a tall modern building is pictured next to shorter buildings in the same style
All residents of Coliseum Connections, a complex with a tall building and several townhouses, have been displaced since their parking garage flooded on New Year's. Credit: Natalie Orenstein

Sign up for The Oaklandside’s free daily newsletter.

The hundreds of tenants flooded out of their East Oakland building on New Year’s Day won’t be able to return home for at least another week, according to city officials.

Property management company FPI relocated many of the residents of Coliseum Connections to an airport hotel Jan. 1, after the parking garage at their mixed-income complex got swamped with water and PG&E cut power. Others have been staying with relatives and friends. The residents were initially told they could expect to return to the property in a few days.

“People are living out of a hotel room with their families,” said Alex Vila, one of the displaced residents. 

On Friday, City Councilmember Treva Reid told The Oaklandside that some water remained in the garage, but once it was fully drained she expected the city’s Planning and Building Department to reinspect the property as soon as Monday to see what repairs are needed. It will take at least a week after that to process the findings, she said.

Reid represents District 7, which used to include the Coliseum Connections complex on 71st Avenue. In the redistricting process last year, it got moved to District 6, but Reid’s office has been involved in the flood response and had previously responded to public safety issues at the property.

“I would not go back into that building,” said Reid, who did a walk-through at the site early last week. “I needed someone to go look at what I saw with my untrained eye, to understand, is this habitable?”

The water in the garage reached several feet high, drowning numerous cars. By early last week, a foul smell had begun to drift up into the main building. Hallways and stairwells were pitch black because the electricity was cut.

The displaced tenants organized a meeting at the hotel Thursday night with Reid and her office, as well as the staff of State Assemblymember Mia Bonta, building owner Michael Johnson, and county staff, to share their concerns and requests, and get clarity on what to expect in the coming days. Johnson, president of UrbanCore Development, received city and county funds in 2019 to build the project, which is located on BART property.

Some 70 residents came to the meeting and many said the flooding is only the most recent problem. They “told stories of what’s happened in the last four years, from police not responding to management not repairing stuff,” said Vila. “People cried, people yelled. It was highly emotional but not out of control.”

Half of the 110 units at the property are rented at market rates, while the other half are affordable rentals for low-income tenants. At last week’s meeting, some residents of the affordable units said they feel their issues weren’t taken seriously because they pay less rent, according to people in attendance. (Press was not permitted to attend.)

“We’re making sure they understand their rights as tenants,” Reid said. “I think the meeting went well in that the residents who are going through great trauma and crisis felt heard—and they have not felt heard prior to this. I think this is a start.” 

She said she learned about many issues at the property that hadn’t previously been “escalated” to city or county officials.

Property manager FPI did not have any representatives at the meeting, according to Vila, though building owner Johnson addressed the tenants at length. FPI has not responded to multiple emails and phone calls from The Oaklandside.

It is still unclear what exactly caused the flood to get as bad as it did during the New Year’s rainstorm.

Some observers have wondered if the drainage system was engineered improperly when the property was built a few years ago, whether sump pumps or other equipment failed, or whether poor maintenance of storm drains and other public infrastructure is to blame. The crisis has also raised questions about whether the architecture of the building, which used prefabricated modular units, was related to the problems.

Others have noted that the property and its underground garage sit on a site where several creeks meet, and which is naturally prone to flooding. 

Vila noted, however, that the surrounding residences, including other affordable housing, came out of the storm unscathed.

The Coliseum Connections renters are not the only tenants in Oakland displaced in recent days by effects of inclement weather. Last Wednesday a tree fell on an eight-unit building owned by the Oakland Housing Authority on Lynde Street. 

The city has declared that building temporarily uninhabitable, relocating renters. Most are expected to be able to return soon, but two of the units sustained significant damage, requiring long-term repairs.

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.