In this month's newsletter:
Fossil fuel driven global warming and sea level rise pose a catastrophic risk to human beings and to public and private property, from Bangladesh to the Caribbean Islands, to Florida and here in the Bay Area.
Conservative projections show several feet of sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay by the end of this century. This would put large parts of Oakland under sea water, including a huge portion of West Oakland, Jack London Square, downtown, much of Interstate 880, significant parts of East Oakland, and the entire Oakland airport, especially during storm surges. A recent state report, Rising Seas in California, projects as much as 10 feet of sea level rise along San Francisco's coastline by 2100, a scenario that would cause almost unimaginable damage to our city and the rest of the world.
We now know that the oil industry's own scientists warned for decades that the impact of global warming from burning fossil fuels would cause "severe" and "catastrophic" climate change with "serious consequences" to the survival of the human race. Yet these companies have engaged in what may be the largest and most expensive misinformation campaign in history to mislead the American public and the rest of the world about these dangers.
Thankfully, California public nuisance law is clear: When you know your product will create a public nuisance, in this case a product with potentially catastrophic effects, and when you continue to promote your product and market that product as safe, you are liable, period.
On September 19th, Oakland and San Francisco sued the top five publicly owned oil companies - BIG OIL - to make them pay for the cost of sea walls and other infrastructure that are necessary to protect our cities from rising seas.
More on this case below. Also in this newsletter: major case updates including an update on our ongoing legal fight against the federal government's crackdown on sanctuary cities, and the City Attorney in the Community.
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
Oakland and San Francisco sue top five oil and gas companies to make them pay the cost of protecting human life and property from climate change
At a press conference on September 19 on the San Francisco waterfront, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and I announced lawsuits against the five largest investor-owned producers of fossil fuels in the world - BIG OIL. The lawsuits ask the courts to hold these companies responsible for the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect Oakland and San Francisco from ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise caused by the companies' production of massive amounts of fossil fuels.
The defendant companies - Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell - have known for decades that fossil fuel-driven global warming and accelerated sea level rise posed a catastrophic risk to human beings and to public and private property, especially in coastal cities like San Francisco and Oakland.
Despite that knowledge, the defendant companies continued to aggressively produce, market and sell vast quantities of fossil fuels for a global market, while at the same time engaging in an organized campaign to mislead their customers and the American public about the dangers of massive fossil fuel production.
Like the tobacco companies that were sued in the 1980s, the defendants knowingly and recklessly created an ongoing public nuisance that is causing harm now, and in the future risks catastrophic harm to human life and property, including billions of dollars of damage to public and private property in Oakland and San Francisco.
The fossil fuel industry's own records show that BIG OIL has knowingly misled the American public and the world about the dangers of fossil-fuel driven climate change. For example, in 1968, a scientific consultant working for the American Petroleum Institute ("API"), a trade association representing fossil fuel companies, warned that carbon dioxide emissions were "almost certain" to produce significant temperature increases and a rise in sea levels. In 1980, API and its member companies learned that "likely impacts" of global warming would include "globally catastrophic effects."
Despite their knowledge of scientific consensus on these issues, and despite warnings from their own scientists and/or scientists retained by API, defendants continue to engage in massive fossil fuel production, continue to promote fossil fuels, and have developed multi-decade future business plans based upon increased fossil fuel usage even as global warming has entered a severe danger zone.
Defendants' contributions to global warming have already caused sea levels to rise in San Francisco Bay and threatened imminent harm to San Francisco and Oakland from storm surges. Sea levels will continue rising in the Bay due to defendants' past, present and ongoing conduct and this ongoing conduct exacerbates a problem that is largely irreversible.
The lawsuits ask the courts to hold the defendants jointly and severally liable for creating, contributing to and/or maintaining a public nuisance, and to create an abatement fund for each city to be paid for by defendants to fund infrastructure projects necessary for San Francisco and Oakland to adapt to global warming and sea level rise. The total amount that will be needed for the abatement funds is not known at this time but is expected to be in the billions of dollars.
Global warming is an existential threat to humankind, to our ecosystems and to the wondrous, myriad species that inhabit our planet. These companies knew fossil fuel-driven climate change was real, they knew it was caused by their products and they waged a campaign of deception to protect their profits. The harm to our cities has commenced and will only get worse. The law is clear that the defendants are responsible for the consequences of their reckless and disastrous actions.
Map of Oakland showing 4.9 feet of sea level rise (Mother Jones)
Major Case Updates
City of Chicago v. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Attorney General of the United States, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Case No. 1:17-cv-5720
On September 15, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
issued a nationwide preliminary injunction
that prevents the Trump administration from retaliating against cities like Oakland that decline to participate in the administration's persecution of undocumented immigrants.
The injunction specifically prohibits "the Attorney General's imposition of the notice and access conditions on the Byrne JAG grant," which is a federal grant for state and local law enforcement. The grant, which Oakland has received in previous years, provides money for personnel, equipment, training and other law enforcement needs.
The City of Chicago sued Sessions for trying to impose new conditions on the Byrne grant to withhold the money from so-called "sanctuary cities" like Chicago and Oakland that exercise their right to not cooperate with the federal effort to deport as many of our neighbors, friends and family members as possible. Chicago's complaint asserts that its policies assist in making the City's streets safer and build positive relationships between the immigrant community and police.
The law is clear that the federal government is responsible for enforcing federal laws; the federal government cannot force local governments to do so. However, Sessions' new requirements threaten sanctuary cities with loss of critical federal law enforcement grants if they do not agree to enforce federal law and serve as agents of the federal government.
In August, Oakland joined 36 other cities, counties and municipal agencies in
filing an amicus ("friend of the court") brief
supporting the City of Chicago's lawsuit. As City Attorney, I have filed amicus briefs in several cases challenging the unconstitutional and blatantly racist and xenophobic policies of the Trump administration regarding
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.
Sanctuary city policies help police to solve and prevent crimes by allowing undocumented residents to cooperate with law enforcement and act as witnesses without fear of deportation. For example, victims of domestic violence and witnesses to crime will be less likely to report to police who might turn them over to federal immigration authorities.
Oakland will continue to join other cities and counties across the country who are standing up and asserting our constitutional rights as we are appalled and sickened on a daily basis by an out of control, unstable and lawless administration.
|Prosecutors Against Gun Violence Oppose Gun Silencer Bill
On October 4, Prosecutors Against Gun Violence (PAGV), a non-partisan coalition of prosecutors from across this nation, including Oakland's City Attorney, announced our strong opposition to federal legislation that would remove existing gun "silencer" safety regulations from federal law.
The SHARE Act is a broad package of legislation that loosens restrictions on hunting on public lands and prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from designating certain ammunition as "armor-piercing." It also contains the text of other previously-introduced bills, including the so-called Hearing Protection Act, which was introduced in January by Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. This part of the SHARE Act would remove federal restrictions on gun silencers and prohibit California and other states from enforcing state laws that regulate sales and possession of silencers. In California, the sale, purchase or possession of a silencer is a felony.
On October 17, 2017, the City Council will consider a resolution sponsored by the City Attorney, Council President Larry Reid, President Pro Tempore Abel Guillen and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan declaring the Council's opposition to the removal of silencer regulations and calling upon Senate and House of Representatives to remove this provision from the SHARE Act or better still delete the provision from the legislation.
Silencers pose a significant threat in in the hands of an active shooter because it is more difficult for bystanders and law enforcement to identify and react quickly to gunshots when a silencer is used.
The loud and distinctive noise that a gunshot makes allows those who hear gunfire to assess the threat and take steps to protect themselves and those around them. Silencers also would undermine Oakland's ShotSpotter technology, making it harder to identify and respond to the sites of gun shootings.
Current federal law requires that all buyers of silencers pass a background check and comply with other common-sense safety provisions. Thanks to these regulations, silencers have rarely been used in connection with criminal activity. But this absurd legislation
would remove this requirement for silencers so that felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous individuals would be able to buy silencers without background checks.
More than 33,000 people die from gun violence every year in the U.S., including dozens in Oakland, most of whom are young men of color. According to the New York Times, at least 585 people have been killed and 2,156 have been wounded in mass shootings in the United States in the last 14 months, including the Orlando nightclub shooting and the October 1 massacre in Las Vegas.
At this moment in our nation's history, it is sheer insanity for Congress to consider a law to increase the use of silencers, which have no legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose, but are designed exclusively for killing human beings and protecting the shooter from detection.
As the PAGV letter to Congress states: "Given the challenges of protecting public safety in our communities-including from horrific mass shootings like the one we experienced this week in Las Vegas-and the increased risks to law enforcement, now is exactly the wrong time for Congress to make it easy for people with dangerous histories to buy silencers."
|City Attorney in the Community
In September I was honored to attend events to support two extraordinary Oakland organizations that are fighting for the rights and interests of our community.
On September 14, I joined several other members of the City Attorney's team at the 48th Anniversary Gala of
Centro Legal de la Raza
Centro Legal's annual gala is attended by hundreds of advocates, attorneys and activists working to protect the rights and interests of Oaklanders and others. This year's gala at the Scottish Rite Center overlooking Lake Merritt was a glamorous event celebrating this important work. Centro Legal was founded in 1969 and offers comprehensive legal services on behalf of immigrant, low-income and Latino communities.
In March, my Office
jointly filed a lawsuit
with Centro Legal against a local hotel for violations of Oakland's Minimum Wage Ordinance. Thank you to Centro Legal for partnering with us, and thank you for nearly half a century of extraordinary work on behalf of justice and fairness in California.
And on September 15, I attended the 13th Anniversary Celebration of
Housing & Economic Rights Advocates (HERA)
with other members of the City Attorney's Office. HERA is a statewide nonprofit that works to protect Californians from racial discrimination in housing, predatory lending and other economic abuses. The anniversary celebration at the Impact Hub in Oakland featured an enlightening and sobering keynote speech by University of Georgia School of Law professor and author Mehrsa Baradaran. Professor Baradaran described the history of racial wealth inequality in America, which is the subject of her book The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap. I applaud HERA for its work to help to close this gap in California and look forward to partnering with Executive Director Maeve Elise Brown.
Photo: HERA Executive Director Maeve Elise Brown, City Attorney Barbara J. Parker, Special Counsel Maria Bee (head of the City Attorney's Affirmative Litigation, Innovation & Enforcement Division) and Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Scott Hugo
Lastly, during the weekend of September 30 and October 1, my Office hosted a booth at the 10th Annual Oaktoberfest in the Dimond District, Oakland's premier beer festival. Oaktoberfest is always a delightful and festive event for all ages, with music, mouth-watering food and performances from local high school bands to capoeira dancers to salsa music. And of course, if you like beer (see below photo), Oaktoberfest has dozens of craft beers from local brewers to partner with all the BBQ, sweet potato pie, bratwursts and other good street fair grub. Oaktoberfest is a celebration of Oakland's appreciation for the culinary and brewing arts, and it's one of my favorite Oakland events.
Photo: Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Scott Hugo, Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Heather Kryczka, Stanford Public Interest Fellow Malia McPherson and Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Jaclyn Harris
Phone: (510) 238-3601