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Is a Billionaire Serving Unhoused Oakland Residents Eviction Notices?

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In mid-December, Game Changer LLC, delivered eviction notices to and erected a fence around nine unhoused residents who live on a tract of land west of Wood Street in West Oakland in an effort to force them to leave property the company owns but has left unused since its purchase.

Game Changer appears to be owned by Fred Craves, who owns or has owned two other corporations worth over a billion dollars each. Some of the nine unhoused residents have lived on the land for over eight years. The company has recently hired a security guard to keep watch over the area.

“With regard to the eviction suit, well over 90% of the campers who were on the private property left without the need for legal action,” said Pat Smith of Smith LLP, a firm representing Game Changer. “Almost all of them are looking forward to improved conditions that will result from the Safe Parking Center.”

Smith’s statement refers to a proposed city plan to convert the site temporarily into a city-run safe parking site for unhoused residents who live in vehicles. While city documents show plans for a new West Oakland safe parking site that had originally been set to open in November 2019, an email from October 2019 to The Oakland Post from Oakland Assistant City Administrator Joe DeVries, said that “the owner would need to clean [the site] thoroughly first before it could be developed into such use.”

If such a site were opened and were similar to other city-run safe parking sites, it wouldn’t be available to most of the nine residents still staying on Game Changer’s land. So far, the city run safe parking sites have only been available to those living in vehicles. Several of the residents on the land don’t live in vehicles, but in self-made homes or tents. Other city-run safe parking sites haven’t allowed oversized vehicles or vehicles that are inoperable. Several of the residents on the land live in large buses and one lives in a broken down RV. Other city-run safe parking sites also have limited resident stays to six months.

On Nov. 5 and 6, 2019, the City of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department cleared abandoned vehicles and asked residents on the site to leave. While it’s difficult to say how many were on the site at the time, most residents estimated the population at around 100. Most residents did leave when asked and many who left moved either to the curbside of Wood Street or onto bordering land owned by Caltrans. But some residents, with the support of a protest staged by more than three dozen Oaklanders, decided to stay on Game Changer’s land. Those who remained are now the ones both fenced in and subject to legal action by Game Changer.

“The owner of the property has entered into a lease with the City of Oakland to enable the city to operate the property as a safe parking center,” said Smith in a Jan. 3 email to The Oakland Post, confirming Game Changer’s plans to let the city use its site. “The initial term of the lease is 18 months from commencement of operations. Rent is one dollar per year.”

Neither Game Changer’s lawyers nor the City of Oakland have yet mentioned who the owner of the company is. But a search into California’s Secretary of State’s online service for information on LLCs shows that Frederick B. Craves, who also goes by Fred Craves, registered Game Changer LLC in June 2012.

While the company’s jurisdiction is listed as “Delaware,” its mailing address is listed in downtown San Francisco. Game Changer’s listed mailing address is the same as Bay City Capital LLC, which Craves registered in 1997 and whose website describes it as “a life science investment firm” that has over $1.3 billion in capital commitments.

In 2009, Forbes reported that Craves funded a firm called Reliant Pharmaceuticals, which he sold to a company called GlaxoSmithKline for $1.7 billion in cash in 2007.

The Oakland Post contacted Bay City Capital and spoke with Craves’ assistant, who said she would pass our inquiry onto Craves. At press time, Craves had not commented and it remains unclear what his intentions are for the site after the 18-month lease is up.

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