A major project began Tuesday morning to transform a four-acre parcel of private land in West Oakland from a homeless encampment and automotive dumping ground into a city-sanctioned RV- and vehicle-parking area for the homeless.
The project has been several months in the making, and the owner of the land has leased it back to the City of Oakland at no cost for use as a temporary "triage" and parking area for the homeless and their vehicles. Similar lots have been established or are in the process of being established in East Oakland and San Francisco's Balboa Park neighborhood.
The property owner has remained anonymous, but a rep for the owner, Pat Smith, tells KPIX today, "We are excited about cleaning up the property to allow it to be used to address the homeless crisis that is impacting this community — especially the impact of RVs parked all over West Oakland neighborhoods." The property is being leased for two to three years, and the city is footing the $250,000 cleanup and dumping bill for everything that's accumulated there.
Cleanup efforts began Tuesday on a massive homeless encampment, stretching for several blocks in West Oakland's Lower Bottoms neighborhood, that was being removed to make way for a safe parking site for residents living on the street in recreational... https://t.co/DBrGiWjbUv— KPIX 5 (@KPIXtv) November 5, 2019
The lot on Wood Street and West Grand Avenue, which is littered with car tires and a number of inoperable vehicles that have served as makeshift shelters, has been home to around 100 people for two years or more, with conditions there reportedly deteriorating over the last 18 months.
As the East Bay Times reports, tow trucks appeared Tuesday along with "around two dozen protesters" shouting "shame!", and cars and RVs began being removed from the lot one by one. Those who have been living in tents and vehicles on the property have been invited to join a waiting list to return there once the site is cleaned up and equipped with proper fencing, electricity, and portable toilets.
The city is allowing many of the RV dwellers — even those living in RVs without wheels — to remain in the area along the Wood Street curbside while the cleanup and renovation of the site takes place. Other residents whose RVs are functional were invited to move to another RV park, or to a couple of church parking lots.
Outreach efforts by the city began back in August, and those camped there were given various options for when the cleanup began.
The Chronicle recently profiled one of the encampment's residents, small-time cannabis grower Cam McKeel, who lived in a pair of decommissioned Muni buses and an RV with his friends and cultivated a small outdoor pot grow there. McKeel claimed all the weed was for personal use — state law allows people to grow six plants per person — but city officials have been skeptical.
Oakland homeless encampments have also made headlines with high-profile visits from Colin Kaepernick, and from presidential candidate Julian Castro in September.