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Gov. Newsom's office blasts Oakland over handling of Wood St. homeless encampment; loss of funding threatened

Caltrans to clear Oakland homeless encampment near MacArthur Maze
Caltrans to clear Oakland homeless encampment near MacArthur Maze 02:28

OAKLAND -- The city of Oakland may lose millions of dollars in state funding because the city is "seeking to shirk its responsibility" over housing unsheltered people on Caltrans property along Wood Street in city limits, a letter Thursday from Gov. Gavin Newsom's office to City Attorney Barbara Parker said.

According to Newsom's office, Oakland is taking a "novel legal position" that it has no responsibility to house about 200 individuals, even though the city received $4.7 million for rehousing activities at Wood Street.

The city said in July that it doesn't have the capacity to shelter all of the people at the encampment.

The letter from Newsom's office says local governments generally have the responsibility for providing shelter and rehousing for people who are homeless, while Caltrans is a transportation agency. It has no authority to provide housing or shelter to the public, the letter says.

"To be clear, there is no such thing as a 'resident of Caltrans,' as the city's position suggests," the letter from Ann Patterson, Newsom's legal affairs secretary said.

If Oakland maintains its position, the state may redirect funds to jurisdictions that will provide services to Oakland residents.
Parker said that Oakland is reviewing the letter from the governor's office.

"Oakland values its longstanding relationship with the State of California in partnering on issues related to housing and homelessness, and shares the State's immediate and long-term goal of sheltering and housing unsheltered Oaklanders," Parker said late Thursday.

"Meanwhile, the City has also been deeply engaged with Caltrans for an extended period about these same shelter-related issues," she said. "We are eager to work with our local, regional, and state partners to resolve concerns and secure solutions for unsheltered Oaklanders."

Patterson asked Oakland officials to respond to the letter by the close of business Friday.

Next week, a federal judge will rule whether Caltrans can clear its property of homeless people and their belongings. Last month, a federal judge upheld a temporary restraining order preventing Caltrans from clearing its part of the encampment

The Wood St. encampment beneath the MacArthur Maze highway interchange has been the scene of countless fires in recent years, most recently on July 11. Oakland fire officials said about 100 fires of various sizes and severity have occurred at the camp between April 2021 and July 1 of this year. One person died in a fire in April.  

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