Column: Homes For Sale — Maybe

By Susan Parker
Friday February 01, 2008

Fighting Measures A and B on next Tuesday’s ballot has pushed me over the edge. I’ve lost weight, acquired more wrinkles and lost my sense of humor. Sometimes I don’t even speak in coherent sentences. I’ve put my clothes on inside out, forgotten to zip my fly, backed out of the driveway without looking left or right for oncoming traffic. 

I broke my hand in October. The cast was supposed to come off in November but the bone didn’t heal properly. In December, a Kaiser Permanente technician sawed off the cast. Now I have a permanent bump on my middle metacarpal bone. I’d like to blame Children’s Hospital Oakland, (CHO) for the disfigurement, but that wouldn’t be fair, or would it? 

Nothing seems very fair to me these days. How can CHO, a private outfit, get two measures on the Feb. 5 ballot that will allow them to use taxpayers’ money to build a 12-story high-rise in a residential neighborhood? Why am I being asked to help foot the bill at the same time they are threatening the use of eminent domain to take away our homes?  

My house is not in the footprint of the hospital’s proposed 196-foot tower. I live five doors away but I’m pretty sure CHO wants my home as well as my neighbors’ homes. They’ve already bought one house outside the proposed site. When asked why, Mary Dean, senior vice president of CHO External Affairs, told me, “It was an opportunity.”  

And now they have another opportunity because the neighbors across the street from me have fled to Berkeley. Their home goes up for sale in February. Please someone buy their charming 1914 California bungalow before Children’s snaps it up. 

I’m not the only one feeling harassed and frazzled. Mr. and Mrs. Odom, the last remaining “real” residents on 52nd Street between Dover and MLK Jr. Way, have been feeling like this since the early ‘80s. “Children’s Hospital has been after me to sell my house for years,” Mr. Odom tells me. “Realtors call all the time. They don’t say they work for Children’s but I know they do. Back when Children’s was building the outpatient building and parking garage, black realtors came to black-owned houses, and white realtors came to white-owned homes. What they offered us depended on what color we were and what they thought we’d settle for.”  

Mr. Odom shakes his head, “But I ain’t movin’.” 

Mr. Odom is interviewed by KGO Channel 7 News. He tells a reporter about the man across the street from him who worked for CHO, but wouldn’t sell his home to them. He says the man lost his job before he retired, and later died. His widow died last year and CHO bought their house. It’s now the Yes on Measure A campaign headquarters and stocked with thousands of yard signs. 

My neighbor Yasmin and I run around the neighborhood gathering signatures, distributing bumper stickers, passing out fliers. Yasmin puts on a hat that once belonged to my husband, Ralph. She wears it sideways by mistake. The earflaps cover one of her eyes, and like me, she too has lost weight, so her pants hang down around her hips. She looks like a homeless person. 

We talk to an urban planner. He studies the site plans CHO has up on its website. He tells us that 55th Street is the natural buffer zone for a project of this magnitude. He says that to do it properly, CHO will have to take out all the homes between 52nd street and 55th. 

I glance at Yasmin as his words sink in. She looks horrified, and I know I look the same. Skinny and scared. Clothes on backwards and inside out. We look like two people who have washed up under a freeway overpass. I think about Mr. Odom. Thirty-six years on 52nd Street and he says he ain’t gonna move. I wish I could say the same, but I may not be as tough.