Volume 18, Issue 4 | May 2018
News from Oakland City Attorney
Barbara J. Parker
Highlights this month:

  • City Attorney secures $1 million settlement in Chinatown tenant rights case.
  • City of Oakland appeals federal court’s judgment allowing development of a massive, unsafe coal export terminal at the former Oakland Army Base.
  • Oakland continues to challenge Trump administration's unconstitutional actions – this month, the City Attorney joined a lawsuit challenging the government's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and signed an amicus (“friend-of-the-court”) brief opposing the government's unlawful attempt to deny contraceptive coverage nationwide.
  • City Attorney in the Community – City Attorney speaks about environmental justice with the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay.

As always, we look forward to your questions and comments about the work we are doing on behalf of the people of Oakland.
City Attorney secures $1 million settlement in Chinatown tenant rights case
A coalition of civil rights organizations and attorneys, including the City Attorney, has secured a $1 million settlement in a tenant protection lawsuit against the owners of a residential building in Oakland's Chinatown.

The lawsuit, which was filed in June 2016, asked the court to order that the owners of 524 8th Street maintain tenants’ Single Room Occupancy units in a habitable and safe condition and enjoin the owners from discarding tenants’ property and gutting their kitchens and bathrooms. The owners intentionally made living conditions unbearable for their elderly and Chinese-speaking tenants in an attempt to force them to vacate their units so they could renovate the building and increase rents to dramatically higher market rates.

On May 1st, the court approved a $1 million settlement of the lawsuit that the City Attorney, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and civil and housing rights law firm Sundeen Salinas prosecuted. The settlement will be distributed as follows: $795,000 to the 14 plaintiff tenants who are represented by Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and Sundeen Salinas, and $205,000 to the City for costs and attorneys’ fees.

The owners, who purchased the 8th street property in 2015 as Green Group LP, brazenly and publicly expressed their hope that remodeling the building would draw a "new demographic" of tenants including tech workers, who would pay premium rents.

To achieve their goal, the owners demolished kitchens and bathrooms, leaving them gutted and unusable for months at a time. The owners also issued notices of demolition in English, although almost all of the tenants read only Chinese. Tenants also complained that the landlords threw away tenants' clothes, shoes, a child's tricycle and other items and tore down Chinese new year decorations. Tenants also had no hot water for weeks on end.

On May 1st the court issued a permanent injunction requiring that the owners (1) maintain an adequate number of working bathrooms at the property, (2) adhere to a written policy regarding personal property in common areas, and (3) notify the City Attorney’s Office of any future Rent Adjustment Program petitions and eviction actions.

I want to recognize and thank Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Scott Hugo for going above and beyond the call of duty to support and assist the tenants.

(Photo from the East Bay Express)

Richmond coal terminal
City of Oakland appeals federal court ruling allowing development of massive coal export terminal
On the recommendation of the City Attorney, the City Council has voted unanimously to appeal a May 23 rd federal district court judgment allowing development of a massive, unsafe coal export terminal in Oakland.

U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria’s ruling enjoins the City from enforcing its 2016 law banning the handling and storage of coal at a proposed bulk goods terminal in West Oakland. The City Council enacted the ordinance under its lawful power to prevent substantially dangerous health and safety conditions in and around the proposed terminal.

Photo from CBS News: A mountain of coal at the Levin-Richmond Terminal in Richmond, CA. The proposed terminal in Oakland would be many times larger.

The City has the responsibility and the authority to act when the health and safety of our residents is endangered. The Council acted pursuant to the City’s police powers to ban the storage and handling of millions of tons of coal in West Oakland. Those activities pose a clear and demonstrable danger to Oakland residents, especially children whose health will be directly impacted by coal dust and other health and safety hazards related to a massive and inherently unsafe coal export operation. This threat is especially critical in West Oakland, a neighborhood where children, African American and low income residents have suffered disproportionately and been ravaged by environmental injustice and high levels of pollution in the air, water and soil for at least half a century.

We will file the appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Oakland joins California’s lawsuit challenging Trump administration’s unconstitutional decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census
On May 4, Oakland joined the State of California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s unconstitutional decision to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the lawsuit on March 26, 2018. The amended complaint includes Oakland, Los Angeles County and the cities of Fremont, Stockton, Los Angeles and Long Beach as plaintiffs. The state of New York is leading a group of at least 18 states, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and other local jurisdictions in a separate lawsuit challenging the citizenship question.

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.

The clear goal of the citizenship question is to discourage noncitizens and citizens’ 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.

It is no secret that the Trump administration is dead set on reducing the voting power and federal funding for states like California and cities like Oakland whose residents overwhelmingly did not cast their votes for the current occupant of the White House. The addition of a citizenship question clearly is a pretext for achieving that goal. Faced with the loss of the popular vote and a country that has an increasing number of immigrants and people of color, this outlaw administration is attempting to undercount and disenfranchise diverse communities like Oakland and California.

The addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census will freeze an inaccurate population count for the next decade, jeopardizing at least one of California’s seats in Congress, and by extension one vote in the electoral college. And the citizenship question will deprive California of federal funds to which it is entitled and which are critically needed.

Oakland challenges unlawful federal attempt to deny women access to contraceptives
It is difficult to keep track of the Trump administration's many unconstitutional, discriminatory and in some cases downright bizarre actions against the rights, interests and wellbeing of Americans.

One of those actions is the administration's ongoing effort to roll back women’s access to contraceptives.

Last year, the Trump administration issued sweeping new rules that would significantly expand exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control requirement. The new rules allow any employer to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage if the employer claims to have a “religious” or “moral” objection to contraceptives.

Trump's attempt to roll back access to contraceptives is a stark reminder of his disregard for the law, for the wellbeing of women and for fundamental constitutional principles such as the separation of church and state. The new rules would undermine the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of cost-free insurance coverage for birth control. Many women will lose coverage – whether or not they use contraceptives for health reasons other than birth control.

Of course, there is nothing "moral" about denying basic health care coverage to women. This is about placing the interests of corporations and businesses above the health and safety of women and families.

In October 2017 the Trump administration issued the new rules and made them effective immediately, without providing any opportunity for public input. The states of California, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia sued to block the new rules and obtained a preliminary injunction halting their implementation.

On May 29, the City of Oakland, Santa Clara County and 15 other cities, counties and local agencies across the country filed an amicus brief asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a preliminary injunction blocking Trump’s regressive new rules.

The amicus brief authored by the City of Oakland and County of Santa Clara urges the Ninth Circuit to affirm the injunction and asserts that the rules would cause substantial harm to local governments that provide safety-net services related to family planning and unintended pregnancies.

I will update you as this case moves forward.  
League of Conservation Voters
Conversation about Environmental Justice with League of Conservation Voters
On May 9, I served on a panel to discuss environmental justice and life in public office sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay . First, many thanks to the organizers for including me in an "Evening & Conversation with Local Elected Environmental Champions." It is quite an honor to be included in that category, and it was a great opportunity to speak about the work my Office is doing to secure environmental justice in Oakland.

Photo from left to right: East Bay Municipal Utility District Boardmember Doug Linney, City Attorney Barbara Parker, BART Board President Robert Raburn, Contra Costa County Supervisor Diane Burgis and League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay Board President Matt Vander Sluis.

The panel moderated by Doug Linney included BART Board President Robert Raburn, Contra Costa County Supervisor, Diane Burgis and me. We discussed our backgrounds and the paths we took to public office. I also talked about the lawsuit my Office filed in September 2017 against the five largest publicly owned fossil fuel companies in the world.

The lawsuit asks the courts to hold these companies responsible for the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect Oakland from ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise.

The defendant companies – Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell – knew 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 Oakland. But the companies continued to aggressively produce and market fossil fuels for use on a global scale, while at the same time engaging in an organized campaign to mislead the public about the severe risk posed by their products. In California, the law is clear that the companies are liable for the consequences of their deceptive practices.

On May 24, the court heard arguments on the defendants' motions to dismiss the case and the plaintiffs' opposition to those motions. I will continue to update you about any developments in this important case.

Thanks once again to the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay and their members for an enlightening conversation.
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