Surface parking lots are a magnet for blight

I thought I had made my point pretty well last week about how blighted and nasty Oakland’s newest surface parking lot is, and didn’t plan to harp on it again.

I was further encouraged that complaining about it would no longer be necessary after last Wednesday’s Planning Commission, when someone affiliated with the parking lot showed up to speak at Open Forum to apologize for the state of the lot and assure everyone that the problems would be taken care of.

So, I guess this was naive, but I assumed that since they went out of their way to come and promise they were dealing with the issue, that the lot would be cleaner in the future. Ha!

In reality, there has been no change in the state of the lot. It is just as full of trash and graffiti as ever.

1331 Harrison Street

I don’t want to belabor the point too much, but this is so not what was promised when the application to operate a parking lot at this space came before the Planning Commission in June.

At that meeting, the applicant’s representative promised specifically:

The proposal will provide an aesthetically pleasing street frontage on a site that is currently a vacant lot. The applicant is proposing landscaping elements and community art installations that will preserve the value of investment in this area. In addition, the applicant will agree to additional conditions of approval that will address any concerns about blight, such as removal of graffiti within 72 hours of application, agreeing to remove litter at least once daily, and all new landscaping elements will be maintained in good growing condition.

This is not aesthetically pleasing. Graffiti is not being removed within 72 hours. It is not even being removed within weeks. Some of the graffiti in these photos has been there for a week and a half, some has been there much longer. It looks terrible.

1331 Harrison Street

Litter is not being removed every day or even every other day. I went by on Saturday morning and took a bunch of new photos of all the nasty trash on the lot. On Sunday morning, the exact same trash was there. Same thing on Monday. And on Tuesday. And this morning. Every day, the handicapped parking spot has been covered in the same pile of broken glass.

1331 Harrison Street

The shirt hanging off the post disappeared sometime during the day on Monday, but a friend pointed out that someone probably just took it for themselves.

1331 Harrison Street

The thing that got me the most in that first video is the guy saying that the City’s Public Works and Police Departments need to come help them with the graffiti and blight problems. I’m sorry, but no. That’s crazy.

The City does not even have the resources to maintain its own parks. When you go and ask for special permission to do something, and you promise that if you get it, you will take care of the blight, then it is your job to do so. It is not the job of the Public Works department to go around cleaning private property.

The speaker last Wednesday also noted that they have recently signed an agreement for maintenance of the lot. Given that they promised in June, when the applied, that they would be removing litter daily and graffiti within 72 hours, I find it baffling that this wasn’t done when the lot opened in August.

1331 Harrison Street

I’d like to take their words in good faith and assume that they’re making an honest effort to deal with the problems. But it’s hard to do so when something like this appears on the property mere days after these assurances are made and remains there five days later.

1331 Harrison Street

I want to be sympathetic to the difficulties of keeping the property clean. But I also feel like when people make commitments to the City about their property, we have to expect that they’ll honor them, no matter how difficult it may be to do so. That’s what you signed up for.

My senior year in college, I was awarded the coveted position of Student Union manager. Our Student Union was basically a supergiant room with large upstairs lofts on either side, a big porch and a few offices for student body organizations in the back. A couple of times a week, there would be a band playing at night or a party or something. But mostly it was just a space for students to lounge around and smoke.

The SU manager job was highly competitive because it came with excellent pay, free drinks for life at the campus cafe, and like ten bazillion cool points. Despite being so widely desired, the job itself wasn’t particularly glamorous. The SU Manager’s duties involved scheduling the twice daily cleanings, booking events, arranging post-event cleanings, and handling payroll. Once a month or so, I got to rent a U-Haul and drive around to all the thrift stores around Portland buying cheap furniture. That part was fun. But the main part of the job was just keeping the space relatively clean.

1331 Harrison Street

This was a surprisingly difficult thing to do. College students, as it turns out, are really gross. Even though I made sure each seating area was always equipped with a trash can, people would just throw their trash on the floor or leave it on the furniture. Even though the cafeteria was like 40 feet away, nobody would ever bus their trays of food back there. Instead they would just leave it to rot in the SU and often put their cigarettes out in half eaten bowls of cereal instead of the many ashtrays I made a point of providing.

I don’t think any of these kids would have treated their dorm room this way, but they really just had absolutely no respect for public space. Once, I watched a student stand up, walk to the middle of the room, open a 40 of Olde English, and proceed to just pour it all out on the floor, then walk back to his seat. Why? Who knows? For fun, I guess. A couple times during the year, people took our fire extinguishers and just sprayed them all over the place, covering every surface in the building. If you’ve never had the opportunity to clean up a large barn-sized room full of fire extinguisher dust, well, I hope you never have to. It’s not fun.

1331 Harrison Street

But dealing with the general nastiness of spoiled college students was just a normal part of the job. I had worked as a cleaner in the SU before becoming manager, so I knew to expect all this going in.

But there was one part of the job that I had not anticipated. We had bathroom problems. The SU had two single use bathrooms. If you’ve ever worked in any kind of establishment with restrooms for customers, you know what a pain they are to keep clean, even just with regular use.

A couple months into my tenure as manager, we started having some non-regular problems with our bathrooms. Well, one recurring problem, really. Someone decided to start using the SU bathrooms to…well, the best description I can think of would be that they were projectile vomiting diarrhea. And as gross as that may sound when you imagine it, let me assure you that it was like 10 times grosser in reality. The floor would be covered, it would be smeared all over the wall, the toilet bowl would be completely full of excrement and overflowing — it was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.

1331 Harrison Street

And whenever it would happen, I would beg and plead and do everything I could think of to cajole one of my cleaners into taking care of it. It was way beyond what you could reasonably expect someone to do of in the course of a normal cleaning shift — they signed up for mopping and washing ashtrays, not this.

So I would offer to pay them an event cleaning rate to go deal with the bathrooms. I would send these desperate emails like “I’ve got $50 for anyone willing to clean the bathroom!” “Hey folks, the bathroom really, really needs to be cleaned. $75 for whoever can get here fastest!” “I will give you one hundred dollars to clean the bathrooms. Please! Anyone! If that’s not enough, send me your offer! We’ll work something out!”

Once I went up to $200. Nobody would do it. And since it was my responsibility to keep this space presentable, it fell to me to do it. And so I would put on some rain boots and big plastic gloves and get myself a mask and clean the bathrooms myself. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t like doing it. I cried the whole time I was in there. But I took care of the problem.

Because that’s what you do when you’re in charge of public space.

1331 Harrison Street

You don’t leave human waste smeared all over the wall for three months. You find someone to clean it up, no matter how nasty it is. And if you can’t? You go do it yourself.

37 thoughts on “Surface parking lots are a magnet for blight

  1. Daniel Schulman

    I feel duped. I bought into all of the assurances by the property owners, their representatives, and the parking management company. When I spoke at Planning Commission, I went out of my way to state I was neutral on the project. While I am not going to support expansion of surface parking in the central business district, I felt good enough about the commitments being made NOT to actively speak against this particular project.

    The series of posts on this topic have done an excellent job of highlighting something that is not always immediately obvious. Typically the side advocating against a property owner’s project is the anti-development group. However, in the case of CDB surface parking lots, the property owner’s development comes at the expense of their neighbors. Even the well-maintained lots that are not blight magnets create pedestrian problems and a sense of decay.

    It is precisely in this economic downturn that the city should work to raise the holding costs of empty parcels. If lot-owners think we are at the market bottom, they have every incentive to land-bank and not develop nor sell to someone who will. While the city cannot force development, it should certainly not encourage lack of development by allowing revenue producing uses that come at the expense of neighboring parcels.

  2. Jess L.

    a.) I also thank you for these posts! Highly informative on an issue that gets far too little attention.

    b.) oh, the SU. Such charm. Such class. Such scrunginess.

  3. Carlos Plazola

    I talked to Diamond Parking staff today. They actually cleared out the shopping cart today, got rid of the T-Shirt and much of the litter. They have a full litter removal effort taking place tomorrow for the other litter and to remove the brown stain in the corner.

    They have contacted the city’s graffiti abatement program to ask for help, and they are contacting the community rejuvenation program to see if they can arrange for some mural art work on the wall to stop the tagging.

    The car is not actually abandoned. The person paid to have the car there. If it’s still there tomorrow and not paid, they’ll tow it.

    According to Diamond, they don’t even read this blog so they’re not doing this stuff in response to this blog today. They are taking action daily but they are having a hard time keeping up to the litter, etc. They’re working hard to get out in front of it.

    I’d appreciate it if you all kept your responses to this post respectful.

    Carlos

  4. Oakland Resident

    Carlos Plazola — Can you please state your affiliation, if any, with the property owner and/or parking lot operator. I ask because if you are compensated by them or otherwise benefiting from defending them, it seems appropriate for you to disclose that.

    Thank you

  5. We Fight Blight

    The strenght of a conditional use permit requires the permit conditions be written in a clear and enforceable fashion with performance criteria and specific time lines for compliance and consequences for failures to comply. It also requires a sufficient number of City staff to monitor and track the implementation of the conditions and notify the applicant when it is out of compliance, enforce compliance and exact a consequence for not meeting the conditions.

    Most regulatory bodies refer to permit conditions as self enforcing conditions–meaning that a significant number of applicants will voluntarily comply for fear of punishment or sanctions. The reality though is that after a permit is issued, the file is closed by staff, placed on the shelf and there is little to no tracking as to whether an applicant actually meets the conditions. This is partly a workload issue and partly a lack of computerized tracking. There is an assumption of compliance.

    A certain number of applicants know this to be the case so they simply do not comply (perhaps out of cost or laziness or other nefarious reasons) and enforcement is slow or non-existent because the regulatory bodies perpetually understaff their enforcement arms.

    It is only where you have a diligent public that complains, often loud and vociferously, that a regulatory body steps in. Even then, the focus is on voluntary compliance rather than enforcement. In the end the losers are the public who expected some public benefit in exchange for the conditional approval.

    Perhaps the conditional approvals should require a peformance bond that is high enough to cover the promised public ammenities and impose a penalty on the applicant. That would be a disincentive to not comply. Otherwise, the City can rescind the permit. But that takes staff time and energy and well-written and enforceable conditions.

  6. Carlos Plazola

    I was hired by the owner of the lot to help them get the permit. I am no longer their consultant.

    Now, I’m a private resident pushing them to comply with the conditions of their permit.

  7. Brad

    Carlos,

    The property owners should not even be asking public works for help. The property owners promised that THEY THEMSELVES would abate the grafitti. If the property owners get away with this, then that means an even longer response time when I call public works about the gang grafitti in my local park. Don’t even try it. Read the post about the sorry state of Oakland parks already! Now you want to take away public resources to do the job you promised to?

  8. David

    I’m with Brad. Who can I call at city hall to complain about this? I pay a great deal of money every year in property taxes, and I strongly object to them being used to remove graffiti on private property because the property owner is not willing to abide by the conditions he agreed to. I find this outrageous.

  9. ralph

    I agree with WFB that conditions without enforcement mean nothing, but what I don’t understand is how can one agree to conditions that involve someone other than the petitioner. Maintaining the cleanliness of walls of the adjoining property seems like something that the petitioner could not do without the property owner’s consent. If conditions are going to be applied, then they also need to be within the petitioner’s control.

  10. livegreen

    Call your City Council people about this (like all issues). Re. Enforcement, this issue keeps popping up. If WFB is correct, that there is little to no meaningful tracking of compliance, hence also of enforcement, and even when it’s found it takes significant effort by the public to get the City to do it’s job, then the Planning Commission needs to

    a) Take this into consideration when they approve plans, conditional variances and permanent variances;
    b) Consider categories of permits/plans for the built environment that take more prolonged enforcement and, knowing that that enforcement is difficult or won’t happen at all, decrease permits for such activities.
    c) Take into considerations why laws were passed in the first place when making permanent variances.

    If the Planning Commission decides not to take Enforcement into their considerations (as historically they haven’t, and as they don’t need to worry about because it’s somebody else’s problem), the City Council should consider reigning them in.

  11. Downtown_Celeb

    Carlos: you were a private citizen when the owners were paying for your assistance. You are still a private citizen assisting the property owners, only in an uncompensated fashion. Maybe the property owners can’t afford to pay you any longer.

    But, the continuing issues at the site (compliance issues) require your continued involvement, albiet uncompensated, or on a contigency basis.

    A deal is a deal.

  12. Ken O

    “With all due respect” private profit for registered(?) lobbyist Carlos Plazola and Diamond Parking, public expense (externalized cost) of cleanup for tax paying Oakland residents, visitors and businesses. Classic disaster capitalism.

  13. RdwithCypress

    http://www.eastbayexpress.com/eastbay/carlitos-play/Content?oid=1081406

    http://www.orpn.org/MacHigh11.htm

    Plazola used to be chief of staff for citycouncilmember Ignacio De La Fuente. He left the job in 2006 under the cloud of conflict of interest when the press reported that Plazola “and three of his close friends stand to profit handsomely from vacant waterfront land they own in an area where city officials may soon allow condominium developments.” (East Bay Express, July 5, 2006)

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    Okay, guys. Chill. This post isn’t about Carlos, and whatever issues anyone may or may not have with him personally are off-topic here. Now, having said that…

    Carlos –

    The way I see it, the person who needs to be urged to be respectful is the property owner, not my readers. I find it exceedingly disturbing to hear that the City is now being called upon to deal with the graffiti problem.

    I did not oppose the proposal when it came in June specifically because I felt that the conditions agreed to by the property owner provided a strong assurance that the property would not become a blight dragging down the neighborhood.

    Six months later, none of those conditions have been complied with. (BTW, I walked by the lot about 10 minutes before you posted that comment, and none of the litter had been removed.) The lot remains perpetually filthy, dangerous, and frankly, a public health hazard.

    Had I known that the property owner did not intend to comply with the conditions he offered, and certainly if I had known that this lot would create a new drain on scarce public resources, I would have adamantly opposed the application. Like Dan, I feel duped.

  15. livegreen

    V, I agree with everything you’ve said.

    Where do you feel the City’s responsibilities are re Enforcement? Are they capably of monitoring and enforcing the conditions they approve?

  16. mojowrkn

    Jean Quan is a magnet for blight! concentrate on ridding the scum from the flatlands and enhance the hills before they secede.

  17. Max Allstadt

    Ditto on feeling duped. I sprinted up the city hall steps to testify in favor of this proposal half out of breath, because I thought it was an opportunity to prove the effectiveness of public art for combatting blight.

    I am very very disappointed in what was delivered.

  18. Freddy

    Just to remind you all, between the Fox and the Uptown, you’ve still got a freaking hole in the ground. One of many.

    Developers cashed in on those two projects for $100 million plus. And now Jerry tries to put the brakes on the crony entitlements. Yeah, he knows.

    Carlos used to speak platitudes here. I said it then: like them, he crawls on his belly.

    They dispense Public Art only as a placebo pill. Follow your dosage.

  19. Daniel Schulman

    Hey that type of personal attack is just not right on this board.

    While I am not happy the way events have transpired around that parking lot, name calling is not going to move us forward. Oakland is a small town – the people you are in opposition to on a project today may well be your allies on a project tomorrow.

  20. RdwithCypress

    I agree ad hominem attacks are a not valid to an argument, however this guy represents himself as a “private resident pushing them to comply with the conditions of their permit.” When in fact he as been receiving preferential treatment due to his City Hall connections for literally YEARS. So, I would argue that my posts are not ad hominen and just simply providing the history of the fellow who is now here as a concerned citizen. Since I know our great city has made this man a millionaire, I am calling Bull Shit! He definitely has other motives.

  21. Dax

    V,

    Just read your “Parking lot blight” from end to end for the first time.

    Last point first…

    That bathroom scene. OMG… I can imagine it. I cleaned lots of bathrooms from time to time in various jobs, but I can’t recall one quite that bad.

    OTOH, I did care for a elderly alzheimers patient and dealt with “loose” accidents, often many times daily. You do get used to it to a certain degree if its daily and on some level your “own” problem.

    Did have one job in a nice New Zealand hotel where the person had used the public area toilet without first putting the lid up. Very unusual choice.

    Also during college took
    care of a office buildings toilets as a evening janitor.
    Still no “projectile” scene I can recall.

    I’m tempted to ask, what college SU that was. I can’t recall our SU bathrooms ever being so bad, nor even the open area ever being exceptionally filthy or littered. However that was in the early 70′s.

    Regarding the lot in question.
    I’m afraid to ask what that substance is on the corner wall photo.
    At least a cleaner would have a hose at his disposal.

    Regarding parking lots, and given this guys assurances of cleaning it up once daily, there needs to be some citation process, like a parking ticket.

    From your photos it appears he isn’t even cleaning it weekly.
    I clean a area in the city and once cleaned you get a good feel for how fast stuff builds up.
    Many areas that look terrible are really only that way because they are so infrequently cleaned. Once cleaned, even a week later the will still look fairly good.

    I can’t address this particular locations frequency needs, but certainly once a day or even twice a week and we’d probably not be talking about it as problem.

    I must say however, that in many areas of the city, including most publicly owned properties, the problem is not with those that litter, or even with the public entity, but rather with the general public who won’t ever pick up someone else’s garbage, be it a napkin, bag, can, or paper cup.

    We will never have a clean city if we rely on the city or those that litter to do a better job.
    To a certain degree that even is true for private property.

    There is nothing to stop a person from picking up a piece of litter in a neighbors driveway, yard, or curb area.
    Not even from a business parking lot if it isn’t a complete disaster such as the one you show.

    Granted, in some areas, it can appear to be hopeless but there is no other way to have a clean city.

    People have to get comfortable in a Student Union, with picking up someone elses litter. Not every piece, but at least one piece.
    Otherwise every public place and every student union will always be at a level dependent on the worst of us. Those with the least regard for having a beautiful city will rule the day and set the agenda.

    We all sink to their level if we refuse to clean up at least some of their mess.

    I see this form of responsibility missing in almost every sector of the city.

    Those annual or semi-annual “clean-ups” such as the one Jean Quan just held will never amount to anything unless the general public makes it a daily event to pick up one or two items.

    I do this in a large area and once cleaned its amazing how slowly stuff builds up.
    Granted, my area is not downtown Oakland.

    How many members of the Oakland public actually pick up someone elses litter, even once a week? Even one piece?

    I’d bet not even 1%.
    I’d bet not even 2% of city employees do the same, if its not part of their duties.

    How many city council members pick up even one piece of litter each day?
    They should all carry a small bag with them every day, setting a example.
    I’m not kidding, if the city leaders and city employees, all of whom are paid, can’t do this minimum, then how can we expect the general public to do so?

    $200…. Hmmm, I’d probably take that $200 for that SU job…with the right tools and protective attire.

  22. annoyed

    Hypocrites. You all screech about bad government and nontransparency and yet you pull out your poms poms and back flips for Carlos. Whoever said he crawls on his belly got it right. He pulled a similar stunt with La Placita in the Fruitvale District. After they violated their CUP in a variety of way and insisted they had a right to then accused all the complaining neighbors of being racists, Carlos shows up at a neighborhood meeting and runs out the same routine. It used to be his project but now he just wants to make sure everything gets fixed as a private citizen blah, blah, blah. He is worse than pond scum. When he runs for District 5 be sure to move here so you can vote for your good buddy because no one in the Fruitvale will.

  23. We Fight Blight

    While we certainly believe the property owner should be held to the specific conditions of his permits and meet his obligations to provide the public benefits, one has to ask the question: Who is leaving all the garbage, dumping their fast food, breaking liquor bottles and shitting all over the place?

    This is Oakland in a microcosm and dumping a shit in the parking lot is highly symbolic of how a large segment of Oaklanders treat their own community. At what point do we hold those who are creating the problems accountable. The City of Oakland spends an inordinate amount of money addressing blight on public and private properties. Money that could be spent on more police, infrastructure improvements and business development. Many consider public defecation, littering, illegal dumping, and graffiti to be low priority quality of life crimes. And the limited police patrols are too busy dealing with the violent crime.

    Perhaps if we hired more police to patrol our streets and had stiffer penalties in the form of higher fines and more stringent community service requirement for those caught engaging in such activities we could deter some from misbehaving. Oh, but we forgot then we would be infringing on someone’s right to shit on Oakland. It is a right to shit on Oakland isn’t it?

  24. Naomi Schiff

    WFB Some of your anger is misdirected. I don’t think you characterize the average Oakland citizen correctly. What the dump in the parking lot symbolizes is that we are not adequately addressing how to take care of our mentally disturbed homeless people (many of them veterans) and that we do not provide publicly accessible restrooms in the downtown area at night. It’s not that many people want to use a public place as a toilet, nor do I advocate for it. It is that there aren’t many choices if you don’t have a place to live. I say this as someone who has been cleaning a business entry in downtown Oakland at three locations since 1981, and maintaining three street medians and an alley in my neighborhood.

  25. We Fight Blight

    Naomi,

    Since you have been cleaning a business entry in DTO at three locations since 1981, and presumbably other business owners have been doing the same for just as long, what have you and other business owners done to provide publicly available toilets and showers to the homeless and homeless veterans in DTO?

    Anger? You misread sarcasm for anger and stepped right into it. But if you must…what are you doing to solve this problem. You’ve had 30 years to provide a few toilets in DTO. Oh, let us guess, you’re waiting for Elihu Harris, Ron Dellums, and/or Jean Quan to divert a few dollars from the Oakland PD pension fund to post a few public port-o-potties on DTO streets?

    Like we said. When does individual responsibility become the norm? Or even family when the individual fails. True to form..it’s someone else’s problem and it sounds like the government should step in. When did the Republic of Berkeley take over Oakland?

  26. Naomi Schiff

    Since you ask, I have repeatedly brought up the issue of public toilets in DTO. I’d appreciate your thoughts on how to accomplish this. I also think we must get rid of the stupid homeland security closure of toilets at BART stations, which seems unnecessary and inhumane for everyone, even for the tourist and the entirely middle class commuter. (I don’t see what any of this has to do with Berkeley, though. It seems like some political grumpiness left over from 1970.) The Business Improvement Districts might be one avenue and forum for discussion. Downtown businesses are shouldering some of the expenses of downtown maintenance through thise BID mechanism.

  27. Naomi Schiff

    Since you ask, I have repeatedly brought up the issue of public toilets in DTO. I’d appreciate your thoughts on how to accomplish this. I also think we must get rid of the stupid homeland security closure of toilets at BART stations, which seems unnecessary and inhumane for everyone, even for the tourist and the entirely middle class commuter. (I don’t see what any of this has to do with Berkeley, though. It seems like some political grumpiness left over from 1970.) The Business Improvement Districts might be one avenue and forum for discussion. Downtown businesses are shouldering some of the expenses of downtown maintenance through the BID mechanism.

  28. ralph

    Are homeless people really the cause of these problems. Maybe I am not out late enough but I just don’t see that many homeless people in DTO. I am inclined to believe that some of this foolishness is done by your basic ne’er-do-well.

    I would not favor SF style public toilets. You go 2 blocks off B-way and you are sitting in semi-residential areas. Heck, there are residential places on B-way. If you can find a way to hide a public restroom in a building, then go for it.

  29. Matt C.

    I’m not sure I’d ever use one but BART restrooms should be re-opened. The logic behind their closure is non-sense. In cities all over the world, ones that are worse and better off than ours, there are publc restrooms. It’s kind of a public health issue.

  30. RdwithCypress

    Oakland “Plant Blight” Shakedown Update #3: Yes, It’s About More Than Just The Rosebushes!

    Full Story:
    http://www.baycitizen.org/blogs/citizen/oakland-plant-blight-shakedown-update-3/

    Our shakedown has been the spur for a morbidly fascinating study of the dark side of the community and Economic Development agency (CEDA) Building Services Dept. This department makes up and applies its own rules, levies stiff fines, fees, and liens as it sees fit, and then forgives and removes same for those with the right juice. Moreover, their in-house “appeal process” is a bogus kangaroo court. Building Services has a huge purview: enforcement of the blight ordinance and building permit inspections. It generates millions of dollars in revenue for a nearly broke city. It shouldn’t be a surprise that such an agency might go rogue and abuse its powers. As collateral damage: the corrosive effect a rogue operations can have on other departments and elected officials.

    http://www.baycitizen.org/blogs/citizen/oakland-plant-blight-shakedown-update-3/

  31. Naomi Schiff

    We noticed a definite increase in numbers of apparently homeless people on Oakland’s downtown streets after Newsom’s last campaign to eject them from SF sidewalks.

  32. ralph

    Naomi,
    I am somewhat curious as to Oakland’s homeless population because prior to moving to Oakland, I was under the impression that there were a high number homeless people. But in the 4+ years I have lived here, the numbers in the DTO seemed to be far smaller than what I saw during a 3 block walk from BART to my SF office. I assumed there were places for individuals to go at night but during the day they had no place to go. I guess anything you have is anecdotal so it doesn’t really help me. I’m just trying to understand.

  33. Jason G

    I wouldn’t jump too quickly to assume that parking lot blight is really that related to the homeless. From what I’ve seen, the people who treat public space as their trashcan fit into pretty much any demographic you can think of. Hang out as people leave the bars sometime.

    And, recognizing that this is straying from the original topic of the post, Ralph, you may just not be looking in the right places.

    There are frequently a lot of people hanging out at night with shopping carts and the like outside the Alameda County building on Oak between 12th and 13th.

    Another sad thing I’ve noticed is along Madison between 11th and 12th. For the longest time, there was just one guy who slept in the same place under cover just outside the county social services building. (Are those both social services buildings?) For at least the last month or two, maybe more, as I’ve walked by late at night on the way home from Lake Merritt BART, I’ve noticed upwards of 6 people sleeping there.

    I have to take that as an indication that the homeless population downtown has increased. (I’ve worked downtown for 8+ years and lived here for 7.)

    I think Snow Park is also a frequent homeless hangout, right near the lake (Harrison between 19th and 20th).

    My impression is that SF’s homeless are more visible, especially in areas where there is a lot of foot traffic, but I have nothing solid to support that.

  34. We Fight Blight

    We think it is safe to say that residents, non-residents, and the homeless in Oakland are engaging in a variety of socially unacceptable behaviors–public defecation, littering, graffiti, tossing the remains of greasy fast food in the streets, and breaking liquor bottles, etc. We all see the evidence. It is incontrovertible.

    We agree with others that the homeless contribute to only a portion of the problem. The question is how to get public restrooms open, accessible and available to those in need, which is all of us. This is particularly vexing in times of limited public funds.

    Public restrooms in urban areas are a magnet for criminal activity, are a maintenance headache, and are easy targets for vandalism. We know of one public agency in Los Angeles who retrofitted all of their public restrooms with prison style equipment that can sustain heavy punishment and grinds up anything you toss in the toilet. BART most likely used homeland security simply as an excuse to close down bathrooms that were too much hassle and too expensive to maintain.

    How many times have you ever entered a public restroom and found the toilet clogged beyond recognition, the porcelain features smashed, the mirror etched, or the walls covered in graffiti? Tragedy of the commons?

    Either the City would have to maintain and operate public restrooms, or businesses would have to make their restrooms available to all. Both are losing propositions–too expensive for the City with limited resources and not good for business to have the homeless taking a sink bath while paying customers are waiting in line.

    So then we are left to the free market. Either you have SF style toilets with advertisement that subsidizes the toilets or you go third world style and you have restrooms where a nonimal fee is charged and there is an attendant who actively collects money and maintains the restroom. The fee and attendant discourage socially unacceptable behaviors.

    However, if there was money to be made in this venture, don’t you think somebody would have stepped up?

    Change will come when the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of change.

    Enforcement of quality of life crimes is part of the solution, though it is not the only solution. Let’s get back to basics and holding people accountable for their behaviors. It’s kinda like getting the City of Oakland focused on core services. We can’t be all things to all people.