Oakland's Wood Street homeless encampment must be cleared, judge rules

A federal judge ruled Friday that unhoused residents at a sprawling homeless encampment in Oakland must leave, affecting up to 200 people.

Federal Judge William Orrick lifted the restraining order he had put in place that prohibited evicting residents at the Wood Street encampment, which sits on Caltrans property.

Orrick said eviction notices may be posted as soon as Labor Day.

There won't be any immediate evictions. 

Brigitte Nicoletti of the East Bay Community Law Center said, "now with the phased approach, while it is better than another wholesale clearance, there just is a lot of uncertainty and confusion among residents about how that will actually take place."

The judge wants the defendants, namely, BNSF Rail, Caltrans, Alameda County and the city of Oakland, to reach out to the residents and offer them safe places to stay.

Residents at Wood Street will be relocated in stages when there are available beds for them. If after three days they don't accept the accommodation, they can be evicted.

Any vehicle, regardless of its condition, will have to be stored until evictees can recover them.

Caltrans, which owns the land that the Wood Street encampment sits on, is permitted to enter the premises and clean up debris that presents a fire threat and could damage East Bay MUD's oxygen plants at its water treatment property.

The Wood Street encampment had been a source of contention between the city of Oakland and the state over whose responsible for providing shelter and housing assistance to unhoused residents who call the encampment home. It has been the site of numerous fires which firefighters say are difficult to combat. 

The state said it has allocated $4.7 million in funding to the city over the last two years to address those issues, but Oakland is dragging its feet.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened to redirect millions of dollars in discretionary state funding if the city didn't find shelter for those unhoused residents at Wood Street.

The state underscored that while the encampment sits on Caltrans property, the transportation agency does not have the authority to provide shelter to the public. Local governments have that responsibility, the state argued. 

The encampment has seen several recent fires, and Tuesday brought yet another fire. So far this year, there have been 48 confirmed fires at Wood Street. Last year, there were 155.

State and local leaders said Wood Street is dangerous, and some say it's a pit of despair created by public agencies and private landowners.

The encampment is located in District 3. City Councilmember Caroll Fife represents that district. In May, she pushed for a homeless shelter at a former Oakland Army base that would house up to 1,000 people.

"We need accommodations now," Fife had said. Fife's community liaison said District 3 has the most homeless encampments in the city.