Column: Why We Want to Save Our Neighborhood

By Susan Parker
Friday January 25, 2008

My neighbors and I put together a website (www.livableoakland. com) about our fight against Measure A, which will appear on the Feb. 5 ballot. In it we posted information about our neighborhood, sometimes known as Lower Temescal, or Baja Rockridge, or just plain North Oakland.  

We added facts about Children’s Hospital Oakland (CHO), and the history of measures A and B. We included content on eminent domain because the public needs to know that Children’s Hospital thinks it has the right to take away our homes. Also on the website are photographs of neighborhood houses and kids.  

We want to show that the blocks surrounding CHO are ethnically and socially diverse, and that many young children live here. They will be directly affected by the 12-story tower and helicopter landing pad Children’s plans to build if Measure A passes.  

I have lots of photographs of neighbors and neighborhood structures stored in my computer because I once took a class in graduate school that involved studying my hood, specifically the blocks between 54th and Dover streets and 36th Street and San Pablo Avenue. Every week I accompanied my then housemate, Willie, to and from his place of employment, Doug’s Barbecue.  

While walking with Willie I’d always find something interesting to photograph: a pair of well-worn work boots dangling from a telephone wire; a porcelain toilet bowl in the middle of a beautiful garden; a heartfelt message on a church signboard; a homeless encampment underneath a freeway overpass.  

To prepare for our campaign against Measure A, I looked through my old pictures. I found photos of every church Willie and I had passed by, 17 in all, and 4 that will be within the shadow of CHO’s proposed 196-foot high-rise. There were photographs of Mrs. Brown’s 80th birthday bash and pictures of several summer block parties.  

I’ve got lots of snapshots of kids in red plastic fireman hats climbing in and out of a big ladder truck, neighborhood canines eating leftover hot dogs, teens listening to music and talking on cell phones. I found photographs of Andrea’s sister selling Valentine’s Day flowers on the corner of 54th Street and MLK, and shots of Jernae taken when she was 14. She is dressed in a long white gown, sitting on a church pew next to our neighbor Chris, also 14 and clad in an oversized orange and black basketball jersey and matching sweatpants.  

Jernae has just completed her Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program at The First African Methodist Episcopal Church down on 34th Street, and she looks pure and virginal, in contrast to the next photo on file: Andrea, just out of jail, standing in my hallway, relieved to be home and wearing the same formfitting red shift and leopard-printed bedroom slippers she wore on the night she was arrested, six weeks before.  

My neighbors chose not to post Andrea’s photograph although they admitted that she sure looked happy. Another rejected photo was of my niece, Kanna, her tiny body covered in a blue hospital gown, an IV line in her small, thin arm. The photograph was snapped two years ago in a pediatric wing at Children’s Hospital. Kanna was taken there after having an allergic reaction to a vaccination. 

I thought that the photograph should appear on our website as it exemplifies the emotional dilemma Measure A presents to Alameda County voters. No one wants to vote against sick children. But to have any rational debate about Measure A, we have to separate what CHO does for kids from what it wants to build at 53rd and Dover streets, and how it wants to pay for it. 

On the Livable Oakland website are photographs of my neighbors and me. We look happy. We look sad. Some of us seem scared, while others exude confidence. We appear frazzled and wrinkled, young and healthy, big and strong, little and fragile. We probably look a lot like you and your neighbors.