Despite Resuming Eviction, Caltrans Has Loose Ends to Tie Up with Wood Street Residents
As Caltrans evicts residents from Wood Street, Oakland’s largest encampment, fingers point to the state agency as residents claim they have violated the requirements of their court ruling, including relocating people and storing their belongings.
Here is what we know so far:
Earlier this year, as a part of a broader, statewide plan to clear encampments across California, Governor Newsom issued a $4.7 million grant to the city of Oakland for “rehousing the Wood Street camp tenants.”
The grant is a part of an Encampment Management Policy laid out by Oakland’s City Council, which aims to address public health and security concerns in encampments across the city.
In July, Judge William Orrick temporarily blocked Caltrans from evicting unhoused people at the Wood Street encampment via a temporary restraining order (TRO), noting that the transportation agency still had not come up with a concrete plan for how and where to locate residents.
It was expected that the plan would include one or a few sheltering options, from installing an additional 50 units of tiny homes to referring out to other shelter agencies. But by the time Phase I of the eviction was due to start in July, Caltrans was still at the “beginning stages of thinking about what happens” to the 200 plus residents who currently reside in the settlement. Judge Orrick criticized the agency for not taking charge of the issue. Orrick told them they would have to figure something out “in a collaborative and helpful way” to ensure residents had a place to go.
Moreover, residents are filing or planning to file motions for contempt against Caltrans for failure to properly store people’s property and destroying other possessions, such as vehicles, RVs, furniture, and other items like scrap metal and car parts (some residents use these commodities to melt and sell as a part of their livelihoods). One resident, Jared DeFigh, said he plans to file a motion for contempt with Caltrans. It’s still unclear whether this would be enough to put another TRO in place or stop the eviction altogether.
In accordance with the court order, there’s an “under $50 and over 50 lbs” clause that essentially allows Caltrans to destroy such items. “The only thing I’m certain that’s occurred that’s against the law is workers have destroyed things that were promised to be stored,” DeFigh said. This clause has proved ineffective in helping residents keep valuable goods, since storing items like vehicles and furniture fall out of the mandate.
The most egregious example of destruction came this past week when a forklift, operated by Caltrans workers, lifted a shipping container and in the process hit a moving Amtrack train with passengers on board. In a tweet by Yesica Prado, an investigative reporter covering the encampment eviction, “Caltrans has had no safety spotters directing traffic or moving objects with the crane.”
It’s still to be determined if and when Wood Street residents and supporting advocates will submit more files for motions of contempt, which could potentially hinder or halt plans to complete all three phases of the eviction. DeFigh said, “I think the TROs will be reinstated eventually. Whether that's in time to affect anything or not I’m unsure but hopeful.”