Ivy Hill Cannabis owner Hilary O’Brien is working with the city to add Jersey barriers on the street in front of her shop. Credit: Amir Aziz

The city of Oakland will allow small businesses to barricade their storefronts for a fee, after years of car crashes into buildings, sometimes in the commission of burglaries, which have led to extended closures and expensive repairs. 

According to Department of Transportation staffer Emily Ehlers the city will help business owners “quickly” install safety barriers known as K-rails or Jersey barriers. These, are heavy barricades usually made of cement, but some are plastic and filled with water or sand. 

The barrier program is being created after cannabis business owners asked the city for better security options to prevent robberies and burglaries in which cars have been used to smash through entranceways. The Ivy Hill dispensary on Park Boulevard, for example, was the victim of smash-and-grab crimes twice in the last two years. 

“All of the robberies and burglaries are ramped up in Oakland. This is the time for people at the street level that are easy targets for drive-throughs to get these barriers. We need them,” Hilary O’Brien, owner of Ivy Hill Cannabis, told The Oaklandside. 

Businesses will need to apply for a barrier. OakDOT will review each application, including by conducting a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design review, commonly known as a CPTED. These reviews examine potential crimes that can be disrupted based on changes like adding more lighting to an area, reducing points of ingress and egress, or adding barriers.. 

Once a business passes the CPTED review, it can apply for an encroachment permit with OakDOT. An encroachment permit allows a business to legally block the right-of-way on a street, including parking spaces or travel lanes. Most permits of this type can last anywhere from a day up to six months and can be renewed when they expire. It usually takes anywhere from a year up to three years for a business to obtain an encroachment permit, but OakDOT says the new process will take 15 days max. 

Devries said the city will consider other crime deterrence options for each business applying for a Jersey barrier, including improved lighting, security guards, security cameras, metal roll-up doors, and signs notifying customers and potential robbers that cash is not used on site. 

“We look at a bunch of different ways that we can keep people safe. Some of them might be closing curb cuts that are right in front of a business that doesn’t serve an onsite parking space, and that just invites people to drive up onto the sidewalk,” Ehlers told councilmembers at a December council meeting. 

Installing a vehicle barrier could be expensive

The cost of the encroachment permit depends on the city’s Master Fee Schedule, which changes every year, and on other factors like how many parking spaces a barrier will occupy, according to Ehlers.

On streets where the barrier can be placed on the sidewalk while keeping about six feet of of the sidewalk unobstructed for pedestrians, a barrier might cost about $540 every six months, according to the city. 

Guardian 100 Barricades are some of the heavy-duty hardware that could be added in front of Oakland businesses. Source: Hubbell Inc.

Barriers in the street could cost a lot more. Taking over metered parking spots for 30 days will cost about $1,840. Because of this higher price and most businesses’ reliance on parking for business, Ehlers said that she anticipates most people using this new program will ask for barriers on the sidewalk at the curb. 

Beyond permits, there are other costs. Businesses will have to rent or buy a barrier from a private contractor or engineering firm. According to local and national contractors we spoke with for this story, that may push the price up to $10,000 in total costs per business. Ivy Hill’s O’Brien already received a price quote from a local contractor for $7,500 for the potential installation of three 10-foot concrete barriers

The price of barriers also depends on which type of barrier it is. Water-and-sand-filled barriers are about half the weight of cement barriers and therefore about half the price as well, but they provide less protection. A 20-foot cement barrier, the kind that usually surrounds big construction projects, weighs about 8,000 lbs. 

The Concord-based company RoadSafe Traffic Systems, previously known as Bay Area Barricade Systems, has sold dozens of their three-and-a-half-foot tall,1,350-pound water-filled Guardian 100 Barricades to the Oakland Police Department, which has used them to block streets around its headquarters. Sales staffer Gerry Roberts told us they cost about $350.

OakDOT’s Ehlers also told The Oaklandside that installation costs of these barriers vary “tremendously” by location and manufacturer instructions. 

Will Oakland businesses take advantage of the new barrier program?

O’Brien points to where a barrier would improve safety for her business. Break-ins, which have included cars ramming into the front door, have done so by jumping the sidewalk. Credit: Amir Aziz

Kanitha Matoury, whose Howden Market grocery store suffered a head-on collision from a vehicle in 2021, spent thousands of dollars on repairs to finally reopen last summer. She also spent more than $60,000 adding a parklet outside her business, including costs for permits, design, construction, and installation. 

“It’s just too much,” she said. “The crazy compliance with permits has me mentally and physically drained. Workers’ compensation charges are expensive and the 401K mandate for businesses with more than five employees is hard. The lease is due in one and a half years, and I may not keep it.”

Matoury said that she didn’t know that the city was considering a faster permit option for jersey barriers. In the last few years, she paid for the construction of wooden benches and a small cement planter as a way to stop possible car crashes. Each of the planters is placed on top of the sidewalk in front of her store and was custom-built for $1,500 each. One of the cement planters was destroyed in the 2021 crash. 

O’Brien of Ivy Hill Cannabis said she is willing to pay for the opportunity to add the barriers. 

“We need to be able to stop people with more than bollards. If we can, we need to have giant boulders in front of businesses as they have in front of Target [in Emeryville], three or four feet sunken into the ground. We need to be able to stop stolen trucks driving into our shop,” she said.

O’Brien spends $6,000 a month on security personnel but said she might do without if she’s able to install the barriers. 

So far, O’Brien said she’s had a difficult time getting anyone from contracting or engineering businesses to return her calls. “I have no relationships with those types of companies. We talked with [Oakland] about the types of K-rail, but no one pointed me to anyone to call,” she said.

Joe Devries said the city does not have the capacity to offer that level of one-stop service. 

“[Staffing] vacancies already are slowing down big projects that have a proven benefit to the entire community,” he said. “We cannot prioritize that over the core function of OakDOT to provide safer streets.”

“They have to make it easier,” Matoury said about the city. “If they tell me they are going to drop this thing in front of my place, it’ll be better. I may do it. If it’s going into fixed operation costs, that might be good. But if I have to get a contractor, get a truck with a flatbed, it will be in the thousands more.”

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.