On a sunny day this Spring Break, I decided to drive to a BART station to make my way to San Francisco and catch up with a friend. A rare opportunity, especially since—as people who don’t live in the area struggle to understand—the gulf between the City and the Town is much larger than just a bay.
I made my way to West Oakland BART, anticipating spending time on parking either in the parking lot or in the surrounding neighborhood. I thought about how my new resolution in the middle of this year should be to make no more financial contributions to the City of Oakland Parking Citation “Assistance” Center. I recently paid one of the most aggravating tickets because the tail of my car was in red paint. I told myself I would pay those $2/hour parking fees to save what amounted to probably two hundred dollars that I’ve spent most years on tickets.
(On a side-note about my adventure, while I snaked through 6th Street next to the 880 highway, I noticed a bright blue sign about the length of an entire building, which was meant to be read from the freeway as folks commuted. It read something along the lines of “Oakland Police is hiring” and boasted of the great salary and benefits. (And of course this is readable from the freeway, begging the question of why so many of Oakland’s cops are from out of the city.))
When I did finally arrive to the BART station, there were no parking spaces and I was forced to drive in circles through the neighborhood. I noticed the newly renovated Victorians, and I could tell if the occupants were gentrifiers based on the number of succulent plants growing in those beautiful bay windows. Then I noticed more maddening things like how every street had a 2-hour limit sign. If I didn’t move my car in two hours, I would be ticketed. I became hyperaware when I turned onto a street with two police cars flashing lights. I drove between them and a connection formed in my mind: for every car in this neighborhood that plans on parking here like normal people do for more than 2 hours at a time, people must apply for a parking permit with the city. Let me say that again: city parking permits and policing. It makes total sense for a city bent on controlling its “colorful” elements and protecting wealthier, whiter newcomers.
In case you missed these recent and not-so-recent developments, West Oakland is a historically Black neighborhood, and let’s be frank—Oakland is a historically Black town. There are reasons linked to the U.S. military industrial complex and racism that led to this, which I won’t get into now. In the last few years the neighborhood, as well as the city of Oakland overall, has become home increasingly to white renters and homeowners. Check out reports like the great work done by Causa Justa, linking economics, race, and public health. (A nice summary of points can be read here.)
And now, by limiting and ticketing neighbors for parking without permits, the city has another way to track and criminalize people, making it harder to live in West Oakland. (You can find more information about the process here.) Essentially, this means that the city has your residential information, car registration, and driver’s license. Another database for your searchable, personal facts. Another way to pull a dragnet across the areas closest to the BART station, areas that not-so-coincidentally are in the middle- to late-stages of gentrification and displacement of current residents.
Now, some folks might argue that forcing people to register with the city means being able to limit violence with access to information. However, this process makes me wonder about the increased difficulties with attaining such permits so that one’s life can be safe and comfortable. Since getting a permit requires a utility bill or current rental agreement, what challenges are presented to people of color who share living spaces with family and friends? These informal living arrangements provide important communal support in tough, racist and economic times and help people survive. And what happens when struggling families receive parking tickets upwards of $70? If this parking regulation suggests safety, what does it mean for the rest of the city that does not get the supposed benefits of this policy?
What is further frustrating is that the 2-hour limit parking signs labeled streets in the area as far as a 3- to 4- block radius out from the BART station and out from the 8th street strip of stores. It is a rare and rushed trip for any BART user to commute anywhere and be back in 2 hours. The limit does not serve commuters nor the nearby businesses. If anything, these hourly parking limits discourage BART riders from using the station and thus, it limits their shopping at neighborhood stores while passing by. For a city that is so concerned with economic growth, letting people use this station as a commuter-hub may bring more shoppers than stringent rules about parking.
Beyond West Oakland, parking regulation and enforcement in Oakland exhibit an even more racist and classist bent. I recently moved to a middle-to-upper class area by Lake Merritt and was surprised when my landlord mentioned there were no street-sweeping times posted. This is different from my former neighborhood in the Fruitvale where I had to move my car almost everyday. In other words, my current, wealthier neighborhood does not limit parking and so risks of receiving a parking ticket are lower here than in poorer neighborhoods. The lack of parking regulation itself is not a problem, but the obviously inequitable enforcement and unjust impact of parking regulations cannot be excused. (Not to mention how street lights are brighter in this wealthier area and neighbors jump at any sign of mugging or robbery statistics. As if this city wasn’t already bending to their every whim.)
Anyways, you may think I am overly-anxious writer ranting about parking, but that’s not the point. The point is how these subtle regulations contribute to a larger and more nuanced system that makes living as a free and liberated person much more difficult for poor and working-class people of color. These policies that embed themselves into accepted ways of performing our lives in this city have real and lasting impacts. An example of what I mean is, as I walked in San Francisco later that day, I thought about the parallel struggle of the I-Hotel and the burgeoning of the Asian-American movement. Although it was and has been a movement about many intersecting issues, the original campaign was about valuing the poor and elderly Asian members of the community inhabiting the hotel and the rich and white business interests of the proposed parking center for what eventually became the Financial District of San Francisco. Business interests, including parking, changed SF Manilatown–and today threaten to change Chinatown– into the business district of the city. Parking might seem mundane, but therein lays its power to be used to support a wealthy class, to push people out of neighborhoods, and furthermore, to perpetuate racist capitalism.
So what do we do? First there is a big mayoral race in Oakland and we must enter that with open eyes and tough questions about gentrification and development in our Town. Second, the thing no one likes to hear: keep up the long-term struggle to study, act, and reflect. Whether you are a contractor, a bus-rider, a schoolteacher, or a paid organizer, working to gain consciousness and to challenge these structures is lifelong, collective work. All this leads to number three: you tell me. There is surely more involved in the growth and development of Oakland than what I am aware of or can mention in an essay.
What has been your experience with parking and ticketing in Oakland? In your city? Have your noticed any funky, racist discrepancies with parking regulation and enforcement? You tell me.
Map of Gentrification Stages from Causa Justa’s report