Gorgeous, spacious three-bedroom homes in the $300,000-range. Quiet streets where kids could safely ride their bicycles. Not way out in the boonies, but in Oakland -- just a few minutes from BART, the Coliseum and the airport.
Arcadia Park, a planned development built by Pulte Homes in 2010, seemed like a dream come true for working people who didn't earn six-figure salaries and were priced out of most Oakland neighborhoods. There was just one catch: It was in Deep East Oakland, a high-crime area designated by Oakland police as a "hot spot" and Border Brothers gang territory.
Yet at those affordable prices, coupled with incentives from the builder, some people of a more adventurous nature were willing to be urban pioneers. Sure, there was the adage about housing prices being all about location and that you get what you pay for. But after decades of neglect, revitalization was slowly beginning in Deep East Oakland. New buildings were going up, and businesses were opening. The area was finally on target to get a grocery store at the long-dead Foothill Square mall on MacArthur Boulevard. There was heady talk of a "Coliseum City," a sports-and-entertainment complex that would transform the Coliseum corridor and make it a destination, rather than a place to flee as soon as your concert or sporting event was over.
Yet today, Arcadia Park is plagued by high crime, leaving some to have serious second thoughts about their investment.
One resident has been killed, others have been robbed, and burglaries are out of control.
Qing Jun Sun, 56, worked two jobs, as a bus driver at Stanford University and as an acupuncturist, to afford his mortgage. He was shot and killed in December in front of his home. He had just opened his garage to take his bull mastiff out for a walk.
A neighbor heard the shots and ran over to administer CPR, but Sun's injuries proved fatal. His wife of 35 years returned to China. One of his children who owned another home in the community also moved away.
That horrible episode seemed to open the floodgates. A landscaper planting in a neighbor's yard was robbed at gunpoint.
A nurse returned home from work at 2 a.m. to find an intruder on her patio who had smashed the window. When she turned on the lights, he was looking back at her. She called 911, and the police came because it was a burglary in progress.
The police told her to get a gun for protection since she lives alone and works the night shift.
More than two dozen burglaries have taken place in the past three months. Four doors were kicked in during one week.
Residents have taken to installing video cameras outside their homes. The cameras have recorded several burglars. Copies of the footage of suspects are posted on poles in the neighborhood to warn others and shared on the residents' Google Group.
Some residents have begun surveilling their property before they park, looking for suspicious individuals up to no good. Yet sometimes on their patrols, they inadvertently wind up tailing one of their neighbors doing the same thing.
That might be comical if it weren't such a sad reflection of the times we are living in -- not just in Arcadia Park.
On Thursday, the Arcadia Park homeowners association board voted to assess a one-time dues increase over the next two months to install security cameras and hire patrols. Homeowners also will vote on whether to permanently increase their monthly dues to pay for ongoing monitoring of cameras and security patrols.
For some time, residents also have been trying unsuccessfully to get a security gate installed on Ellington, a street at the western end of the community that is a magnet for illegal dumping and prostitution.
A college professor, who asked not to be identified, said that she and her husband moved to the development because they wanted to be part of the change occurring in Deep East Oakland. Now, she feels like she's living in Fort Knox with all of the precautions the couple has been forced to take to try to secure their home. She feels conflicted. She is anxious about the crime. But she loves her close-knit community, a mixture of mostly African-American and Asian families. She says she wants "to fight for this place."
"Arcadia Park is a test community for Oakland," she said. "Do we want to watch it be destroyed, or do we want to hold it up as a model for what is possible in this city?"