Attendees at an Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless summer solstice celebration on June 21 shielded themselves from the unbearable heat. Credit: Natalie Orenstein

The longest day of the year was also the hottest in Oakland so far. On June 21, thermometers hovered near the 100-degree mark. And hotter days are likely to come soon, with the Bay Area’s most blistering conditions typically arising in August, September, and October.

For people who live outside and others without access to cool indoor spaces, heat waves are deeply uncomfortable and can even be life-threatening. With the typically hottest and most fire-prone months ahead of us, some Oakland residents have wondered about options for staying cool and safe when those days come.

Alameda County’s Office of Emergency Services communicates with cities about dangerous weather conditions, but the responsibility lies with those cities to open their own cooling centers and smoke refuges. 

Oakland has protocols in place for opening “emergency respite centers” once certain extreme temperatures or air quality conditions are met, along with a list of the sites that may be opened in those cases. 

“They are open to anyone who is seeking respite from high temperatures or poor air quality, especially our unsheltered neighbors,” the city’s website says. The recently updated page has additional information on staying safe during these events, and advises residents to “choose heat over smoke” when they’re forced to pick one or the other.

Many of the respite sites are already regularly open to the public, like libraries, but may be opened during off-hours in these emergencies as well. A spokesperson for the city said Oakland will alert the public through news releases and social media about which of the optional centers are open on those emergency days.

Respite centers

The city will likely open the following sites when the temperature is forecasted to reach at least 95 degrees two days in a row, or when the temperature is forecasted to reach (or does reach) 100 degrees on a single day.

The sites will also be opened when it’s very smoky outside. This means the air quality index (AQI) has reached 200, considered “very unhealthy.”

  • North Oakland Senior Center
  • 81st Avenue library
  • César Chávez branch library
  • Oakland City Hall

On hot days the city may also open the following sites:

  • Asian branch library
  • Dimond library
  • Piedmont library
  • Brookfield library
  • Eastmont library 
  • Rainbow Recreation Center
  • Redwood Recreation Center

The county also maintains a webpage with real-time information about cooling and clean-air centers that are open at any given time. See the “environmental impact centers” section. You can also subscribe to emergency notifications from the county.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.