A parked police car spotted patrolling El Embarcadero on Saturday. Credit: Amir Aziz

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The Oakland City Council recently voted to step up traffic and parking enforcement at Lake Merritt, as well as rules against excessive noise and street vending in unauthorized areas. This past Saturday and Sunday was the first weekend the city enforced the rules—and provided some new services like portable toilets and handwashing stations. The enforcement measures will be in effect through September 6.

Traffic cones were set up along Lakeshore to regulate vehicle traffic. Credit: Amir Aziz

Early on Saturday, city workers blocked off the southbound lane on Lakeshore and set up “no parking” signs along the entire length of the avenue from MacArthur to E. 18th Street. The street closure was a continuation of traffic measures the city has been using for many months to discourage cars from driving south on Lakeshore.

City staff encouraged vendors to relocate to a designated spot on El Embarcadero. Vendors selling alcohol and cannabis were cited by code enforcement officers, part of the new effort to enforce existing rules.

Police presence was minimal. One patrol car was parked to block the entrance to El Embarcadero from Lakeshore. The few instances of amplified noise came from a couple of food vendors playing music. But even though the city’s new enforcement program includes a ban on vending along Lakeshore, several dozen vendors still chose to set up there.

A barricade was set up to block El Embarcadero for vendor use. Credit: Amir Aziz

Small groups of people sat on the grass talking, eating, and enjoying music—much like any other weekend at the lake. Joggers and bicyclists hurried by on the pathways and in the street. While there were a decent amount of people hanging out by the pergola near El Embarcadero, the crowd size was nowhere near what it has been in past weekends.

Overall, the scene was relatively calm and organized.

Thomas, a 70-year-old retired nurse who now sells books and paintings by the lake, set up his table on the corner of El Embarcadero and Lakeshore Avenue on Sunday. His offerings included titles written by Black authors. One of his favorites—“Contemporary Black Women Filmmakers and the Art of Resistance,” by Christine Baker—was displayed in a glass case.

Thomas, a vendor, shows two of his favorite books written by Black authors. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Thomas, who declined to give his last name, said it’s nice to see the city institute more frequent trash pickups and crack down on illegal sales of alcohol and other substances. But he is unhappy with the city’s demand that all the vendors relocate to El Embarcadero, where a pilot vending program was organized last fall.

Another vendor, Darnisha Wright, started her business two years ago upon returning from a Fulbright scholarship in Ghana, where she began buying products and establishing relationships with local vendors who specialized in manufacturing shea butter and hand-crafted items. Though she is a member of the Black Vendors Association, which is trying to help the city coordinate the move of sidewalk merchants to El Embarcadero, she opted to set up on Grand Avenue on Sunday. “I’m a small vendor and I wanted a quieter area,” she said about her choice of remaining in an area where vending isn’t authorized.

Darnisha Wright, owner of Ubuntu 1865 African Marketplace, holding shea butter made in Ghana. Credit: Ricky Rodas

James Copes, a longtime vendor and founder of the Black Vendors Association said the rollout of the city’s new regulations wasn’t as smooth as it could have been and that many of the vendors were confused about where they’d be allowed to operate, or if the city was going to cite them.

In the end, citations were only given out to those selling alcohol and other substances.

There were reports of gunshots Saturday night, but Sunday afternoon the eastern shore of the lake was relatively quiet. Couples stopped by vendor’s tables to marvel at the various trinkets, food trucks were parked by the side of Grand Avenue serving customers, and a pair of vendors played a game of chess to pass the time.

Although the city is increasing the frequency it empties trash cans as part of its new measures around the lake, it isn’t clear it’s enough.

Monday morning, some lake neighbors and visitors posted on social media about piles of garbage left by weekend visitors. “Yes people can be slobs, but we need more trash cans in this town and more frequent trash pick ups,” another person responded.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.