Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Update: West Oakland Community Garden Declares Victory for Now

By Luke Tsai
Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 1:36 PM

click to enlarge Meditating at Afrika Town during Liberation Day (via Facebook).
  • Meditating at Afrika Town during Liberation Day (via Facebook).
“Afrika Town is at ease.” That tweet, posted on Friday afternoon, amounted to a declaration of victory by supporters of West Oakland’s Afrika Town Community Garden, who began the day they’d dubbed Liberation Day expecting to face down a fleet of bulldozers — a standoff that activists characterized as a battle against gentrification.

See also:
West Oakland Activists Vow to Defend Afrika Town Community Garden

Instead, it appears that Noel Yi, the property owner who planned to sell the plot of land to luxury condo developers, has backed down and agreed not to forcibly remove the garden for now. Still, Afrika Town’s long-term survival isn’t a foregone conclusion: The lot currently is currently listed for sale for $995,000. Daunting as that seems, the garden’s organizers say their next step is to raise the money they need to purchase the lot.

As previously reported, volunteers built the Afrika Town garden over a period of several months in what they say was a vacant, blighted lot at the intersection of San Pablo and West Grand avenues, creating what they described as haven for the Black community. Faced with eviction from the property they had taken over, Afrika Town’s supporters turned the City of Oakland to intervene. They had Oakland-based civil rights lawyer Yolanda Huang write a letter to various Oakland city officials on Afrika Town’s behalf, urging the city not to use police force in what she considered to be a civil dispute — arguing that, if nothing else, the landlord ought to resolve the situation through the court system rather than “armed confrontation with the police and a bulldozer.”

Afrika Town volunteers also pled their case to District 3 Councilmember Lynette McElhaney, who eventually reached out to Yi’s representative, real estate agent Gary Robinson, in an effort to de-escalate the situation. She, too, encouraged Robinson to ask Yi not to involve the police.

Apparently, those arguments were enough to convince the property owner to back down for now. And Robinson, who delivered the good news in person on Friday, now says he’s even hoping he can convince Yi to sell the lot to the Afrika Town organizers for a discounted price.

“If they can show that they have the means to buy it, I can talk to the seller to make sure they have time,” Robinson said.

China Pharr, one of the Afrika Town volunteers, said she’s hopeful that they’ll be able to negotiate a better price. And she added that, beyond just trying to buy the property, the garden’s supporters are taking a long view: “How do we build wealth from owning the land, and how do we use that wealth to prevent further gentrification?”

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