July 24, 2021 The Wood Street Commons Eviction Defense Block Party
Under time pressure, the residents of the South end of the Wood Street Commons worked very hard to make all the preparations necessary to receive the public for our first official party. Great effort was made in moving an old RV and the trash and many personal items that were hedging it in, so that space could be occupied by the audience listening to the live music performed on the stage. And yet, on the day of the event the shade structure for the audience had not been built.
John and Theo were sweating the possibility that we would not get it all done in time. And then - cue a miracle. Annmarie showed up both Friday and Saturday with groups of volunteers, who got the remaining trash packed into garbage bags, and brought away to our transfer areas. The volunteers also did a great job of erecting our largest shade structure yet.
Once everything was prepared, including the PA system for the stage, and the back-up generator, the event went very well, with nearly continuous live music, and lots of great food into the evening.
This may have been a first in Northern California - residents of a homeless encampment hosting a party for the general public.
July 15, 2021 Meeting between residents and the City
On a breezy pleasant day, residents of the Wood Street Commons met with City Councilmember Carroll Fife, assistant City Administrator Latonda Simmons, Lara Tannenbaum from Human Services, and Brian Warwick, the City's liaison to the developers Habitat for Humanity and Mid Pen housing, whose proposed development of a 166 unit apartment complex threatens to destroy our community at the Southern end of the Wood Street Commons.
Before the meeting formally began, Theo asked Brian Warwick for the names of his contacts within Habitat for Humanity, so we could inform them of our situation living on this contested piece of land. However, he seemed uncomfortable and refused to name those individuals. With the help of an ACCE volunteer, we were able to get Brian Warwick to grudgingly promise that he would get us some kind of contact withins Habitat for Humanity - over a month later, he still hasn't gotten back to us.
The meeting began with a presentation by the City of what they were offering us if we decided to move out voluntarily, including possible temporary accommodations at the new RV parking lot, or other temporary stays at hotels, motels, an apartment building, tuff shed or cabins, all of which are not an adequate replacement under Martin v. Boise for our current location.
One of our residents Juanita made a fierce rebuttal to the City by demanding that they tell us exactly when the City plans to try to evict us. Most of the City reps said September, while Carroll Fife said it would happen very soon, leaving residents confused at the divergent answers from the City.
Other residents spoke up, giving passionate and compelling testimonies about their strong desire to stay on this land, and what the extremely destructive consequences of being evicted from our land would be. Speakers included, John, Lamonte, Lydia, Moose, Manahz, Maven Carter Griffin, and Kelly.
Theo Cedar Jones then spoke, providing a description and a map/architectural layout of our vision of staying permanently on our land and continuing to develop our model of a tiny home ecovillage with shared infrastucture, administered by a cooperative land trust controlled by the residents themselves. There is a link on this site with the full text of this proposal ("Proposal") and the map. He made it clear that our model of living provides residents with local self-governance, local self-sufficiency, cooperative community, soil remediation/regeneration, as well as permanence and stability through control of the land in a land trust owned by the residents. The offerings from the City provide none of these things.
After Theo spoke, Ian rose dramatically and said, "You've heard the good news, now here's the bad news. The City makes about $2 million dollars per year in tax revenue from each block of apartment buildings, and therefore stands to make a significant amount of money by evicting our people from this land. It's raining money! Could that be a motivator for them to evict us?"
The representatives from the City seemed visibly uncomfortable during Ian's speech, but made no rebuttal.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the residents made a clear demand that the City provide in writing their real planned date of eviction, and asked to meet with the City again one week later.
Overall, the residents gave a seamless and balanced performance, making very clear the negative human consequences of the City's standard playbook of eviction and overly restrictive encampment policies, and how that contrasts starkly with the alternative proposal of the residents, and the humane way of life it supports.
June 22, 2021 Protest at Caltrans headquarters in Oakland
Residents of the Wood Street Commons along with citizens and activists from around the Bay Area staged a theatrical protest against Caltrans for their inhumane policies of evicting encampments from Caltrans land, and to create a platform to inform Caltrans, the press and the general public of our list of grievances and demands to the State agency;
With about a hundred people out on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to Caltrans' downtown headquarters, the event began with a dramatic replication of a woman being evicted forcibly from her tent, which was set up on the sidewalk, by one actor dressed as a California Highway Patrol officer, and another actor dressed as a Caltrans worker. As they rudely pulled her from her home and threatened destruction/confiscation of her property, the woman actress cried and bemoaned the unjust treatment, as the crowd voiced their disapproval.
After that, several residents took the mic and spoke forcefully through the PA system about their experiences of being evicted from their places by Caltrans, and having their shelters and property stolen or destroyed by Caltrans. Speakers included residents Lydia, Leajay, and Theo Cedar Jones.
After the speakers, a ceremony was held to honor the Four Directions, the Ancestors, and Mother Earth.
A dynamic troupe of indigenous Aztec dancers danced to the sound of drums, rattles and their own voices, making gestures to indicate their rootedness to and respect for the land.
And then the organizers were able to actually break into the zoom meeting that was being held at that moment within the Caltrans building between Caltrans, the City of Oakland, and Union Pacific Railroad to plan the destruction of our community. To our astonishment we were not immediately kicked out of their meeting, because a woman's voice at their meeting said, "Let's hear them out". (We later found out this was Latonda Simmons!)
So LeaJay took the mic, and read out loud to the crowd, and those attending the meeting inside the building, our entire list of grevances and demands to Caltrans. This was a coup for the residents, as it caused Caltrans to delay indefinitely their plans to evict the people living under the freeway structures on July 1st. As of August 1st, Caltrans has still not given notice of eviction.
Employees of the agency and some police stood behind the glass in the entry, but there was no violence, and no altercations with the police. Residents and their supporters carried away all their items and trash peacefully at the conclusion of the event.