West Oakland: Documenting the Downturn
Historic West Oakland is home to some of the oldest parts of the city. Its elegant Victorians and gritty industrial warehouses tell the story of this working class town. In many ways, this part of the city never recovered from previous economic downturns and the residents have often had to rely on ingenuity and each other to survive. So, we thought it would be an interesting barometer during the current economic crisis. Our series explores how the neighborhood is responding to current—and past—challenges. (Editors for the series: Holly Kernan, Zoe Corneli and Thea Chroman)
The California Hotel: A Profile of the Tenant's Struggle
The California Hotel, located on the corner of San Pablo in west Oakland, is a historic landmark that hosted the likes of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, Ike and Tina and many other black movie stars and musical giants. The construction of Oakland’s freeways in the 1950s nearly cut right through the California Hotel—and changed it from the place to be—to a place to avoid. In 1990 the hotel became part of the city’s low income housing infrastructure. But the city wants those tenants to move on.
Listen to Mical Asefaw's story
New Migration and Veteran Activists
West Oakland is a historical hotbed of activism, and is still full of movers and shakers fighting to better their community. As rents in the Bay Area have steadily risen, West Oakland has attracted people seeking affordable homes and a short commute. Some residents who have been in the area for generations are welcoming the newcomers, but others are worried these immigrants will push older generations out, and that could alter the cultural landscape in what was once known as the Harlem of the West.
Listen to Amanda Brush's story
Take a drive around West Oakland and you’ll probably find enough abandoned furniture to fill your house, if you’re not too picky about the condition. Couches with torn cushions, broken refrigerators, and rotting bookshelves decorate West Oakland’s sidewalks and spill over into its streets. You may even find enough construction materials to build a treehouse. It’s a junkyard fiend’s paradise. But for the residents of West Oakland, living in a dump reeks. The trash attracts more trash. It discourages many people from frequenting, much less respecting, the area: things that are essential for a community to thrive. The city has tried a number of expensive remedies that some residents say have yielded few results. Those community members have taken it upon themselves to confront those responsible for the dumping and to rally their neighbors to combat the problem. But still, trash dominates.
Listen to Loke Davis's story
Behind the California Hotel: An Investigation into OCHI
Oakland’s Vice Mayor Ignacio De la Fuente has called for the state Attorney General to investigate possible corruption at an Oakland non-profit. Oakland Community Housing, Inc. or OCHI, owned and managed 14 affordable housing buildings in the city of Oakland. The developer was founded in 1973 by a group of community activists, including local churches and the Black Panther party. Their mission? To create affordable housing for the hundreds of people who had been displaced by 1960’s downtown redevelopment. But over the past few years a series of lawsuits brought by tenants of one building have shined a light on deteriorating conditions at OCHI properties. And that’s just the beginning of the story. By 2007 OCHI was bankrupt—on some buildings they closed up shop in the middle of the night—leaving tenants in the lurch and leaving the city asking how did an organization created to protect Oakland’s low-income residents end up doing the very thing it was supposed to protect against?
Listen to Sandhya Dirks's story
Booze on the Block: Revisiting the Liquor Store Cleanup
Many cities across America have sections of town with a high concentration of liquor stores. That’s because they are what’s called grandfathered in—meaning they were there before new zoning laws allowed only limited liquor sales. West Oakland, which has 43 liquor stores for its 24,000 residents, is a good example of a neighborhood with what some consider too many liquor stores. Store owners say they are simply fulfilling a community need. Neighbors and law enforcement agencies say the stores attract crime. In 2004, the City launched a liquor store clean up project to try to bridge the gap between community needs and community safety.
Listen to Sarah Gonzalez's story
Out of Foreclosure, Activism
Notices of default rose to record levels in the first quarter of 2009… which means a new spike in home foreclosures is likely in the next few months. Government officials are scrambling to avert what some have called “the next Tsunami”. On June 15, the state of California passed a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, and the Obama administration has committed $145 million to California to help neighborhoods hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis…..But so far the help hasn’t reached many of the people dealing with the threat of losing their homes. While Americans wait for policy changes and bank bailouts to trickle down, homeowners on the edge pray that those changes come soon enough.
Listen to Anneka Huntley's story
An oral history of 20th Century West Oakland
At the turn of the century, the end of the line was right here, in West Oakland. It was as far west as you could travel by train. And Black families rolled in from southern states, leaving slavery behind in search of opportunities and a better life for their families. The Pullman Porters ran those rails—they were a professional corps of Black men who serviced the trains. And those men helped establish west Oakland as a mecca for Black activism and culture. That history informs the city even today.
Listen to Trish Jetson's story
Parents and after school programs
Neighborhood advocates say youth services are critical to give kids somewhere to go and something to do after school. The YMCA is probably the most famous children’s program in America. But the group only recently discovered a critical way to help kids.
Listen to Lola Olson's story
Urban Farm in West Oakland
Global food production is in jeopardy, and according to the United Nations Environment Programme, food prices will increase by 30-50 per cent within the decades (TK). But right in west Oakland, community residents have been experiencing a shortage of fresh food for years. That is because most neighborhoods in the area don’t have grocery stores—including the village bottoms neighborhood, formerly known as Prescott. So one man and his team have taken it upon themselves to build an agricultural enterprise to boost that neighborhood’s depressed economy, and feed its locals.
Listen to Daniella Pineda's story
Iron Chef in West Oakland
With the economic downturn, many people are looking for ways to save money. One of the ways is to eat out less and cook at home more. But, in West Oakland, where about 24 thousand people live without a major grocery store…that’s more challenging than it may seem. And since home ec is not often taught in schools anymore, many kids just never learn how to cook. Well, one couple in Oakland decided to do something to reverse that trend. Reggie and Demitre Mack are co-founders of an after school program called the Future Chefs Academy.
Listen to Hazel Utevsky's story
Bringing a Grocery store to West Oakland
The Bay Area is the nation’s culinary mecca. The year-long growing season has attracted chefs like Alice Waters, who opened her legendary Chez Panisse here and spawned a rich food culture. Most Oakland residents have grocery options visitors only dream of. Most residents, that is, except for those in West Oakland. The neighborhood is home to about twenty four thousand and yet doesn’t have a single full-service grocery store. Lack of access to healthy, affordable food is part of the reason residents here are more likely to experience health problems like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease than surrounding areas. In recent years, community advocates have shed light on what they call food insecurity in West Oakland, and introduced alternatives like urban gardening and food coops to fill some of the gap. But the goal of bringing a full-service grocery store to West Oakland still remains elusive. Even though small grocery stores pop up every so often, they don’t stick around for very long.
Listen to Joy Wheeler's story