Community demands action after fires

July 24, 2008 7:45:35 PM PDT
Neighbors in one Oakland community claim criminals are trying to burn them right out of town. People are scared, angry and are confronting each other and their local politicians in West Oakland after three mysterious fires in just four hours. Some in the neighborhood suspect drug dealers are retaliating after a recent arrest. Two of the fires are definitely arson.

"You were threatening me and I have witnesses," said Katherine Porter, a Dogtown resident.
"Who?" asks another resident.
"You sat right over there and said my house was going to be next," said Porter.

Tensions are high in "Dogtown," the West Oakland neighborhood that boarders Emeryville, where some residents claim drug dealers' threats to burn down houses have become reality.

"This is where the criminals are actually burning our houses down in retaliation for us trying to get the police to put the criminals away," said Kathy Kuhner, a Dogtown resident.

Police confirm two house fires on Helen and Union streets early Wednesday morning were arson. A third fire, on 30th Street, is still under investigation.

"We're hearing rumors on the street that this was retaliation from drug dealers in the neighborhood, and that very well may be," said Officer Roland Holmgren, Oakland Police Department.

"Police, you call police and they never show!" said a resident.

The residents blame a lack of police presence and failure by the city council and Mayor Ron Dellums to crack down on street crime.

"I think the mayor should resign. I think we should have someone who wants the job and is able to do it," said Kuhner.

"This city forms committees. They don't do anything. This is a city of committees, of study groups, of bloated bureaucrats," said Porter, a Dogtown resident.

Council Member Nancy Nadal lives in Dogtown and is a prime target of the residents' wrath.

"Nancy doesn't want the criminals to go to jail," said Kuhner.

"It bothers me that my neighbors are upset with me, but my neighbors who've known me for years are not upset," said Nancy Nadal, Oakland City Council member.

"They want this to burn!" said an Oakland resident.

Clearly, there is a rift between those on the streets and those who think they're making Dogtown a safer place.

"We would definitely condemn anyone burning a house down, because now we're getting into a safety issue," said Johnny Gatlin, a Dogtown resident.

Mayor Dellums declined to speak to ABC7 about the issue. He made a rare appearance in the neighborhood, stopping at one of the burned out houses and local community center. He did not want to talk about residents' claims he's been ineffective against crime. He also would not comment on the calls from some residents for his resignation.

In the meantime, police are asking for anyone with information on these fires, should contact them and they will be increasing patrols in the area.

Around 7 p.m. Thursday evening after our story aired Oakland Mayor Dellums released the following statement:

"Today, I personally spoke to concerned and engaging residents in the neighborhoods that were affected by these fires. Part of the reason I visited the community in West Oakland was to tell people that they should never fear standing up for the safety of their community and I am committed to standing with them as we work together to bring peace to our streets. What we do know is that two fires within vacant homes were more than likely arson, but we are still unclear of what the motive may have been, as there were conflicting views from various individuals from within the neighborhood. I will continue to work with the police and fire departments during their ongoing investigations to ensure that justice is done regardless of intention. Furthermore, during my visit with residents, I listened attentively to their specific concerns regarding some quality of life issues that will be dealt with expeditiously."


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