“Camp CalTrans” latest PR Fiasco for maligned agency

Published On July 1, 2013 | By Rob Arias | Crime & Public Safety, News & Commentary, Planning & Development

The much maligned construction of the Bay Bridge ($5 billion over budget and a decade late) has endured one folly after another and chipped away at their eroding credibility (The latest being the failed bolts along the bike path story). The “Bigger News” is the 32 fractured high-strength rods that will be retrofitted with a saddle of steel cables for an addition 10 million dollars (who’s counting at this point) and put the announced Labor Day celebration in jeopardy. July 10th is apparently the “drop-dead date” for determining if the bridge will be complete in time for this to happen. These problems all seem indicative of the need for a culture shift or complete overhaul of the troubled 21,000 employee agency. As if CalTrans didn’t need any more bad press, in our little 1.2 square-mile neck of the woods is a growing sanitation nightmare at the area formerly know as “The Spot” DIY skatepark. What started as a single tent has grown into a full-on Tent-City with more than a dozen homeless camps occupying the asphalt patch of land directly underneath the Highway I80/I580 interchange.

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The area had been known as a drug marketplace and alleged prostitution ring prior to its volunteer cleaning and adoption as a skatepark. The message from CalTrans seems to be: Sweep and collect all the trash in a neglected area for recreational use and you get on their radar. Camping, alleged Drug-use and dumping? Well apparently you get a free pass for that (Sure, they gave the skaters an “opportunity” to legitimize the DIY skatepark if they could provide the $5,000/mo. lease and 2.5 million in liability insurance demands of the state agency). Apparently CalTrans didn’t want to be liable if a Skater broke his arm … but junkies shooting heroin and smoking crack-cocaine? No Problem! CalTrans justified the demolition of the Skate Spot because of the eminent construction of a car dealership to be leased by the City of Oakland. Nearly two years later, there are zero signs of anything related to construction … unless you consider the piles of trash and tents “Construction”. The spot couldn’t be saved by Emeryville because it technically resides in Oakland but the City is doing its best to make amends by working to integrate a skate-run into the existing Joseph Emery Park.

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In happier times, the spot was a well maintained recreational area for the youth of Oakland & E’ville

Most of us have compassion for the homeless and each of them has a unique story. I’ve often stated that the hard-working recyclable collectors that patrol our Park Avenue area are generally pretty respectful. They don’t scatter litter around or slam dumpsters in the middle of the night. I know that breaking up this camp isn’t going to solve homelessness but I can say unequivocally that turning a blind eye to drug-addiction while literally demolishing the dreams of some ambitious youths is counterproductive to what I believe is good for society. I personally witnessed one familiar resident of the tent-city make a transaction with a group of “Travelers” (The train-jumpers you often see under the 40th/Shellmound bridge or panhandling at Target) that resulted in an Ambulance visit (apparently his product didn’t pass “QA”).

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It’s not like they aren’t aware of it. There’s a CalTrans yard directly across Mandela and the lot rests directly on top of the EBMUD employee tunnel entrance to Oakland’s Wastewater Treatment Plant:

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For what it’s worth, I went through the proper channels and submitted a report through The CalTrans District 4 less than user-friendly “How Do I” section of their website. I even called Target Corporate and attempted twice to connect with the Emeryville store manager to see if I could get some corporate muscle behind our plight. I have yet to hear back from them. According to CalTrans District 4 Project Manager RocQuel Johnson, “they perform encampment removals in this area on the 3rd week of every month. The last clean-up for this area was on June 18th, the next one is scheduled for the week of July 15th”.

If you’d like to contact CalTrans yourself on this and help us apply some pressure, our District 4 contact is:

Project Manager: RocQuel Johnson
MSR Ticket Number: 553695
Phone: (510) 286-4948
Email: rocquel.johnson@dot.ca.gov

Resources:

Bay Bridge troubles began with design
Editorial: Will review of Caltrans truly be independent?
State Senator: Caltrans Took Unnecessary Risks With Bay Bridge
Caltrans slammed over Bay Bridge bolts

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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