May 2017 Volume 17, Issue 3
Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker 
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In this newsletter, we provide updates regarding our lawsuit against Wells Fargo for its predatory and racially discriminatory mortgage lending practices against African American and Hispanic borrowers, and regarding the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Trump's executive order that would withhold and claw back federal funding from Oakland and other sanctuary cities. We also report on an important case our Neighborhood Law Corps filed against landlords who demolished a tenant's home while he was still living in it, and a major United States Court of Appeals decision affirming denial of plaintiff's motion seeking to permanently enjoin the City's law regulating unattended donation boxes.

Finally, on the City Attorney in the Community, we report on the League of Women's Voters' annual All-City Luncheon.
 
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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Neighborhood Law Corps sues landlords who demolished tenant's home 

People of California and City of Oakland v. Oakland Redevelopment Group, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17858121

The City Attorney's Neighborhood Law Corps has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a property near Lake Merritt who illegally demolished their tenant's home while he was living in it.

The lawsuit which was filed April 26 charges that the owners, Eugene Gorelik and Jessica Sawczuk, violated Oakland's Tenant Protection Ordinance and California's Bane Act, harassing, threatening and unlawfully evicting tenant Jahahara Alkebulan-Ma'at, who lived at the property at 369 MacArthur Boulevard for 22 years.

The facts of the case are as follows:

The owners first contacted Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at in April 2016. They said they intended to purchase the property and move in, so Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at would have to leave. In anticipation of moving out, Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at began looking for alternate housing. In fact this was a ruse. The owners apparently never intended to move in. Instead they submitted plans to the City to build more rental units on the property. In October 2016, they gave Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at an eviction notice that stated he would have to be out on Christmas day.
 
Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at, 64, is disabled and lived at the property with his minor son. The owners filed an unlawful detainer action in January 2017, and began shutting off all utilities. By mid-March, Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at and his son had no heat, no hot water, no electricity, no cable and no internet.
 
On March 16, the owners changed the locks. Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at's medication was locked in his home. On the same day, one of the owners sent him an e-mail threatening that there would be "consequences" if he "set foot on the premises again." The next day, the owners began demolition of the unit while Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at's property was still inside. Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at slept in the partially demolished unit for two nights, and on both nights, one of the owners showed up in person and made threats against his safety.
 
The owners of this property have demonstrated zero respect for the law, and zero regard for the rights and the well-being of the tenant and his minor son. If this case was used as a hypothetical in law school, no one would believe it because it would be too preposterous

Changing the locks, shutting off utilities and demolishing a tenant's home in the middle of an unlawful detainer action are of course illegal under Oakland's Tenant Protection Ordinance. The owners' campaign of threats and harassment is especially outrageous in a city that is struggling with a historic housing crisis. This is exactly the type of case the Neighborhood Law Corps was created to address.
 
The Neighborhood Law Corps (NLC) is an award-winning program in the City Attorney's Office that uses lawsuits and other actions to improve quality of life in Oakland. Since its inception 15 years ago, the NLC has fought for social, environmental and economic justice with a focus on abusive landlords, substandard housing, human trafficking, violence and public nuisances including illegal dumping.
 
Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at remains homeless to date. His property remains on the premises in storage. Several of his items have gone missing or are damaged, including his wedding ring and family photos.
 
Our lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring that the owners obtain permits before commencing further construction on the property, offer Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at a unit upon construction completion and install a property manager. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties and restitution for Mr. Alkebulan-Ma'at.
 
Thanks to Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Kevin King for his work on this case.


U.S. Supreme Court rules cities can sue Wells Fargo for predatory and racially discriminatory mortgage lending practices
 
Wells Fargo v. City of Miami, U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 15-1112

On May 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the City of Miami and other municipalities can sue two of the nation's largest banks for engaging in discriminatory mortgage lending practices against African American and Latino borrowers.
 
Miami sued Wells Fargo and Bank of America to recover damages caused by the banks' practice of targeting African American and Latino borrowers for predatory and higher risk loans in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.
 
The City of Oakland also sued Wells Fargo in September 2015 for the bank's predatory and racially discriminatory lending practices that violate both the federal Fair Housing Act and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act.
 
This ruling is a victory for Oakland, Miami and other cities across the country that have filed lawsuits against Wells Fargo and other big banks to stop these unconscionable and racially discriminatory mortgage lending practices and to recover damages our cities suffered as a result.
 
In Oakland and across our country, Wells Fargo's discriminatory conduct devastated individuals, families and communities, increasing poverty and wiping out or drastically reducing wealth of communities of color while bankers prospered.
 
Evidence shows that Wells Fargo, our nation's largest mortgage lender and one of the most powerful companies in the world, systematically provided more expensive and higher risk loans to African American and Latino borrowers in Oakland and elsewhere, despite the fact that they qualified for the same more favorable loans that the bank regularly offered to white borrowers.
 
For example, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2007 a typical African American borrower in Chicago seeking a $300,000 loan from Wells Fargo paid nearly $3,000 more in fees compared to a similarly qualified white applicant.
 
Wells Fargo knew when it issued predatory loans that many of them would result in foreclosure. The damage families in Oakland suffered is immeasurable. None of the responsible bankers have been held personally accountable to date and Wells Fargo and its executive management earned millions of dollars generated in part by issuing toxic loans to African Americans and Latinos.

This ruling means that Oakland can continue to pursue justice and proceed with this important case. Wells Fargo must cease these abominable practices and the bank must be held accountable for its despicable, callous and racially discriminatory actions.



Federal Court blocks Trump's sanctuary city executive order nationwide
                           
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Case Numbers: 17-cv-00574-WHO and 17-cv-00485-WHO

On April 25, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled  that the Trump administration cannot withhold federal funds from so-called "sanctuary cities." The court granted a nation-wide preliminary injunction blocking Trump's sanctuary city executive order in City and County of San Francisco v. Donald J. Trump, et al. and County of Santa Clara v. Donald J. Trump, et al.
 
At a time when so many American institutions and traditions are being undermined or decimated, this ruling is a victory for our constitutional democracy and the separation of powers that allows courts to check a brazen, lawless executive branch.
 
Not only was Trump's threat to strip federal funding from Oakland and other sanctuary jurisdictions unconstitutional, it undermines public safety and reflects callous disregard for the lives and welfare of our communities, our children and our families.
 
Oakland and a broad coalition of cities, counties and other local jurisdictions filed an amicus brief asking the court to block this executive order.
 
It is tragic that this administration's actions require us to expend so much energy and so many resources when we otherwise could be working to move our country and world forward to provide affordable housing and health care for all, implement policing reforms, protect the environment, provide decent public education, eliminate poverty, ensure racial and social justice for all and make positive strides on so many other issues.
 
Thanks to San Francisco and Santa Clara County for your leadership in filing and your work on these lawsuits. Oakland will continue to stand up and fight these attacks on the fabric of our democracy.


U.S. Court of Appeals upholds ruling denying motion to enjoin Oakland's law regulating unattended donation boxes

Recycle for Change v. City of Oakland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Case No. 16-15295

On May 9th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ("Ninth Circuit") affirmed a federal district court's order denying Plaintiff's motion to enjoin Oakland's law that regulates unattended donation boxes that are used to collect clothing, books and other items.
 
In 2015, the City Council adopted an ordinance that regulates unattended donation boxes. Neighbors had complained that too often the boxes were a source of blight including illegal dumping and scavenging. City staff estimated that more than 150 boxes had been placed at schools, grocery stores, gas stations and in rights-of-way around the city. The law requires that owners/operators of the unattended donation boxes obtain a permit and pay an annual fee. In November 2015 Recycle for Change, one of the companies that operates unattended donation boxes, sued the City alleging that the City's regulations infringed the company's First Amendment freedom of speech rights and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
 
In January 2016, the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the City, denying Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction. Recycle for Change filed an appeal and the Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court's ruling. Among other things, the Ninth Circuit found that the Ordinance was content neutral and sufficiently narrowly tailored not to violate First Amendment rights. The ruling is a significant victory for cities like Oakland that are seeking to combat sources of blight and dumping.
 
Thank you Deputy City Attorneys Selia Warren and Mark Wald for your excellent work on this litigation and the ordinance.

 
City Attorney in the Community
                      
League of Women Voters holds 26th All-City Luncheon

On April 19th, the League of Women Voters held its 26th annual All-City Luncheon at the Scottish Rite Center.  
 
The League hosts this event every year to present the Making Democracy Work Award to people and organizations that "have had a vision for improving Oakland and mobilized others to get there." This year the award was given to Arabella Martinez, founder and first CEO of the Unity Council, and to the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.
  
The City Attorney's Neighborhood Law Corps received the award in 2010.
 LWV Annual Luncheon 2017
This year's speaker was author Ari Berman, who also is a senior contributing writer for The Nation magazine and a Reporting Fellow at The Nation Institute. Mr. Berman gave a compelling speech about the history of the struggle for voting rights in America. Mr. Berman reported on the research he conducted to write his book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. His speech highlighted the revolutionary transformation of American democracy after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the systematic campaign to roll back and eviscerate the voting rights African Americans and other people of color secured as a result of the Act. Today, we tragically are continuing to fight the battle for voting rights as the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated a key provision of the Act and a number of states have enacted laws designed to deprive African Americans and other people of color of this bedrock of our democracy.
 
Thanks to the League for another inspiring annual luncheon event, and for all the work the League does on behalf of Oakland and its residents to educate voters. 

Photo: City Council President Pro Tempore Abel Guillen, City Attorney Barbara J. Parker and City Auditor Brenda Roberts at the League of Women Voters All-City Luncheon April 19.
 

Phone: (510) 238-3601

Email: info@oaklandcityattorney.org

 

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