A message chalked by volunteers with the Community Democracy Project near the Pergola at Lake Merritt in October. Credit: Pete Rosos

It’s been a long year, and this is a long list. That’s a good thing; it means Oakland saw a lot of hard-hitting, in-depth, richly textured reporting and storytelling when it was truly needed. We’ve collected stories from and about Oakland published in 2020 at local online and radio platforms—not just our own—in an effort to help celebrate and preserve them.

To state the obvious, we have undoubtedly missed a lot of truly excellent work—especially since we’re limiting our roundup to the beats we cover at The Oaklandside, and therefore are most familiar with—and we apologize in advance for that. If and when we compile such a list next year and beyond, we’ll be sure and ask more Oaklanders about local reporting—and other sources of local information—that inspired, informed, helped, and impressed you.

As always, if you have feedback about our work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Arts and community

DJ LadyRyan behind her turntable setup in her studio apartment, one of many Oakland DJs impacted by the pandemic. Credit: Pete Rosos

Two decades ago, a local photographer began documenting political statements placed on the iconic Grand Lake Theatre marquee by the theater’s owner. Azucena Rasilla with the story. (The Oaklandside)

Music played an important role in this year’s racial justice protest movements, and Pendarvis Harshaw showed us why he’s one of the leading chroniclers of Bay Area culture and politics with his roundup of songs by Oakland artists and others documenting and informing the moment. (KQED)

Eric Arnold explored how pioneers of Bay Area boogaloo culture are fighting to preserve their history after an extremist alt-right movement appropriated their name this summer. (The Oaklandside)

“A town within The Town”: East Bay Yesterday’s Liam O’Donoghue on the history of the Oakland Army Base. (East Bay Yesterday)

Oakland Voices’s Brandy Collins on why E-40 and Too $hort’s recent ‘Verzuz’ battle “meant more to Oakland and the Bay Area than just entertainment.” (Oakland Voices)

Cultural critic Danyel Smith remembered what Sade’s “Diamond Life” album meant to her while she was broke in East Oakland in the mid-80s. (NPR)

Bella Vista Park’s DIY skate ramps went largely unnoticed for years. Now neighbors, skaters, and the city are considering their future. Brian Krans reports. (The Oaklandside)

Photographer Scott La Rockwell documents the stories and faces of those who make Oakland Oakland with “The Town Folk Project.” Since June, portraits of people he’s interviewed have adorned a building at 13th and Broadway.

Rasilla documented how Homies Empowerment runs a free store in deep East Oakland to encourage community self-sufficiency. (The Oaklandside)

Author and journalist Alan Chazaro on how the Oakland Roots continued their social justice efforts despite the soccer team’s season being hindered by the pandemic. (SFGate)

Public health and environment

Lake Merritt at 3p.m. on the infamous “orange sky” day, September 9, 2020. Credit: Pete Rosos

Since the start of the pandemic, Azucena Rasilla has maintained a user-friendly guide, in both Spanish and English, to free COVID-testing sites around Oakland. (The Oaklandside)

The Chronicle’s Sarah Ravani broke the news of Humanist Hall owner David Oertel’s blatant violation of county COVID rules. Oertel has since passed away. (SF Chronicle)

We spoke to neighbors, vendors, and city officials to shine a light on pandemic-fueled tensions over increased vending at Lake Merritt—and possible solutions. (The Oaklandside)

Abene Clayton took an in-depth look at the heartbreaking rise in gun violence in the Bay Area in 2020—and she did it by putting the voices of families who’ve lost loved ones front and center. (The Guardian)

Why do we all need to wear masks, keep our physical distance from each other, and stay home whenever we can? Rasilla’s personal essay about her grandmother, Lupe, brought it all home. (The Oaklandside)

A companion piece: Pendarvis Harshaw on parenting in the pandemic. (KQED)

What’s under Lake Merritt? Contributor Ally Markovich found some startling answers. (The Oaklandside)

As public health crises mounted this fall and winter, contributor Sarah Belle Lin produced a number of in-depth explainers helping Oakanders understand and prepare. Her guide to air quality scores is a great example. (The Oaklandside)

‘I could no longer avoid the problem’: how one Oaklander organized community cleanups around homeless encampments—the debut of our Amplify series, which features Oakland residents telling their stories in their own words. (The Oaklandside)

COVID-19 outbreaks have claimed lives at prisons across the state, including San Quentin, which houses many incarcerated Oaklanders. KALW released a special episode of “Uncuffed,” a show produced by people incarcerated at San Quentin and Solano State Prison, in which family members and friends read letters to their loved ones inside. (KALW)

Housing and homelessness

We talked to Lloyd Canamore, who was at risk of losing his famous “Warriors House,” in a story about predatory lending in Oakland. Credit: Pete Rosos

A deep history of the Moms 4 Housing property in West Oakland, looking at how “racism and capitalism shaped the home’s history,” by Katie Ferrari. (SF Curbed)

Natalie Orenstein doggedly helped Oaklanders navigate the maze of city, county, and state eviction moratoriums through her regularly updated FAQ. (The Oaklandside)

KQED’s Erin Baldassari and Molly Solomon dug into data from across the Bay Area to determine just how many people have—or haven’t, in most cases—landed in permanent housing after staying in state-funded Roomkey hotels during the pandemic. (KQED)

Homeless? Unhoused? Unsheltered? Word choice matters when reporting on Oaklanders who don’t have permanent housing. (The Oaklandside)

Jaime Omar Yassin’s watchdog reporting on Oakland homelessness policies this year included this illuminating piece on the tensions—between a state agency, the city of Oakland, unhoused people, and marina residents—that led to the ongoing closure of an East Oakland encampment. (Hyphenated Republic)

Thanks to a lawsuit settlement, Caltrans potentially owed money to residents who could prove the agency took or destroyed their property while cleaning or closing homeless encampments. Orenstein provided a guide to help people apply for reimbursement. (The Oaklandside)

Katie Mingle’s five-part podcast series, “According to Need,” on the systems designed to help Oakland’s growing homeless population find housing, and why they usually don’t succeed. (99% Invisible)

A program in Oakland called ‘Radical Real Estate Law School’ is training new housing attorneys without weighing them down in student debt. (The Oaklandside)

Who’s moving to Oakland during the pandemic, and why? Orenstein reported. (The Oaklandside)

Education equity

Julián Moncada, a third grader at Melrose Leadership Academy participates in a small pandemic pod for distance learning. Credit: Amir Aziz

Ashley McBride’s deep dive into the history of how Oakland Unified School district ended up with its own school police force, and the long fight to remove it. (The Oaklandside)

During the pandemic, Oakland’s Rudsdale Newcomer High School has struggled to reach the school’s sizable immigrant population, which includes many children who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. (KQED

In the lead up to this year’s elections, an Oaklandside reader reached out and asked us to help explain what school board members and other local officials do, exactly. McBride explained. (The Oaklandside)

Oakland Voices correspondent Tony Daquipa talked to four Oakland seniors about how COVID-19 impacted their final year. (Oakland Voices)

Pet puke on the laptop and chem class from the car: McBride followed several Oaklanders through the first day of virtual school this semester. (The Oaklandside)

KALW documented the journey of Geraldine Robinson, a grandmother raising her grandchildren in Oakland, who fought for years to get OUSD to recognize her grandchildren’s dyslexia instead of categorizing them as intellectually disabled. (KALW)

A collaboration between The Oaklandside and Oakland’s Spanish-language reporting lab, El Tímpano, a close look at why many Latino immigrant parents fear their kids are being left behind during distance learning. (The Oaklandside/El Tímpano)

Katherine Davies Samway writes for Oakland Voices about how teachers at two East Oakland schools handled the disruption caused by the pandemic and the sudden shift to virtual schooling. (Oakland Voices)

City Hall and policing

Oakland Police officers after firing tear gas into a crowd of protesters on 7th Street in May. Credit: Pete Rosos

The Oakland Police Department claimed they fired on downtown protestors one night in June because some in the crowd were preparing to throw Molotov cocktails at law enforcement officers. We set out to find such evidence and reviewed over 50 bystander videos, hundreds of photos, and hours of civilian testimony, and, of course, asked OPD to supply it. Our investigation turned up no proof that incendiary devices were on hand that night—but we did find indications that OPD violated its own crowd-control policies. (The Oaklandside)

Is Oakland’s Slow Streets program making Oakland’s streets safer? Jose Fermoso looked at months of data and civilian feedback—and whether the city’s outreach is reaching people across the city. (The Oaklandside)

When the Oakland Police Commission and Mayor Libby Schaaf fired Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick in February, it caught most of the media and the public by surprise. Not Jaime Omar Yassin, who uncovered Kirkpatrick’s efforts to investigate a police commissioner and later published a lengthy analysis of the controversy and a critique of broader media coverage. (Hyphenated Republic)

In June, when three California Highway Patrol officers shot and killed Oakland resident Erik Salgado, and wounded his pregnant girlfriend, Brianna Colombo, law enforcement officials refused to share information about the incident. East Bay Times reporter David DeBolt was able to identify one of the CHP officers—and found that he shot and killed another unarmed man in similar circumstances in 2016. (East Bay Times)

When the local shutdown started in March, Oakland’s interim city administrator suspended the city’s Sunshine Ordinance. Government watchdog groups and members of the public complained that the move allowed the City Council to operate less transparently. Zack Haber’s report helped put pressure on the city to reverse some of its emergency measures and allow for greater public participation. (The Oaklandside)

‘How you organize that rage,’ our podcast collaboration with East Bay Yesterday to document the history of East Bay organizing against police violence. (The Oaklandside)

The story of how two Oakland students got 15,000 people to march against police violence in June. (The Oaklandside)

Oakland elections in 2020

Activist and retired software engineer John Holme holds up a “Save the USPS” sign outside the USPS office at 4900 Shattuck Avenue. Credit: Pete Rosos

This year’s election saw record voter turnout, thanks in part to big changes made by local and state election officials to help Californians vote during the pandemic. But in Oakland, some people’s votes weren’t counted because of serious mistakes and training gaps. Jose Fermoso investigated and wrote the most detailed account of what went wrong, and what voting rights groups want for future elections. (The Oaklandside)

In November, Oakland voters voted to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections. KQED arts writer Pendarvis Harshaw looked at the history of expanding the franchise and how Bay Area youth organized to make it happen. (KQED)

In Oakland, we take for granted the fact that you have to live in a City Council district to vote for that district’s representative. But it wasn’t always this way, and in fact, getting here involved a long battle over questions of race and power. (The Oaklandside) 

One of this year’s biggest local election stories was the District 3 City Council race between incumbent Lynette McElhaney and Carroll Fife, one of the organizers of the Moms 4 Housing movement. KPFA dug into what was at stake, and bigger questions “over who housing policy should work for.” (KPFA) 

Our news editor Darwin BondGraham took a close look at what City Council candidate Derreck Johnson said publicly during his campaign about his relationship to Home of Chicken and Waffles, the restaurant he co-founded in 2004, and the reality. (The Oaklandside) 

Small and immigrant-owned businesses

Tuan Bun and her nephew Jeremiah outside Cambodian Street Food, one of many immigrant-owned small businesses we’ve profiled this year. Credit: Amir Aziz

Ricky Rodas’s moving profile of the father-and-son duo behind the new vegetarian restaurant Cozy Wok, part of his series on immigrant-owned businesses powered by family efforts. (The Oaklandside/Nosh)

Chinatowns across the U.S. have suffered during the pandemic, but in Oakland, a new generation of entrepreneurs are helping make sure businesses don’t only survive COVID, but come out stronger than ever. Oakland Voices alumni coordinator and independent journalist Momo Chang profiled some of the many movers and shakers of Oakland’s Chinatown. (Resy)

Rasul Salahi escaped Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and sold carpets on Grand Avenue for 24 years, until the pandemic. He and his children reminisce in Ricky Rodas’s beautiful report. (The Oaklandside)

Madeline Wells profiled the “Brokeass Cooks,” a trio of chefs who lost work due to COVID and tried to launch a home-based jerk chicken business in West Oakland. (SFGATE)

More food entrepreneurs are trying to launch pop-up businesses during the pandemic. Our primer on what’s legal and where to find help. (The Oaklandside)

Five women entrepreneurs are breathing new life into Bissap Baobab, Oakland’s only Senegalese restaurant. (The Oaklandside/Nosh)

Sarah Han asked East Bay restaurateurs what they really think about reopening for indoor dining (Berkeleyside)

Ally Markovich talked to Black and brown cannabis dispensary owners about their struggles to stay in business early in the pandemic. (The Oaklandside)