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Oakland Law Enforcement Swarms On Mandela & 34th Lot, Evicting Dozens and Arresting Four

Early Wednesday morning, a dozen unhoused residents at 34th Street and Mandela Parkway awoke to Caltrans officials and Oakland law enforcement directing them to vacate the Mandela lot they had only recently moved to. The Mandela encampment was recently formed by unhoused residents who have had to move out of the Wood Street encampment in an ongoing effort by landowners Caltrans, the City of Oakland, and Gamechangers-a private company-to remove over 200 people who have lived there for decades.

Here is what we know so far:

  • After a series of 195 fires between March 2020 and March 2022, Caltrans and other land owners, including the City of Oakland and the private company Gamechangers, have removed over 200 people and their belongings from the Wood Street encampment. Though people have occupied the land for decades, the three entities each own large swaths of land where the encampment sits, with Caltrans owning nearly 29 acres of the area, particularly where the rail line sits.

  • The urgency by the landowners to suddenly clear the area of unhoused residents who have occupied the land for decades is still unknown. However, it is part of a broader, statewide plan to clear encampments across California, a $4.7 million grant issued by Governor Newsom to the city of Oakland for rehousing Wood Street camp tenants.

  • As of now, there has been no evidence of how the $4.7 million is being allocated specifically, although Caltrans Director Cheryl Chambers and Public Information Officer Janis Mara have agreed to provide more information on this amount within the week.

  • With Wood Street residents having to move away from Caltrans-owned land, they have moved inward toward the city, into other encampments and unoccupied lots. According to East Bay Community Law Center attorney Brigitte Nicoletti, this includes the Wood Street Commons (located southbound of Wood street and 34th), which is city land. Other spaces include 9th and Pine and 34th and Mandela Parkway, the Mandela lot which was cleared this past Wednesday.

Supporters and residents of Cob on Wood originally came to an agreement about postponing towing of people’s cars, RVs, and tiny homes until all Mandela residents were contacted. According to supporter and advocate Zelda Hazel, Caltrans and Oakland Police negotiated with unhoused individuals for the lot to be closed later in the week, giving residents more time to move their stuff and know affirmingly where they could move on to next. “We filled this previously empty lot that was not being used with all the displaced people at Wood Street. They told us they were going to come Friday, but it is Wednesday and now they’re all here. There are a lot of cops here, lots of Caltrans workers here. We’re just unsure why they’re going back on their word,” Hazel said.

By 8:00 am, dozens of Oakland law enforcement officials and Caltrans workers flooded the 34th Street intersection, with police cars filling the side of the road. Cheryl Chambers, Director of Caltrans, was present, along with Oakland Police negotiators to speak with unhoused residents and Wood Street supporters.

Law enforcement told residents they had to clear their belongings- including miniature homes, RVs, vehicles, and other items- by 8:30 am, giving people minutes to determine how they were going to move their homes. Some of the vehicles were not able to start. Residents who had already left for work or who were not there at the time were called back by friends and volunteers to move their items.

As police worked to break the locks to the Mandela lot gate, city council member Caroll Fife arrived and assessed the situation. Fife called Oakland City Administrator Edward Reiskin and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to ask about alternative living arrangements. Fife noted one option on Beach Street, where 17 RV spaces were available. Although the lot opened, there are various regulations in place that not all residents can easily abide by. For instance, “They won’t allow trailers or vans, just RVs. This does not suit the needs of several people we are trying to help,” Hazel said.

Negotiations between law enforcement and residents came to little avail when four supporters of the residents were arrested for blocking the gate to allow Caltrans workers in to start clearing the area. Minutes after the arrests were made, Caltrans workers descended to begin yet another street sweep.

Some residents and supporters claimed the biggest problem was the element of surprise that law enforcement used on residents. Initially, Caltrans told Wood Street residents and people recently displaced from Wood Street that they were coming to clear the Cob on Wood structures Wednesday morning. “This whole breaking the trust thing- saying ‘Oh, we’re going to do it Friday’ and coming out Wednesday is hard, and this is what causes trust issues,” Hazel said.

In late August, the Wood Street community requested for multiple city and state officials including Newsom, Schaaf, Reiskin, and Chambers, to work in partnership with California, Caltrans, Alameda County, BNSF, and the City of Oakland to develop a more sustainable solution for unhoused residents. The letter included ways to involve the community in building and providing these services, including paying residents to fill dumpsters themselves, providing fire extinguishers and hoses, and holding fire safety response training. However, few partnership opportunities like these have panned out. Rather, Caltrans has given minimal time frames (in the Mandela lot cause, just thirty minutes), to clear their belongings off public land.

This coming Tuesday, the Oakland City Council will vote on whether or not unhoused residents will be able to move into a twenty-two-acre piece of land. The estimated amount of this Encampment Resolution Funding (ERF) is $3,600,000 and is expected to be awarded from the State of California to fund interim housing construction, operations, and services.

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