Transportation gentrification: How Bus Rapid Transit is displacing East Oakland

by youth scholars at Deecolonize Academy and POOR Magazine

Poverty scholars from POOR and Deecolonize Academy visit the Oakland Mayor’s Office to ask for information on Bus Rapid Transit and its effect on gentrification and discuss the issue with the mayor. They left empty-handed. – Photo: Poor News Network

We youth scholars from Deecolonize Academy and POOR Magazine submitted 14 FOIAs – Freedom of Information Act requests – to 14 departments in the City of Oakland, only to receive a series of messages from two of the departments saying, “We have no documents,” and no word from the others.

On Jan. 16, we will be making a demand to the City of Oakland and AC Transit that, with the money they received for BRT, they support Oakland residents to be able to stay here as reparations for the millions of dollars they are receiving to displace us out of here. If you would like to join us, please email poormag@gmail.com.

What is a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request?

It is our right to demand records from any city or county, state or federal entity or agency on monies received or spent, activities engaged in or people hired, fired or involved.

Each of the 14 FOIAs that were submitted to 14 different city agencies potentially involved in the BRT scandal either ignored the FOIAs or denied that there were any documents on file about the monies they received.

What is gentrification?

Destruction, dismantling, removal of peoples of color, working class communities, elders and families by real estate developers and land-stealers for profit – that’s our definition.

The BRT

by Zion Angeles

My sweet home is becoming a jungle of hell.

My home is fading away slowly, so slow people don’t recognize. Looking at homeless sisters and brothers at International Boulevard makes me think how they would feel with less sidewalks to rest on.

One side of 82nd Street and International Boulevard has clean, beautiful buildings. They use power wash to clean germs and sometimes to spray on homeless people so they would leave. Power washing is bad for your skin.

Across the street near the liquor store they are cutting the street off. International is getting destroyed by BRT.

BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit. It’s directed by Bike East Bay. BRT is funded 100 percent. BRT is bringing more bike lanes and less car parking. The problem is elders and disabled folks won’t be able to park their cars on International Boulevard anymore.

Background story

We went to the mayor’s office on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, around 1 p.m. We entered and brought in a FOIA.

The lady behind the desk explained that we can’t see the mayor and explained that we had to do the request online on Record Track. We refused and asked to talk in person but she explained it will go through.

We did the request right away. When we came back, we sent FOIAs to the Mayor’s Office, Department of Transportation, Parks and Recreation, Office of Neighborhood Investment and Councilwoman Desley Brooks. Two weeks later Mama Tiny got an email from Record Track saying they didn’t have any documents to send us.

On Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, I received a response to our FOIA from the Department of Transportation saying they didn’t have any documents.

Bus Rapid Transit gentrification

by Tiburcio Garcia

In yet another effort to “improve” our city, the AC Transit, along with the City of Oakland and the City of San Leandro are working on a project called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that will “make our bus routes faster, safer and more secure.” This is just another excuse for corporations to gentrify our “up and coming” neighborhoods that most of us have lived in our entire lives.

Among the corporations that are funding this new project and also want to make it happen are CalTrans, Bay Area Toll Authority, Alameda County Transportation Commission, U.S. Department of Transportation, including the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and plenty more.

Trying to prevent this blatant and plainly obvious attempt at gentrification, POOR Magazine along with Deecolonize Academy went to Oakland City Hall to file our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents. Long story short, we were turned down because the mayor’s secretary said the mayor wasn’t available unless we had an appointment.

We returned to Homefulness and wrote down our experience and our opinions of how we felt. After that, we went to the website that the mayor’s secretary told us to go to, a website for submitting FOIAs, and submitted as many as we could to certain sections of the city government.

The only thing we got after weeks of excited waiting was a couple of emails telling us that the documents and/or information we asked for did not exist. The funny and sad thing is, one of the questions we asked is, “Is the City of Oakland involved with the BRT?” The BRT website clearly states that the City of Oakland is one of their main supporters and funders.

Two weeks after going to City Hall, we took a small field trip. All of us in Deecolonize got into the bus and drove down International Boulevard. We immediately noticed the impact that the oncoming changes by the Bus Rapid Transit will have on this community. In the middle of the giant street, there was a lane cordoned off for construction.

A little farther down the street, we saw a sign that was propped against one of the construction sites that said “Make way for bikes,” hinting that that part of the construction will be specifically for bikes and not cars. That sounds good and all, because it’s good for people to work out and not cause pollution, but what about the people who are forced to drive because of a disability? Where can they park their cars if all of the street parking has been taken over by bike lanes?

As we drove down the street we saw different stages of gentrification, almost like the different stages of a disease. Creeping down the street, fancy buildings, luxury condos and workout centers were taking over humble barbershops, mom and pop grocery stores and taco trucks. It was so profound that it was palpable, the gentrification and the displacement.

When we got to our final destination, 90th and International, we saw a gathering of cops overseeing sanitation workers power washing houseless people to “persuade” them to leave this area and never return. The water that was being sprayed had many dangerous acidic chemicals that over time will cause severe skin diseases to these houseless people.

We knew why they were doing this, of course. In their eyes, the houseless people look unsightly. To all of those who do not know what that means, it means ugly, or not nice to look at.

And if they want gentrifiers moving into this neighborhood, they want it to look clean and new and to them, and houseless people just … don’t. Instead of helping the houseless people by providing them with housing, or maybe a bath or some food, they just want to kick them out.

Investigating Bus Rapid Transit

by Amir Cornish

The constructions worker was wearing an orange and bright yellow suit vest.

When I saw the water go on the payment and when it touched the ground, it splashes like a water park pool party. Then I saw some bikes lanes on the road. It is a great thing to take bike rides, but we need space for cars to park. When I saw the streets, it was like a river flowing through my heart.

I was on the corner of International and 82nd Boulevard. It was a construction site for Bus Rapid Transit. They are slicing the streets in half because they are taking three lanes to build BRT.

What is BRT? Bus Rapid Transit is a bus-based mass transit system sometimes described as a “surface subway.” BRT aims to combine the capacity and speed of light rail metro with the flexibility, lower cost and the simplicity of a bus system.

Who is funding the BRT? It’s funded by 100.0 percent by

  1. Bay Area Toll Authority
  2. AC Transit East Bay Bus Rapid Transit
  3. Federal Highway Administration

My Oakland home – stolen

by Ziair Hughes

My home is being taken from me. They say Oakland is a beautiful place, but why are our people living on the boulevards and streets?

The police sprayed toxic water on the homeless people on International Boulevard. There is a store where the homeless people stay; it’s like World War I. The police blocked off three lanes to build the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit).

On November the 7th we decided to go to City Hall to deliver our FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. It was almost the end of class. We showed up at the Mayor’s Office. A lady who works at the Mayor’s Office asked, “Why are you here?”

She was refusing to let us see the mayor. We told her why we were there to deliver our FOIAs. They made an excuse so we would leave, so we gave them our FOIAs. Then two weeks later, they said there were no documents.

Conclusion

This is the cover of the students’ report.

As of the publishing of this youth and family WeSearch report, the City of Oakland has denied that they have any documents relevant to any of our 14 FOIA requests, even though ALL of the websites and public relations material states clearly that the City of Oakland is a funder of the billion dollar BRT.

In finality, the point we are making is that the expansion of this transportation agency is directly leading to gentrification. We are seeing this happen in our neighborhood now, but it has happened before.

Ten years ago in San Francisco, the T-Third Street light rail line known as the T-Train was opened, but over the construction period that kept the street torn up for five years, many Black-owned businesses closed their doors forever, and the people in the neighborhood were denied jobs and contracts, so the light-rail construction “boom” was a bust for the residents, the start of a tidal wave of gentrification that has nearly wiped out the Black population from San Francisco.

Oakland, following their example, is now mowing through our neighborhoods power-washing houseless people and evicting housed people, many of whom have lived here their entire lives. Like I said before, this is just another excuse for the City of Oakland to kick out the actual residents of Oakland to make way for new, higher paying citizens.

Deecolonize Academy is a revolutionary, intergenerational school for the people and by the people, teaching relevant, conscious, arts- and science-based education for our children ages 3-18. The school, along with POOR Magazine, is located at Homefulness, 8032 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, and can be reached at 510-435-7500, via poormag@gmail.com or on Facebook. Learn more at Deecolonize Academy.