Open Letter from the Wood Street Community

Dear Governor Gavin Newsom, Mayor Libby Schaaf, City Administrator Ed Reiskin,
Director of Caltrans Toks Omishakin, Caltrans District Deputy Director of External
Affairs Cheryl Chambers, BNSF CEO Kathryn Farmer, and Alameda County
Administrator Susan S. Muranishi:

We, the community of Wood Street invite you to join us in partnership in creating
and implementing solutions that will meet the needs of the State of California,
Caltrans, Alameda County, BNSF, the City of Oakland, and the residents of Wood

On July 22, 2022, Judge William Orrick stated that all involved parties in the Blain
et al v. Caltrans et al case must work together to create a plan.
Our time in the streets, under freeways, and along the rails has taught us which
City, State, and County interventions are most helpful and harmful. We have ideas
and solutions that will not only make our lives better but will improve the overall
safety and progress of the Oakland community at large. We welcome this opportunity
to collaborate.

We want our voices to be heard, we want our ideas sprung from years of lived
experience to have a seat at the table. “Nothing about us without us.”
We live our struggle and therefore know it more intimately than anyone else and
have the clearest understanding of how to resolve it. We are inspired, hopeful, and
teeming with the possibilities that could be actualized through the combination of our
ideas and the resources readily available to your agencies. This is not a bureaucratic
exercise for us; our lives and wellbeing are at stake.

Over the years we have made conscious efforts to remediate the safety concerns
held by ourselves, Caltrans, and Oakland at large. We are part of the history of
Oakland. We are citizens of Oakland, we are builders, we are parents, we are chefs;
and we have been let down by failed systems that put us on the streets. Nonetheless
our investment in Oakland has not faltered. We have worked to remove debris
buildup on Wood Street to reduce fire and health risks on top of meeting our survival
needs day to day. In this way we have compensated for Caltrans and The City of
Oakland’s negligence and failure to work with us in the past. We have reached out
numerous times to your agencies for access to dumpsters, fire extinguishers, sand
buckets, hoses, and assistance creating markers throughout Wood Street so that
emergency service providers can quickly respond to the locations of emergencies.

We urge you to join us in taking immediate action to remediate fire danger in the
community as we work together to come up with long term solutions. Our immediate
and long term proposals can be found in the document, attached with this letter, that
we shared with Judge Illman on August 1st, 2022 and which was also included in our

So many of us in curbside communities such as Wood Street have grown weary
and let down by temporary band-aid solutions. Our fostered sense of community and
stability is nearly impossible to retain when you evict us from our homes, destroying
our belongings, to pile us into programs for a time, just to filter us back out into the
streets. So many of the existing interventions tell us where we cannot go and cannot
be. This is why we feel it is crucial for the city, the county, and the state to designate
land in the long term for housing crisis solutions where we can be. We need land
where residents can stay for as long as they need without fear of being kicked out on
some arbitrary timeline. We need solutions that center, foster, and integrate the
communities we have made for ourselves. That way these spaces can be governed
by the residents’ own pre-made social agreements while also giving us access to
social services and amenities that will help us to thrive. Such as access to electricity,
clean potable water, bathrooms and showers, regular medical care, therapy options,
and consistent access to housing navigation.

The current temporary solutions are expensive and ineffective, we have long term
solutions that work and are more fiscally responsible. For example, we calculated
that with the 4.7 million dollars alone that the state granted the city to shelter 50
people temporarily on rented game changers land we could permanently house 120
people in refabbed shipping container homes with electricity and running water on
designated land for long term living (ex. Texas Community First Village). Part of the
land could also be set aside to create space for individuals who wish to continue
living in their tents, RVs and other vehicles. We can implement the centralized
cooking model we developed at Wood Street to cut down on individual private use of
propane and other accelerants near people’s belongings and homes.

With our social and sustainable living innovations combined with your agencies’
social services and resources we together can create a stable base for people to live
in a community that alleviates our focus beyond survival and empowers us to thrive.
Through this court process we have been reaching out our hands in partnership, but
have been dismayed to find your palms closed with finger pointing. We want your
help in this struggle to make our communities caring, safe and self-sustaining. We
have ideas and tools for its birth and with the aid of your agencies’ resources we
could create a more compassionate and humane road to housing.

In Solidarity and Love,
The Wood Street Community