A Home Depot in Fruitvale has more theft complaints than any other Home Depot in the country, a condition blamed on a next-door RV encampment that has a councilmember threatening to close off the street.
Car and RV dwellers have long posed a unique set of challenges for city administrators dealing with the Bay Area homeless crisis, because the sheer size of RVs tends to attract illegal dumping and establishes a sense of permanence to street-living in certain areas. One RV encampment next to a Home Depot on 37th Avenue in the Fruitvale district has become the unwitting host to dozens of dwellers, and the Oakland city councilperson who represents the area is calling for drastic measures. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Councilmember Noel Gallo is introducing legislation to fence off and close the street for at least 18 months to clear the RVs for good.
Oakland police say the dead-end street is now used mostly for “nefarious activity,” and has seen a crime wave of merchandise theft, stolen vehicles, and all manner of illegal dumping. KGO reports that in mid-May, employees at the Home Depot complained about being menaced by pit bulls and pistol-waving RV tenants. “I believe the 600 to 700 block of 37th Ave. has a serious and continual crime and dumping issue that will go on unfettered if the City of Oakland does not act to close this area,” OPD Lt. Mark Rhoden said in a report to the council.
The alley has been a blight for some time, but the East Bay Times reported last month that Gallo was being “bombarded with emails from Home Depot officials” who claimed that particular store had more thefts reported than any other Home Depot in the United States. While the chain has never implicitly threatened to leave Fruitvale, Gallo felt the pressure.
“For me, the bottom line is a store like Home Depot, they provide 300 jobs,” he told the Times. “If I don’t have them here in Oakland, that’s 300 people who are going to be without a job.”
Gallo’s measure could generate opposition, though, because this would be an encampment removal with no offer of alternative arrangements. While Oakland does operate a city-sanctioned RV dwelling park with toilets and water just four miles from the Fruitvale site, that site is invite-only. The RVs at the Fruitvale Home Depot site do not qualify to camp there, because the street they’re potentially being booted from is not an “invitation zone.” An Oakland city administrator assistant told the Chronicle the Oakland Department of Human Services is trying to find solutions for the potentially displaced.
The Oakland City Council will discuss Gallo’s proposal at their July 9 meeting. Gallo tells the Chronicle he wants to see the street closure pass before the council goes on its August recess.