West Oakland: Who’s Responsible for What Around Here?

April 29, 2013

Culture, History, Politics, Streets


It’s more than just coincidence that West Oakland, one of the highest unemployment, high-crime communities in the entire country has so much of its land under freeway, almost certainly more than any other community in California. With the multiplicity of agencies around here all adept at pointing fingers – and giving them! – no one has to take responsibility for the egregious inequity that the residents and workers here must bear for the sake of all the Friscophiles over in, or traveling to, the Emerald City.

Little by little, the State’s various roadways, railways and waterways have been built to accommodate more and more diesel-spewing crudbuckets for us all to breathe from as we happily gum all the swill they bring us from afar, most of it now shot through with five different cheeses, extra-tangy crust and double pepperoni.

Hardly anyone wants to change any of this except because it all is brought to us courtesy of the federal government in the form of *TIGER this or *ISTEA that, huge government grants that require many chiefs to administer, several unions to placate and, of course, practically no local employees to swing the hammer or even carry the rod.

To me, this is the Governor’s baby: he has the moral authority to demand more from CalTrans, an agency of the State of California, one must assume, and the huge contribution it makes while passing through the epicenter of the Bay Area to congestion, bad air quality, low morale and criminality is too evident for us to ignore anymore: mitigations must be made, grants written, engineers consulted and better relations between the agency and the poor slobs who live here – even though, of course, they’re just mere commoners – must be forged.

So though I’m not so sure that all the arguments against the proposed 5 billboards at the touchdown of the Bay Bridge can stand on their own in court or anywhere else, certainly they can be incorporated into a much more detailed brief regarding the larger syndrome of ills that CalTrans brings to West Oakland. WOCA (West Oakland Commerce Association) is in the midst of pulling together an Environmental Crime Summit to try and deal with this and several other problems, and we’ll need a strong coalition coupled with steely leadership to make it happen. If climbing on that life raft is where you believe the billboards debate belongs, let’s add that fuel to the fire. Losing battles is something people with no money are good at, but you can’t let these godawful conditions continue without some sort of fight.

SSA Port of Oakland Gate 7 26 2012

BCDC is the (San Francisco) Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the origin, mission and functionality of which is best understood by getting your hands on “Saving the Bay,” a documentary frequently shown on the various PBS stations hereabouts. BCDC has joined with a number of other regional agencies to form the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) so that there can
be better coordination in regional planning for the greater Bay Area megacity that we live in – even those of us who still maintain that the borders of one city are meant to hoard the wealth of one from being shared by the other, particularly if that other might be pollution-prone Oakland.

**TIGER and ISTEA are Department of Transportation grants given over the years to upgrade infrastructure in key areas of the country. These grants began over a decade ago as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, now morphed into Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery sorta like what went on in the New Deal when FDR’ “Brain Trust” saw that big projects would require massive employment programs in order to get built, an economic development initiative that this country’s bankers were, just as they are today, unilaterally averse to.

16th St Train Station, terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad


16th St Train Station, left in disrepair for decades

snake lake by mr read_0

“Snake Lake” at sub-station

When ISTEA programs were first conceived, they contained provisions for the preservation and reuse of historic transportation-related structures. Although West Oakland’s historic Wood Street Station is obviously the terminus of the Transcontinental Railway, it has never been included by the City or the Port in any of the multiple applications for project funding made to Department of Transportation over the years. One can only infer that this is so because neither the City nor the Port wants to see economic development occur in West Oakland if it might somehow impinge on Port functionality or require that the City might knows nothing about.

As the community around here is basically considered a nuisance by hardworking staffers who believe that they are running a business and not a welfare office (even when applying to DC for funding that critics might call corporate welfare), trying to figure out how TIGER funding might be used to benefit something as obviously critical to the renaissance of West Oakland as the Wood Street Station simply can never occur to Port staff, particularly when senior staff, knowing full well that trips to Texan strip joints are infinitely more important to maritime trade, have so artfully fended away all attempts to create a Community Advisory Board where, presumably, discussion of mutual benefit might occur and commonsense solutions (such as: “Don’t Use the Port’s Expense Account at Strip Joints!”) can be shared.

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About Steve Lowe

Local crank who went bankrupt after coming to Oakland in 1972 to restore what is today Old Oakland. Resistance to a similar restoration process for Oakland's historic (c. 1916) Produce Market holds forth the promise of this failed developer becoming even crankier.

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