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Oakland residents dismayed by influx of sex workers in quiet neighborhood

Oakland residents grouse over influx of sex workers in quiet neighborhood
Oakland residents grouse over influx of sex workers in quiet neighborhood 03:12

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- Residents of an Oakland neighborhood plagued with sex trafficking are demanding that city leaders fix the problem.

About 300 people attended the San Antonio Neighborhood Safety Action forum Saturday to see how three Oakland mayoral candidates and two Alameda County supervisor District 3 candidates plan to stop prostitution on East 15th Street.

Neighbors said East 15th Street used to be a quiet street but, after the city reconfigured International Boulevard (also known as East 14th Street), sex workers moved a block over to  East 15th.

Resident Estefani Zarate pushes her stroller past the sex workers -- some wearing bikinis and some in see-through tops -- on a daily basis.

"I think it's inappropriate but we can't really do much towards them," said Zarate, who has lived on East 15th her entire life.

She worries for her two young kids.

"I'm scared for them to see (the women) in inappropriate clothes, (then ask) me questions and I don't have answers for them," she said.

That was why she and her family came to Saturday's candidate event -- not only to listen but also to demand a solution to the problem.

"It shouldn't be introduced at the age of 4 years old that you're going down the street and you're seeing women dress like this (or) you need to learn 'oh, if you hear gunshots, duck down," said Marlen Zarate, Estefani's sister.

Oakland Prostitution
A sex worker on East 15th St. in Oakland. KPIX

Many families said that, aside from prostitution, they're also fed up with homeless encampments and gun violence.

"The mayor has to send a message that Oakland is not a dumping ground, people!" said mayoral candidate Ignacio De La Fuente.  "That Oakland is not the place you come do the s** that you don't do anywhere else. (We need to send the message) that, in Oakland, we're going to enforce the law when people come to violate the law." 

"On the council I'm the only one up here today that voted against defunding the police and making sure that we did not take away the police academies," said mayoral candidate and councilman Loren Taylor.

"Violence intervention and violence interrupters and violence prevention is equally or -- if not more -- important than the response only," said mayoral candidate and councilwoman Sheng Thao.

As the candidates tried to win votes, the sex workers stood about a block away.

Many neighbors want to close East 15th Street to non-resident car traffic. They want cops to go after pimps and johns. They also want resources to help sex workers get away from this line of work.

"Why exactly Oakland only? Why does Oakland let people do things like that?"  Estefani Zarate asked.

Most neighbors said they would like to leave but can't afford to move so their only hope is that city leaders will stop this problem.

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