January 2016 Volume 16, Issue 1
Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker 
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We hit the ground running in the first month of the new year.
 
January was an eventful month. In this month's newsletter, we report on the passage of new gun safety laws in Oakland and some cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that could have staggering impacts on Oakland and the rest of the country. Also: an update on our illegal dumping enforcement program, and remembering Nicholas Caldwell, a founding member of The Whispers, one of the pre-eminent soul singing groups of the twentieth century. 
 
As always, I look forward to your questions and comments about the work we are doing on behalf of the people of Oakland.
 
 
  Barbara J. Parker
 Oakland City Attorney
 
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Oakland City Council Passes New Gun Safety Laws
 
On January 19, the City Council approved final passage of three new gun safety measures designed to (1) reduce the number of guns that are stolen from vehicles and homes and fall into the hands of criminals and (2) ban the possession of large capacity magazines that often have been used in mass shootings, including Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado.

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington, Councilmember Dan Kalb and I sponsored the ordinance to reduce theft of firearms from vehicles. One example is the murder of an Oakland artist who was working on an antiviolence mural on West Street when he was killed in September; the gun that was used to murder the artist was stolen from a vehicle. This new ordinance makes it a crime to leave firearms, magazines or ammunition unsecured in unattended vehicles on city streets and in other public places. The law requires storage of firearms in locked boxes or a locked glove compartment.

Councilmembers Kalb and Campbell Washington sponsored two new ordinances that require safe storage of guns in homes and prohibit possession of large capacity magazines in Oakland.

Kaplan, Campbell Washington, Kalb and I also sponsored an ordinance to require that law enforcement officers secure City-issued firearms in vehicles. The City Council requested that the City Attorney bring that ordinance to Council after the City completes the legally required meet and confer process with the with the police officers' union.

As we anticipated, the National Rifle Association ("NRA") has threatened to file a lawsuit challenging the laws requiring safe storage in residences and banning high capacity magazines, claiming that these laws violate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and/or are preempted by state or federal laws. The NRA predictably lobbed these threats despite the fact that just last year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to a similar high-capacity magazine ban in Sunnyvale. Cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles have similar laws on their books.

More and more cities are taking action to adopt local laws like Oakland's because the monstrous scale of this crisis is literally mind numbing. It is difficult to accept the facts: about 30,000 of our fellow Americans are shot to death every year, and an additional 80,000 or so are wounded by firearms; many of them suffer critical wounds.  In Oakland, dozens of people, predominantly young Black and Brown men, are murdered with firearms every year.

I applaud President Obama for his recent proposal to mandate background checks for all gun sales, a common sense proposal that the NRA supported in saner times. 
 
Unfortunately, in the face of this horrific loss of life, the U.S. Congress has failed to act.
 
More accurately, Congress has consistently carried the water for the NRA and the powerful gun lobby, shamefully ignoring the interests of human beings who on a daily basis are losing children, friends and their own lives due to this crisis. In this legal context, Oakland and other cities have a moral imperative to do everything we can to address gun violence with our own legislation.
 
Cases Before the U.S. Supreme Court that Could Have Staggering Impacts on Oakland and our Entire Country  

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

On January 11, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association , a case that could have a devastating impact not just on teachers, but on all unions in this country.
 
At issue in this case is whether employers can require that workers who do not want to join the union pay union "agency fees." Unions rely on those fees to fight for all workers, including those who decline to join. In fact unions have a duty to represent all workers regardless of whether they are union members.

Some of the comments and questions by the Justices were disturbing and do not portend well for a decision upholding agency fees.
 
The plaintiff in Friedrichs argues it is unconstitutional (i.e., a violation of the First Amendment free speech rights) to require an employee to pay agency fees if s/he does not want to support the union. 
 
However, as noted above, employees who decline to join the union still enjoy the same rights, benefits and protections as union members. The union has a legal obligation to advocate for them if they are treated unfairly by their employers. If a teacher is fired unjustly -- as an example for teaching a lesson about evolution in a conservative school district -- the union will defend her, whether or not she is a member. Teachers and other workers already have the right to decline to join the union, but they should pay their fair share of the costs of union representation and advocacy on their behalf.
 
I joined cities such as Fairbanks, Alaska and Los Angeles in an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief supporting the teachers in this case.  I hope the Court will agree that the current laws protect First Amendment rights and that defunding unions will not only weaken protections for all workers, but will have a destabilizing effect on public agencies and their ability to provide essential services to all Americans.

Of course, this case is part of the systematic campaign to remove unions from the workplace, along with the protections they provide to millions of working class Americans.  Without agency fees, it will be increasingly difficult if not impossible for unions to secure the funds to do their job of protecting and advancing workers' rights and interests.
 
It is important to remember that unions have provided a balance of power in the workplace, bringing us vital protections and so many of the benefits that we Americans take for granted and view as basic rights in the workplace: meal and rest breaks, safety regulations, paid sick leave, health coverage, overtime, the five-day work week, child labor laws, pensions, anti-discrimination laws, and most fundamentally, a representative for workers' interests in an environment that otherwise would become the province of employers.
 
There is so much more work that must been done to protect and advance workers' rights and provide a work-world that is compatible with and supports families and our most precious assets: our children. For example, it is unconscionable that in the richest country in the world, most new mothers and fathers have virtually no right to take paid leave to care for their newborn children or to care for a sick parent, child or partner. 
 
In other advanced countries, paid maternity and paternity leave are considered to be as much of a fundamental right as a 40-hour week. I hope that someday we Americans will enjoy these rights and great improvement to the quality of our lives. But it is difficult to foresee how we will ever achieve this work-family balance without the work of unions - work that is supported and made possible in many cases by the agency fees that the Supreme Court is considering.
 

Texas v. United States

I am very pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court granted the Obama Administration's request that the high court review Texas v. United States - a lawsuit led by Republican governors that has blocked implementation of the President's important executive actions on immigration.
 
I signed onto three amicus briefs in the lower federal courts on behalf of the City of Oakland supporting the President's actions, which are squarely within his executive authority and discretion to establish enforcement priorities and procedures.
 
At stake are President Obama's 2014 executive actions offering protection from deportation and work permits to millions of immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for at least five years, have no criminal records and have a child who is a citizen or permanent resident.
 
Cities and counties across the country have joined together to support President Obama's actions, which ultimately will help millions of families across the country and benefit cities and counties by providing work authorization to millions, increasing local tax revenue, stimulating local economies, facilitating the civic engagement of immigrants, keeping families together and improving public safety by strengthening our neighborhoods and communities.
 
The challenge to these just and equitable reforms is nothing more than the anti-immigrant posturing and opposition to any and every initiative that President Obama has put forth which now defines one of our country's major political parties. A path to citizenship for immigrant families has been a founding ideal of our country from the beginning. The President's actions honor this ideal by protecting law-abiding members of our communities who are contributing to the national good and working to make a better life for their children.
 
Regardless of the outcome of this case, we must change the status quo that forces so many of our neighbors, friends and family members to live on the margins of society. Texas' lawsuit has delayed justice for countless families, but it ultimately cannot block progress on this important national issue.
 
Background:  
 
In 2014, President Obama took executive action offering protection from deportation and work permits to millions of immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for at least five years, have no criminal records and have a child who is a citizen or permanent resident.
  
In late 2014, Texas and other states led by Republican governors filed a lawsuit (Texas v. United States) challenging the reform efforts, arguing that the President has a constitutional duty to enforce existing immigration laws. A federal judge in Brownsville, Texas issued a preliminary injunction to block reforms pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the District Court's ruling in November 2015.
 
Oakland is a member of Cities for Action, a coalition of nearly 100 cities and counties that has filed three friend-of-the-court briefs at each stage of the litigation in support of implementing the President's executive actions on immigration. The coalition will file another amicus brief to provide the Supreme Court Justices with the perspective of cities and counties that represent 47 million people across the country.
 
The coalition's briefs argue that the District Court judge's injunction is bad for the economy, hurts families, threatens law enforcement priorities and stalls desperately needed changes to the federal government's immigration policies. The briefs demonstrate robust support from the country's largest cities, suburbs and rural areas for the President's reforms.

Illegal Dumping Enforcement Update
                       
In 2013, I partnered with the Public Works Agency and the City Administrator's Office to address illegal dumping, one of the worst sources of civic blight in our city.

Our enforcement program takes videos and other evidence submitted by the public and uses that evidence to track down dumpers and hold them accountable. The City is issuing significant fines against violators. Under our enforcement program, illegal dumpers can be fined up to $1,000 a day for every day their trash remains on our streets.
 
Illegal dumping continues to be a top priority for my Office. We have issued hundreds of thousands of dollars in citations, but more importantly, we have put dumpers on notice that there are consequences for throwing old mattresses and other garbage on Oakland streets... and that it is much cheaper and easier to haul their trash to the dump!
 
Results as of December 31, 2015:

Total Number of Citations:  186
 
Number of Warning Letters:  375
 
Amount of Dollars Cited:  $548,006.15
 
Amount Collected:  $55,807.41
 
Hours of Community Service:  135.8

How to report illegal dumping:

Call the Public Works Department: (510) 615-5566



On line: Report a Problem
  
Remembering Nicholas Caldwell, Founding Member of the Legendary R&B Singing Group The Whispers
 
On January 16, I attended the Celebration of Life for legendary recording artist, song writer and choreographer Nicholas Caldwell, a founding member of The Whispers.  I met Nick more than 35 years ago. His wife, Alberta Farmer Caldwell, and I became friends when we worked together in the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Mr. Caldwell was a founding member of The Whispers, one of the 20th century's most trailblazing rhythm & blues vocal groups. They began performing together as teenagers in 1963 and were inducted into the Official R&B Music Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003.
 
In 2015 The Whispers celebrated 50 years in the music industry with a sold out concert at Oakland's Paramount Theatre. Councilmember Larry Reid's Chief of Staff Ray Leon and I presented a City Council resolution recognizing The Whispers for their achievements and declaring November 29, 2014 The Whispers Day in Oakland.
 
Mr. Caldwell was an award winning songwriter and producer, credited with The Whispers most widely acclaimed ballads: "Lady," "Say Yes" and "Are You Going My Way." He served as President of Whisper Music Incorporated and Chairman of Black Tie Entertainment. He also was The Whispers choreographer and costume designer.  
 
I want to add my voice to the millions to express my deep gratitude to Nicholas Caldwell for more than five decades of classic, joyous and soul stirring music. But most importantly, I will remember him for his beautiful spirit, his love of family, his graciousness and for his gifts to our souls.
 
The Whispers
Walter Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutson, Leaveil Degree and Wallace "Scotty" Scott of The Whispers in 1977. Credit Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images         
 

Phone: (510) 238-3601

Email: info@oaklandcityattorney.org

 

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