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COVID: Oakland Officials Cracking Down On Large Weekend Crowds At Lake Merritt

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- As the weather has turned warm and the COVID-19 restrictions eased, weekend crowds and illegal vendors have continued to flock to Oakland's Lake Merritt.

Local officials fear the gatherings may lead to new COVID-19 cases. They also have soaring safety concerns. So this weekend they put in new restrictions to keep the crowds away.

Popular Lakeshore Ave. has been converted into a one-lane and one-way street. They also removed parking on one side of the street.

But while the traffic measures prevented the illegal parking, they did not stop the dozens of vendors from setting up shop along Lake Merritt on Saturday. The vendors had no permits and no licenses. The city reported some vendors even sold alcohol and marijuana.

Neighbors said after the rainy season, the illegal vendors returned in January.

"It has steadily degraded until last weekend, which was the worst weekend so far," said neighbor Scott Bodarky.

In addition to the vendors, Bodarky said, the warm weather brought out thousands of people to party along Lakeshore Ave. Some drivers double parked, even triple parked on the street, blocking access to emergency vehicles. Neighbors also could not get in or out.

"People blasting music at 100 (decibels) or higher. And you also get the muscle cars and the motorcycles popping wheelies and doing donuts," said Bodarky.

A city spokeswoman told KPIX 5 the new traffic measures will last until November.

Oakland city council president Nikki Fortunato Bas represents the Lake Merritt area.

"The solutions are going to be hard," Fortunato said. "It's going to take a little bit of time. But I'm out here talking to folks so that I can work with other folks inside the city to find some solutions that will work."

The city is setting up a designated vending area. But many of the vendors declined to go there, complaining they must pay and the rules are too strict.

"We're not asking for hand-outs. We're out here trying to survive, provide for ourselves," said vendor James Watkins.

"We're not trying to be illegal. We're just trying to survive," said another vendor who went by Drea. "I lost my job a whole year ago and I haven't been able to get a job that pays the rent."

Neighbors said it was not just about quality of life. The large crowds at the lake can sometimes lead to dangerous problems.

At around 6:30 Saturday evening, someone fired several shots at a car near the vendors. We don't have a motive and we're not sure if anyone was injured. And at 3 p.m., police told KPIX someone crashed a stolen SUV into two parked cars and ran off near Lakeshore Ave.

City workers warned the vendors if they come back on Sunday, they'll receive a ticket. It's unclear if the city will follow through.

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