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A lot owner wants to create an RV safe parking site–but the people living there say they can’t leave

on December 18, 2019

At the Wood Street homeless encampment that sits on the border between West Oakland and Emeryville, residents live in RVs and makeshift cabins both curbside and on a lot owned by Game Changer LLC, a company owned by a San Francisco-based investor. Some have called the encampment home for as many as eight years. 

Natasha, a lifelong Oakland resident, started living on the lot four months ago after she was evicted from her home in Fruitvale. “I became homeless and it was shocking,” Natasha said, as she sat in her RV next to her dog, Bubba. “I didn’t know what to do and so I came down to Wood Street. And as crazy as it sounds, this was the safest option for me.”

But they won’t be able to stay very long. On November 22 and 25, representatives on behalf of Game Changer served eviction notices, telling several residents that they had to leave the lot. If residents refused to leave, the notices stated, the company would sue residents to retake possession of the lot and to recuperate any legal costs and damages.

Patricia Smith, an Oakland-based attorney for Game Changer, says that the owners intend to clear off the lot and lease it to the City of Oakland at no cost, with the agreement that the lot would be turned into an RV safe parking site. The site would have amenities like electricity and running water similar to other such sites that are already available in East and West Oakland.

“We don’t know yet what the cost is of doing our part of the of the work to prepare the site,” said Smith over the phone. “It’s probably in excess of $200,000.”

“The city wants the owner to clear and fence the property before the city takes possession,” said Smith. She said the lease between Game Changer and the city would last for 18 months and then would possibly be renegotiated from there.

Smith said that the only benefit to Game Changer for leasing the property for free would be that the city would maintain the lot. “We think there we’re one of the property owners who have been able to offer property to the city to by providing spaces for the homeless,” she said. “And that’s our intention.”

(Oakland North also attempted to reach the lot’s owner via the San Francisco investment firm that is Game Changer’s parent company, but interview requests were not returned.)

After she received an eviction notice, Oakland civilian police technicians—whose job is to address non-hazardous criminal complaints like trespassing, petty theft or vandalism—arrived at Natasha’s residence and gave her three options, she said. “One: Just get out. Two: We will remove all your belongings and … we will move it and destroy it. Or three: We will give you a courtesy tow to the curb,” she recalled them telling her.

Natasha and other residents were told by the technicians that if they leave the lot and move to the curb, they’ll be invited back onto the lot after it’s prepared for RV safe parking, she said. 

But many of the current residents at Wood Street say they can’t move off the lot without destroying their RVs. “This doesn’t have an engine,” said Natasha with a wry laugh about her own RV. “It doesn’t have any wheels. And you know, they felt like if they towed it out of here, that it would fall apart.”

Unable to move, Natasha and others have remained at Wood Street. On December 10, Game Changer’s attorney Alan Horwitz filed a complaint for forcible detainer in Alameda County Superior Court, alleging that the residents had trespassed and caused over $10,000 in damages. On December 17, several residents filed a response with the court, each making an individual argument. Some of them argued that they need more time to find a lawyer or make a decision, others argued that they were not served the eviction notice or do not actually live on the lot, and others argued that it is their right to sleep outside if they are not given a better alternative.

As of early this week, Natasha and several other residents hadn’t left and were still deciding on their next steps.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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