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Tentative Plans to Relocate Unhoused Union Point Residents Up in Air After Oakland’s Homeless Liaison Steps Down

“We’re trying to figure out solutions to make it better for any and everybody that comes into situations like this,” said Deanna Riley, who has lived at Union Point Park for two years.

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Unhoused residents (left to right) Matt Long, Deanna Riley, and Edward Hanson stand behind a barricade at Union Point Park. Photo by Zack Haber on February 28

As the City of Oakland has stated intentions to relocate unhoused residents living in Union Point Park in East Oakland, some residents say they will refuse to move unless they can receive a new place to live where they can have independence and services for survival. 

“We’re trying to figure out solutions to make it better for any and everybody that comes into situations like this,” said Deanna Riley, who has lived at Union Point Park for two years.

Riley said she became homeless when her husband passed away shortly after listing himself as head of the household of their section 8 housing and she got evicted. She lives in an RV at Union Point, where she and other residents in similar situations have access to bathrooms and water. Currently, about 15 people live there.

But their stay at Union Point Park is tenuous. The park borders the waters of the Brooklyn Basin and is under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). On Dec. 2, 2019, BCDC sent the City of Oakland a violation report accusing Oakland of failing to “make the area accessible for public purposes such as walking…fishing, and picnicking.” On Oct. 15, 2020, BCDC sent a cease and desist order to the City ordering them to clear residents living at the park by February 12.

On February 5, the City posted notices saying they intended to clear the park on February 9-11. On the eviction days, some residents living at the park decided not to leave. Protestors, some of whom were members of the grassroots anti-gentrification organization The United Front Against Displacement (UFAD), supported them. Residents and activists built a barricade of debris and unwanted materials to slow the eviction effort, held signs, and chanted.

“The City of Oakland was unable to fully implement the closure of the park using the methods and resources that Oakland Public Works, Oakland Human Services, and the Oakland Police Dept. regularly use to complete such a closure due to ongoing demonstrations,” Karen Boyd, Oakland’s citywide communications director, told The Oakland Post in an e-mail about the attempted eviction. She added that the City is now “working with the individuals present to achieve a productive resolution,” and that BCDC had extended their deadline for the City to evict residents until March 12.

The Oakland Post spoke with eight residents in the park who said they would only leave if the City provided them with six-core demands: new land to move to that they can use long term and independently, trash services, water hookups, electricity, room to store their possessions and bathrooms. 

“We want a solution that is not just a stop-gap measure,” said Matt Long, who lives in a self-made home in the park. “We want something that will allow us to set up our community and dig in some roots and feel comfortable.”

The City has recently successfully relocated one family who used to live at Union Point into a hotel room. But other residents living at the park said such options have not been made available to them. Instead, the City has offered stays in Oakland’s “Tuff Shed” programs which are operated by non-profits. The City refers to the collections of 10-by-12 foot structures as “community cabins.” Residents feel the “community cabin” land is not theirs to fully use at those programs as residents of the program cannot cook food, have visitors in their unit, have enough space to store their possessions, or come and go when they want or need to. Riley said she used to live in the program but had to leave when she took a night job because the program did not recognize her as living in her unit when she did not sleep inside it at night.

On February 9 to 11, Oakland Homelessness Administrator Daryel Dunston met with Union Point residents and some of their supporters in the UFAD to look at different plots of nearby land that residents could possibly relocate to. On February 11, Adam Garrett-Clark, who runs an LLC called Tiny Logic which specializes in organizing tiny communities, said that Dunston contacted him about collaborating with the City and residents to possibly create a “co-governed encampment.” Garrett-Clark has researched co-governed models for five years, including staying for three days in Opportunity Village, a city-sanctioned co-governed tiny home community in Eugene, Ore.

Garrett-Clark said “the key distinction” between co-governed models and how cities generally operate shelter programs “is removing the paternalistic impulse that usually comes when governments give people housing resources.” He thinks co-governed models place more dignity and trust in the individuals they serve and calls them a “response to the shelter system” where residents can have more power to control the day-to-day operations of the spaces they live in. Residents say they discussed moving to a co-governed encampment model with Dunston, who was supportive and encouraging of the idea.

Although the model has not yet been tried in Oakland, Garret-Clark said Dunston had expressed interest in it repeatedly, stretching back to the summer of 2019, when they discussed collaborating to apply the model to a community of unhoused people who lived near Wood Street in West Oakland. 

    Part of Garrett-Clark’s desire to get involved comes from the hope of gaining legitimacy and stability to a West Oakland tiny home community he currently operates where his 62-year-old mother lives with five other people. The community has existed for over five years. He said the City is asking for $9,000  in fines due to the tiny homes not being sanctioned on the land where the community sits, even though he rents the land the homes sit on from a landlord.

Garrett-Clark met with a few residents at Union Point after Dunston reached out to him, leaving them optimistic about a possible collaboration with Tiny Logic. On February 11, residents and Dunston identified a small plot of nearby public land, measuring about 12,000 square feet, near the corner of 23rd Avenue and East 11th street, that they were discussing as a possible site to move to. Then on February 26, Oakland’s City Administrator Ed Reiskin, announced in an e-mail that Dunston will leave his job with the City on March 8.

Dunston has not responded to The Oakland Post’s repeated requests for comment on this story. The announcement of his departure from the City has left residents unsure of what will become of their discussions to start a co-governed encampment, as neither Dunston, residents or Garrett-Clark agreed to any formal contracts for a relocation or services related to it. 

Despite Dunston’s absence and no formal agreement, communications director Boyd said the City plans to pursue a co-governed model with residents. In an e-mail to The Oakland Post, Boyd claimed the City is working to “identify partners” and that “there are a number of parcels [of public land] that are being considered…to implement a co-governed encampment pilot.” But she also did not respond to direct questions about collaborating with Tiny Logic or utilizing the public land near 23rd avenue and East11th street.

“[Dunston] talked a big game of what the City could do for people, but he said a lot of things he couldn’t follow up on,” said Adam Wurtz, of the UFAD. Wurtz has organized with residents at Union Point since last October to help support them in securing demands in the event of an eviction. 

    Both he and resident Matt Long claim that Dunston discussed securing $200,000 in City funding for relocating and re-establishing the Union Point community. But he has not been in contact with residents or activists since his announced plans for departure. City Administrator LaTonda Simmons is set to take on Dunston’s role until the City finds a permanent replacement, but activists and residents say she has not been in contact with them either.

Residents say they no longer see clear indications that the City will pursue a co-governed model. Some residents are planning to resist until their demands are met. The UFAD and residents have been meeting weekly since the start of this year to organize around such a resistance. Wurtz says he has been “excited and inspired by how residents have believed in their ability to fight.” He and the residents both claim that if they secure demands from the city in this situation, it will be easier for others to do so in the future.

“We’re not just trying to address the homeless situation for ourselves,” said Edward Hanson, who has lived at Union Point for over 10 years,  “but the homelessness situation period.”

Although the city has not formally announced an eviction day, BCDC’s order states that it would be possible for them to find the City $6,000 per day if residents remain on site. Due to the threat of fines, and the fact that BCDC has only extended its deadline to the City until March 12, residents think the City will attempt to evict them soon. 

    In a meeting with BCDC on February 24, Dunston told BCDC officials that residents would voluntarily leave by February 26 and the City would clear remaining debris starting on March 3. But residents still remain onsite and debris, much of which has again been organized in a barricade at the park’s entrance, has not been collected. 

    Unless the City gives into residents core demands of new land to move to that they can use long term and independently, trash services, water hookups, electricity, room to store their possessions, and bathrooms some residents plan to refuse to leave.

“I’m going to resist,” said Deanna Riley. “I’m not going nowhere. When [the eviction] goes down they’re gonna have a fight.”  

 

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Through Ads and Advocates, Battle Over Calif. Gambling Propositions Heat Up

A statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.” The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

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The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.
The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.

By McKenzie Jackson | California Black Media

Clint Thompson, a Santa Monica resident in his 30s, wouldn’t say he has been inundated with advertisements supporting or denigrating Propositions 26 and 27, but he sees an ad focused on one of the legislations each time he turns on his television.

“I usually watch the news during the day — NBC — and on NBC, Prop 26 or Prop 27 comes on every other commercial break per show,” said Thompson, an actor, who admitted he hasn’t researched the sports gambling propositions. “Both of the props seem to have good things with them. The commercials seem to have reasons why you should say ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’”

Prop 26 would legalize roulette, dice games, and sports betting on Native American tribal lands if approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election. It is backed by over 50 state Native American tribes.

Prop 27, supported by sportsbooks DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Fanatics, PENN Entertainment, and WynnBet, would give those sports betting companies the reins in sports gambling in the Golden State and allow online gambling.

If people like Thompson feel the advertisements from the campaigns for and against the propositions seem to be flooding the television and radio airwaves — and to be ever-present on social media (Watched a YouTube video lately?) — they might be right.

The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November. That has led to ads backing and slamming the two propositions to be front and center in all forms of media Californians consume.

Dinah Bachrach of the Racial Justice Allies of Sonoma County, a group supporting Prop 26, said the proliferation of ads supporting Prop 27 is concerning.

“They are all over the place,” Bachrach said. “Gambling is already a pretty big business, but to be able to do sports gambling online is dangerous because it hurts what tribal casinos have been able to do for their communities in the state.”

According to Bachrach, Prop 26 protects the sovereignty of native tribes. “It’s a really important racial justice issue,” she said. “Indian casinos provide a tremendous amount of financial support for the casino tribes and the non-casino tribes, and they contribute a lot locally and to the state.”

Bachrach’s organization is one of several civil rights or African American organizations that have thrown its support behind Prop 26.

Santa Clarita NAACP spokesperson Nati Braunstein said in an email, “The NAACP supports Prop 26, which would legalize retail sports betting at California tribal casinos only and opposes Prop 27 which would allow online sports betting via mobile sportsbooks.”

Kathy Fairbanks, speaking for the Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, composed of California Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and other partners, said winning the approval of every potential voter, including Black Californians, is their goal.

Yes on 27 – Californians for Solutions to Homelessness, the campaign arm of Prop 27 backers, had not returned California Black Media’s requests for comment for this story as of press time. Prop 27 proponents say in ads and the Yes on 27 website repeats that the initiative would help solve California’s homelessness crisis.

Prop 27 imposes a 10% tax on adjusted gross gaming revenue. Eighty-five percent of the taxes go toward fighting California’s homeless and mental health challenges. Non-gaming tribes get the remaining 15% of tax revenue.

Organizations such as Bay Area Community Services, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, and individuals including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Bay Area Community Services CEO Jamie Almanza, and Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians Chairman Jose “Moke” Simon are listed as Prop 27 supporters on the Yes on 27 website.

On the campaign’s Facebook page, commenter Brandon Gran wrote under an advertisement photo that voting for Prop 27 was a “no brainer.”

“People are already gambling using offshore accounts,” he typed. “Why not allow CA to get a piece of the pie … money that will (hopefully) go to good use.”

However, a statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.”

The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

“Regionally, majorities in the Inland Empire, Orange/San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area would vote ‘no,’ while likely voters in the Central Valley and Los Angeles are divided,” they wrote. “At least half across most demographic groups would vote ‘no.’ Likely voters age 18 to 44 (52%) and renters (51%) are the only two demographic groups with a slim majority voting ‘yes.’”

The survey, titled “PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government,” did not ask participants about Prop 26. The Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, said in a news release that the PPIC’s research confirmed what Prop 26 supporters have said for some time.

“Despite raising more than $160 million for a deceptive advertising campaign, California voters are clearly not buying what the out-of-state online gambling corporations behind Prop 27 are selling,” the statement read.

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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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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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