Quake transforms West Oakland neighborhood


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Even before it was constructed in the 1950's, there was bitterness in West Oakland over having a freeway in the middle of the neighborhood. When the Cypress buckled in the earthquake, community residents quickly developed a plan to keep it from being rebuilt. "In hindsight we should have viewed it as a daunting task but we viewed it as a continuing struggle," said community activist Paul Cobb. Cobb was one of the leaders in the fight, speaking out at numerous meetings with Caltrans. The transportation agency wanted to rebuild the freeway where it collapsed. Eventually Caltrans said no to its original plan and agreed that when the Cypress was torn down, it would not go back up in the same location. "It's a memory in my mind. It's hard to believe a freeway was actually here," said Robert Walker. Walker and others who lived in the shadow of the noisy, polluting, freeway are now enjoying what's called Mandela Parkway. It took 16 years after Loma Prieta for this stretch of land to be transformed. Off to one side is a quake memorial and other parts of West Oakland are gentrifying and diversifying. "Now all of the races are here so, it's pretty nice," said a resident. But an economic boom for the residents has not panned out the way many hoped. It was expected that scores of jobs would result from the nearly 10 year, $1 billion project tearing down and re-routing the freeway.

"I feel very bad. That's a part of the promise and the dream that was not realized," said Cobb.

City councilwoman Nancy Nadel is now trying to bring light industry and bio-tech to the area.

"The community would really like to see anything that would bring green jobs. So we're also looking at new energy technology and seeing if we can accommodate those folks," said Nadel.

Twenty years and counting since Loma Prieta it's a long time to wait for the rebirth of a neighborhood.

"Those who are the old timers never thought they'd live to see the day and the new people would never have come here had it not been for the blossoming and blooming of West Oakland," said former state senator Don Perata.

At the very least, it's no longer a community split in two by a freeway some called the Berlin Wall.

The city of Oakland will hold a public ceremony on Saturday to honor those killed in the quake. It begins at 5:00 p.m. at the Cypress Freeway Memorial Park at Mandela Parkway at 14th Street.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Join us for a one-hour retrospective on the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake on Saturday, October 17 at 10 p.m. and Sunday, October 18 at 7 p.m. We'll look back at the damage, how the Bay Area was forever changed, and what still must be done today to prepare for the next "big one."

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Web exclusive content commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. Includes extended interviews with reporters who covered the quake, as well as city officials and first responders who lived through it all.

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