A planned RV and vehicle "triage" lot for the homeless in West Oakland, similar to one that opened last year in San Francisco, is getting delayed as the property owner is now entering an eviction fight with a small group of encampment residents who refused to leave under the city's orders in November.
The sprawling encampment on Wood Street at West Grand Avenue was home to around 100 people as of last fall, when the property owner entered into an agreement to lease the surface parking lot to the City of Oakland for a period of three years. Under the agreement, the city was footing the bill for an estimated $250,000 cleanup that involved the towing and removal of dozens of cars and RVs in various states of disrepair, as well as piles of accumulated junk. Some of those living in RVs, even those that lacked wheels, were being permitted to remain in the area and parked along Wood Street while the cleanup took place. Following the cleanup, the city planned to build temporary bathroom facilities and allow a percentage of the people who had been living there to move back onto the lot in their vehicles.
When the cleanup began in early November, there were protests. And in the ensuing months, a parallel set of protests took place in the neighborhood around the actions of Moms 4 Housing — the group of homeless mothers and their kids who occupied a vacant house on Magnolia Street. That group was ultimately evicted in January, but their act of civil disobedience attracted national attention and potentially the ability to purchase the home from the real estate speculator who owns it.
"Grab a seat, because it’s going to be a long year in housing activism," writes the Chronicle's Otis R. Taylor, Jr. As he explains, the property owner of the Wood Street lot, Gamechanger LLC, now has to go to court to evict the remaining homeless camped on the lot in order to allow the city's plan to go forward. And it's not a cut-and-dry issue of a city trying to force people out of their temporary camp — in this case, it's an act of civil disobedience by a few that is blocking a sanctioned living space for those who were trying to play by the rules and let a public safety hazard get cleaned up.
A number of homeless residents of the encampment voluntarily moved in November with the promise of getting to move back, and here we are in the middle of winter and they remain in limbo, waiting. "Isn’t that hurting more than helping?" Taylor asks.
It's come down to just seven dwellers at the Wood Street lot who argue that they've been given no assurances from the city of a long-term place to stay. They would move, they claim, if they had something in writing.
Among the seven remaining campers are a couple of guys who were operating a small marijuana grow operation that the Chronicle covered last year. Gamechanger, the property owner, says that they are holding out for $10,000 each in relocation payments.
A trial date in the eviction proceeding has been set for this Friday, February 7.
Photo: Sawyer Hackett/Twitter