Why is Game Changer Trying to Evict People from Wood Street?

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Who is Game Changer LLC?

On March 17th 2016 Fred B. Craves (founder of Bay City Capital LLC, lead director with Madrigal Pharmaceuticals), a venture capitalist who specializes in pharmaceuticals and biotech investments, purchased a plot of land located between 2201 & 2701 Wood st in West Oakland with his shell company, Game Changer LLC. A venture capitalist tries to invest in new or rapidly expanding businesses in order to make money. Craves has raised over $1.6 billion dollars through his investments and accrued a net worth of over $217 million dollars. In 2007, he sold his company Reliant Pharmaceuticals to pharmaceutical conglomerate GlaxoSmithKline for $1.65 billion dollars, which was the largest all-cash transaction for a venture-backed biotech company at the time. This transaction was possible largely due to the success of the product Lovaza, a supplement. That product is a synthesis of the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil. His latest investment is in the Gentrification of Oakland.

The Private Lot on Wood st

This lot was once one of many industrial warehouses in the neighborhood but has been abandoned since at least the 1980s. The property was long in default and was sold by the City of Oakland to Fred B. Craves on March 17th, 2016.

His investment into the supposedly abandoned lot on Wood st is part of a plan to eventually build a biomedical technical research facility. This facility would eventually take on similar ventures in an effort to sell pharmaceuticals and their associated patents at a profit to generate more capital for future investments. This property is also in an attractive location in a rapidly gentrifying city. There are plans to share a parking lot with the music studio across the street and other leased offices and commercial space in front of the facility to attract even more investment as the lot is developed.

Occupants on the Lot

The City of Oakland’s alliance with real estate developers and other capitalists has left almost 10,000 people homeless. The city uses the Oakland Police Department to clear people out of populated areas with threats of property seizures, tickets and other violent harassment. In this situation, many find seemingly-abandoned lots as a refuge from the government, the police and other actors who seek to exploit and oppress the homeless residents of Oakland. The City of Oakland’s own records indicate that the lot on Wood st has been inhabited by homeless people as early as 2004. Many people have called the area surrounding the lot home since at least 2013. Most have called Oakland home their entire lives. Over time, the forces of gentrification and the unofficial policy of the government have forced so many onto the streets and onto the lot itself and the surrounding area.

This encampment has grown to be the largest informal homeless encampment in Oakland, with a population of at least 100-200 people. For years, the Oakland Police have directed homeless people to Wood st as an informal “dumping ground” for people with no where to go in order to keep them out of sight. Now that there is money to be made, we are seeing people being asked to move again! The clearing of this lot is just the earliest phase of clearing all of Wood st as even this “abandoned” area is gentrified.

Local History of the Struggle Against Gentrification

Activists and residents of the area came together to form the United Front Against Displacement in October 2018 as a new surge in intense evictions and sweeps began to happen in the neighborhood. That month the city of Oakland towed over 15 RVs and trailers in a single morning, leaving almost 40 people with nothing. These people had been staying on Wood st and as the police had pushed more people into the area, local businesses demanded that the cops clear people out and make sure they couldn’t come back. These businesses even went so far as to move massive logs into the street to limit people’s ability to park. Obstructing a street is normally illegal, unless it is in the interests of big business. Less then a month later, the City of Oakland sent about 6 cops to clear out the lot of Wood st. This was the first attempt by Fred Craves to clear out the lot. Fortunately, residents and activists were prepared, formed a picket line and turned the police away!

Escalating Eviction Attempts

Since this first attempt, Fred Craves was seriously delayed in his development plans. His legal team (part of the law offices of Alan J. Horowitz) have only increased their harassment of residents of the lot. Fred Craves has a number of paid security guards in the area that regularly harass people. These security guards also pay off a couple of the local drug dealers to violently threaten residents and activists that try to
bring people together. This has made it very difficult to bring residents together and encourage them to fight. However, this level of oppression demonstrates how far these developers will go to protect their interests. Furthermore, it also demonstrates how residents and activists have proven that they will not back down and have defeated lesser attempts to displace the community! This escalation hasn’t been cheap: Fred Craves and his lawyers have claimed that they have spent $30,000 a month in security since November 2019. ALL TO HARRASS AND THREATEN PEOPLE!

The last push to clear the lot was in November 2019, when over 50 people were living on the lot. The city sent out over 50 police personnel, over a dozen vehicles and two tow trucks! Fred Craves also attempted to bribe many residents to move off of the lot (bribes ranged from $40-$200). These are pathetic gestures when this many people stand to make money hand over fist! Activists and residents mobilized again in the face of this threat and while many were pressured to leave, no vehicles were towed and no property was confiscated. After this point Fred Craves’ legal team served the remaining residents with a “forcible detainer” and began the first actually-legal eviction process. It is worth mentioning that EVERY tenant and homeless legal service refused to represent the residents of Wood St.

The Current Situation and the “Safe Parking Lot”

Residents were finally served an eviction date of October 13th, 2020. Activists were accosted by a lawyer representing Game Changer on Monday October 12th, who stated that the lot would eventually be turned into the research labs described above, while also somehow being converted into a “Safe RV Lot” even though Craves does not have a contract with the city to build it. If the lot gets built, it would be a very limited resource because most of the folks residing on the land owned by Game Changer do not all own working RVs. This would clearly prohibit them from living on the fictional RV lot they were proposing to us. Not to mention the many folks residing on the sidewalk/curbside of Wood st live in homes they built which are not all mobile. Furthermore, this “Safe RV Lot” would only be an 18-month program, whereas most residents have struggled with homelessness for years. This program will only further destabilize the community.

On Tuesday, October 13th, Sheriff Ahern (from the Alameda County Sheriff ’s Department) had planned a raid to evict 6 folks currently living on the lot, starting at 6 AM. Folks from various activist organizations in the Bay Area, as well as unaffiliated neighbors, were able to mobilize at 5 AM. Around 40 folks showed up and split off into smaller pods–guarding off each entry point to watch for the sheriffs.

The most important entry point to watch or guard is located at Wood & West Grand. The gate to enter the Game Changer lot by car would be here, but the lot extends past 24th St where folks could enter through holes in the fences on foot. Midday on Tuesday, three cop cars approached the opening at Wood & West Grand – folks on watch were able to form a barricade using shields and prevented their entry. Since Tuesday, we have had at least 2-4 folks watching the main gate from 5:30 AM to 4:00 PM. The fight has only just begun, and it is only a matter of time until another notice is served, or the sheriffs show up without any warning, as they always do. A sizable rapid response team are now linked into this struggle and will be notified if and when a raid begins.

UFAD members have been in conversation with several Wood st residents about the eviction notices and we urge everyone else who works independently to continue to build longstanding relationships with the residents we meet during shifts guarding the gate. It is up to all of us to use this information and personal experiences as a catalyst to inform fellow comrades and residents of this past weeks’ events. Wood st residents must be brought up to speed, as well as housed comrades who choose to show up and resist these evictions.

Preventing this illegal eviction of the 6 folks living in the Game Changer lot impacts the entire encampment and all of homeless Oaklanders. We must stand united in preventing sweeps at Wood st due to the hundreds of residents currently living here, while the City and the landlords continue to evict people every day, and most times do this before anyone can intervene. The reality is that folks who continue to be evicted from other parts of the Bay Area will continue to run out of areas to live curbside. Wood st is often the last place in the East Bay people can go.

These issues are not isolated only to the Bay Area, but appear throughout the entire nation. In addition, these issues are not isolated to only folks living on the streets, but for all working people in the world. We all are at risk of losing our homes and lives under a capitalist system that criminalizes poverty while continuously negating any fair chance at living or survival.

We urge folks interested in showing up to eviction defenses to also conduct their own research independent and not stop here, as things are rapidly changing and escalating every day. We need to come together to struggle collectively around these issues in order to better understand how to unite in the struggle against our common oppressors.

Published by the United Front Against Displacement

Email: wewontgo@mail.riseup.net
Phone: (510) 815-9978
Twitter/IG/FB: @theufad

All Power to the People! A Rally in Solidarity with the West Oakland Community, August 1, 1pm @ West Oakland Bart

The coronavirus pandemic and the recent uprisings against white supremacist police terror after the murder of George Floyd have rocked the U.S. and the world. With over 15.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 650,000 deaths worldwide, and over 4 million cases and 140,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, it is clear that the pandemic will not be over anytime soon. In the U.S. we have witnessed the horrible and untimely response by the U.S. government to the pandemic as the American medical system has been exposed in its lack of preparedness for the pandemic. Testing for the COVID-19 virus has been abysmal as it has been extremely difficult to find access to testing centers, particularly in working class communities of color such as West Oakland.

Alameda County has the highest amount of cases in the Bay Area with over 10,000 cases confirmed. In Oakland, homelessness is on the rise and those who are homeless receive little to no support from the city. For example, the West Oakland Wood Street Homeless Community, which is one of the largest homeless communities in the Bay Area, has received no resources such as access to clean water, hand washing stations, showers, porto potties, or even trash dumpsters since the pandemic has started. This type of carelessness and incompetence on the part of the City of Oakland is indicative of the nature of the current system where profit and private interests are prioritized over the livelihood of working-class Oaklanders. The police have continued to harass, displace, and terrorize people in these communities, many of whom have lived in Oakland for their entire lives.

What is going on in Oakland is representative of the national situation. Due to the pandemic, tens of millions have been forced into unemployment, struggling to pay for rent and other necessities. Homelessness has continued to rise and the police have proceeded to terrorize and harass homeless people and working-class Black people more broadly. Over the last two months, we have seen millions across the world rise up against the oppressive system that has doomed millions to suffer unemployment, poverty, and police brutality. We need to act now, and build upon this momentum and advance a long term, sustained mass movement against white supremacy, police brutality, and the capitalist system as a whole.

We have come up with a list of demands to counter the terrible situation that the U.S. state has subjected working people to endure. We demand:

1. An end to police brutality on Black, Indigenous, Trans, Queer, and homeless communities.
2. Proper sanitation services for all homeless communities.
3. Housing for all. There is room for everyone!
4. Cancel rent, back rent, and information on landlords should be publicly available to all renters.
5. No re-opening of workplaces until there is comprehensive COVID-19 testing for all.
6. Protect students, families, and teachers as the new school year approaches.

These demands address the symptoms of the capitalist system in which we live in. Under capitalism, healthcare is for profit, millions are homeless as millions of homes remain vacant, landlords live off the backs of tenants, the government puts people at risk for the sake of economic growth, and the police terrorize and harass working class people while they protect private property and the status quo. We have had enough!

We put forward these demands in the spirit of the ongoing revolutionary struggle against capitalism which continues today in the legacy of the heroic acts of people and organizations like the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers stood in armed self-defense against the police with the belief that the police do not serve the interests of the communities they patrol. The police will not protect the masses of people who are without work, healthcare, and the means to subsist in this society. They will only crack down when the people rise up. But we must rise up if we want to change this rotten system!

Please come out to West Oakland Bart Station on Saturday, August 1st at 1pm to participate in a rally for our demands in solidarity with the West Oakland Community. We ask that all those in attendance wear masks and practice social distancing when possible.

All Power to the People!

This event is organized in collaboration with Revolutionary United Front.

Social Media:
Twitter – @revunitedfront & @theufad
Instagram – @revolutionaryunitedfront & @theufad
Reddit – u/revunitedfront
Facebook – facebook.com/revolutionaryunitedfront
Website – revolutionaryunitedfront.com & theufad.org

Oakland Police and Caltrans Continue to Harass Homeless People Despite Moratorium on Homeless Sweeps

The California Department of Transportation (District 4), the Oakland Police Department, and the California Highway Patrol have continually harassed homeless people in Oakland. Over the last month, the West Oakland Wood Street Community, which consists of nearly 200 residents, has received threats of losing property and having their vehicles towed. The particular area in question is the southern portion of the Wood Street Community on Caltrans owned land beneath the I-80 freeway.

Many of the current residents of the Wood Street Community were once renters and homeowners in the City of Oakland. People come to Wood Street when they have no other place to go. For years the Oakland Police Department has had an unofficial policy of directing people to move to Wood Street who live in their vehicles or who have been cleared out of other homeless encampments.

Caltrans posted on set of notices to inform almost 20 people that they had three days to move

At the beginning of June, Wood Street Community residents residing on Caltrans land were told that they would have to relocate or risk losing all of their possessions in the scheduled “cleaning.” When residents asked where they were to relocate, the Oakland Police Department told folks to move one block away on West Grand Ave and Wood St. Oddly enough, many residents had already been pushed off that very corner a few months ago! The City of Oakland and the State of California has offered a solution that is not a solution at all. In fact, it is an extremely serious health risk.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, people are being told to shelter-in-place and maintain a safe distance from others. But when it comes to homeless folks, the city has no problem with forcing dozens of residents to cram themselves into an area consisting of less than 100 feet of curb. These living conditions put people at extreme risk by increasing their chances of contracting the COVID-19 virus. This lack of humanity on the part of the City of Oakland is unsurprising given that the city has made no attempt to protect the Wood Street Community by providing basic sanitation to combat the virus. It has fallen into the hands of residents and organizations such as the United Front Against Displacement and the Berkeley Free Clinic to work to improve basic sanitation resources in the area in an attempt to protect residents and prevent the spread of the virus.

The UFAD has worked with residents to build public Sanitation resources such as this community shower.

The eviction led by Caltrans is part of a larger strategy to get rid of all homeless people living on land owned by the State of California in West Oakland. This is in contradiction with the State’s goal to get people off of the streets into long term housing because breaking up encampments make it harder for people to get off the street. This is why the United Front Against Displacement called for an eviction defense to come to the aid of residents.

Despite the fact that a few residents were illegally coerced into moving, there was no significant loss of property. This should be viewed as a major success given that at the beginning of the month OPD tagged over a dozen vehicles to have towed if they did not move from the area. This is an extreme threat being that people use their vehicles to live in, commute to work, and run essential errands. This threat is unsurprising given that the police constantly harass and terrorize poor homeless people, especially during the pandemic.

The city of Oakland and the state of California spent thousands on heavy equipment and dozens of personnel but almost nothing on handwashing stations and housing resources

While the eviction defense was an overall success, it is important to recognize that this is just the first stage of Caltrans’s attempts to displace residents on Wood St. They will be back in the near future to either finish evicting residents on the southern end, or force residents on the northern section of Caltrans land to move. If they are successful in their next operation it will be a step closer to displacing the entire Wood Street Community, which has perilous implications not only for the residents of Wood St., but all houseless and vehicularly housed people in Oakland. It is imperative that we come together to push back against the government’s attempts to displace working people. If we work together, we can not only fight back more effectively, but stop any and all attacks against the working people of the Bay Area.

Activists and residents installing a new handwashing station on Wood st

Caltrans Eviction Indefinitely Postponed!!!

We were just notified by the California Department of Transportation will not be coming to evict homeless West Oakland residents this week or next! We believe the ongoing uprisings in Oakland as well as our activism have played a role in this deferral.

The community is not out of danger, Caltrans stated that they plan to return at the end of the month. We have more time to plan resistance. Please keep an eye out for updates!!

Founding Statement & Points of Unity

The United Front Against Displacement was formed to fight the displacement & criminalization of working people. In this society, working people are made to live in many different levels of insecure housing and are subject to all manner of abuse at the hands of law enforcement and landlords. It is the poor that have to share small, run down housing units with multiple families, sleeping on couches and in bath tubs. To make ends meet, many more live in RV’s and vehicles. There are tens of thousands of people forced to live on the streets of the Bay Area, and millions more across the country who are homeless and housing insecure. We work to end homelessness, which is caused by growing poverty, the rising cost of living, and the for profit nature of the real estate market.

When working people find themselves on the street, they find few options off of the street and must contend with hostile cops, city workers, NGOs, and business interests that harass them constantly. 

We work to bring housed people into the struggles of homeless people and work to unite the struggle against homelessness with surrounding tenant struggles. Only by coming together can we not only improve the situation for working people, but work towards creating a new system that will serve the needs of all people, not the wants of a few for profit.

Housing is a Human Right

Points of Unity:

We oppose all Evictions

Evictions upend lives and affect the most vulnerable in our communities, rather than improve a community. Landlords extract the maximum wealth that they can from properties that they own. They evict tenants to find wealthier tenants or to redevelop existing real estate, all to make more money! Developers often buy up houses when communities are struggling economically as speculative “investment properties,” greatly increasing rents to the point that people suddenly can’t afford to live in communities they may have spent their entire lives in. As working class neighborhoods gentrify, developers and other businesses work to eliminate informal settlements of desperate people. Most residents of homeless communities used to rent or own in the same neighborhoods from which they are “swept.” The UFAD will work to defend homeless communities from being doubly displaced and stand in solidarity with tenants battling evictions.

We oppose the criminalization and harassment of poor people 

Law enforcement targets the poorest among us, with Black, Latino and LGBTQ people facing especially brutal levels of treatment. While homeless, people find even their very existence a reason for them to encounter law enforcement. Additionally, homeless people are continually targeted by city workers (the most frequent department being the Department of Public Works) and towing companies contracted by local governments. People on the street constantly have property stolen from them, be it documents, laptops, clothes, heirlooms and entire vehicles. Towing companies steal homeless people’s vehicles to make some quick money, while city workers trash their belongings in an attempt to clear out homeless settlements. When people seek to reclaim their vehicles they often find numerous, insurmountable bureaucratic obstacles in their path. Local governments often claim that these events are meant to improve “public health” but they continually refuse to provide proper sanitation services to informal settlements, let alone resources that will help residents off of the streets. The government and it’s lackies are responsible for all crises of public health.

We work to end homelessness and want to live in a world where housing is a right for all people.