WEST OAKLAND STORIES

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ON THE STREET IN WEST OAKLAND: (New color photos added)


THE CORNER: Campbell and 8th is a neighborhood hangout in front of one of the low-income housing developments built in the l960s. Most everyone says it's a bad corner and the Yemeni man who runs the corner liquor store calls 911 a lot because of fights. But there are also a lot of the older regulars still around, as well as some kids with their moms. The Yemeni woman who lives above the store says she lets her children play outside because she knows the regulars will watch over them.


BOB ROSENBERG is a San Francisco-born Jewish guy - a rebel and long-time meth user. He calls himself “a workaholic” and from what I’ve seen that’s right. He’s a good mechanic and can get a lot of junked cars to run, but mostly he scraps metal, including cars and trucks. Because of this he’s usually covered with dirt and grease. Some think of him as a kind of Godfather to the lost souls and addicts of Oakland's Lower Bottoms because he's smart, honest, and a soft-touch for a loan. But since I’ve taken these photos his life has caught up with him. He’s 50 now and the junkyard where he lived and worked has been cleared out. The market for metal has tanked. Bob is somewhere, figuring out how to survive.


ALLIANCE METALS RECYCLING is (was) an old recycling center on the west edge of West Oakland that supported a cottage industry for the poor. It was a way for families with a car or truck and anyone with a shopping cart to get some cash and supplement poverty-level incomes. No doubt it also supported those who needed to buy alcohol or drugs but they were a tiny, though visible, minority. The city closed Alliance down in August, 2016, because of neighbors complaining and a large, market-rate, condo development going up. Today a nearby homeless encampment still makes the neighborhood sketchy but the city is working on cleaning it up.


RIP: REST IN PEACE. There are a lot of murders in West Oakland, most of them young black men killing other young black men -- for "nothing" as most of their relatives say. A woman. An insult. A mistake. The first seven photos  were taken at a “Repast" (the party after a funeral) for Donald Washington,  a 21-year-old man who had three kids, two baby mamas and a lot of people who loved him. His grandmother says "he was actually a Mama's boy” because he liked to cook and play with his kids. He was shot while sitting in the back seat of a van. Most of these murders don't make the news, and the black community doesn't protest as much as I think they should, but all the lives lost are deeply mourned.


LOWER BOB SKATE-PARK. (“Lower Bottoms” + “Bob Rosenberg.”)

I happened upon this Do-it-Yourself skate-park when it was being built on a abandoned, piece of land next to a junkyard, a recycling plant and a freeway. Tony,  a skater and skate-park builder, along with a dozen volunteers, raised $40,000 for materials and built the park in just five months. It’s been up and running for six years now even though the city has wanted to tear it down from the start. Skaters have have patched up cracks and built new rails and ramps. They’ve painted murals and created mosaics. They’ve carried out the trash and kicked out people sleeping in it overnight. Oakland does have a great skatepark twice the size of Lower Bob, but it’s not for advanced skaters, and cost $750,000.

I understand why DIY projects are a problem for cities. They are built by rebels with a cause who have failed to get city officials to listen to them. They are built with hard work, love and pride, but without regulations, permissions, and standards. Still, some cities do find ways to accommodate them. Not so in Oakland. West Oakland councilwoman Lynette McElhanny has been against the park as soon as someone told her about it — five months after it was up and running. “They were white boys,” she said, “coming into an old black neighborhood, and they showed no respect for the old-timers who have been living here for generations.” She has a point: Tony had to build the park surreptitiously or he couldn’t have built it at all. All I can say is that the land Lower Bob is on was never part of the Lower Bottoms neighborhood: it’s owned by CalTrans and was never developed and the skaters made it safe. Loud parties and beer-drinking kids might have been a worry — but after six years it’s clear the skaters are trying to be good citizens. Breaking news: I just heard that the City has declared “Lower Bob” unsafe so it’s probably on it’s way to being torn down.