On July 7, Berkeley’s nonprofit Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) opened a City of Oakland sanctioned site that allows people to park and legally reside in motorhomes. or trailers while having access to electrical connections, cold drinks water and portable toilets.
It sits just west of Wood Street in West Oakland and in the middle of a large homeless community. The site had been planned since 2019, but it took more than two years to open in part due to protests and occupation.
Since Tuesday, people living in six RVs and a trailer have moved into the site. Some homeless residents who live nearby have expressed concerns about their ability to access the site, skepticism that it would meet their needs, and concern that it might displace those of their own. community who are not able or interested in relocating to the site. Oakland City Public Information Officer Autumn King said the site could accommodate 40 RVs or trailers in total.
The fight to open the site began in the summer of 2019 when Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf plans announced for the city to sanction the opening of a secure parking lot near Wood Street, saying the site would open “in the next few months”, but the project quickly experienced delays.
In early November of that year, Oakland oversaw a two-day clearing of a 1.5 acre parcel of land just west of Wood Street to make the land available to an agency. non-profit to open the site. City workers and a contract towing company removed vehicles, both manned and abandoned, from the plot along with property and garbage. The Oakland Police Department also asked people to leave the property with their belongings, but met resistance from a group of more than 35 protesters.
During this year, the handful of residents remained on the plot and the secure parking lot was not built. In July 2020, released e-mails between members of the Oakland City Administration, City Council and Game Changer lawyer Patricia Smith showed that the company planned to lease the land to the city for $ 1 per year to allow an organization to non-profit use it for secure parking.
A lease proposed in an email the Oakland city administration sent to Smith has led some to believe, increasingly, that construction on the site could displace residents. The lease cited the City of Oakland’s Geographic Emergency Shelter Response Policy and stated that one of the objectives of such a parking site was to “mitigate the impacts of the camps on the community. surrounding ”.
He also said that when such venues open “the city determines an area surrounding the site which is considered an invitation zone”, where residents of the surrounding area are invited to participate, but once the site fills up “The invitation area becomes the closure area and the execution is used to suppress or prevent the return of any encampment in that area.
The parcel of the proposed parking site is 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 changes often, recent articles in The SFChronique and The Guardian suggested that the population numbered in the hundreds. While residents and supporters feared that many of this population who could not access or were not interested in accessing a secure parking site would be kicked out of the area, it was also unclear what would happen to them. residents living on the site after the end of the lease. In a November 2020 interview, Smith said Game Changer plans to expand the land within two or three years.
In November 2020, approximately 60 lawyers and residents have come forward to protest the eviction of Alameda County sheriffs the handful of people who still remained in Game Changer’s lands. Some protesters locked their arms outside the gate entrance, delaying the work of the sheriffs. While all residents left the land, their property remained in place and some returned later in the day.
After another small demonstration, Game Changer agreed to a settlement with the residents. Several residents received about $ 2,200 each on 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 its occupants, the city signed a lease with Game Changer LLC to use the land. , and eventually contracted with BOSS to open the site, although this process took an additional eight months while the plot was vacant and closed.
Now open, some residents fear eviction and are skeptical of the site
The Oakland Post interviewed six residents who live near the recently opened secure parking lot. One of them, named Puffy, is moving into the site but is pessimistic about it.
“I don’t want to move in there,” he said. “But I hardly 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 running, everyone here will have to go.
The City of Oakland has not recently posted any eviction notices near the secure parking site. Janis Mara, spokesperson for CalTrans, said the agency currently has no permits for the Wood Street homeless community. But residents are still worried.
Another resident, who asked not to be named because he feared he would be kicked from the site, had been kicked out by the City of Oakland and CalTrans in the past, and is considering moving to the parking lot. secured. The resident hesitates to move to the site but tries to avoid eviction.
“I don’t want to lose what I have established here as my home,” he said. “I got used to the area and the community that we have developed here. But the site is a place where you don’t have to worry. There is this constant threat of deportation hovering over my head.
Ramona Mason, who lives on land owned by CalTrans near the site, said she would not be moving to the site as she believes it would not allow her to bring her dogs. Another resident, who asked not to be named because he wants to have a good relationship with those who operate the site, said he was surprised no one had approached him about the site since he lives right outside its portal. . He stays in a house he has made home.
“I would absolutely consider moving there,” said Gill Vasquez, who lives in an RV near Wood Street. “But no one contacted me. What I would like to see is that they notify people, let us know if there is an opportunity for us to have a space.
Vasquez also noted that part of the land next to the Safe RV Parking site has been left vacant and fenced. He wondered why the secure parking site did not include this portion of land. County records show this area is part of the same parcel that the city leases from Game Changer LLC. It represents about a third of the total plot. When asked if the city has plans for this part of the plot, 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, BOSS representatives told him he couldn’t cook and that only one person was allowed to live in each RV or trailer, although they 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 did not respond to questions sent by email, including a request to share the list of rules they ask site residents to follow. Puffy said he had not received 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 will not offer them anything they 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 besides more rules?” ” they said.