“Every system failed to us!” Flooded out Coliseum Connections’ residents frustrated with work pace
on February 22, 2023
Davina Brown was awakened on New Year’s Eve by a car horn that was continuously honking outside her home in Coliseum Connections Apartments on 71st Avenue in Oakland. Looking out the window, she could see flooded streets from the storm that would pound the Bay Area for the next couple weeks.
Soon she would find out that the building’s garage, where her car was parked, was flooded too, and that she and her 9-year-old son would have to evacuate.
“The garage filled up with water fairly quickly,” said Brown, who is an administrative assistant and a life insurance agent. “Residents were having to wade through the water to get through to their cars, which was very dangerous because all of the electrical panels are built in the garage.”
Brown and her son have been living in a hotel room since then. They and more than 300 residents in Coliseum Connections’ 108 apartments will be displaced for at least another month, the property owner says, and last week, Oakland City Council authorized $2 million in emergency funding to pay for the tenants’ hotel costs. The city expects reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, since the situation is connected to the heavy rainfall that prompted President Joe Biden to declare a state of emergency in California.
Frustrated, residents attended a Feb. 9 meeting demanding answers from officials at BART, which owns the land the complex sits on, UrbanCore Development, which owns and operates the building, and FPI, which handles the rent.
“This is very emotional, but I am pissed off,” Brown told them. “I am so upset because when I look at your faces, each one of you get to go home. I don’t have a home anymore.”
Michael Johnson, the president of UrbanCore, defended the company’s decision, saying there were no apartments available to house all the residents, so motel stays were arranged to keep people from being homeless.
“What else could we have done?” asked Johnson, as residents balked.
Over 3.5 inches of rain fell on Dec. 31, and according to BART officials, over 8 feet of water filled Coliseum Connections’ garage, and at least 4 feet flooded the electric room. Damage to the electrical system made the property uninhabitable. The next day, residents were moved to hotels.
Residents voiced anger at the way property managers and the city handled the situation before the evacuation, with some saying no one would answer their questions or come to their aid.
Coliseum Connections’ resident Alejandra Villa said in the meeting that tenants were in the lobby, asking an FPI employee to come out of the office and answer their questions, but that the worker only said they should ask the city.
People called the Police Department, Villa said, only to be told it was not an emergency. And the Fire Department, she said, told them it was not their jurisdiction.
“Every system failed to us,” she said.
Johnson said the electrical contractor is still securing all the necessary parts, and that the system should be repaired by the end of March.
City spokesperson Jean Walsh said the city would speed up the permitting process, so that the contractor can move quickly when work is set to begin.
In the meantime, displacement is not only inconveniencing tenants but costing them. Families are cooped up in hotel rooms and have had to pay for transportation, food and other expenses.
“There is no washer and dryer in the hotel unit, there’s none even in the hotel, although there is the kitchenette,” Brown said in an interview. “So I’m impaired in that way from cooking full meals sometimes for me or my son. I’m further away from my son’s school, which costs me extra money out of my budget to put into gas. I had to buy a new car. All of those things affect my life.”
What troubles her and many others is that the flood may have been preventable. Brown believes that if BART had maintained drains better and kept trash from piling up around the property, and if the building had sump pumps, perhaps the water would not have gotten so high.
“From what I understand, there are a lot of different things that could have been done in order to prevent this situation,” she said.
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