Caltrans: Oakland Violated Mandela Community Cabins Lease by Failing to Post Hazmat Warnings for Residents

Posted on August 9, 2019


Caltrans confirms that the City of Oakland’s failure to post hazmat warning signage in its new “Commnity Cabins” off Mandela Parkway has put the city in violation of its lease with the state transportation department. The signage is mandated to be placed at the entrance and throughout the site in the city’s lease, but as of today, there is no signage at the entrance or anywhere in the facility.

Bart Ney, Caltrans’ Communications Chief, confirmed to me today that the failure is a violation of the lease, and that “Caltrans expects the signage to be in place within the 30 days given the city to comply.” It is unclear when the 30 day clock began, and attempts to clarify went unanswered as of this writing.





Last year, the City of Oakland lobbied the state to pass a city specific law that allows Oakland to lease the “airspace” under highway underpasses for $1 per month for the sole purpose of the city’s “community cabins” program. Though the Northgate site was also a Caltrans property, the Mandela site is the first lease inked under the new law.

The Mandela lease provisions, which I obtained through a public records request, obligate the city to conduct substantial toxic and lead remediation and lay asphalt paving on the land before installing the “cabins”. Despite those remediations, the lease still obligates the city to post  signage warning users of the community cabins program of potential lead and other hazardous substances on the property.




Libby Schaaf’s soft-opening of the site on July 3, before it was put in use, was intended specifically for local media, but no such signs were visible in photos or video, and there were no media reports of them. It’s not clear when participants began to occupy the site, but following the closure of a nearby encampment, I confirmed that there were at least a dozen residents living there. At that time, on June 19, I confirmed the signs were not in place in either the entrance or elsewhere on the site.

It’s still unclear whether Caltrans was aware of the violation and allowing it, or unaware until I sent the question along it’s communications chain yesterday. My attempts to clarify with the Caltrans Communications Chief went unanswered as of this writing. It’s also unclear whether Schaaf knew of the lease requirement when she took a personal role in opening the site.



The most recent issues with the Mandela site follow substantial changes in the city’s zoning and building codes passed by city council, which allow “community cabins” to be placed in industrial areas , without heating or other normative housing amenities.

Posted in: Uncategorized