due to a cease-and-desist order that the S.F. Bay Conservation and Development Commission has delivered to the City of Oakland, which the City has not challenged, residents living in Union Point Park must be cleared from the park by February 12.

Residents claim over 35 people live in the park and that City representatives told them they would be cleared in the first week of February and offered shared space in the City’s Community Cabins, also known as the tuff sheds. For Edward Hansen, 65, who’s lived in the park for over seven years, was born in Oakland, and just got out of the hospital after having a stroke, accepting the space would mean sharing a room with a new person he does not live with. Hansen plans to reject the offer.

“If they’re not going to physically push us with police, I’m going to stand my ground,” said Hansen. “From what I understand they have to offer us something a wee bit better than what we have now.”

After Council unanimously passed the Encampment Management Policy during an October 21 meeting, which set strict guidelines for where the City plans to focus unhoused community closures, Oakland’s City Administration proposed a resolution that defines what “alternative shelter” they plan to offer people like Hansen. The resolution allows “congregate” or grouped shelter, like homeless shelters and shared space in the Community Cabins, to be offered. It further stipulated that the shelter must be offered “no less than 72 hours prior to an encampment clearing” and for a stay “of at least two weeks.”

Advocates for homeless people found the resolution unacceptable and encouraged the public to call City Council members to encourage them to accept amendments by Kaplan and Bas’ that request “alternative shelter” be defined instead as offers of individual shelter units for a minimum of 90 day stays with 30 days prior notice.

“Do not let the current proposal of two weeks, potentially in congregate shelter, pass!,” the homeless advocacy group Housing and Dignity Village tweeted on January 11. “While permanent housing is always the goal…we need folks to receive AT LEAST 90 days in COVID safe housing options.”

Councilmember Loren Taylor and Dan Kalb both spoke in support of the extension of stays to at least 90 days with at least 30 days prior notification. But a point of contention arose over whether or not homeless shelters, where individuals would share space with strangers, should be considered “alternative shelter.” Taylor reiterated a claim that Homelessness Administrator Daryel Dunston made that there have thus far been no outbreaks in Oakland homeless shelters and that the shelters were operating at a reduced capacity. Kalb agreed and stated that shelters that do not require residents to leave during the day “maybe should be” used for the purpose of alternative shelter.

Kaplan expressed concerns that a new strain of COVID-19 that is more contagious could more easily spread in grouped shelters. The CDC’s website refers to it as B.1.1.7 and states that it has already been detected in the United States. She also reiterated concerns over how social distancing and mask regulations would be impossible in shelters.

“It’s not six feet or a mask; it’s six feet and a mask,” said Kaplan. “When you’re in an indoor room with other people where you would be needing to sleep and eat and take your mask off. That is not what the 6-foot standard refers to.”

Council did not discuss the Community Cabin Program but Kaplan and Bas’ amendments would still allow them to be used as long as people, excluding those who were already sharing a tent or a dwelling, were no longer forced to share single cabin units.

During the discussion at the meeting over the amendments, which lasted about an hour, Councilmember Noel Gallo suggested that the matter be brought to the newly formed homelessness commission to get their input before Council votes.

Taylor suggested Council address the issue on March 22, when they will consider amendments to the Encampment Management Policy. Council ended their discussion by unanimously agreeing to delay voting on the amendments, meaning that the City currently has no agreed-upon definition with Council as to what “alternative shelter” means for residents who are facing clearance.

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Activism

Why Sarah Syed Is My Choice for AC Transit Board of Directors, Ward 3.

As the AC Transit board president, a challenge I am confronted with is that traditional transit planning practice has ignored the pervasive issues of segregation, displacement, and exclusion from opportunity. Although the impacts of redlining can be felt in almost every aspect of life: from access to high quality education, to job opportunities and even healthy food options, our region doesn’t invest in transit service to repair past harms.  

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Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.
Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.

By Elsa Ortiz, President of AC Transit Board

The challenge of inequitable transportation access is felt by tens of thousands of residents in inner East Oakland and communities of color across the Bay Area.

These challenges are compounded by the legacy of redlining, which systematically denied Black and Brown residents access to homeownership and lending programs. Ultimately, the American dream of homeownership, investment in communities and building generational wealth was blocked.

As the AC Transit board president, a challenge I am confronted with is that traditional transit planning practice has ignored the pervasive issues of segregation, displacement, and exclusion from opportunity. Although the impacts of redlining can be felt in almost every aspect of life: from access to high quality education, to job opportunities and even healthy food options, our region doesn’t invest in transit service to repair past harms.

Last week, aboard an AC Transit bus, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured Oakland as part of his new effort to repair the damage done by large federal transportation projects, like freeways, which divided neighborhoods where people of color were the majority of the population.

Residents of underserved communities are the experts in understanding what they need. Unfortunately, the number of local political leaders who are ready to invest in transportation equity are few and far in between. Therefore, we have important ballot choices on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Sarah Syed, a candidate for AC Transit Board Ward 3, is the leader our region needs to turbocharge equitable cities. As a mixed-race woman, Sarah understands that access to transit is a question of equity. Through her work with the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the Valley Transportation Authority, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as a transportation planner and engineer of 20 years, Syed worked to help underserved communities.

In Los Angeles, where 88% of riders are people of color, Sarah took on a heavily bureaucratic system and planned enhancements to the routes disadvantaged riders were already using, including improving service frequency to every 10 minutes on two lines, new bus shelters at nearly 400 locations, and improvements along six different streets to extend the sidewalk and improve street safety and accessibility to bring better bus service.

Through her work with UC-Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Syed is helping community-based organizations and local government agencies in eight communities across the state of California so that local equity leadership can drive the agenda of transportation planning to meet the priority concerns of underserved residents

As your next AC Transit Director for Ward 3, Syed will champion policy-based interventions to close equity gaps, equitable hiring and personnel practices.

She will work to build broad, ethnically inclusive coalitions to stand up for bus transit and communicate its value in ways that inspire members of the public and potential political allies.

When we improve bus service, we make our cities better places to live and help address some of America’s deepest problems.

Please join me, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Supervisor Nate Miley, the Alameda County Democratic Party, the three Mayors in Ward 3, and three BART Directors in supporting Sarah Syed for AC Transit Ward 3.

Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.

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Activism

We Will Not Incarcerate Our Way Out of This

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

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As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety.
Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area.

People Are Liberating Public Spaces to Fight the Criminalization of Poverty

By Cat Brooks

How many times have you walked by an unhoused neighbor and told yourself it’s their fault, that they made the wrong life choices?

But the truth is that our unhoused crisis is the result of decades-long policies that criminalize poverty, addiction and mental health disabilities and treat human beings like garbage to be swept away with Friday’s trash while ignoring root causes.

Every city in the U.S. responds to visible poverty with fences, fines, cops, courts, and cages. These shortsighted responses make great photo ops, and let politicians pontificate, but all only accomplish terrorizing the most vulnerable, who move into new neighborhoods and reestablish their right to exist.

No matter how many arrests or evictions, the people will continue to be, and as part of that being — reclaim public spaces.

When San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen called for the erection of fences around the 24th Street Bart Plaza, the community struck back and retook the plaza. @MissionDeFence_SF posted a statement in solidarity with other current public land struggles, including: People’s Park in Berkeley, Parker Elementary in Oakland, Echo Park in Los Angeles and Mystic Garden in Daly City.

These struggles are proof positive that the power lies with the people who will rise up, resist and reclaim the people’s space.

Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area. CHP (the 4th most murderous law enforcement agency in California) descended on the camp for phase one of an armed eviction that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wood Street’s estimated 200-300 residents are being offered little relocation support or resources. Only a fraction has been given shelters or RV spots. Two were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience amidst an outpouring of community support.

Most of the Wood Street folks are Black, several are elders, many extremely vulnerable, and almost all are victims of gentrification and criminalization.

I was there to bear witness as the state demolished a tiny home, towed RVs, and destroyed lives. No effort was made to move their homes and belongings. Mayor Libby Schaaf doesn’t believe the city has any obligation to do so.

In an open letter to Schaaf, Governor Gavin Newsom, and others, residents offered concrete solutions and laid out their needs. They’ve been asking for sanitation services and fire safety for years. They’ve been ignored.

In their letter, they wrote, “The Wood Street community stands strong in our determination to keep our community together. We plan to continue organizing and fighting for long-term and permanent housing solutions.”

For now, they’ll be forced to move into residential areas where NIMBYS will call cops to protect their fragile senses from the brutality of visible poverty. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This story is playing out across California.  Instead of meeting people’s basic needs, the state legislature does things like “CARE Courts” — to force unhoused people into court-ordered treatment that will cost millions and target Black and brown folks. The bill is Governor Newsom’s brainchild and a continuation of criminalizing the unhoused under the guise of “care” which he’s done since his days as mayor of San Francisco.

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

Poverty is a political choice. Oakland’s unhoused population increased 24% since 2019 (thank you Libby), yet the Town spends 10 times as much on police as it does on housing.

As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety. We are less safe when we build walls to keep unhoused neighbors out of public spaces. We are less safe when we respond to mental health crises with a badge and gun.

We are less safe when the treatment plan for substance use problems is a cage.

If seeing unhoused people makes us uncomfortable, then we should invest in housing for all. If public drug use offends us, then we should invest in safe injection facilities (a proven public health intervention that Newsom just vetoed).

If watching someone experience a mental health crisis is distressing, then we should invest in community-driven approaches to support individuals in crisis.

Until we do these things, no matter how much our elected officials try to sanitize the crises we face, the people will keep knocking down fences to liberate public spaces.

Cat Brooks is co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and host of Law & Disorder on KPFA, a new show that exposes the cracks in our system and agitates for resistance.

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Bay Area

COMMENATY: Integrity Matters. Honesty Matters at Oakland City Hall

This election is for the heart and soul of Oakland. Do we want to continue electing political insiders who are beholden to special interests, or are we going to empower the people and our shared values to create an Oakland for everyone?

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Treva Reid speaking at the Jewish Community Center Oakland Mayoral Candidate Forum on September 15. Photo courtesy of Treva Reid for Oakland Mayor campaign. 
Treva Reid speaking at the Jewish Community Center Oakland Mayoral Candidate Forum on September 15. Photo courtesy of Treva Reid for Oakland Mayor campaign. 

By Treva Reid

In my short tenure as a councilmember, I can tell you that integrity and honesty are missing at City Hall. As your next mayor, I will restore these basic yet powerful and core principles in the way our city is governed.

This election is for the heart and soul of Oakland. Do we want to continue electing political insiders who are beholden to special interests, or are we going to empower the people and our shared values to create an Oakland for everyone?

I am not a career politician, unlike some of my opponents. I say what I mean and vote for what I believe actual Oaklanders desire in our community. I have spent my first term in office listening to the residents of Oakland, bringing your ideas and values to City Hall, and I am committed to elevating this work as mayor.

As a councilmember, I have always been transparent with my constituents about the way I’ve voted — we may not agree on every issue, but you will know where I stand and why — without wavering. I have a proven track record of voting with the people and my conscience with wise, sound decisions. I am not a flip-flopper.

Last year, I was one of only two councilmembers who voted against the budget that did not deliver enough for Oaklanders on our public safety priorities. That budget stripped away and froze millions from the Police Department such as the Traffic Squad and Citywide 9-1-1 Surge Officers. They voted against a cost-neutral proposed budget amendment that I introduced to advance police academies to fill vacant officer positions, increase presence and reduce OPD response time to critical emergencies. It was not the people’s budget.

Unfortunately, the unprecedented rise in crime raged on unchecked, due to a host of factors, and with fewer resources to meet the increased emergency response or crisis response needed to support our city. The data, public safety updates, and our lived experience were clear. Soon thereafter, the Council adopted our proposal for additional police academies. Leaders must be held accountable to voters for their decisions that delay our critical response on issues that impact our communities.  It’s a disservice to the people.

I believe integrity and honesty are not things you learn–you either have them and practice them–or not.

We have less than 50 days before we elect our new mayor. Keep asking hard questions at candidate forums, look at our voting records, and hold us accountable for our actions. As mayor, I commit that I will govern with integrity and honesty, and that my decisions will be in the best interest of the City of Oakland. I will hold myself and my administration to the highest standards because Oakland deserves nothing less. I hope you will join me and restore integrity and honesty to City Hall. We deserve better.

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