OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The sound wall along the High Street off-ramp from I-580 south in Oakland is in such bad shape that it is a danger to those who live on the other side. The neighbors have been complaining to Caltrans for years, but they're finally getting action after calling the ABC7 News I-Team's Dan Noyes.
These neighbors in the Oakland flatlands felt their voices weren't being heard, one telling the I-Team, "I just want to survive, I ain't trying to style or nothing like that. I just want to survive, OK?"
Put yourself in Dino Santiago's shoes: 74 years old, retired after a long career as a Golden Gate Transit bus driver, bought this house by the highway in Oakland 40 years ago. He was there when Caltrans first installed the sound wall in 1983.
Dan Noyes: "When it went up, did it make a difference in your quality of life in terms of the sound? Did it make the sound less from the highway?"
Dino Santiago: "Oh, definitely, definitely. Well, it's a brand new house to us, OK? We didn't mind it. So, to us, we imagined we were over there by the seashore, OK?"
But, a lack of maintenance by Caltrans over the years has left the sound wall in very bad shape. Santiago explained, "After this wall starts getting decrepit and everything like that, it still was like the ocean, OK? But like in a tidal wave, bam, splash and all that."
Santiago says the sound wall along his property line has suffered six hard car crashes over the years, and many more glancing blows. After a crash knocked down a large section last summer, Caltrans installed a flimsy chain-link fence. Now, Dino says thieves and the unhoused have easy access to his yard.
Santiago: "I found homeless people sunbathing, OK? Sunbathing on my roof."
Noyes: "What kinds of things have been stolen?"
Santiago: "Oh, my lawn mowers and stuff. I have some tools over there. Hey, a fishing pole. I'm an avid fisherman. It took all of that, it took my tackle boxes and stuff."
Santiago believes the condition of the area has led to more people thinking his home is an easy target. They broke his windows in October, so he boarded them up and started carrying a gun. "I armed myself, I felt that I had to. Two guys came over here and they thought they were gonna do that, I just raised my shirt up. They saw it and they scrammed."
The sound wall all along the exit is in bad shape - leaning one way or another. There's a stoplight sign meant for cars on the exit ramp, but aiming the wrong way. And a massive section of the sound wall that appears ready to fall at any moment. That's by Troy Reagan's house, and he tells us cars have crashed through his part of the sound wall, too: "The car came through here, and we call Caltrans to replace the wall and they haven't came to replace it. I put this up myself."
The construction worker worries that his seven kids might be in the yard for the next crash or when the wall topples over.
"Caltrans, they don't care and this is this is my family," Reagan said. "This is our life. This is the life we've been living in, the horror of this fence or someone coming through this fence and killing us, this is sad."
Both families want equal treatment, for Caltrans to install a masonry block sound wall like they did a few miles away in San Leandro.
So, we called Caltrans. At first, they insisted the agency doesn't install wooden sound walls like this, and asked for some time to research the issue. Then, we called the Oakland City Council member for this district, Janani Ramachandran, who told us, "It's unsightly, it's unsafe, and it's an eyesore."
Ramachandran has been on the job less than a month, but she and her staff moved quickly, visiting the site and calling Caltrans. "They responded to us immediately, within a couple of hours, saying they're going to be sending a maintenance crew to scope the area ASAP. It's entirely under Caltrans jurisdiction."
On Wednesday, ABC7 News' drone pilot spotted the Caltrans team assessing the High Street sound wall on both sides of 580. And Caltrans spokesman Pedro Quintana emailed that:
Ramachandran said, "And if it's something that can be done in house, it should be fixed in - within one to two weeks. If they determine it's something that needs to be contracted out, potentially a little longer."
Good news for Santiago, but it's hard to be optimistic with all he's been through. He told Noyes, "If I hit the lotto, I'd be gone tomorrow. What's the odds? Same odds of them fixing this fence."
Caltrans says their engineers are working on the timeline for that long-term solution, the masonry block wall. We'll keep you up to date.
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