Volume 18, Issue 5 | June 2018
News from Oakland City Attorney
Barbara J. Parker
Highlights this month:

  • Court holds debris hauling company in contempt for violating its order to halt illegal operations in West Oakland residential neighborhood. 
  • City of Oakland joins lawsuit to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for deceptive practices that resulted in nationwide addiction crisis.
  • Judge rules that Oakland’s lawsuit against Wells Fargo for racially discriminatory lending practices can proceed.
  • Oakland continues to challenge Trump administration's unconstitutional, inhumane and discriminatory actions. This month, the City Attorney filed amicus ("friend-of-the-court") briefs in two cases: a lawsuit challenging Trump's callous and heartless decision to end protected status for Haitian refugees, and a lawsuit asking that the court block Trump’s attempts to dismantle core civil rights protections in the federal Fair Housing Act. 

As always, we look forward to your questions and comments about the work we are doing on behalf of the people of Oakland.
Santos truck
Court holds debris hauler in contempt for violating order to halt illegal operations
On June 22, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman held an outlaw debris hauling company in contempt for violating the court’s order to halt illegal operations in a West Oakland residential neighborhood. Judge Seligman found the company and its owner in contempt on 15 counts with a fine of $1,000 for each count, plus another $1,500 penalty for “willful violation” of the court’s order.

Photo: a truck full of debris at Santos' warehouse on April 14, almost two weeks after the court ordered the company to cease unpermitted debris hauling operations.

In January, the City Attorney's Affirmative Litigation, Innovation & Enforcement Division filed an environmental justice lawsuit against the company, Santos Engineering, and the business/property owner Moacir Santos. The lawsuit charges that the company was intentionally blowing dust from construction debris into the neighborhood around its warehouse on Poplar Street, allowing contaminated water to flow into the City’s storm water system and operating in open violation of Oakland zoning laws. 

In 2017, Santos Engineering moved into the Poplar Street warehouse, which is near homes, a playground and a farm in West Oakland. The company began hauling construction debris from jobs sites around the Bay Area and breaking down the debris inside the warehouse. These activities violated Oakland’s zoning laws, which require a Conditional Use Permit to conduct industrial activities outside when the activities are near a residential area.

Handling and breaking down construction debris creates vast amounts of dust that potentially contains asbestos or other hazardous materials. Instead of mitigating the harm from these activities, Santos knocked out parts of the warehouse ceiling and installed a huge fan to discharge the dust directly into the surrounding neighborhood, where it coated cars and blew into houses through open windows.

Since Santos began operations, families in the neighborhood have complained about medical complications such as persistent coughing, eye/throat irritation and lightheadedness, which they attribute to the dust the business generates.

In April, the court granted the City Attorney’s motion for an injunction to stop all hauling operations at the site. The company nevertheless continued to haul debris to and from the site. In May, we filed a motion asking the court to find Santos in contempt after we gathered evidence that the company was violating the injunction.

West Oakland, a historically African American neighborhood, has suffered disproportionately from pollution in the air, soil and ground water, and that has severely impacted the health of West Oaklanders, particularly children. Oakland averages 90 times more diesel pollution than the rest of the state, according to the nonprofit Pacific Institute, and according to the Alameda County Health Department, West Oakland residents' life expectancy is nine years shorter than other Californians' life expectancy due to poor air quality. 

I hope that shutting down this business will send a message that we will not tolerate anyone who attempts to profit from further polluting the neighborhood.
Oakland joins lawsuit to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for deceptive practices
This month, Oakland joined the lawsuit that Santa Clara County and the Orange County District Attorney brought against leading manufacturers of opioids, drugs that have caused a nationwide epidemic of abuse and addiction, including in Oakland and Alameda County.

The lawsuit, initially filed in May 2014, charges that opioid manufacturers have engaged in a campaign of false advertising that trivialized the risks of opioids – a deceptive business practice that resulted in rampant over-prescription and a crisis of opioid-related addiction, injuries and deaths in California and the nation as a whole. Evidence indicates that the epidemic has disproportionally impacted Oakland’s African American and homeless populations.

At a hearing on June 8 in Orange County Superior Court, the court ruled that plaintiffs could add Oakland and Los Angeles County as plaintiffs in the lawsuit (People of the State of California v. Purdue Pharma, et al., Orange County Superior Court Case No. 30-2014-00725287-CU-BT-CXC ).

The rise of opioid addiction and overdoses in our community is directly related to deceptive marketing that aggressively promoted these drugs while covering up the risks. Although there are legitimate medical uses for opioids, they are highly addictive drugs that have been vastly over-prescribed as a direct result of the manufacturers’ deceitful and irresponsible tactics. Families in Oakland are suffering the consequences.

Named defendants in the lawsuit include manufacturers Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Endo Health Solutions, Inc., Actavis PLC and Purdue Pharma L.P., the manufacturer of OxyContin. 

The amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. more than doubled between 2001 and 2015. In 2012 alone, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, enough for every adult American to have his or her own bottle of pills. 
In California, there were 2,031 opioid overdose deaths in 2016 – 51 of those deaths were in Alameda County. That same year, there were 464.4 opioid prescriptions for every 1,000 Alameda County residents – almost one prescription for every two residents of the county! 

The rate of emergency room (“ER”) visits related to opioids in Alameda County increased by almost a third between 2009 and 2014. During that time period, the rate of opioid-related ER visits by African Americans was more than three times higher than the rate of the county as a whole. 

In Oakland, the Fire Department and other paramedics administered Narcan (Naloxone) for opioid overdose more than 500 times per year from 2015 to 2017. In 2017, first responders in Oakland received about 1,823 calls regarding overdoses, representing about 4 percent of all calls for service.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that Oakland’s homeless population has been hit particularly hard by the crisis. And the homeless population in Oakland continues to grow. Homelessness jumped by 25 percent to approximately 2,761 between 2015 and 2017, according to a point-in-time count. That count also provided a distressing portrait of who’s on the city’s streets: Nearly 70 percent of homeless people are black, although African Americans made up 28 percent of the city’s 2010 census population. Equally distressing more than 60 percent of Oakland’s homeless people lived in homes in Alameda County for more than 10 years before they landed on the streets. And nearly 60 percent said money problems, not addiction or mental health issues, were the primary cause of their homelessness ( San Francisco Chronicle, June 28, 2017 – Homeless Camps Become Entrenched in Oakland). It is readily apparent that these companies are peddling their wares to every demographic, but they shamelessly prey upon some of the most vulnerable populations.

The law in California is clear: pharmaceutical companies cannot mislead doctors or patients about the dangers of their products and then walk away with impunity. There is growing consensus across our nation country that these companies must be held accountable for the crisis their products created.
Judge rules that Oakland's lawsuit against Wells Fargo for racially discriminatory lending practices can proceed
This month we received very positive news in our lawsuit against Wells Fargo for the bank’s predatory and discriminatory mortgage lending practices against African American and Hispanic applicants that led to a wave of foreclosures, blight and diminished property tax revenues in Oakland.

See: City of Oakland v. Wells Fargo Bank, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Case No. 15-cv-04321-EMC

On June 15, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that Oakland provided enough evidence to show that the bank’s racially discriminatory lending practices may have resulted in a spike in foreclosures and a massive reduction in property tax revenue. 

The City of Oakland has suffered great financial harm as a result of these racially discriminatory practices and the ensuing foreclosure crisis. Because U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen’s ruling denied Wells Fargo’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in its entirety, we will continue to pursue justice for the City of Oakland. 

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 Hispanic borrowers in Oakland and elsewhere, despite the fact that they qualified for the more favorable loans that the bank regularly offered to white borrowers. 

When Wells Fargo issued discriminatory loans, the bank knew that many of those loans would result in foreclosure and devastate families throughout our community. Yet Wells Fargo simply ignored this reality and continued to issue toxic, discriminatory loans because they generated significant revenue. 

Wells Fargo must be held accountable for its callous and racially discriminatory actions and we are committed to making sure the bank ceases these discriminatory mortgage lending practices. 

Oakland fights back against federal attempt to dismantle protections for people of color
Oakland continues to fight back against the Trump administration's constant assault on the rights and interests of people of color.

In June, the City Attorney filed amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in two cases: a lawsuit challenging Trump's inhumane and cruel decision to end protected status for Haitian refugees, and a lawsuit that asks the court to block Trump’s efforts to dismantle core civil rights protections in the federal Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), which was enacted 50 years ago. 

In the housing case, a group of civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit in May challenging the government's decision to suspend a regulation called the Affirmatively Further Fair Housing rule, which requires that local governments have a plan to address segregation and discrimination in housing. The rule is a critical tool to enforce the FHA’s goal of desegregating housing and providing equal opportunity for African American, Hispanic and other people of color, people with disabilities, survivors of gender-based violence and low–income people. 

See: National Fair Housing Alliance v. Carson, U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia, Case No. 1:18-cv-01076. 

To suspend the rule legally, the government would have to give the public notice and opportunity to weigh in, and would have to replace the rule with a "Plan B" to accomplish the goal of less segregation and discrimination. Of course, the Trump administration did neither.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has called the rule an example of “failed socialism,” a phrase that based on Carson’s definition would apply to almost every civil rights law that has been passed. 

On June 5, Oakland joined several states, the District of Colombia and a number of other cities in filing an amicus brief supporting the challenge. 

It is no surprise that Trump would attempt to gut the Fair Housing Act, the very law that the federal government sued him and his father for violating back in 1973. At the time, investigators found that Trump company managers were telling African American applicants that no apartments were available in their buildings, while they offered apartments to white applicants. Sadly, Trump is now using his power as president to dismantle the very law that was designed to protect people of color from people like him. Shameful, shocking, but unfortunately, not surprising given Trump’s two most defining traits: open racism and malignant narcissism.

Another example of Trump's hostility toward people of color is the administration’s decision to end protected status for almost 60,000 Haitian refugees who fled to our shores after the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people in that country. 

This month, Oakland joined 25 other cities and counties across the country in supporting a lawsuit that the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund filed to block the government’s decision. The lawsuit charges the Trump administration with taking “irrational and discriminatory government action” in revoking protected status for Haitian immigrants.

See: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Case No. 1:18-cv-00239-MJG

The NAACP lawsuit, which was filed on January 24, uses Trump’s own racist words as evidence that the government intended to discriminate based on race. For example, it was widely reported that during a January 11 meeting with lawmakers on immigration, Trump described certain majority non-white nations as “shithole countries,” and said “we don’t need more Haitians,” but supported more immigrants from places like Norway. The lawsuit also cites another widely reported comment by Trump from a June 2017 cabinet meeting that Haitians “all have AIDS.”

Congress created the Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) program to protect immigrants who cannot safely return to their home countries due to armed conflict, natural disaster or other extraordinary circumstances. Refugees from Haiti’s earthquake had to meet rigorous standards to earn protected status, including having no serious criminal record and undergoing review by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. 

Oakland and 25 other cities and counties filed an amicus brief on June 14 to support the NAACP’s challenge. The brief says that communities like Oakland would be harmed by the loss of residents who contribute meaningfully to their communities, pay taxes and raise children, thousands of whom are U.S. citizens. 

The Trump administration asserts that emergency conditions no longer exist in Haiti, so the Haitians must go. Many of the refugees now face the impossible choice of leaving their U.S.-born children here, or taking them back to a country that experts say has not yet recovered from the earthquake that killed approximately 300,000 people in 2010.

Sherrilyn Ifill, President & Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, laid out the case against the government’s decision: 

“The decision by the Department of Homeland Security to rescind TPS status for Haitian immigrants was infected by racial discrimination,” Ifill said. “Every step taken by the Department to reach this decision reveals that far from a rational and fact-based determination, this decision was driven by calculated, determined and intentional discrimination against Haitian immigrants.”

Of course, Trump’s decision to end protected status for refugees of a horrific natural disaster is not just discriminatory, but yet another example of unmitigated cruelty. It is almost too heartless to believe, like the photos of screaming children who were pulled from their parents’ arms at the border and thrown into chain link cages. 
All OCA staff
And finally, summer greetings from your City Attorney team 

On June 15, our Office hosted a meet and greet gathering to bring all of our team together and to officially introduce the newest members of our Office. This photo includes almost all of the members of our Office (except for those individuals who were working on time sensitive matters or on leave).

Best wishes from our family to yours for a happy, healthy and rejuvenating summer of 2018.
Phone (510) 238-3601| Email info@oaklandcityattorney.org | Home www.oaklandcityattorney.com