Barricades deterring alleged sex work in East Oakland may be pushing problem to other schools

Stephanie Sierra Image
Monday, May 22, 2023
Barricades in E. Oakland may be pushing alleged sex work down the road
Traffic barricades installed to deter alleged sex work are pushing 'suspicious activity' to other grade schools in East Oakland.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- It's been nearly three months since traffic barricades were installed in East Oakland to deter alleged sex work and trafficking operations around a nearby grade school. But parents say it's coming at a price for other schools down the street.

"Some of the activity is getting diverted to other neighborhoods," said Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who represents the area.

Residents living along E. 15th St. say the barricades have brought peace and quiet back to their street. What used to feel like a red light district, now feels like a neighborhood again.

"We think back to when kids had to step over used condoms," said Raymond Pisano, who lives on E. 15th. "The difference is night and day."

RELATED: Oakland officials, CA lawmaker to meet over alleged sex workers regularly seen near school

Pisano says it's gone from 30 women walking the street along E. 15th to zero. And it's all thanks to the traffic barricades. However, the problem didn't travel far.

"This is dangerous over here," said Evanhelina Lara. "It was a pimp right here in this corner who started yelling at one of the ladies and hit her in the face."

Stephanie Sierra: "How often do you see that?"

Evanhelina Lara: "Frequently -- every day."

Lara lives at the corner of 21st and International Boulevard. She says when police drive by, the women hide behind or beside the cars to avoid being seen.

RELATED: Neighbors say 'pimps' are moving barriers used to block alleged sex workers near Oakland school

Oakland residents say the "pimps" are moving the barricades put on E. 15th St. to block alleged sex workers from soliciting outside a Oakland school.

Trafficking operations have long plagued this area, but recent construction pushed the problem directly across from St. Anthony's grade school and church back in February. The parish pastor, Father Ghebriel Woldai, spoke to the I-Team about the increase in violent shootings near the church.

Father Ghebriel: "It scares me a lot. We feel powerless. We just pray."

Stephanie Sierra: "But, Father, we know prayer alone isn't going to solve the problem."

Father Ghebriel: "Yes, I know. We start with prayer, but we have to end with action."

RELATED: Oakland police, FBI take action to assess trafficking concerns near school after I-Team report

The irony is that the action taken to deter the problem away from St. Anthony's may be pushing it to other schools. The ABC7 News I-Team has confirmed that city officials are committing additional funding to help.

In February, the alleged sex work and trafficking operations crowded at least seven blocks from E. 15th to 22nd Avenues. Sources told the I-Team that operations are becoming more discreet, occasionally visible in the Little Saigon neighborhood along International Boulevard.

However, parents are still reporting concerns near Franklin Elementary School, Garfield Elementary School, The Community School for Creative Education, and Roosevelt Middle School.

The I-Team met with members of the San Antonio Neighborhood Coalition, a group of concerned parents and neighbors, who are working to address the impacts to other schools.

RELATED: Oakland church helps sex workers get off streets and back home

"The pimps have recruiters, or they're recruiters themselves, and they'll park outside the schools and they'll try to attract girls to come and talk to them -- to get in their car and see if they can get them to participate," Pisano said.

"These are younger ladies, maybe 14 or 16 years old," said neighbor Erick Castellanos.

The I-Team spoke with Marisela Deanda, the managing director for the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) who oversees the afterschool program at Roosevelt Middle School.

"We did have a situation where two of our middle school students -- in broad daylight when the bell rang -- were literally taken into a car and thrown into the backseat, don't know for what purposes," Deanda said.

RELATED: Officials say CA sex trafficking operations are 'out of control,' call for repeal of loitering law

Deanda says she hasn't personally witnessed any pimp recruit students on campus but is worried it may be happening down the street where students hang out after school.

"Our students are known to go to San Antonio Park, which is about a block away from our school, and there has been very suspicious individuals and cars around there," Deanda said.

The San Antonio Neighborhood Coalition is meeting to discuss new efforts to crack down and make the existing barricades permanent.

"I want to make sure because some of the activity is getting diverted to other neighborhoods that were also responsive to those neighborhoods," said Council President Bas.

RELATED: Video showing alleged sex workers soliciting outside East Oakland school sparks call for action

Video showing alleged sex workers soliciting right outside St. Anthony's in East Oakland is raising concerns about human trafficking in the area.

Stephanie Sierra: "Do you support making these barricades permanent?"

Nikki Fortunato Bas: "That is something I am committed to doing...we are working with OakDOT to see how we can do that."

Stephanie Sierra: "Will you ensure there's money in the budget for that?"

Nikki Fortunato Bas: "I'm absolutely going to make sure that we have both the design to have those diverters remain and the funding."

For now, it's a temporary fix to a decades-old problem that's bringing back peace and even some plants to East Oakland.

"Nobody wants to risk losing these barricades," Pisano said.

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