There has been an abundance of media around Occupy Oakland’s occupations and evictions and Occupy Oakland has once more scheduled a “move-in-day” when they plan to occupy a vacant building to create a space. As a fair weather occupier who participates when children, dishes and laundry allow. My husband stays home insisting someone will have raise the kids and post bail. I have been often confused and befuddled by Occupy Oakland’s focus on “space” and reclaiming spaces. It seems so unnecessary to me since, I own a house and a car and because many of the participants of the movements clearly have homes and jobs. Foreclosures have certainly hurt my block and crippled Oakland’s tax base, but how does occupying a building change that?
For years I have participated in campaigns to make my neighborhood better, most of the campaigns involved fighting property owners and business owners who either deliberately, or through neglect created crime and blight in my neighborhood, the Dimond.
The Hillcrest Motel, dubbed “a dirty and dangerous place for dope” by a Dimond neighbor held back business development and brought crime to the Dimond for years. The Hillcrest property owner ran a crime motel: arsons, domestics, drugs and assaults. Neighbors forced him to hire security but his don’t look, don’t call the police and never evict a paying customer plan, kept the crime going for the whole community. Dimond neighbors fought for Oakland’s Motel/ Hotel Ordinance which eventually closed the Hillcrest Motel. Small motel & hotel owners fought the ordinance, as did the Chamber of Commerce and the ordinance was only passed by the City Council after a modification was made which exempted the large motel and hotels by the Airport. The Chamber refused to support the ordinance if it affected its members, and the City Council would not support the ordinance without the Chamber of commerce’s blessing.
Farmer Joe’s, a thriving market on Fruitvale, used to be a vacant blighted property under lease to Lucky’s. Lucky’s a huge corporation was sitting out the lease and the property owner was happy to keep collecting rent on his blighted property. Neighbors forced Lucky’s break the lease with a call and card campaign to the CEO. The MacArthur Metro featured a front page article about Lucky’s being a bad neighbor in the Dimond. Pressure from the community on a wealthy property owner and huge corporation created an opportunity which a family business wanted to invest in Oakland. The Dimond business district’s development blossomed after the opening of Farmer Joes.
The Dimond had a bar owner who would regularly get eighty-sixed from his own bar and would speed drunk up neighborhood streets. His arrest closed finally closed his bar. The Dimond Improvement Association fought: pawn shops, liquor stores and check cashing stores all of whom wanted to open their doors in the Dimond business district. An unlicensed pot club (the First Hemp Bank) opened for business next to Curves and neighbors and the City of Oakland had to close them down.
The single biggest blight, environmental hazard and impediment to business development in the Dimond currently is a blighted and deemed hazardous vacant and gated building, the “old Blockbuster” on the corner of Macarthur and Dimond Avenue. Owners and ex-tenants are in litigation about the contamination and liability. Neighbors are left with the blight and the environmental hazard. The Sausal Creek watershed is at risk and the building is within blocks of five elementary schools, a library, and a park and recreation center.
So what does this have to do with Occupy Oakland and their Utopian vision of everything. They see a problem and a solution. They see their fellow occupiers without homes and vacant properties without tenants or upkeep. They see waste and suffering and they believe that problems should be solved, not moved, not hidden, not litigated, not ignored or studied; just solved. Perhaps they are naïve and idealistic but their actions are giving cause for pause to the rich property and business owners who have created horrible problems in my neighborhood.