Activists with Occupy Oakland have taken over a vacant industrial lot on the corner of Mandela Parkway and 20th Street establishing a small camp with a kitchen setup, but may soon face eviction.
The lot, which is currently fenced off with barbed wire, hosts about 16 tents, but the protesters may soon be asked to leave. Police arrived Wednesday afternoon to survey the land with a person who claimed to be its owner, although the occupiers at the camp contend that that the property is owned by the city and that they will remain there.
The camp, which was established on December 22, was one of Occupy Oakland’s Tactical Action Committee’s autonomous actions, actions that are developed and executed in secrecy in order to control strategic information until the last possible moment, said one woman who was part of the committee.
“I’m all about autonomous actions and doing things behind the scenes,” said a woman at the camp who did not give her name, “not because of the secrecy, but to announce it at the right time in order to gain support and avoid crackdowns.”
Julian Lewis-Tatman, an occupier at the camp, said they claimed the space because they identified it as owned by the city and wanted to create a safe space to feed and shelter the homeless. “We’re just feeding the homeless,” he said, “and trying to give them a warm place to stay.”
Lewis-Tatman said that surrounding businesses support the camp. On Wednesday afternoon, across the street from the camp, a few employees with the nearby Global Fire and Safety Inc. stood outside and talked about it. One employee, Bobby Safikhani, said that the camp wasn’t hurting anybody and that he supported the goals of the protesters. “They just need better PR,” he said.
While this reporter was talking to people at the camp, two OPD officers arrived to escort a man who identified himself as Ed — he wouldn’t give his last name — and said he is an owner of the property. “We bought it from the city five years ago,” the main said outside the lot to a group of people.
As they walked around the camp and inspected the land, the protesters demanded documentation of ownership, saying that their records search produced no ownership results.“I don’t know what you guys are talking about,” the man responded.
According to records available at the Assessor’s Office and Recorder, the city sold the land to Brian Collins, Henry Wong and Hemmat and Dokhanchy Associates after an auction of the property in 2006. A deed transfer from March 14, 2006, shows that a transfer tax of $6,225 was paid over the parcel, which indicates that the buyers paid about $415,000 for the property.
In 2009, according to a Planning Commission staff report, a property line error from the original purchase led to a swap of land with the city, approved by the Planning Commission, to avoid including land that was actually CalTrans property. A 2011 document shows an amended deed with those corrections.
Oakland Police Department Sgt. Sekou Millington, who was on scene at the camp, said that after the owners file an official report and if their ownership is verified, action could be taken against the camp. “At this point, it is trespassing,” he said.
One of the occupiers talked with Millington about the ownership issue and said that the campers had looked up the records themselves and found that the property wasn’t owned. The occupier added that the property was unchained when the group arrived.
“I hear what you’re saying,” Millington replied, “but the property is owned by someone else. You guys are not welcomed on the property.”
After the disbanding of Occupy Oakland’s main camp on November 14, a number of autonomous actions have been happening across the city, including the occupation of a foreclosed home on 10th Street and Mandela Parkway, a 24-hour vigil on Frank Ogawa Plaza and a daily Interfaith group space on the plaza where protesters hand out information. A group also occupied a raft in the middle of Lake Merritt for nearly a week in mid-December.
After the arrival of the police at the Mandela camp, occupiers wouldn’t allow reporters back onto the property. Lewis-Tatman said before going back into the camp that he was “crystal clear” that the property was not owned, and that they would continue to camp there.
“He’s not proven to us that he’s the owner,” Lewis-Tatman said of the main who claimed to own the property.
Update: Shortly after this story was published, Oakland police officers arrived to disperse the camp. You can read the update here.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.