Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle, May 30, 2023
Within the first five minutes of a raucous community safety meeting Tuesday night in North Oakland, residents vented frustrations and fear over a recent crime spike — and their perception that city leaders are doing little to address it.
Over the two hours that followed, a crowd of roughly 200 gathered at Oakland Technical High School confronted a panel of city officials, the interaction ranging from volcanic heckling to stunned silence. A woman stood and delivered a wrenching personal story about being beaten in front of her house. The owner of a pizzeria said his employees had been held up at gunpoint four times in six years. One person called the city a “failed progressive utopia.”
Others described deteriorating street conditions and predicted that businesses would leave — a San Francisco “doom loop” that had migrated across the bridge.
In North Oakland, eyes have turned to College Avenue, the shopping corridor in the Rockridge neighborhood that has become a new epicenter for burglaries and robberies.
During a recent press conference at Oakland City Hall, Police Chief Darren Allison conveyed the scale of the crime wave: Residents witnessed 100 robberies in a single week, and 50 in a tumultuous 72-hour period.
Rockridge, known for its clothing boutiques and farm-to-table restaurants, was among 14 neighborhoods hit by one prolific robbery crew — a group of nine children who police believe are connected to more than 35 crimes. Among them: the strong-arm robbery and assault of a 63-year-old woman outside Market Hall, a building at College and Shafter avenues where high-end grocery stalls face the sidewalk.
To date, the north Oakland area has seen a 22% increase in robberies over last year — from 101 reports, to 123 — and an 18% increase in violent crime, from 211 incidents to 249, according to Oakland police data.
But statistics alone fail to capture the anger unleashed at Tuesday’s meeting, as members of the public faced off with officials including Kalb and police Capt. Jeffrey Thomason. Department of Violence Prevention Chief Kentrell Killins, who also appeared on the panel, drew cheers at one point, when he articulated a widely held sentiment: that people come to Oakland from out of town to commit crimes.
“It’s shocking a lot of people in a neighborhood like this,” said R.L. Smith, who was smoking on a park bench near Rockridge BART station on a recent morning. Smith, a longtime resident, described Rockridge as a nesting ground for affluent families and academics at UC Berkeley, who might expect to be insulated from violent crime and burglaries. Now, many homeowners appear gripped by apprehension, Smith said, intensified by feverish posts on Nextdoor about the latest smash-and-grabs down the block.
Some merchants who spoke with The Chronicle had reservations, saying they did not want to draw attention to the problem. Workers at Market Hall flinched when asked about the break-ins and the attack on the 63-year-old woman. David Gibson, a buyer at Paul Marcus Wines, threw his hands up.
“It’s brazenness that’s now spilled over to a physical attack,” said Gibson, who was eating lunch near the scene of the assault. He and other shopkeepers were reluctant to discuss their experiences, saying they don’t want to scare away customers.