By: Hyphenated Republic
The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission has issued a Cease and Desist Order to the City of Oakland, ordering the City to close the homeless encampment at Union Point Park by mid-February 2021. The order also mandates the City of Oakland to perform a deep cleaning in the park, and remove all encampments outside of a current area in the North side of the park in mid-November. The CDO by the state agency likely marks the first time a regional body has ordered the closure of an encampment on land controlled by the City of Oakland.
The CDO was passed at the October 15, 2020 BCDC meeting. The BCDC reports acknowledge that public comment from an adjacent residential Marina played a large role in the BCDC’s move.
The BCDC is a regional state body created by the 1965 McAteer-Petris Act that has authority over the use of certain areas along the San Francisco Bay coastline. The 27 member appointed body also issues permits for use of the coastal areas—the City operates Union Point Park on City land with a BCDC permit issued in 2003. The CDO comes after over a year of BCDC deliberations and actions intended to obligate the closure of encampments in the estauary-adjacent park. The CDO traces back to BCDC issued violation reports to the City of Oakland detailing violations of the City’s permit at the park, with the threat of the CDO if the encampments were not closed or controlled.
In response to the violation reports, the City proposed a two-tiered plan of action to partially, then completely, close the encampment. As part of that plan, the City enacted a partial closure at the park in February, allowing camping only in a pre-determined wedge on the north side of the park. The City would have begun the eviction of the remaining area in April of this year, according to the plan—but the City halted most planned evictions of encampments in March after City Council issued a Covid emergency order that restricted the City’s closure of homeless encampments.
According to the BCDC report, the agency’s enforcement committee then began drafting a cease and desist order that would compel the City to complete the eviction. At the City’s request, BCDC added language that would only obligate the eviction of the encampment 60 to 90 days after an acknowledged end to the Covid crisis and cessation of the City’s emergency order [what BCDC called a “triggering” event].
Marina Residents Influence
But in documents and public statements, the BCDC appears to admit the CDO was changed to require more immediate action after response from tenants of the Marina adjacent to the park.
Executive Director Lawrence J. Goldzband’s written report claims that the Commission sent the CDO back to the Enforcement Committee to hasten the timeline of the CDO after discussion with the Marina residents who complained about health and safety issues.
“After hearing from residents of the adjacent marina who spoke on the item at the Commission meeting, the Commission remanded the matter to the Enforcement Committee to consider amendments to the Order to require that the encampments be removed prior to the end of the COVID-19 emergency,” the report states.
The complaints prompted BCDC to reverse the decision to link the closure a “triggering event”–as the BCDC called the end of the Covid emergency. During the meeting, Commissioner Sanjay Ranchod explicitly stated that the actions taken by the BCDC were at the behest of Marina and surrounding residents. Ranchod noted that the Commission had heard “the pleas of those living in the Marina in that area to act, and act with a sense of urgency and I see that folks are getting the message.” But the health and safety rationale has seemingly little to do with the permit violations cited in the violation report BCDC had issued to the City.
The effect of the Marina resident complaints was palpable during the October 15, meeting. Almost every public comment was from a resident of the marina. The administrative record attached to the agenda also contained 15 complaints from members of the public—nearly all of them from residents at the Marina, conveyed by the Harbor Master there, Brock De Lappe. De Lappe’s emails appears throughout the documentation, and its clear the BCDC considered him a representative stakeholder who had an outsized share in the deliberations.
“Way out of the Core Mission of BCDC”
Osha Neumann, an attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center, believes BCDC overstepped its authority to cater to the Marina residents. “BCDC represents itself as speaking for the seagulls and the pelicans and the fish in the bay. But that’s not who they’re speaking for, they’re speaking for one segment of the population, those who have privilege and power, against those who don’t have privilege and don’t have power.” Neumann and the EBCLC represented homeless residents in a suit against Caltrans, which resulted in a landmark settlement that obligates Caltrans to compensate residents for property lost and destroyed during evictions on Caltrans controlled property.
Some Commissioners appear to agree that the BCDC is on shaky ground with the decision. At the October 15 meeting, Commissioner and Richmond Mayor Tom Butt worried the BCDC’s involvement in the homeless encampment at Union Point is “way out of the core mission of the BCDC. BCDC is not a place to get involved in solving our homeless problem.” Though Butt came to vote for the CDO because of the active participation from the City of Oakland, he called the decision “a hairball that has no productive end-result” and urged the Commission to ensure such CDOs remain a one-time intervention.
Commissioner and Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia, worried that closures in the bay area “just move an encampment from one community to another. This can’t be about moving people out of our neighborhood because we want them somewhere else.” Gioia questioned City representatives in attendance at the Zoom meeting about the City’s ability to offer housing alternatives to the residents.
City of Oakland Homelessness Administrator, Daryel Dunston, responded to Gioia’s concerns, suggesting that residents would be offered space in the City’s emergency homelessness interventions. Dunston also discussed the City’s proposed Encampment Management Plan, which was approved the following week by Oakland City Council. Given the EMP’s four month timeline approved at the subsequent Council meeting, the Union Point closure would likely be the first encampment closed under the new rubric.
Encampment Residents Skeptical of Alternative Housing Offers
Residents of the Union Point encampment said they were aware of the proposed partial and permanent closures when interviewed on Wednesday October 28. Representatives of the City have already visited the encampment to advise residents of the coming actions in November and February, according to several residents there. But some residents were skeptical of promises of housing that accompanied the advisories.
Three, who’s lived in the park for a year and a half says he was never offered housing in any of the previous city actions. “I’ve been hearing [about alternative housing] since July, 2019, and I’ve been offered nothing except ‘get the hell out of the park’. Three said he’s unable to work after suffering increasingly serious Gran Mal seizures, but that he does his part in keeping the park clean and was in the process of cleaning up fallen branches from the week’s wind-storm. Three recognized that there were concerns about crime, trash and violence, but he considered them both overblown and a product of camp outsiders preying on the residents. “They should just leave me here and let me take care of the park.”
Tina, a mother of an extended family says she’s happy to have finally found housing in the City’s new Clifton Hall family shelter, which the City purchased with Homekey funds last month. But she doubts that others at the encampment will be as lucky in getting viable offers of alternative housing. “That’s what they said the last time” Tina says, a reference to the previous announced closure and the promise of housing alternatives made at that time by the City’s representatives.
No one from the City returned to offer alternative shelter after the eviction timeline was suspended in March, according to Tina. The City had suggested that families like hers could be moved to the allotment of trailers the City received from the State in January. But the City didn’t allocate those until May, and the criteria for placement were restrictive and she never heard about the trailers again. It would be another 6 months before she and her family were able to secure the slot at Clifton.
Oakland Could Fight the Order
Neumann believes that the City should represent the homeless residents and fight the CDO. “I think BCDC have gone way beyond what their actual jurisdiction should be and I think that Oakland is wrong to cave in to it. And if they’re threatening a lawsuit, Oakland should fight them on behalf of those people who have no place to go.”
The City still has the power to contest the order in court, according to the Mcateer Petris Act and the City can also challenge the enforcement of the CDO, which can carry a penalty of up to 6k per day of violation. But the City seems to have instead accepted the CDO and during the meeting, both Assistant City Administrator Joe Devries and Dunston made no mention of any intention to challenge it.
The reaction to the CDO by Devries and Dunston was largely cooperative, and the two seemed eager to prove to the Commission that they could follow the CDO timeline. “Some of the things that are outlined in this policy are the things we’ve brought up [in the EMP]. I am committed to executing [the plan]…and to maintain whatever those actions are,” Dunston assured the Commission.
At one point in the meeting, Devries remarked that BCDC Chair Zach Wasserman specifically was aware of Devries troubles in passing homelessness legislation at Council. Wasserman is also the Chair of Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce, and an advocate and fundraiser for Council Member Lynnette Gibson-McElhaney.
“The City of Oakland is caving in and maybe they’re using the BCDC as an excuse to do what they want to do anyway, which is to remove that encampment,” Neumann suggests. Neumann points to a parallel situation in Berkeley last year, where that City’s Council contemplated installing a permitted RV encampment in a Marina parking lot area. He says Berkeley’s City Manager was unenthusiastic about the idea, and ultimately used the argument that the BCDC’s threat of a lawsuit in Oakland meant Berkeley would be challenged at the Marina, as well. The argument was effective, and Council abandoned the idea.
In the meantime, Neumann remains skeptical that the City can offer real alternatives to the homeless residents at Union Point as the City closes the encampment. “There are people there with special needs and disabilities and so on and you can’t just come in and push people into an alternative without individualizing solutions. You have to deal with them in terms of their real needs, their real limitations, and then find alternatives that work for them with their particular situation, and that takes time and it takes resources and that’s generally not happening,” Neumann says.