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Skate Park Wins Lease Agreement By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday October 04, 2005

The Caltrans sign at the end of the back road out of the Best Buy electronics store parking lot in Emeryville gives an odd command: Left Turn Only. The odd part is that the sign sits in front of a two-way street, Hollis Street, where a right turn appears permissible. 

To the left of the Caltrans “Left Turn Only” sign is the East Bay Bridge Shopping Center and the gleaming condominiums and auto-packed streets that mark the entrance to Emeryville. To the right of the “Left Turn Only” sign is Oakland. 

The Oakland side is a community so much in transition it cannot be easily characterized. 

The neighborhood is evenly divided between small, well-painted, older Victorian houses where old black women still put out neat flower gardens—blocks that once housed Oakland’s thriving middle class African-American community—and gritty, dirty industrial buildings. A demolition contractor’s headquarters sits on one corner. A recycling center—featuring cash for aluminum cans—sits on another. 

Two churches—one a solid-built Baptist, the other a ramshackle put-up—sit a couple of doors down from the combination liquor store and check-cashing establishment. In front of the store, two black men sit on a concrete wall, drinking beer from cans barely hidden inside paper bags. Around the corner are two tiny, triangle-shaped parks where the homeless sleep and addicts come at night to shoot or snort their dope. 

Intermixed with all of this is the sign of the North Oakland-West Oakland coming gentrification: condominiums, newly painted, with “For Sale” signs on their fences. One of the rows of two-story condominiums shows the schizophrenia of the area: they are made of corrugated tin, purposely constructed to look like the side of an industrial building. 

This is Bordertown, the center of all the conflicting social and economic and racial trends blowing across the northwest section of Oakland where it intersects with Emeryville. In the middle, in the shadows under that part of the freeway where I80 splits east and west, Sacramento and San Francisco, sits the Bordertown skatepark. 

Earlier this year, Bordertown was a rogue squatters development on vacant Caltrans land where local skateboarders had built themselves an acre-wide skate park, complete with concrete ramps and metal framework. Last July, Caltrans officials discovered the illegal park while preparing plans for construction of a new freeway on-ramp, fenced off the property, and announced they were demolishing the park. But Bordertown quickly became a political issue after the skateboarders took their story to the local media, and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente—both with tough election campaigns next year—jumped in to save it. Also intervening in negotiations with Caltrans were U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, State Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland), and State Assemblymembers Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) and Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). 

Two signs posted on the locked gate entering the property late in the summer tell the end of the story. One, posted by Caltrans, reads: “State Property. No dumping. No parking. No trespassing.” Next to that is a second sign, signed by the “Bordertown Lifers,” which reads: “Attention: Keep out. Steps are being taken to legitimize Bordertown. If you want to help, be patient. Do not climb over the fence. The city is on our side and with your cooperation things will move faster. Trespassers are jeopardizing the life of Bordertown. So don’t blow it, go to Berkeley Skatepark.” 

Last week, both the patience and the political work paid off when Caltrans and the City of Oakland signed a lease agreement allowing Bordertown Skate Park to remain. 

Under the agreement, Oakland gets the use of several acres of land under the MacArthur Maze freeway for $100 for a period of two and a half years, with an option to renew for another two and a half. Oakland in turn will sublease the property to the Bordertown Skate Park nonprofit and will cover some of the use of the park with the city’s own liability insurance. For its part, the Bordertown nonprofit will have to purchase additional liability insurance, and will be able to expand the skate park’s area to 10,000 square feet. 

The sublease is expected to be finalized by Nov. 1, with the skateboard park reopening to skaters shortly after that. 

“I’m proud to be a part of this historic agreement,” Bordertown co-founder Tony Miorana told Bay City News. “It’s refreshing to see the City of Oakland help its community when we really need it. A skateboard park in Oakland has long been overdue.” 

Councilmember De La Fuente said, “it’s gratifying to see that the state and city could both compromise to reach a workable solution for the benefit of all parties. Oakland is a great city, with great people, and we’re proud to have been able to capture the creative energy of our local youth, and save something they took the initiative to create.” 

Caltrans District 4 Director Bijan Sartipi, in a statement, said, “although Caltrans does not condone illegal encroachment on state property, this is an example of our commitment to this partnership: working hard with our local agencies to find an innovative solution to a difficult problem.”