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'All night long'; Oakland installs barriers in neighborhood victimized by brazen prostitution

Oakland puts up barriers to combat sex workers on East 15th Street
Oakland puts up barriers to combat sex workers on East 15th Street 03:14

OAKLAND -- It's a new strategy to fight the world's oldest profession.

On Saturday, Oakland Department of Transportation workers installed traffic diverters on East 15th Street to try to stop prostitution.

Sex workers have been soliciting on that street for years.

Workers placed 35 water-filled plastic traffic diverters along at the intersections of 16th, 18th, and 20th avenues. The barriers were placed across the intersection in a way that still allows residents to drive in and out. But it blocks people from cruising straight down the street. The hope is it will deter johns using the street to pick up the sex workers.

"I'm happy that it's happening. We have been prisoners of our own home. We have been residents over 50 years and we need something. Something needs to happen and we were getting ready to sell the home and move away. Hopefully this will make some difference but, if not, we know what to do," said Martha Espinoza.

Espinoza has lived on the East 15th her whole life. She and neighbors say street walkers solicit customers every day. Some of them wear thongs, bikinis and see-through tops.

"It's what it brings and we've had issues here and it's exhausting and it's very stressful," Espinoza said. "My car has been shot several times. Our home has been shot several times."

"We have had a crisis of human trafficking. Women, children being exploited, some gun violence and this is impacting not only those people who are being exploited but it's impacting the neighbors," said Oakland city council president Nikki Fortunato Bas  who represents the area.

She said the traffic diverters are part of a holistic strategy to combat sex trafficking.

"We're hoping it'll make an impact. We are doing this at the request of the community. We put in speed bumps last year, improved the lighting last year. Today, we're installing these traffic diverters that the community asked for to keep the traffic moving, make sure that we prioritize this residential street for the residents and the people going to church, going to school."

Street Barriers in Oakland

"We have doubled or more than doubled the resources in our department of violence prevention to ensure that counselors are being able to come out here and make sure that we deliver the services for those who are being trafficked," said Mayor Sheng Thao. "And so, really, saving the girls and not just that but really addressing who the buyers are and making that more difficult."

After the barriers were put in, elected leaders held a meeting with neighbors at San Antonio Park to talk about the strategy and other issues like crime and homelessness.

Espinoza is hopeful the new barriers will work so her family doesn't have to sell the house and move away.

"I don't know that it's a solution but it's an effort and it's headed that way and I'd rather see that than nothing being done, which is what happened for years," Espinoza said.

Fortunato Bas said the traffic diverter strategy is a pilot program. The city will check in with the neighbors over the next couple of months to see if it works.

KPIX 5 returned on Saturday evening to see how the plan worked.  We noticed several sex workers standing next to the newly installed barriers soliciting potential customers as cars drive by.

Neighbors said they want to give the plan more time.  They said one encouraging sign was they saw fewer girls on Saturday evening compared to previous nights.

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