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Robert Whiting

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Welcome to Oakland

by Robert Whiting (Mar 20, 2013)

Welcome to Oakland, Hiroyuki Nakajima. I am sure you will come to love the Bay Area with its beautiful scenery. Tourists come from all over the world to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Bay Bridge, which now lights up at night with an artistic light show this year. The city of San Francisco, across the bay, is beautiful. But I would advise you to be careful of the city of Oakland itself, where you are going to play baseball with the Oakland Athletics, because it is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States.

Last year, Oakland, with a population of 400,000, recorded a robbery rate that was three to four times higher than anywhere else in the entire state of California: One robbery per 114 citizens and one car theft per 40 citizens. Oakland police have recorded at least one reported carjacking in every Oakland neighborhood and there is a break-in every 44 minutes.

Moreover, Oakland is rife with gang violence and drug cartel activity. There are about 3 shootings a day in Oakland and well over 100 killings a year, 75% of whom are black. (27% of the population of Oakland is black, 25% White). Last year the count rose to 131, more than twice what neighboring San Francisco experienced.

The trend is upwards with burglaries surging last year by 43% and robberies jumping by 24%。The situation is so bad that the Wall Street Journal highlighted the problem in a article about it last month. In it, the paper quoted a gang leader as saying "The atmosphere is uglier than I have ever seen it."

The city is also an economic disaster zone and the municipal government is broke. In the past year, in a budget saving move, the police force was reduced from 830 officers to 660. A majority of those police officers live outside the city, because they consider it too dangerous to have their families live in Oakland proper. As a result, Oakland is now known as "The City With Half a Police Department. There are only 9 detectives in the entire Oakland PD to handle what is regarded as the heaviest caseload in California."

Jack London Square, in the heart of downtown Oakland, has long been a popular gathering spot for Oakland residents. It has a certain charm. However, that too is changing for the worse. The large Barnes and Noble bookstore in the Square, long a civic landmark, recently had to close because of too much robbery and theft. More inventory was stolen than was sold to the paying customers. Also, Oakland criminals did  such an effective job of separating the paying customers from both their cash and purchases after they left the bookstore, that people stopped shopping at B&N. That is why, right now, incidentally, it is difficult to find a copy of the 2013 "Who's Who In Baseball" in Oakland.

The City Center is a beautiful new structure offering office space and residential apartments and venues for concerts and other events. On one side is a beautiful gleaming new mall. On the other, however, is a popular gathering spot for drug pushers and prostitutes. The Drug Enforcement Agency parks their government-issued cars across the street in the parking garage. Despite the prominent government stickers and license plate, they are repeatedly broken into and ransacked -- even stolen. Not every neighborhood in Oakland is dangerous, but motorists avoid driving through downtown/central Oakland, preferring instead Berkeley or San Francisco.

A poll was released a couple of weeks ago, showing that 74% of Oakland residents believe crime to be Oakland's number one problem; 70% believe the City is going in the wrong direction. 60% believe the ethnic Chinese Mayor (Jean Quan) is doing a poor job. (This caused a friend of mine, who lives in Oakland, to remark, "I can't believe it's only  60%.") This month Mayor Quan sent out a newsletter to Oakland residents which included a workshop class on how to pick a lock. She was forced to issue a public apology. Quan is up for re-election next year and the odds are in her favor that she will be returned as mayor for another term -- but only because no one else wants to run for the job.

Hiroyuki, you are going to play at the Oakland Coliseum, a worn, aging structure covered in sea gull shit and often enveloped in cold and fog. The fans are warm and supportive. But the parking lot and the surrounding area is peopled by low life criminals and other shady characters. It can be downright scary at night.

The owner of the Oakland Athletics, Lew Wolff, desperately wants to move the team south near Silicon Valley where the crime rate is considerably lower and the environment is of a much higher class. The only thing stopping him is that the San Francisco Giants claim that area as their fan base and the Athletics need permission from MLB commissioner Bud Selig to make the move. Thus far, Selig has seemed reluctant to give his okay.

So I don't exactly know what advice to give you, Hiroyuki. A great many Oakland residents carry guns. A .38 caliber snub nosed. A .44 Magnum like Dirty Harry used. A 9 mm Glock.
Unfortunately, Commissioner Bud Selig has a policy that bars anyone in MLB from bringing firearms and other deadly weapons into locker rooms or on road trips. Aside from guns, the prohibited weapons include "explosives, daggers, metal knuckles, switchblade knives and knives having blades exceeding five inches." So I am afraid you will have to go to the ballpark unarmed.

Selig formulated this policy three years ago when NBA star Gilbert Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton drew pistols on each other in the Washington Wizards' locker room. Both players were suspended for the season and athletes packing guns became a hot-button issue

Moreover, Boston Red Sox minor leaguer Brett Brentz shot himself in the leg by accident last month at his home in Tennessee and you wouldn't want something like that to happen to you now, would you?

So the only thing I can say is get a house in the suburbs in one of the better neighborhoods where the other Athletics players live or commute from San Francisco. Be very careful where you go. Be careful where you park your car. Don't walk alone at night, muggings happen even in good areas so keep your wits about you.

So, perhaps you might want to buy some insurance and think about asking for a trade at some time in the future if your career goes well.

Or pray that Bud Selig gives Lew Wolff permission to move to Silicon Valley.

In the meantime Good Luck!

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