OAKLAND, Calif. (BCN) — About 80 unhoused residents and their property were being cleared from Caltrans land along Wood Street in Oakland Thursday following a federal judge’s ruling that the state agency could do so.
Work began at about 9:30 a.m. with the California Highway Patrol assisting. But, the removal of the residents and their property at the sprawling camp below freeway overpasses did not go easy.
Two residents were arrested by the CHP following a standoff with a group of residents, said supporters, including a volunteer with M.H. First Oakland, a non-police response for people facing a mental health crisis. “The residents were speaking their truth and demanding an end to the state violence,” Delphine Brody, a volunteer with M.H. First, said.
Supporters identified the two arrested as Jaz Colibri and Ron McGowan. The CHP confirmed late Thursday afternoon that officers arrested two people at 11:15 a.m. on suspicion of trespassing and delaying/obstructing an officer.
“I’m just an artist,” said Mavin Carter-Griffin, a resident of what she described as a formal settlement and not a homeless encampment, a word she resents.
She is really frustrated that Caltrans is clearing the property. Work is expected to continue Friday. Judge William Orrick attempted to get the city, Alameda County and Caltrans, among others, to work together to house the Wood Street residents, who filed a lawsuit to prevent Caltrans from clearing the settlement.
But all three agencies tried to wash their hands of the idea. In the end, Orrick lifted a temporary restraining order allowing Caltrans to clear its property, adding that people have no constitutional right to housing.
Now, with only 40 shelters beds available in Oakland, 40 or more unhoused residents will move to another part of Oakland, remaining unhoused. About 300 unhoused people have been living in the entire Wood Street settlement, supporters said. The land is owned by Caltrans, the city of Oakland and BNSF Railway.
Caltrans said about 200 people are living on its property, which will be cleared in three phases. Thursday’s work was part of phase one.
Lawyers with Caltrans argued before Orrick that fires at the settlement have become very dangerous. One closed highways above the settlement. Nearby are oxygen tanks operated by the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which if ignited have the potential to cause a catastrophe, Caltrans lawyers and an EBMUD spokesperson argued.
Since March 2020, more than 240 fires have occurred at the settlement. A fire in July came 200 feet from the oxygen tanks, Caltrans attorney Mark Guenzi said.
Meanwhile, in Thursday afternoon’s heat wave, under the noise of passing cars and trucks, workers were busy clearing debris and vehicles from the property.
“We are diamonds in the rough,” said Carter-Griffin, who is a mother and once owned a home in Crockett. She said the people living in the settlement are not homeless.
“Oakland is our home,” she said.
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She said art and humor gets the residents through each day. Brody said Alameda County, Oakland and the state of California have failed the residents of Wood Street.
Even the 40 shelter beds offered by the city of Oakland are not of interest to most residents, she said. Caltrans said in a statement late Thursday that it anticipates finishing phase one of the clearing in early November.
The agency “counted 34 people at the location it cleared today,” the statement said.
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