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Lake Merritt residents rethink habits after spate of assaults

on February 16, 2011

Lake Merritt, surrounded by upscale apartment buildings, chic cafes and an ever-present stream of joggers, has a reputation for being one of Oakland’s safest and most highly foot-trafficked neighborhoods. But a recent spate of sexual assaults is making some lake path-goers rethink their walking habits.

“At night it’s different here,” said Oakland resident Stacy Z., who declined to give her last name, while walking during her work break around the lake. “In the daytime I feel safe, but at night it’s lonesome. No way would I be walking around here alone.”

“People have been a lot more cautious,” said Steven Ma, president of the Lake Merritt Merchants’ Association and owner of Woody’s Laundromat and Café. “Emails have been going around [saying] to try and not go out at night if you don’t have to.”

The most recent attack came last week when a female victim reported being sexually assaulted and beaten as she returned home to her apartment building near the intersection of Jackson and 8th Streets, a couple blocks from the Lake Merritt BART station. That was the fourth report the Oakland Police Department received of a sexual assault in the Lake Merritt area over the past five months.

Back in September, two women were robbed on their way home in the Lake Merritt neighborhood. During the course of the robberies, the women were also sexually assaulted. One of the reported assaults took place near the intersection of 3rd Avenue and International Boulevard, and the other at E. 18th Street and Lakeshore Avenue. Then in January, the OPD reported a robbery and sexual assault in the Lake Merritt area. According to the police, the woman was also targeted as she came home.

In all three instances, the suspect was described as an African-American man with a medium build, between 5’10 and 6’0 tall.

Oakland police currently do not have a suspect in custody in connection with any of the four incidents. OPD spokesperson Holly Joshi said the police do not know if the same person is responsible for all of the assaults. They say the attacker in last week’s assault appears to have a different motive than in the previous assaults that have taken place near Lake Merritt. The most recent victim was not robbed. Regardless, police are still warning women to be aware.

“This is definitely a matter of high priority,” Joshi said adding that OPD has stepped up patrols in the area, increased intelligence gathering and is talking to merchants and residents like Steve Ma.

“We’re making progress in suspect information from the last case,” Joshi said. “But when victims are brutalized in this manner, it can be hard and traumatic to get sketches and information from them.”

According the Oakland Police crime watch records, non-rape sexual assaults are down 54 percent in Oakland. There are 28 so far this year, compared to 61 this time last year. Burglaries in the Lake Merritt neighborhood currently account for 12.3 percent of robberies in Oakland, and 5.6 percent of aggravated assaults.

Compared to this time last year in the Lake Merritt neighborhood, there has been a 23-percent increase in burglaries, while robberies and aggravated assaults are down by 9 percent and 4 percent respectively.

Along with Steve Ma, Lake Merritt Neighborhood Service Coordinator Haong Banh has been sending out a flurry of community alert flyers in response to the recent Lake Merritt robberies and sexual assaults. Along with other neighbors, Banh and Ma canvassed a targeted area around International Blvd, I-580 and Lakeshore to distribute multi-lingual flyers with safety tips from OPD.

“There’s been a lot of concern and fear lately,” Ma said. “We’ve been telling folks lately, ‘You really have to watch your back.’”

Ma blames the layoff of 80 Oakland officers last summer as a reason for the spike in assaults over the last couple of months. “Criminals know how to take advantage of the short staffing of OPD,” he said. “Right now, it’s important that we keep neighbors informed and organized.”

On February 25, Ma and Huang will join forces with nearby Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils, businesses and residents in the parkway and Lake Merritt districts for a safety walk and social that Ma calls “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” In between 5 and 6 p.m., when people will be coming home from work, volunteering neighbors will gather in several “pods” stationed at different locations. There, volunteers will pass out safety tips and information on support that is available to them in the community. The pods will walk around the designated locations handing out whistles, safety brochures and other information, with the goal, Ma said, of creating a positive and safe presence in the community.

“A lot of people don’t know why they need this information,” Ma said. “But we have to do something.” Ma said this idea sprung up after a neighborhood group in North Oakland did a similar activity when a spike in assaults occurred in their area.

Ma said he and his neighbors will continue to raise awareness of the recent incidences. A women’s self defense class for local residents is planned for the end of the month. “It’s unfortunate that these crimes have happened,” Ma said, “but now is our chance to meet and greet our neighbors and hope they become involved in keeping our neighborhood safe.”


  1. len raphael on February 22, 2011 at 12:58 am

    Lake Merritt area “safest” areas of the city???

    Not in the +30 years I’ve lived here has anyone every called it safe. The mix of high density ticky tack apartments interspersed with chopped up single family homes, mixed with beautiful single family residences has long been an area with high turnover and night fear.

    To me Lake Merritt is exactly what we don’t want to happen to Temescal and Lower Rockridge by rezoning that encourages buildings higher than 4 stories or 45 feet with maybe 60 feet at nodes.

    Below is a petition signed by 60 residents of Temescal/Lower Rockridge opposing 60 and 75 foot height limits on Bway (and Tele). We don’t want the Lake Merritfication of Temescal because the city can’t provide good schools and safe streets for the current number of residents, let alone adding a bunch more.

    -len raphael, temescal

    To Members of the City Council February 12, 2011

    We are writing to request changes to the proposed zoning update, explicitly as it relates to the Broadway corridor between College Avenue and 45th Street.

    We support a maximum height limit of 45 feet on the northwest side of Broadway between 45th and College Avenue, i.e. the side of Broadway adjacent to Desmond Street. Current proposal from the planning department calls for 60 feet. We acknowledge Broadway is a major corridor; however we support the continuation of 45 feet as is currently proposed on Broadway between 41st street and 45th street.

    ” 60 feet along Broadway is too abrupt a transition from existing low density residential along Desmond Street and is not consistent with the general plan’s recommendations to “conserve existing residential neighborhoods” and that “policies seek to preserve areas that are predominantly low density residential and to ensure that infill development is compatible.” We do not believe the planning department’s current proposals, including rear set-backs and height step-backs are sufficient to handle this transition.

    ” Existing topography at the corner of Broadway and 51st (Pleasant Valley) and up to College Avenue already sit 15-20 feet above Desmond Street (low density residential)- thereby magnifying the impact of building heights along Broadway. The zoning update process is designed to specifically take into account these types of site specific considerations.

    ” Community supports efforts for “growth and change” in this area as defined in the general plan along Broadway but not at the absolute expense of the existing character of the surrounding neighborhood.

    NAME _____________________________________________
    ADDRESS __________________________________________
    Optional EMAIL_____________________________________________

    email to “”””

  2. […] in the Lake Merritt area since September, 2o1o, and neighborhood merchants have been working to make residents aware of the attacks. In these three cases, the suspect was described as an African-American man with a medium build and […]

  3. […] The Oakland Police Department reported an attempted assault in the Lake Merritt neighborhood today of a woman as she was returning home from the store. According to a police press release issued Tuesday evening, she was followed by an unknown person into her residence near the the 1400 block of 3rd Avenue where she was then ordered to remove her clothing. The suspect, described as an African-American male who is approximately 6 feet tall, was wearing dark clothing. According to police, after ordering the woman to undress the man then fled on foot. The OPD considers this incident to be high priority, but on Tuesday evening police spokespeople could not be reached for comment as to whether this case may have a connection to a series of sexual assaults near Lake Merritt earlier this year. […]

  4. […] Four other sexual assaults in the Lake Merritt area have been reported over the last seven months.  Three of them also included robberies. In all four previous assaults, the suspect was described as an African-American male, and in three cases was described as being approximately 6 feet tall. […]

  5. […] recent Oakland sexual assaults, including a home invasion in the Oakland hills area on May 27, four sexual assaults that took place in the general Lake Merritt area between September, 2010 and February, 2011, and a fifth attempted assault near Lake Merrit in April, which […]

  6. […] Oakland sexual assaults, including a home invasion in the Oakland hills area on May 27 and four sexual assaults that took place in the general Lake Merritt area between September, 2010 and February, 2011. The department believes these incidents are not related to the […]

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