On the Oakland side are a pair of crumbling houses and a factory. People park their beat-up old cars and leave assorted junk out on the street.
The reason for this disparity seems pretty straightforward. Oakland, especially at the waterfront, has historically been a site for heavy industry and blue-collar jobs, whereas Alameda's roots are more as a resort and quiet suburban town.
To me the contrast is more interesting on the border with San Leandro. Here we can really compare apples to apples, since these are both primarily residential districts with no physical boundary between the two cities. But they couldn't be more different.
The above houses in San Leandro are not mansions by any means, but they're still solidly middle class housing. The only fence is a small white picket one. Compare that to the scene in Deep East Oakland, about 3 blocks away on 105th Avenue:
The threat of violence is omnipresent, implied in the guard dogs and metal fences and bars on the windows. The sense of financial despair is also present, in the "bank-owned" for-sale signs. I spoke to a resident on 105th who pointed out the three houses on his half-block that had been foreclosed on in the last year. The one pictured immediately above has been vacant for more than a year, despite an asking price of $80,000. These physical markers serve as a 24/7 reminder to people of the problems contained in the neighborhood, even when no actual threat of violence is present.
Compare International Blvd as you drive from San Leandro into Oakland. Keep in mind that this is literally a few blocks down the same exact street:
Why is Deep East Oakland one of the roughest hoods in the Bay while San Leandro seems so safely middle-class? The most compelling reason I can find is the long shadow of segregation.
It came as something of a surprise to me to learn that the Bay Area was once racially segregated. Call me naive, but a part of me got so caught up in thinking that the Bay Area is different that I just assumed it never practiced Jim Crow-style segregation. But it did. After World War II, as the suburbs sprawled outwards, black people were basically confined to places where they had already established a presence--namely, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, and parts of Berkeley. I learned much of this from The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II by Marilynn Johnson. She writes:
With federally guaranteed loans provided under the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (G.I. bill) of 1944, many middle-income residents found housing among the burgeoning subdivisions of surrounding suburbs...Furthermore, black families of all income levels were barred from most suburban developments through restrictive covenants, a practice resulting in additional pressure on the central city housing market.Consider what happened to one black family who made the mistake of moving into a home in San Pablo, north of Richmond:(p. 213)
When the Garys moved in, a crowd of more than 150 neighbors greeted them with jeers, rocks, a white cross planted on their lawn, and a brick through their front window. After several hours under siege, the county sheriff arrived and dispersed the crowd, but the attacks on the Garys continued intermittently for several weeks.East Oakland is today a ghetto in the sense of "a bad place to live," but it's helpful to remember that it was once a ghetto in the original sense of the term, i.e., "minorities must live within these quarters." San Leandro in particular was very aggressive in using restrictive covenants to make sure no black East Oaklanders spilled over into its borders. As quoted here:The local homeowners' group, the Rollingwood Improvement Association, offered to buy out the Garys at a $1200 profit--a considerable sum at the time. But the Garys refused to sell at any price, determined to keep their home. At that point, several white neighbors, including four board members of the Rollingwood Association, acquiesced and sent a letter of welcome to the Garys. At the group's next meeting, angry residents voted to recall the four board members by a three-to-one margin.(p. 227)
M. C. Friel and Associates, a Hayward real estate firm with expertise in racial covenants, became the East Bay's leading consultant on shoring up segregation. In 1947 Friel developed a plan to place as much of San Leandro's residential property under restrictive covenants as possible, limiting future property sales to "members of the Caucasian race."The situation began to change in the 70's, but by then the die had been cast. It's hard to believe that social policies from 30+ years ago would leave such a lasting imprint, but the evidence is right in front of our eyes.