“Occupying Oakland, That’s Exactly What We’re Doing”, Update 1, Update 2, Update 3

Posted on December 27, 2011


There had been word for the past few days of a “secret camp” being established by the Tactical Action Committee. I don’t feel like I need to know everything that’s happening in OO, so I was content to see where this was going, enjoying TAC’s tweets about it. Whatever the ostensible plans for the “secret camp”, a visit by police today prompted a public call for more campers to create some human density and security in the new encampment and so the impromptu unveiling.

The new camp has been dubbed Zion Cypress Triangle—representing the symbolic biblical paradise, the historical name of the neighborhood, and the shape of the lot. I spent an hour or so there this evening, and I found it to be aptly named; it was a surprising oasis of soft light, shadow and dim traffic sounds blossoming in an angular wedge between Mandela Parkway and Peralta Street. The graffiti is spectacular, but neat, and there’s an idiosyncratic set of barriers on one end of the lot that create an almost fun-house environment. There’s about a dozen tents and campers at the moment, and that may double in the next day or two.

The camp is TAC’s brainchild, the heart of which remains the trio of exceptionally tall young men who achieved some fame during their complicated and frustrating establishment of the short-lived camp at 18th and Linden.

The Committee has learned a few things since then, holding down the living-area portion of the historic foreclosure occupation they share with Causa Justa just a few blocks down the street. They noticed the triangle of barbed wire and graffiti in their neighborhood and began investigating at the assessor’s office. According to Chris M., an original member of TAC, who I talked to the first night of the 18th and Linden occupation,  their research showed that none of the five parcels that constitute the lot are owned—not by private interests or city.

There’s also no tax history for the lot, according to TAC, and neighbors say that for at least a dozen years, there’s been no use or ownership. Remarkably, from a capitalist-bureaucratic perspective, the lot does not seem to exist. Hence, the albatross of unclear ownership and undecided sponsorship that created so many problems at the last West Oakland occupation, has been eliminated. With no middle man, or woman, to complicate the matter, it is now just an issue between the camp and the city authorities.

No one can predict the ultimate legal designation of some of, or all, the lot at this point. A portion of the lot, for example, is apparently a section of Peralta that would, in an Escher-esque turn, connect the street to Grand if it wasn’t cut off by the fence. Earlier, police didn’t seem to know what to make of the situation, and while some businesses in the area may be currently dissatisfied with having occupiers in the neighborhood, its not clear what anyone can do about it. Only time will tell, and TAC and the campers are fine with those odds for now.

Staking a claim in this real estate netherworld, the Tactical Action Committee and allied pioneer campers plan to hold down the camp for as long as possible—the ultimate goal is to have a winter occupation. They’re starting with a simple set of rules barring loud noise, antagonism towards neighbors and drugs and alcohol. And they’ll be using a consensus driven decision making process for the limited needs of the camp itself, ultimately bringing decisions and report-backs back to the GA proper on a regular basis.

Chris told me that he thinks that the camp will be a good compliment to the other Occupy Oakland iterations: the GA-spawned plan to occupy a large building; the city-permitted tipi vigil at #OGP; the unpermitted interfaith vigil and 24/7-OGP vigil; and the ongoing foreclosure defense occupations like 10th and Mandela. As Chris says, the goal is, after all, to “occupy Oakland”.


Information at the Assessor’s office appears out of date, and while there may be private ownership of some portions of the land at Zion, others appear to be owned, or recently owned by the city. A call to the assessor’s office earlier indicates that even they are not sure who owns what–there’s at least one parcel in the triangle that may be owned by the city.

Update 2: @Bayreporta answer the call to do research and found out when the remaining portions of the lot were given to the developers in question, in 2009. The maps at the assessor’s office weren’t updated to reflect the change in ownership, or the change in the property’s numbered parcel designation. The parcels featured on the map do not, as TAC indeed said, technically exist as a registry. Nor do the portions that are marked city actually belong to the city.

Update 3: One last word about the property. TAC looked at outdated maps on the Assessor’s website that contain now non-existent parcel numbers. These were even more confusing because after the land was purchased by the firm that currently owns it, the city still retained ownerships over parts of it until just two years ago–that explains how a section of Peralta veers off of the main street and into private property and why the word “city” dots the map currently available at the Assessor’s website. For those not familiar with the slow pace of the Assessor’s corrections to existing maps, its understandable that TAC would actually think that they were looking at accurate representations of ownership, i.e., that non-existent parcel numbers meant a lack of clear ownership.

The truth is that they can be forgiven for thinking that for another good reason; because for fourteen years the lot did lack clear ownership. For fourteen years, the lot belonged to the city in name only. Underdeveloped, and as forgotten as the amputated city street subsumed within it–just another place for graffiti bombers to ply their trade. While it changed hands to private developers six years ago, it continues to be a useless blight on the struggling neighborhood–one assumes because the owners are waiting for it to one day become valuable. TAC can be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the triangle was a ghost-plot belonging to no one. For a decade and a half, it legally was, and for the last six years it has been in every sense but the juridical classification.