Volume 18, Issue 6 | July 2018
News from Oakland City Attorney
Barbara J. Parker
Highlights this month:

  • Federal trial court dismisses Oakland’s climate change lawsuit against the five largest investor-owned producers of fossil fuels in the world (“Big Oil”)
  • Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rules that Trump executive order targeting sanctuary jurisdictions is unconstitutional
  • Major case updates
  • City Attorney thanks tenants in Chinatown Single Room Occupancy (“SRO”) property for their courage in successful lawsuit against abusive landlord (City of Oakland v. Kilpatrick)
  • City Attorney in the Community (Art & Soul Festival)
  • Announcement: City Attorney seeking candidates for appointment to the Public Ethics Commission

As always, we look forward to your questions and comments about the work we are doing on behalf of the people of Oakland.
Federal trial court dismisses climate change lawsuits against Big Oil companies
Oakland coastline
Federal District Court Judge William Alsup has dismissed the lawsuits Oakland and San Francisco filed against the five largest public fossil fuel companies to hold them accountable for global warming and sea level rise caused by their products.

The court’s ruling was disappointing. But this is the first round in our fight to ensure that Big Oil does not get to pocket the obscene profits from its deception campaign and massive sale of fossil fuels. We are committed to ensuring that the defendants pay the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect Oakland from the ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise they caused.

Photo: Map showing eight feet of sea level rise, a scenario that puts large parts of Oakland and Alameda under water.

The defendant companies – Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell – knew for decades that their products would cause unprecedented global warming and sea level rise. Industry scientists warned the companies as early as the 1970s and 1980s of “severe” and “catastrophic” consequences for life on this planet.

Despite that knowledge, for the last 30 years the companies told the world that climate change is not real, and even if it is, it is not linked to fossil fuels. Our lawsuit forced the companies to admit in court that climate change is a reality. But they nevertheless refuse to accept any responsibility for the damage they caused.

Last year, Oakland and San Francisco sued the defendant companies seeking payment for sea walls and other infrastructure that will be necessary to protect lives and property from sea level rise.

Judge Alsup ruled: “The problem (of global warming) deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.”

Our lawsuit was never about solving global warming in its entirety. Our lawsuit focuses specifically on holding these fossil fuel companies responsible for the costs to the City of Oakland – costs that are directly linked to the companies’ reckless, and under California law, unlawful actions.

We all recognize that the problem of climate change requires a broad, comprehensive solution. Unfortunately, we also are well aware that the current executive branch will take no action to stop this imminent threat to life on our planet.

Rising seas are not just a theoretical threat to Oakland, San Francisco and our entire planet. Climate change models show large parts of Oakland, including the Oakland airport, I-880 and large parts of East and West Oakland under water by the end of this century, especially during storm surges. A recent state report, Rising Seas in California , projects as much as 10 feet of additional sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay by 2100, a scenario that would cause almost unimaginable harm to Oakland and every other city with a shoreline.

We believe our lawsuit presents valid claims under California law. California law is clear that companies cannot lie to their customers about the danger of their products and then walk away with impunity. We are considering all options, including an appeal. I am pleased that our lawsuit triggered a public court proceeding on the science of climate change, and that denial of climate science is no longer a viable legal strategy for the fossil fuel companies.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules Trump executive order targeting sanctuary jurisdictions is unconstitutional  
On August 1 st , the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Trump abused his authority when he issued an executive order threatening to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities like Oakland.

The ruling by the federal appeals court in San Francisco is the latest court rebuke of Trump’s policies targeting sanctuary cities and counties that have humane and legal immigration policies.

Only five days after he took office, Trump issued an executive order declaring that sanctuary jurisdictions that did not cooperate with federal immigration agents would no longer receive federal funds for after school programs, child care, law enforcement and other critical services. San Francisco filed a lawsuit, and Oakland and a broad coalition of cities, counties and other local jurisdictions filed an amicus (“friend-of-the-court”) brief asking the court to block Trump’s executive order. Oakland has filed amicus briefs in a number of actions challenging Trump’s cruel and discriminatory policies, and we filed a lawsuit challenging the administration’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Trump and his lackeys have attacked sanctuary jurisdictions as lawless towns where undocumented immigrants terrorize residents and commit crimes with impunity. The reality is that sanctuary cities like Oakland comply with immigration laws and do not interfere with federal immigration agents doing their jobs. As Attorney General Sessions recently acknowledged, immigration is the federal government’s responsibility. Instead of supporting the government’s campaign to divide us and drum up support for the 2018 mid-term elections by deporting law-abiding members of our community, Oakland and other cities focus our law enforcement resources on fighting crime.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera made this important point in his statement about the Ninth Circuit’s ruling:

The federal government has always been free to enforce immigration law in San Francisco, just like it can anywhere else in the country. We do not harbor criminals. The federal government knows who is in our jails. If they think someone is dangerous, all they need is a criminal warrant.

But our teachers, doctors and police officers cannot be conscripted into becoming the administration’s deportation force. San Francisco’s sanctuary policies make our city safer by encouraging anyone who has been a victim or witness to a crime to tell police. We are a safer community when people aren’t afraid to call the fire department in an emergency. We are a stronger community when parents take their kids to school without worrying it could lead to a family member being deported.

Trump’s threat to defund sanctuary jurisdictions violates the U.S. Constitution. As the Ninth Circuit declared, Congress has authority over spending, not the president. Not only is Trump’s order unconstitutional, it also undermines public safety and reflects callous disregard for the lives and welfare of our communities, our children and our families.
Threatening child care and after school programs because of a policy disagreement is despicable, like the forced separation of children and parents who come to our country seeking refuge and the many other assaults on our civil rights, voting rights, and abortion rights. Harming children to make a political point has become a pattern for Trump and his entourage of shameless sycophants.  

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling upholds our constitution and the separation of powers as we face an autocratic president who yearns to become a despot who is above the law.

At a time when so many American institutions, values 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 and lawless executive branch.
Major Case Updates   
Alameda County Superior Court Judge dismisses City of Oakland from the San Pablo Avenue Fire Lawsuits ( In Re San Pablo Avenue Fire Litigation v. Mead Avenue Housing Associates. L.P., et al .)

On August 8, the Alameda County Superior Court entered a judgment dismiss ing the City of Oakland as a defendant in litigation related to the tragic fire at 2551 San Pablo Avenue (Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17858050). Four tenants lost their lives, a number were injured and as many as 100 tenants lost their housing. 

The lawsuit continues against the building owner, Keith Kim, the lead non-profit agency that leased the apartments, and other individuals and corporations.  The City distributed more than $600,000 in relocation funds to 66 families and individuals who were displaced by the fire. 

Plaintiffs filed a number of lawsuits after the 2017 fire. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman, who also is presiding over the Ghost Ship Fire litigation, consolidated the San Pablo plaintiffs’ lawsuits. Plaintiffs sued the owners of the building, the City and other defendants. The City filed a demurrer (motion to dismiss) asking the court to remove Oakland as a defendant under the state law, which provides “inspection immunity” for cities.

This is a heartbreaking case. I am deeply saddened and have great sympathy for the victims and the plaintiffs. 

Federal judge in San Francisco denies Trump’s motion to dismiss two lawsuits challenging decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census ( State of California, et al. v. Wilbur Ross, et al. and City of San Jose, et al., v. Wilbur Ross, et al. United States District Court Case Nos. 18-CV-01865-RS and 18-CV-2279-RS)

On August 17th, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg denied the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss two lawsuits challenging the federal government’s unconstitutional decision to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 Census. The plaintiffs in one lawsuit are the State of California, the cities of Oakland, Los Angeles, Fremont, Long Beach, and Stockton, Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles Unified School District; plaintiffs in the second and related lawsuit are the City of San Jose and Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

The State of California was the first to sue after the Trump administration announced the citizenship question in March. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the lawsuit on March 26, and Oakland joined as a plaintiff on May 4th. Los Angeles County and the cities of Fremont, Stockton, Los Angeles and Long Beach also joined as plaintiffs. 

The San Francisco federal court’s ruling follows a July order rejecting the federal government’s attempts to obtain dismissals of two other citizenship question lawsuits that the State of New York filed. A number of other states, cities and other groups also have filed lawsuits challenging the citizenship question.

As a result of these victories, the San Francisco cases may go to trial in January 2019. The New York cases may proceed to trial in late October of this year. Attorneys in the New York cases assert among other things that the federal government’s decision to add the citizenship question was motivated, at least in part, to discriminate against immigrants of color.

Judge Seeborg’s ruling leaves the door open for the State of California, the City of Oakland, and the other California plaintiffs to argue that the citizenship question may preclude the federal government from performing its constitutional mandated duty to count every person who resides in the U.S., regardless of their citizenship status.

Judge Seeborg declared: “Given the facts as alleged in the operative complaints, which must be taken as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss, plaintiffs make a sufficient showing that the Secretary’s decision to add a citizenship question will undermine the strong constitutional interest in accuracy of the census and thus violate the Constitution's actual enumeration command.”

As we have discussed in prior newsletters, the U.S. Census determines the amount of federal dollars that California will receive for critical public services and projects and impacts the number of congressional seats and electoral college votes for each state.


The federal government is preparing to conduct the 2020 census to comply with the United States Constitution’s mandate to count all individuals, regardless of their citizenship status, every ten years. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that this Census will include a citizenship question for the first time since 1950.
The inclusion of a citizenship question on the census clearly violates Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which requires the “actual Enumeration” of all people in each state every ten years, and the Administrative Procedure Act’s prohibition against “arbitrary and capricious” agency action.

The clear intent of the citizenship question is to discourage noncitizens and their family members from participating in the Census. The resulting undercount would detrimentally impact California by reducing the state’s Congressional representation and federal funding for disaster relief, infrastructure, public health, education, police, fire and other critical services. An undercount also would jeopardize at least one of California’s seats in Congress, and by extension one vote in the electoral college.
The federal courts have already struck down blatant attempts to reduce the voting power of African Americans and other people of color, such as laws that would shorten the time frame for voting, eliminate Sunday voting, reduce the number of polling places and gerrymander voting districts to disenfranchise voters of color.
I am pleased that this important case will proceed and that we will be able to ask the courts to uphold the Constitution.
City Attorney recognizes tenants of Chinatown Single Room Occupancy (“SRO”) residential property for their courage in successful lawsuit against abusive landlord ( City of Oakland v. Kilpatrick)
8th St. Tenants and Attorneys
On August 14th, I was honored to meet with several of the tenants and attorneys who worked with our Office to secure a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit against the owners of a residential building in Oakland’s Chinatown.

City of Oakland v. Kilpatrick , Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG16820040 
I thanked the tenants for their courage in standing up for their rights which made the lawsuit possible. Three of the tenants passionately explained that as new immigrants, they didn’t expect to have support from the City or other governmental institutions; they thought cities and other big governmental entities serve the wealthy. They said our lawsuit made them believe in the American legal system and gave them faith that cities and other governmental entities will support tenants. They said their story and success will inspire others to unite and to seek justice.
After new owners purchased the three-story Single Room Occupancy (“SRO”) property with predominantly monolingual Chinese immigrant tenants, they publicly stated that their purpose was to renovate and attract a new demographic, including students and tech workers who would pay premium rents. The owners intentionally attempted to make living conditions unbearable. They left four of seven communal bathrooms in a demolished state for nine months and committed other violations including gutting kitchens and leaving them in an unusable state for months, discarding tenants’ personal property, and failing to provide hot water for weeks. 
The City Attorney’s Neighborhood Law Corps , the legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and civil and housing rights law firm Sundeen Salinas sued the owners for violating the City’s Tenant Protection Ordinance. Successful preliminary injunction and contempt motions helped us to ensure that tenants remained in the property during the lawsuit. The $1 million dollars settlement will provide $795,000 to the fourteen tenants and $205,000 to the City for future affirmative litigation. 
Photo: Attorney Pamela Kong (Sundeen Salinas), Attorney Robert Salinas (Sundeen Salinas), Plaintiff Wei Bin Ma, Plaintiff Ri Sheng Zhong, Plaintiff Chao Rong He, City Attorney Parker, Attorney Katherine Chu (Asian Law Caucus), Attorney Flora Kuang (Asian Law Caucus), Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Scott Hugo

City Attorney in the Community
NLC Art&Soul
On July 28 th and 29 th , the City Attorney’s Office participated in the 18 th annual Art & Soul Festival in downtown Oakland.

This City-sponsored event showcases the diversity and the talent of our City, with everything from young circus performers to local artisans to amazing music, including Oakland’s own legendary dance group Samba Funk. And as always, the festival was filled with the tantalizing aromas of many different types of delicious food cooking on grills. 

Photo: Neighborhood Law Corps attorneys Suzanne Dershowitz and Scott Hugo staffing the City Attorney’s table at the Art & Soul Festival.

Thanks so much to the members of our City Attorney team who represented our Office and talked to Oaklanders about the work we are doing on their behalf: Suzanne Dershowitz, Scott Hugo, Luz Buitrago, Kevin McLaughlin, Cheryl Moore, Rolanda Hartfield and Clea Bennett.
Announcement: City Attorney seeking candidates for appointment to the Public Ethics Commission
The Oakland City Attorney is seeking candidates for an appointment to the Oakland Public Ethics Commission (PEC). Candidates for the City Attorney's appointment to the PEC must have a background in public policy or public law, preferably with experience in governmental ethics or open government matters. Candidates must be a resident of Oakland and registered to vote in Oakland elections. For a full list of qualifications and an application, go to:
The Public Ethics Commission is an independent commission made up of Oakland residents and charged with ensuring fairness, openness, honesty and integrity in Oakland City government. More info about the PEC: https://www.oaklandca.gov/boards-and-commissions/public-ethics-commission
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