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West Oakland: 53 liquor stores, 0 grocery stores, detour commuters, & street art activism

by dave id
Posters that sarcastically read, "Welcome Thru West Oakland -- Enjoy Our 53 Liquor Stores," appeared along West Grand Avenue shortly after Eastbound 580 and 24 traffic was re-routed through West Oakland this week. While street art in its many forms often stirs controversy, especially amongst those who prefer their surroundings tidy, it is very often the voice of the disenfranchised struggling to make themselves and the concerns of their community be heard. West Oakland is not a tidy bedroom community, graffiti or not.
There is not one single grocery store in all of West Oakland. Not one. Most residents do not own cars in order to easily travel to Emeryville or Lake Merrit or Chinatown to shop at the closest supermarkets. Residents can bike or take a bus, but the only shops within walking distance are liquor stores. And there are lots and lots of them. Activists have been trying for years to "effect something real" in this regard to little avail. The Black Muslims got frustrated and resorted to bullying tactics that landed a couple of them in jail two years ago.

The following paragraphs are pulled from various media sources via simple web searches:

"We're tired of having a liquor store on every corner in our flatland areas," said Linnie Cobb, a member of Association of the Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN has struggled to tackle the problem in Oakland — with little success.

John Russo, Oakland city attorney: "According to state limit, West Oakland should have only 28 liquor stores. However, there are currently 53."

[In Oakland] Most of the stores are clustered in the city's poorest neighborhoods. In West Oakland, for example, there is one liquor store for every 300 residents.

West Oakland’s only grocery store [at Jack London] closes down

"My neighborhood is struggling for something most folks take for granted: a place to buy food. West Oakland has no grocery store. But not because grocery stores don’t want to be here. There’s actually an Oakland Food Justice collective called Mandela Foods that wants to start an organic, affordable, community cooperative grocery store. But like most cities undergoing gentrification, the folks who hold the purse strings want to lease spaces to the junk stores and chains that will eventually give way to fancier establishments and lofts."

Poor Neighborhoods Lack Access to Fresh Produce: For the almost 45 years they have been living in West Oakland, James Bell's grandparents have been driving two miles to the Pak'nSave in Emeryville to buy fresh produce. But these days the 80-year-old Robert Bell doesn't always feel well enough to drive, so he has James do the buying for him and his wife Christine. There are times though when James's work schedule doesn't allow him enough time to make the trip, so the elderly couple is forced to go without fresh fruits and vegetables for days. That's not good for their health.

Greg, one of youth interns said, “People speak a lot about crime and gunshot deaths in West Oakland. It is not gunshots; it is unhealthy food that causes more death. I had family members with heart disease, high blood pressure, and other diet-related diseases."

If it weren't for the great work of groups like the People's Grocery, and a local Catholic soup kitchen that offers one meal a day to hundreds of locals, fresh produce would be virtually extinct for the 30,000 residents of West Oakland. But these charitable groups simply cannot feed everyone.

Sure, residents could "make their neighborhoods look nicer" perhaps with graffiti removal or a few thousand gallons of paint if they could afford it, but West Oakland still would be a largely neglected area of people lacking the same resources that most of the Bay Area takes for granted.

It's an insult to area activists and residents to claim that any of them are lazy, even whomever placed this modest number of flyers on West Grand. Street art and messaging has a long and rich history. Social and political activism takes many forms, one of which is awareness campaigns. The storefront signs marking the area's 53 liquor stores, which every day serve to remind residents of their lack of healthy food options, are an infinitely bigger eyesore than a handful of posters by the disgruntled.

And that's not even getting into other issues in the neighborhood such as what the commuter detour means for area residents. It's become difficult and excedingly dangerous to even walk across West Grand now with cars speeding by at all hours of the day as if the streets of West Oakland were just another freeway.

More from web searches:

But it wasn't a bed of roses, especially on city streets around West Grand Avenue shortly before peak evening rush-hour time. Car after car stretched as far as the eye could see about 4:45 p.m. along West Grand, turning a lightly traveled truck route into a busy thoroughfare. Cars poured off the West Grand exit from Interstate 80 that is being used as a major detour for drivers trying to reach Highway 24 or eastbound Interstate 580.... Those in West Oakland say the detour along Grand Avenue represents a significant environmental injustice residents will bear the brunt of. The detour will funnel tens of thousands of commuters headed for high-dollar homes in the hills and suburbs through the streets of a struggling, low-income neighborhood already beset by heavy truck traffic and poor air quality, community activists said Monday. It will clog neighborhood streets with cars and trucks, fill the air with diesel and gasoline engine emissions, decrease the area's "walkability" and quality of life, activists said.... Community activists also expressed dismay West Grand became the designated detour seemingly without much thought to other alternatives.... "Commuters have options for how they get in and out of the city. West Oakland residents really don't have any other option for where they live," said Swati Prakash, project manager for Oakland's Pacific Institute.

Detours from the MacArthur Maze mess are adding 5,000 vehicles per hour on the streets of Oakland during the evening commute -- and Travon Jones thinks he can hear each of them drive past his West Grand Avenue home. "It's pretty hectic," Jones, 28, said sitting on the front steps of his blue duplex overlooking a street that turned into a highway almost overnight. "I keep my window open for ventilation, (and) you can hear a lot of cars, a lot of honking, people speeding through here. "I guess they're in a rush to get home." Mayor Ron Dellums and City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, whose district includes the damaged freeway and the Oakland detour routes, want motorists to stay on freeways or take public transportation because of the impact of auto exhaust on local residents, especially children, the elderly and those with health conditions like asthma and emphysema. "The potential for tons and tons of air emissions into that area producing high health risks is enormous," Dellums said at a City Hall news conference Tuesday. "In West Oakland, asthma and other lung diseases are off the charts."

Freeways have allowed too many people for too long to drive past poor neighborhoods oblivious to the concerns of the less fortunate. This detour, while detrimental to West Oakland's residents in a variety of ways, perhaps offers an opportunity to remind commuters about the people they have been ignoring as they zip to and fro. What West Oakland needs is more street art and messaging, not less. West Oakland demands to be heard.
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