'Pandemic positives:' Oakland neighbors use coronavirus quarantine to spruce up block

Friends of Willow Park neighbors clean up their Oakland block. Fall 2019

There aren't too many good things about the coronavirus quarantine.

But one neighborhood in Oakland is trying to make the most of staying close to home by cleaning up the garbage that litters their streets.

"For every negative to this, there's a positive," said Chris Hagenmeier, who lives in the Prescott neighborhood of West Oakland, and is a member of the grassroots group, "Friends of Willow Park." "People are taking a renewed interest in their community."

For the last several years, Hagenmeier and neighbors Victoria Harris, Anu and Jateen Joshi and others have been cleaning up Willow Park, which is often a haven for drug users, homeless encampments and illegal dumping.

But since the shelter-in-place order was issued in the Bay Area over the coronavirus outbreak, their group has nearly doubled in size.

"It's a pandemic positive," Anu Joshi said.

Each morning, nearly two dozen people come to a central location, where Hagenmeier stands with his wheelbarrow and extra tools.

He's equipped with Lysol, gloves and pickers so that people don't have to touch the garbage with their hands. Some of the gear is borrowed from the city's Parks and Recreation Department. Other people have their own tools.

Since people come in different shifts, Hagenmeier said there is no crush of neighbors showing up at any one time and they are all aware of social distancing rules. 

The payoff has been great, he said. Residents are getting some fresh air, volunteering in their community, keeping active during the quarantine and the neighborhood has never looked better. 

Even the drug dealer who works nearby has started to pay attention to the shelter-in-place orders and the need to curb the spread of the disease.

Joshi said he appears to have "moved much of his pharmacy business to a call in and pick up service. It’s interesting to see how even the illicit industries are coping with virus containment."

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez 

Garbage collected by Oakland neighbors who call themselves "Friends of Willow Park."

The Prescott neighborhood in Oakland has never looked better.