Volume 20, Issue 6 | July 2020
News from Oakland City Attorney
Barbara J. Parker
BJP new
This month:

  • City Council unanimously adopts Tenant Protection Ordinance amendments and other tenant protections crafted and co-sponsored by City Attorney Parker
  • City Council extends emergency moratorium on residential evictions co-sponsored by City Attorney Parker until Council terminates the COVID-19 local public health emergency
  • City Attorney Parker joins coalition partners in nationwide class action settlement of lawsuits against chemical giant Monsanto for contaminating Oakland’s storm water and the Bay
  • City Attorney files lawsuit to protect tenants from discrimination based on transgender status and potentially life-threatening conditions
  • Texas appellate court dismisses defendant Exxon Mobil’s attempt to harass City Attorney Parker, San Francisco City Attorney Herrera, and other California officials for prosecuting climate change lawsuits
  • City Council unanimously passes resolution co-sponsored by City Attorney Parker authorizing the City Administrator and City Attorney to take all actions necessary to protect the people of Oakland from Trump’s threats to deploy federal troops to Oakland in response to protests

Dear Friends and Fellow Oaklanders:

City Hall remains closed during California's statewide Shelter-in-Place order to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and preserve critical health care capacity. For up-to-date information and resources, see the Alameda County Public Health Department website or the City's COVID-19 information page .

I wish you and your village good health and safety during these perilous times as we witness the colossal and tragic loss of lives that has been inevitable and foreseeable for months, and the callous disregard of the current occupant of the White House for our health and safety and for our constitutional democracy. As I and many others recognize, this moment in history also provides a window of opportunity for us to makes strides toward transforming our culture and institutions, including policing and the criminal and civil justice systems, to provide justice and equity and root out racism so that Black Lives Matter is not just a refrain but a reality. Blessings to each of you.

As always, I invite your comments and thoughts about the newsletter and our Office’s work.
City Council Unanimously Passes Tenant Protection Ordinance Amendments and Other Tenant Protections

On July 21, City Council unanimously passed amendments to the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO), Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance (JCO), Rent Adjustment Ordinance, and related relocation ordinances. The amendments improve protections for tenants facing harassment, provide increased security from eviction, and ensure local ordinances conform to changes in state law.

The legislation , which I crafted and co-sponsored with Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas and Council President Pro Tempore Dan Kalb, includes the first major improvements to Oakland’s TPO since it was adopted in 2014. The TPO amendments: (1) remove loopholes such as exempting newly constructed units and non-profit housing from the ordinance; (2) limit fees; (3) prohibit the arbitrary removal of housing amenities such as parking and laundry facilities; and (4) provide heightened penalties for harassing elderly, disabled, or catastrophically ill tenants, and for threatening to report a tenant to an immigration authority.

City Council also passed amendments to the JCO, which include: (1) making failure to pay required tenant relocation benefits an affirmative defense to eviction; and (2) prohibiting evictions based on additional occupants. And Council also amended the Rent Ordinance, which now: (1) permits tenants to seek a rent reduction if their landlord refuses to allow them to replace a departing roommate; and (2) conforms the maximum rent increase in a 12-month period to a statewide rent limit that took effect in January 2020.

Among other things, these new amendments improve the TPO as a tool for protecting currently and historically marginalized residents, and add Oakland to the growing number of cities that make roommate replacement a required housing service and prohibit evictions for adding additional occupants. 
City Council Extends Emergency Moratorium on Residential Evictions Until Council Terminates the Local Emergency

On July 21, the Council unanimously adopted another protection for tenants that I co-sponsored with President Pro Tempore Kalb and Councilmember Bas: an extension of the City’s emergency moratorium on residential evictions. The moratorium now will continue until the City Council terminates the Local Emergency declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Attorney Joins Coalition Partners in Nationwide Class Action Settlement of Lawsuits Against Chemical Giant Monsanto for Contaminating Oakland’s Storm Water and the Bay

On June 24, I partnered with a coalition of a dozen other cities, counties, and ports in announcing a proposed nationwide class action settlement with Monsanto Company, Pharmacia, LLC, and Solutia, Inc. Oakland is one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action. This government partnership represents the interests of a nationwide class of 2,528 governmental entities that have a right to recover their costs for Monsanto’s role in contaminating local waters with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), industrial chemicals that endanger human and environmental health. Although PCBs were banned in 1979, they are a common environmental contaminant that are found in many natural resources, including water and plants, as well as in the tissues of marine life, animals, and humans. PCBs can destroy fish habitats and are associated with illnesses and cancer in humans.

The class settlement must be approved by federal Judge Fernando M. Olguin. The settlement provides $550 million to local governments across the country to clean up stormwater and environmental contamination caused by PCBs, which Monsanto manufactured between the 1930s and 1977. Like other government entities, Oakland will receive funds for monitoring, mitigation, and remediation efforts to manage PCBs in stormwater systems, sediments, and bodies of water in our region, including such important waterways as the San Francisco Bay, Lake Merritt, and the Oakland Harbor. The City of Oakland will receive approximately $7.2 million.

City Attorney Files Lawsuit to Protect Tenants From Discrimination Based on Transgender Status and From Potentially Life-Threatening Conditions

In May, I filed a Tenant Protection Ordinance and state civil rights lawsuit against three local landlords for harassment, exploitation, and attempted evictions through illegal, discriminatory, and violent means. The defendants, who have owned and managed several properties in Oakland, including the three that are the focus of my lawsuit, have acted as if they are immune from the most basic rules of property ownership and management—and immune from civil rights laws as well.

At the properties in question (1130 East 11th Street, 1442 8th Avenue, and 1030 Foothill Boulevard), the defendants rented out multiple unsafe, unpermitted units, including units constructed from plywood and around an outhouse, units where “showers” were installed in closets, and where door openings were sealed to create additional rooms. They crowded sixteen residents into a building lacking smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, powered by electricity stolen from a city electrical pole; the building caught on fire multiple times. Across the three properties, the City issued over 35 code notices and made numerous efforts to abate these dangerous conditions.

In addition to those physical conditions, I also challenged the harassment of a transgender tenant, who was subjected to a campaign of relentless intimidation, including locking her out of her unit, throwing away her possessions (including her medications and medical documents), and hiring knife-wielding men to threaten her into leaving. This unconscionable harassment is unlawful and will not be tolerated in Oakland.

Our lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction, to appoint a receiver to correct the code violations at the properties, and to stop the defendants’ harassment of their tenants; it also seeks civil penalties, punitive damages, and fees.

This case was filed by the Neighborhood Law Corps and Community Lawyering and Civil Rights Unit as part of my Housing Justice Initiative.
Texas Appellate Court Dismisses Defendant Exxon Mobil’s Attempt to Harass City Attorney Parker, San Francisco City Attorney Herrera, and Other California Officials for Filing Climate Change Lawsuits to Hold Exxon Responsible for the Costs to Protect Their Cities From Sea Level Rise

In a victory for Oakland and for other local governments across California, the Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District of Texas at Fort Worth threw out efforts by Exxon Mobil to drag California officials into Texas state courts based on the fossil fuel company’s baseless allegations that those California officials conspired to suppress Exxon’s constitutionally protected speech. The court found that none of the local officials, including me, could possibly be required to appear in Texas courts to answer questions about Exxon’s groundless claims.

Through its Texas state court petition, Exxon tried to distract from the real issue: its role in the climate change crisis; the way that crisis has harmed Oakland and other California cities; and my California-based lawsuit, City of Oakland, et al. v. B.P. PLC et al. , to hold the five largest publicly owned fossil fuel companies in the world responsible for the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect Oakland and other cities and counties from ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise caused by their production of massive amounts of fossil fuels. Although we recently won a major victory in that case , Exxon and other defendants are trying to reverse that victory by asking the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to review its decision and decide in favor of the fossil fuel companies instead.
I am grateful that even a self-proclaimed conservative court in Texas could not find any legal reason to agree that I should be compelled to appear in this unjustifiable Texas proceeding. Now, Oakland and other California cities and counties will be able to focus our resources on the lawsuits we filed to protect and defend our communities, our commerce, and our ecosystems from the devastation of climate change. 

City Attorney Parker Co-Sponsors Resolution Authorizing the City Administrator and City Attorney to Take All Actions Necessary to Protect the People of Oakland From Trump’s Threats to Deploy Federal Troops to Oakland in Response to Protests

On July 28, City Council unanimously passed a resolution that condemns the current occupant of the White House and his administration’s threats to deploy federal officers to Oakland in response to exercises of constitutionally protected activity, and authorizes the City Administrator and City Attorney to take any and all available actions to protect Oakland from those threats.

The resolution , which I co-sponsored with Council President Pro Tempore Dan Kalb and Councilmember Noel Gallo, is the latest salvo in the fight to protect the rights of the people from a brutish administration intent on destroying those rights—and destroying the rule of law. The people of Oakland deserve better. We all deserve a federal government that respects and protects our rights and freedoms. If the federal government insists on taking actions that terrorize our community, then we will step up to protect it. 
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