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Oakland real estate developer's controversial cash stunt to clear homeless camp backfires

SF Gate logo SF Gate 7/12/2019 Amy Graff

a construction site: Recreational vehicles line a homeless encampment on 37th Ave. behind Home Depot on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. The Oakland City Council passed a resolution to ban parking at the location.

Recreational vehicles line a homeless encampment on 37th Ave. behind Home Depot on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. The Oakland City Council passed a resolution to ban parking at the location.
© Provided by Hearst Newspapers

Developer Gene Gorelik, of the Oakland Redevelopment Group, stood on a boom lift holding a bullhorn announcing, "Free money! Free money!" and dropping dollar bills over a homeless encampment in Oakland, California, Friday morning. Wearing an elf costume, Gorelik offered residents $1,000 each to move, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

"This is yet another prime example of Bay Area wealth disparities coming to a head in a truly flabbergasting, dehumanizing fashion: Oakland real estate developer plans on shooting dollar bills over a homeless encampment in hopes of getting them to leave," Guardian reporter Vivian Ho wrote upon witnessing the spectacle.

Residents of the encampment are shown on video posted to social media,  shouted, "F--- you, Gene," in response.

By the end of Gorelick's "offer," no one had accepted any of the cash he had offered those at the homeless encampment, Ho reported.

Ahead of Gorelik's Friday morning crusade, homeless activists rallied online and encouraged people to come together.

"Notorious local slumlord and Trump supporter Gene Gorelik is rallying support to 'save Home Depot' and bully the curbside community at E. 8th Street and Alameda Ave.," a Facebook invitation to an event titled "Operation Support Curbside Community" read. "We are asking the community to stand together to protect our curbside communities against hate, xenophobia and anti-homeless behavior."

Related video: Oakland struggles to clean up homeless camp (provided by CBS SF Bay Area)

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The incident occurred in the Fruitvale neighborhood near a Home Depot located at 4000 Alameda Ave., which has been pressuring the city to remove the encampment where dozens of people live in cars, RVs and tents, citing security concerns for the store and its patrons. Many park their vehicles on side streets.

On Wednesday, the Oakland City Council voted to close a section of the street behind the store for at least 18 months, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"The resolution, introduced by Councilman Noel Gallo, closes the street behind the store, at 4000 Alameda Ave., from the 600 block to the 700 block of 37th Avenue," according to the Chronicle. "It was passed unanimously by a 6-0 vote just before 1 a.m. Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Vice Mayor Larry Reid were excused."

The city of Oakland sued Gorelik in 2017 after he demolished his tenant's apartment while the man was still inhabiting the residence.

Ultimately, Gorelik's attempt to remove residents of the camp failed, and he was escorted away by at least two officers from the Oakland Police Department after a protester blocked his rented truck from leaving the encampment, according to the Chronicle's Jessica Christian.

Gorelik doesn't have any affiliation with Home Depot.

SFGATE reached out to the Oakland Police Department, and spokesperson Felicia Aisthorpe confirmed the incident happened; we will update the story once we get more details.

Amy Graff is a news producer for SFGATE. Email her at agraff@sfgate.com.

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