By ANNA BLOOM
In Temescal, rows of colorful craftsman bungalows are trimmed with clipped rosebushes and neat lawns. Buying a home here is no longer the bargain it once was, neighbors say. A realtor has priced a three-bedroom home at $640,000, advertising “green features” that “bring this 100 year old home into the 21st century.”
Still, there is a woman who’s made the front lawn of Temescal’s Faith Presbyterian Church her mattress, and there is a sign on the Emerson Elementary School fence thick with graffiti. Sandwiched between some of the renovated houses are properties that look almost abandoned, in need of a new porch or yard work.
But neighbors say it’s all part of living in the big city, and that they understand the tradeoffs.
Oakland Housing Authority police plan to monitor OHA apartments on 49th Street in response to neighbors’ complaints.
“Temescal is marketed as this super-hip place, and I feel like sometimes people have the expectation that because homes cost more money, crime shouldn’t happen,” says one resident who asked not to be named. “But it’s not Rockridge. It’s not Piedmont. It’s a transitional neighborhood.”
However, the woman says she is concerned lately that on 49th street, where she lives, the balance of revitalization and blight, comfort and crime, is tipping too far in one direction, especially near the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) apartments near Lawton. There was a drive-by shooting at the corner adjacent to the property a few months ago—an incident that left two men injured and five cars damaged, according to neighborhood reports—and her home has recently been burglarized, she says, by someone she has reason to connect to the property. The woman adds that as winter approaches, “the nights get longer and people get held up at gunpoint.”
Now a new mother to a 15-month-old, she says the violence gives her pause.
“When it starts to be crime that involves guns, that to me is a different level,” she says. “This just doesn’t have to be a place where that kind of thing happens on a regular basis. It’s just hard to know which direction it’s going to go. Is it going to get better? Is it going to get worse?”
The woman is supporting a band of two dozen neighbors who attended September’s Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meeting to call attention to the OHA apartments as a magnet for criminal activity.
“I haven’t studied the facts, but we’re starting to see things happening there,” says Lee Edwards, the council’s co-chair. “A friend of mine who raced outside to take pictures of the drive-by two months ago says that a woman ran out from one of the apartments saying that one of the men injured was her boyfriend.”
Edwards recognizes the 49th Street apartments as among the nicer OHA assets in the city, but he says he’s observed a loss of pride and maintenance since their construction over a decade ago.
Edwards says one woman, whose house on Manila abuts the backside of the OHA apartments, reported at the meeting that teenagers from the apartments had thrown a wooden board studded with nails at her partner recently, and she said it wasn’t the first time she had been confronted by her neighbors. Almost a year ago, she reported people trespassing from the apartments into her yard to harass her, Edwards says.
A tenant at the OHA apartments, who says she’s lived there for the last five years, echoes the concerns from the outside. Unfamiliar with the council’s efforts, the woman says she has tried to take matters into her own hands and that she’s frustrated with the lack of response. ”Nobody takes care of anything like they should,” she says, asking not to be named. “This has been going on for years—it’s a tradition. Just come by after school gets out from Oakland Tech. A lot of kids come around here, use drugs and gamble, and you call it in, and nothing’s being done.”
The woman says she’s been considering moving out for some time.
Everett Peterson,Temescal’s former problem solving officer, helped intervene at one point, Edwards says, but his authority was limited.
The Housing Authority maintains its own police force to manage problems inside the properties, Edwards says. “We have mixed jurisdiction there,” he says. “It’s Oakland Housing Authority’s property and (the Oakland Police) can only deal with the issues from the outside.”
Anticipating the large turnout and the concern surrounding the apartments, Edwards invited OHA Police Lt. Jerry Williams to the meeting.
“Williams said he would go in and coach the mothers on how to care for their kids and how to have zero tolerance for drugs,” Edwards says. “We were told to keep a list to document activity that might not be criminal, but might be suspicious.”
Edwards says Williams will return in November to report back on what he’s found, and on whether the community has seen more activity connected to the apartments. If the problem is not resolved, the council will consider taking the matter to court, filing a complaint against the OHA as a landlord, which, according to Edwards, could result in as much as $7,500 awarded per resident in damages.
Calls to the OHA executive offices were not immediately returned, but Oakland Police Sgt. Bernard Ortiz shared his observations about Temescal’s crime.
“The better Temescal gets, the more criminals realize, ‘There’s money here. Let’s go over there and see what we can get away with,’” he says. “A lot of criminals don’t live where they commit crime. Drug dealers don’t live in the areas where they’re selling drugs.”
Ortiz says he is working on showing residents on how to document problem areas to help prevent crimes, since complaints about the 49th Street apartments often don’t warrant an emergency call. “Hanging out and being disrespectful is still not illegal in the U.S.,” he says.
He adds that it’s also important for the community to manage its own expectations of law enforcement officers.
“Everyone thinks that crimes are solved within an hour, and the reality is, it doesn’t work that way,” he says. “It’s a very long, methodical process, and we have to do a lot of homework. If we don’t, we will lose the case in court. The justice system works at its own speed.”
The next Temescal Beat 12X Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council Meeting will be held the second Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 49th Street and Webster at 7 p.m. Oakland City Attorney Reve Bautista, a newly appointed city prosecuting attorney, is slated to attend.