The last months of 2017 were eventful for the nation and for the City of Oakland. And it has been a busy time for the City Attorney's Office.
Over the last year, the City Attorney's Office has had to take on a new role. Part of my job as City Attorney now includes resisting and fighting back against the ongoing wave of attacks on civil and human rights by the current federal administration. This work essentially has become a new practice area for our Office.
In fact, cities, counties and states, with city attorneys, county counsel and state attorneys general, have challenged the unconstitutional, discriminatory and inhumane actions of the current administration. For example, to date cities including Oakland have successfully blocked the federal administration's unconscionable threat to punish sanctuary cities by withholding millions upon millions of federal dollars for housing, child care, law enforcement and other critical programs and services.
In 2018, we will continue this work under the oversight of our Affirmative Litigation, Innovation & Enforcement Division. In our last newsletter of 2017, I am launching a section that will provide updates on legal actions by our and other offices to protect Oakland citizens from a lawless, amoral and unstable president.
Also in this newsletter, we celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the City Attorney's Neighborhood Law Corps ("NLC") and the NLC's work improving the quality of life and protecting the rights of all Oaklanders. The NLC's work has included taking legal action to shutdown businesses that engage in or cater to prostitution and human trafficking in Oakland. In the last two years alone, the program has shut down 14 massage parlors and spas that were operating as fronts for trafficking and prostitution.
Also: a positive ruling in our lawsuit against lead paint companies, and as always, City Attorney in the Community.
I look forward to your questions and comments about the work we are doing on behalf of the people of Oakland. On behalf of everyone in the City Attorney's Office, best wishes for a happy, healthy and spiritually fulfilling new year.
Barbara J. Parker
Oakland City Attorney
2017 marked the 15th anniversary of the Neighborhood Law Corps, an award-winning unit in the City Attorney's Office that works with partners in the community to improve quality of life in Oakland and protect the rights of all Oaklanders.
By filing lawsuits and taking other civil actions, the NLC fights for social, environmental and economic justice, focusing on abusive landlords, substandard housing, human trafficking, violence and public nuisances including illegal dumping. The program, often described as a cross between Legal Aid and the Peace Corps, hires newly minted and passionate attorneys to serve the community for a period of two to three years.
The NLC was the brainchild and vision of John Russo, Oakland's first elected City Attorney and currently the City Manager of Riverside, CA. John initially established the program in 2002 as a nonprofit housed in the City Attorney's Office. At that time it was one of the first programs of its kind in the nation. After about two years, the City Council acknowledged the critical importance of the NLC by funding it as a regular City program. When I became city attorney, I was pleased to continue and expand the NLC, which is now in our Office's Affirmative Litigation, Innovation & Enforcement Division.
Over the years, the NLC has persevered and thrived, consistently serving as a positive force for change.
During the last 15 years the NLC has been at the forefront of addressing some of Oakland's most pressing issues: predatory lending and bank foreclosures, illegal dumping, human trafficking, substandard housing, public nuisances, illegal evictions, protecting tenants' rights and immigration fraud. NLC's work has set the standard and is a model for the rest of the City and for other public agencies.
On November 2, my Office hosted a reception at City Hall to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the NLC and its many accomplishments. Many former NLC attorneys and community partners attended the event, which featured delicious food from Liba Falafel in downtown Oakland and a live music from the San Francisco jazz quartet Wrapped in Plastic.
At the reception, I noted that the success of the NLC is a testament to the dedication of the attorneys who have worked for the program, and who chose to serve Oakland at salary that is still about the amount first year teachers in Oakland public schools earn. I also thanked the deputy city attorneys in our Office who supervised, partnered and helped to guide the NLC over the years: Maria Bee, Erin Bernstein, Randy Hall, Jim Hodgkins, Rich Illgen and Doryanna Moreno.
I also recognized Alex Nguyen, who served as Executive Director of the NLC for its first ten years and was responsible for building the program from the ground up. Alex was the driving force behind the program's activism, and kept a laser the focus on working with residents and community groups as a true partner. I was delighted to present the Oakland City Attorney's first Award for Innovation in Public Service to Alex Nguyen for his leadership of this groundbreaking program. In the future, we plan to give this award to dedicated public servants who display exceptional leadership and innovation often working behind-the-scenes, as our Office usually does.
Below please find more information about the NLC's most recent work.
NLC 15th Anniversary Celebration (from left to right): former NLC attorneys Amber Macaulay, Jesse Newmark, Liam Garland, James Anthony and David Hall; former NLC Director Alex Nguyen; former NLC Attorney Austin Cattermole; City Attorney Barbara Parker; former NLC Attorney Patrick Bears; former City Attorney John Russo; current NLC Attorneys Farrah Hussein and Kevin King; former NLC Attorney Melosa Granda; current NLC Attorneys Jax Harris and Scott Hugo; former NLC Attorney Sheena Wadhawan
Latest Neighborhood Law Corps Cases
City of Oakland v. Oakport Partnership, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17878206
On October 10, the Neighborhood Law Corps
filed another lawsuit
against a massage parlor operating as a front for a human trafficking operation.
The lawsuit against the owners and operators of Airport Massage in East Oakland is part of our Office's effort to prosecute businesses that engage in or cater to human trafficking and prostitution in Oakland.
Over the last two years, the NLC has closed 14 massage parlors and spas where police investigations found evidence of trafficking and prostitution: Green Therapy on Hegenberger Road, Kim's Spa on 13th Street, Telegraph Massage Center on Telegraph Avenue, Oakland Therapeutic Massage Center on Webster Street, 888 Spa on 98th Avenue, Yan Lan on 13th Street, TJ Therapy on Telegraph Avenue, Oak Spa on Edgewater Drive, Yan Yan on 38th Avenue, Evergreen Spa on Telegraph Avenue, Lee Spa on Grand Avenue, Ace/Top Spa on Pendleton Way, Airport Massage on Oakport Street and Oriental Wellness Center on Franklin Street. Most of those closures were the result of lawsuits filed by the NLC.
These cases also have resulted in settlements and fines against defendants totaling at least $531,549, plus several permanent injunctions barring defendants from owning or operating a massage or spa business in Oakland.
Human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and girls unfortunately is a crisis in Oakland.
Police say the female workers at illicit massage parlors and spas often appear to be victims of human trafficking. Many come from China or Korea on travel or work visas, and then remain in the U.S. as "employees" of brothels after their visas lapse. They often speak little or no English and often do not have access to their own passports. Some have no passports or any other form of identification. They often are moved from location to location in Oakland and across the state and refuse to act as witnesses.
Airport Massage opened in late 2015. The City never issued a massage establishment permit to the business and no person working there ever applied for or received a permit to work as a massage therapist in Oakland. The business quickly became known in the neighborhood as a full-fledged brothel.
The Oakland Police VICE Unit conducted successful operations at Airport Massage in March and August of this year. On multiple occasions, undercover officers were offered sex in exchange for $140. Despite numerous arrests at the business, Airport Massage continued to operate more or less openly as a front for prostitution. NLC Attorney
Kevin King filed a lawsuit on October 10, and the business has since closed.
Disrupting and shutting down the human trafficking industry continues to be a top priority for my Office. The NLC will continue to work with Oakland police to investigate and prosecute businesses that cater to or profit from the sexual exploitation of women and girls in our community, and we are using our authority under state law to shut down those businesses and hold operators accountable.
People v. Miller, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG16818951
The Neighborhood Law Corps filed this lawsuit in June 2016 to protect tenants at an East Oakland apartment building from a campaign of harassment and wrongful eviction by the building's owners.
After buying the four-unit property at 1920 69th Avenue in January 2015, defendant Amber Miller and her partner/property manager Michael Cutrer attempted to remove all of the building's tenants. Their tactics included illegal rent increases, a number of phony owner "move-ins" and a series of retaliatory lawsuits against one tenant who refused to move out. Even more disturbing, tenants reported that Mr. Cutrer physically threatened them on at least two occasions.
One of the tenants, Terry Richardson, had lived at the property for over 15 years when Miller purchased it. Ms. Miller soon attempted to increase the rent for Mr. Richardson and his fellow tenant David Morris, but together they contested the increase and won a Rent Adjustment Program hearing in September 2015. When Ms. Miller tried to evict Mr. Richardson and Mr. Morris, the tenants fought the eviction and won with help from the nonprofit Eviction Defense Center.
The lawsuit by the NLC charged the owners with violations of Oakland's Tenant Protection Act, Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance and other laws. The defendants denied the charges and sold the building just a few months after the lawsuit was filed. In August, the defendants signed a settlement that includes a $22,000 payment to the City and an agreement to notify the City within 48 hours if they buy another residential property in Oakland.
I want to again thank tenants David Morris and Terry Richardson for courageously standing up for their rights, expending their personal resources and supporting the City throughout 14 months of litigation. They had no financial interest in the outcome of the lawsuit, but they still contributed their time and energy to pursue justice. Thank you David and Terry (in photo below with Special Counsel Maria Bee, City Attorney Barbara Parker and NLC Attorney Scott Hugo) for standing up for tenants in Oakland, and for your instrumental help on this case.
California Court of Appeal upholds verdict requiring companies to clean up Oakland homes contaminated with lead paint
On November 14, the
California Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District affirmed a verdict requiring major paint companies to clean up lead paint in pre-1951 homes in 10 California cities and counties, including Oakland.
then-Santa Clara County Counsel Ann Ravel filed a lawsuit against major paint companies to hold them accountable for cleaning up lead paint, which when ingested by children and pregnant women can act as a cumulative neurotoxin and may result in irreversible brain damage. Oakland and eight other California cities and counties subsequently joined the case.
Despite widespread industry knowledge of the hazard, the companies aggressively marketed lead paint for residential use until it became unlawful to do so. As a result, nearly every home built before 1978 contains lead paint hazards.
The Court of Appeal's decision affirms that major companies cannot knowingly harm Californians with impunity. Lead paint is prevalent in Oakland homes and disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities. In this case, the defendants knew they were selling a product that poisoned children, yet they continued to sell it and market it as safe. The appellate court's ruling requires that the defendants clean up the vast majority of Oakland homes that contain lead paint, and more importantly, reaffirms that these companies are accountable for the harm their products continue to cause to California's children.
The Court of Appeal's 143-page decision vindicated the 2014 trial court ruling, which held defendants (ConAgra Grocery Products, DuPont, NL Industries [formerly National Lead Industries] and Sherwin-Williams) liable for creating a widespread public nuisance. The ruling required them to create a $1.15 billion abatement fund to pay for clean-up of the lead paint nuisance.
The Court of Appeal agreed that lead paint inside homes, especially where children live or visit, is a public nuisance that continues to endanger the health and safety of vulnerable residents to this day.
The ruling upheld the trial court's judgment that a nuisance exists as to homes built before 1951, overturned the judgment as to homes built between 1951-1980, and remanded the case to trial court for further proceedings to adjust the $1.15 billion abatement fund to an amount sufficient to address the problems lead paint poses in homes built before 1951. That amount will be determined in court.
Oakland Fights Back
Oakland is fighting back against unconstitutional, discriminatory and inhumane actions of the Trump administration. In 2017, we signed onto a number of amicus ("friend-of-the-court") briefs to support court challenges by states and other cities to federal actions that would harm Oakland and its residents. In this new section of our newsletter, Oakland Fights Back, I will provide updates on legal actions that the City of Oakland initiates, joins or supports to resist the ongoing wave of attacks on civil and human rights by the current administration.
City Philadelphia v. Sessions, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Case No. 2:17-cv-03894-MMB
In August, Philadelphia sued the federal government over the federal administration's crackdown on sanctuary cities.
Philadelphia's lawsuit challenges changes to a Department of Justice grant program that would require cities to cooperate with federal immigration agents in order to receive the grant, which provides public safety funding. Sanctuary cities that don't cooperate with deportation agents would not be eligible to receive the grant.
Philadelphia correctly asserts that it is unconstitutional, arbitrary and capricious for the government to punish cities that don't accede to #45's campaign of mass deportation. Not only is the threat to strip federal funding from Oakland and other sanctuary jurisdictions unconstitutional, it undermines public safety and reflects callous disregard for the welfare of our communities, our children and our families.
In October, Oakland joined 23 other cities, counties and agencies in signing onto an amicus brief supporting Philadelphia's complaint.
Oakland has signed onto amicus briefs in a number of other cases challenging the administration's threat to withhold funding from sanctuary cities. To date, federal courts have consistently blocked the government's efforts to withhold money for law enforcement, after school programs and other important services from sanctuary cities and counties.
On November 15, the court issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily bars the U.S. Department of Justice from rejecting Philadelphia's bid for the grant based on the city's sanctuary city policies.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 16-111
This case involves an anti-gay baker in Lakewood, Colorado who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple in 2012.
Colorado law clearly prohibits businesses that are open to the public from refusing service to customers based on race, religion or sexual orientation. However, when David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake for their wedding, the bakery's owner, Jack Phillips, refused to serve them and cited their sexual orientation as the reason.
The Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Mr. Mullins and Mr. Craig, and the Colorado Supreme Court denied review, but the U.S. Supreme Court still decided to hear the case.
The high court heard oral arguments on December 5. Based on comments and questions from the justices at the hearing, it is likely that Justice Anthony Kennedy's vote will determine the outcome of this case. Although Justice Kennedy has previously recognized the rights of same sex couples, he expressed sympathy during the hearing for the baker's argument that the First Amendment protects his ability to discriminate against gay customers.
The shop owner's arguments are not new. Courts have ruled time and time again that "religious beliefs" do not entitle a business to discriminate based on sexual orientation. If a bakery in Colorado is allowed to refuse service to a gay couple based on "religious" beliefs, what would stop any other business from refusing to serve gay customers? What would prevent a bakery from refusing service to interracial couples based on so-called religious beliefs? Or a restaurant from serving Muslims? Or a school from admitting women?
A Supreme Court ruling in favor of discrimination would overturn years of precedent and would set back the progress we have been making to root out discrimination. It is disconcerting, to say the least, that the Supreme Court would decide to revisit this settled issue. It is hard to believe that we could return to a time when businesses could essentially post signs in the window with messages like "no gays allowed," but that is literally what the current federal administration is arguing for in this case. At the December 5 hearing, when Justice Kennedy asked whether the baker could hang a sign in the window saying "We do not bake cakes for gay weddings," the federal government's attorney said yes, as long as the cakes are "custom made."
#45's argument is hogwash, of course. It is a very sad day when our government aligns with prejudice and discrimination, and enjoys sowing the seeds of divide and conquer.
I will continue to update you about this and other important cases.
|City Attorney in the Community
I encourage all attorneys and law students to join this important organization, which has been "a voice for women in the law since 1980."
On October 19, I attended two exceptional annual events: the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce 14th Annual Business Awards Luncheon at Scott's Seafood in Jack London Square and the Women lawyers of Alameda County Annual Judges' Dinner at the Jack London Aquatic Center.
The African American Chamber Luncheon brought together members of the community to celebrate innovative and inspirational business leaders.
, Salesforce Director of Global Equality Programs, provided the keynote address and spoke about Salesforce's vision for equal pay and equal opportunity. Awards were given to: venture capitalist Erik Moore, founder of the equity fund Base Ventures (Oscar J. Coffey Entrepreneur of the Year Award), Dr. Brandon Nicholson, founding executive director of the Hidden Genius Project (Startup Business of the Year Award) and Valerie Lewis, Assistant Vice President at Safeway, Inc. (Chairman's Award).
The African American Chamber also announced that it had 50 new members this year. Congratulations to the award winners, and thank you to the Chamber for its years of support and advocacy for African American entrepreneurs and the Oakland business community.
The Women Lawyers of Alameda County event featured a conversation with California Supreme Court Associate Justice Leondra Kruger and recognition of new women judges this year, including the Hon. Jennifer Madden, former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney, and the Hon. Margaret Fujioka, who served as Deputy City Attorney for many years in the Oakland City Attorney's Office and as Mayor of the City of Piedmont. Tirien Steinbach, executive director of the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), was honored with the Woman Lawyer of Distinction Award.
Phone: (510) 238-3601