Activists are Gathering to Prevent West Oakland Homeless Eviction

Puffy, a 66 year old resident who lives on a tract of land owned by Game Changer LLC, stands near the property under the 880 Freeway. He is one of the residents that activists are trying to protect from eviction. Photo by Zack Haber on Oct 18, 2020.

Bay Area residents have been gathering together to stop the Alameda County Sheriff from executing an eviction order against unhoused residents who live on an approximately 1.47 acre tract of land just west of Wood Street in West Oakland.

So far the eviction has not been enforced.

“They were supposed to evict us on Tuesday [Oct 13], but the activists showed up,” said Puffy, an unhoused person who is 66 and claims he has lived in West Oakland since 1989 and on the tract for two years and seven months. He has been out of work due to a disability that makes sustained movement impossible.

Puffy said on Tuesday Sheriff Officers “drove by, but they didn’t stop.”

Puffy only gave me his nickname, fearing giving his full name could allow Game Changer LLC, the company who owns the land and filed for and was granted the evictions, an easier ability to retaliate against him. Although seven parties appear on the Notice to Vacate that the Alameda Sheriff delivered in on October 6, only two full names appear.

Shortly after the Notice to Vacate was delivered, The United Front Against Displacement, a direct action centered housing justice group, put out a call to resist the eviction which was legally allowed to occur starting at 6:01 am on Tuesday, Oct 13. Over 50 protestors responded, showing up at or just after 5 a.m. on that Tuesday.

“We’ve really been focused on preventing the Sheriff Officers from entering the lot itself,” said Dale Smith of The UFAD. “People are definitely throwing down and that’s a good thing.”

It is currently unclear when Sheriff Officers plan to enforce the eviction.

“We are following due process,” said Alameda County Public Information Officer Sargent Ray Kelly. “We have 180 days to enforce the order. We will enforce when we feel the time is best for all parties.”

Activists are focused on non-violent defense. On Tuesday, they brought about ten brightly covered shields to defend the land. They set up a canopy for shade which has sat next to the Game Changer tract, on land owned by CalTrans near Wood Street and Grand Avenue.

The canopy has sat there ever since from early mornings on weekdays until around four, the end of the working day. Small groups of protestors who want to help with the defense have mostly sat under the canopy, chatting, eating snacks and drinking water which they have been sharing with homeless people living nearby, as they keep an eye out for Sheriff Officers. If officers show up to enforce the eviction, the protestors plan to make a call out to over 60 people who would be willing to show up onsite again.

San Francisco resident Fred Craves owns Game Changer LLC and also owns Bay City Capital. Bay City Capital’s website describes itself as a “life science investment firm” and describes Craves as “a leader in healthcare venture capital,” boasting he has invested in “nearly 100 companies” that have raised “more than $1.6 billion.”

While Craves has not responded to comment on this article, Pat Smith of Smith LLP, has agreed to speak on his behalf. She has represented Craves in legal matters related to the tract, which he purchased in March 2016 for about $1.3 million.

Starting in the summer of 2019, Pat Smith has worked with Craves to arrange an 18 month lease for a dollar a year between Game Changer and The City of Oakland. In an interview, she said the lease could be extended after 18 months if both parties agreed and that she envisions the agreement lasting two to three years. Both the City and Game Changer agreed that if leased, the City would use the tract as a safe parking site for people living in RVs.

“I think the owner feels like he’s being able to do something positive for the city and the homeless,” Pat Smith said.

But activists disagree.

“He’s clearing this lot to keep making money,” said Dale Smith. “But there’s a lot of people who live on the lot or in the area that have lived there longer than he’s owned the land or tried to develop the land.”

Dale Smith expressed worry that if residents cede the land to Craves, it could eventually displace all the homeless people in the area. The tract, which is now mostly vacant and always has fewer than seven inhabitants, sits in the middle of an area on and around Wood Street, in between 18th and 26th Streets, and under and near the 880 Highway. It’s densely populated by people living in vehicles, tents, self-made homes, and a few who sleep under no cover at all. No one knows exactly how many people live in the surrounding area, but most people claim well over 100. While some residents could move into a safe RV parking site, the site would be unavailable to those who do not live in vehicles who make up a majority of the homeless residents in the area.

The current stand off is not the first one protestors and Game Changer have engaged in. Game Changer helped the City pay a towing bill in order to clear the tract of land on Nov 5 and 6 of last year, stating a similar plan to lease the land to the City for a safe parking site. During the clearance days, about 35 protestors including homeless residents on the land, showed up to a rally. A handful of determined residents stayed on the property. This delayed the construction of the safe RV site.

“A bunch of people showed up with a bunch of people from the camp,” said Puffy describing the Nov 5 and 6 rally, “and the dogs started barking and these big burly cops decided they didn’t want to fuck with all the people or the dogs. So they left.”

Shortly afterwards, Game Changer erected a fence around their property and hired a security guard, which has not dissuaded some residents from staying on the site.

In late July 2020, the City released emails through a public records request indicating that if the City created a safe RV parking site on Game Changer’s land, they would invite some residents in the area to stay on the site but that those who were not invited or who did not wish to join a safe RV parking site would be cleared from the area.

No formal agreement currently exists between the City and Game Changer, but the City is still interested in pursuing a lease according to spokesperson Karen Boyd.

“The City is in negotiations to lease the property for the Safe RV Parking Program,” she said. “The timing depends on when/if the property will be free of occupants and personal property.”

It is unclear what will happen to residents at a safe RV parking site after Game Changer and the City end a lease. Pat Smith said that would most likely happen after two or three years, but possibly longer, when Craves would then develop the property.

“I realize it’s a finite period,” Pat Smith said. “But hopefully the homelessness problem will start to be addressed more successfully by the City.”

In the meantime, protestors plan to stay on the site to defend against eviction, although they are unclear as to how long they plan to stay. At the time of writing, they have been there every weekday since Tuesday, Oct 13.

Mavin Carter-Griffin, who was given a Notice to Vacate and claimed she has lived in the area for over eight years expressed gratitude for their presence.

“They’re here and they’re being really protective, which is great,” she said. “They’re helping to stave off the eviction.”

Notes: A similar version of this story will appear in print on Friday in The Oakland Post. Another similar version will also appear online soon on The Post News Group’s website.

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