It’s good to see the city creating an action plan to find services and shelter for the homeless who have taken up residence in the soon-to-be-built Jean Sweeney Park. But let’s not forget about those living in the encampment at the foot of the Fruitvale Bridge.
Hidden behind trees near Pet Food Express next to the Fruitvale Bridge is a plot of land where a sprawling pile of trash has been accumulating for about a year. Someone is living there and bringing in the items that lie strewn about the area. A large kiosk-type structure has been built. A barbeque grill is a potential fire hazard, considering all the debris and pine needles on the site. The cyclone fence leading to the bridge has been torn away, allowing easy ingress and egress for the homeless. The area has become a public health issue.
The city says this land is a railroad right-of-way currently owned by Union Pacific Railroad Company and has notified them, but to no avail. Citizens have complained to the city, also to no avail.
The likely reason for the lack of response is that Union Pacific is in the process of removing railroad easements from all property in Alameda. It filed a notice with the federal Surface Transportation Board earlier this year that it is abandoning “all of its remaining trackage on Alameda Island,” including “ancillary, industrial, switching, siding, and spur trackage.” This filing relinquishes railroad easement rights along Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland, over the bridge, and across Alameda Island. The notice was posted in the Federal Register on June 20, 2016.
After helping those living by the bridge, the city should start cleaning the site. It is inconceivable that Union Pacific would sue the city for cleaning up the property. After all, the city will eventually own the already appraised site when the funds are available to purchase it.
It’s important to address the encampments early and responsibly before the issue grows into a bigger problem. A few people are now sleeping along Alameda Beach and utilizing the McDonald’s on Shoreline for some of their needs. And it doesn’t take much looking around to find people whose home is their car.
We cannot look away. Homelessness is growing in Alameda, and it’s not only because of a low supply of affordable housing. Some people are unemployable. Others may need help overcoming substance abuse. By the looks of the area at the Fruitvale Bridge, someone may need medication for mental illness. It’s a major healthcare issue.
Our city officials would be wise to grapple with homelessness in Alameda now.
Originally published in Alameda Sun
Related story: City Purchases Belt Line Property, by Michele Ellson [Note: The Union Pacific property at the Fruitvale Bridge was not part of the Belt Line property.]