This blog is no longer being maintained, but I’m continuing to blog about North Oakland at

Also, read my Oakland stories at the Contra Costa Times website or in the Montclarion/Piedmonter.


The Oakland City Council has voted to explore using loans and negotiation to help residents in danger of losing their homes through foreclosure and to clean up vacant properties.

Oakland is suffering from the foreclosure crisis that is affecting the nation. Although the city cannot regulate the actions of lenders, it can manage the blight that comes with vacant properties and can use leverage to ask banks to back off on foreclosing.

“I have all the confidence that the city’s housing staff is going to proactively address this issue,” said Larry Hynson, policy analyst with ACORN, a community organization that counsels homeowners in trouble.

The foreclosure rate in Oakland is rising, according to City Attorney John Russo’s office. Russo has sponsored a new hotline, (510) BE-ALERT, for homeowners in trouble.

The resolution, which passed unanimously on Tuesday, urges banks to work with homeowners, possibly by turning adjustable-rate mortgages into more stable, fixed-rate mortgages. The resolution also requires city staff to look into the feasibility of providing city loans to buyers in trouble and requiring bank-owned, vacant properties to be managed so that blight and vandalism are avoided.

In preparation for winter, Oakland’s Public Works Agency is urging citizens to prepare their property for the rainy season.

The agency has been busy removing debris from storm drains, and it wants home and business owners to check and clean private drainage systems and clean up leaves, yard debris and lawn clippings.

Beginning this week, residents can pick up a maximum of 20 sandbags and 25 feet of plastic sheeting per household or business to prepare for flooding.

The materials are available from the city’s municipal service center at 7101 Edgewater Dr. and the drainage maintenance satellite office at 5921 Shepherd Canyon Rd. Proof of Oakland residency is required.

Oakland fire stations will also distribute up to five sandbags to Oakland residents for pick up at the station.

Report flooding problems at 615-5566.

Jean Quan, district four city council member and president pro tempore, is organizing a group of citizen volunteers who will work with Oakland police to crack down on drivers speeding through their neighborhoods.

So far 20 volunteers have signed up for a two day training that will be conducted by Oakland police traffic officers. The training will show them how to use a hand-held radar gun purchased by Quan’s office for the program.

After they are trained, groups of three volunteers will take the radar gun to areas where speeding is common. They will clock the speed of cars and send speeders license plate numbers to police who will mail the speeders a warning letter. Volunteers will not have access to driver information.

The first speed trap will be set on 35th Ave. in the Redwood Heights area. Another group is organizing a trap for Skyline Blvd.

In the basement of the Downtown Oakland Senior Center, there’s a group of  people who spend their weekday afternoons sitting around a computer lab discussing neurons and glial cells. They’re students in a popular new course at the center aimed at improving memory.

Like their peers around the country, Oakland residents are living longer, and they are more active in caring for their own cognitive health. Now, for the first time, the center is responding to their needs by offering a computerized brain fitness course developed by San Francisco-based PositScience.

Ranging in age from 61 to 97,  they work through a series of six  listening exercises each designed to challenge a different part of the brain and to stimulate the release of neuromodulators, or learning chemicals.

And six weeks in, some in the class are already reporting increased alertness, sharper focus and better learning.

“Now I remember what I’m forgetting,” quipped April Hecter, 65, of Oakland.


By Paul Gackle

Tears poured out of the eyes of Charlette Wallace as she hugged her sister, Carol, in celebration on the front steps of the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland Thursday. A 12-man jury had just sentenced Willie “W.L” Thompson, 34, and LaVar “Mooney” Coleman, 27, to life in prison for the shooting death of her nephew, Dante Wallace.

“If you pray hard enough, things will come true,” she told her family. “Oh, thank you Jesus!”
The verdict put an end to the emotional four-week trial before Superior Court Judge Leo Dorado that determined accountability in a four-man shootout between childhood friends.


By Paul Gackle

OAKLAND – Are Willie “W.L” Thompson and LaVar “Mooney” Coleman murderers who hunted and killed two childhood friends like prey? Or were they acting in self-defense during the bloody four-man shootout that has torn neighbors, family and friends apart? Now, a jury will decide what happened during the early hours of April 25, 2004 in the East Oakland neighborhood know as, “the Village.”

In closing arguments of the double-homicide trial, Deputy District Attorney Chris Lamiero told jurors that Thompson and Coleman instigated the armed conflict that left Ronnell Hodge and Dante Wallace dead. He was responding to the defense’s claim that the two would have killed in self-defense if Hodges fired his .357 caliber revolver first.

“The law does not permit an act of self defense to be contrived. You cannot create a situation and then say you were acting in self defense,” he said.