Volume 20, Issue 8 | September 2020
News from Oakland City Attorney
Barbara J. Parker
BJP new
This month:

  • Message from the City Attorney about the losses of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breonna Taylor
  • City Attorney co-sponsors City Council Resolution that would establish a City Council policy to use gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language in future City laws, policies, and communications
  • City Attorney wins court orders to stop owners and operators of Oakside Independent Living from illegally evicting tenants, and to appoint a receiver to protect resident safety
  • Oakland leads nationwide coalition of cities in lodging demand for records from Trump Administration on deployment of federal agents to progressive metropolitan areas
  • City Attorney co-sponsors Resolution that would make implementation of Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance a top priority

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 hope you are staying healthy and safe during these unsettling times.

As always, I invite your comments and thoughts about the newsletter and our Office’s work.
Message from the City Attorney about the Losses of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breonna Taylor

This September our country faced new losses, in a year of so much loss. With the global COVID-19 death toll passing one million, and with the United States making up one-fifth of those deaths, it has been a long year of mourning. And yet we added fresh sorrow to our hearts with two more losses: the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Kentucky’s failure to provide justice for Breonna Taylor. I wanted to share my thoughts on both tragedies with you. As different as these losses are, they both deserve to be recognized and mourned.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

On September 18, our nation lost a lioness of the law. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived an extraordinary life, led an extraordinary career, and lifted her extraordinary voice for 87 years—and the world is less kind and less just without her.

The Notorious RBG was small in stature, but she became a towering figure, moving mountains with her steadfast commitment to equal justice under the law. She was a brilliant attorney, scholar, and jurist. She was the architect and protector of so many forms of justice for so many--of women's rights (from the right to equal treatment in the workplace to the right to reproductive justice), of disability rights, of voting rights, and more. And the sea changes she made toward equality lifted all boats.

Justice Ginsburg’s extraordinary career was not foreseeable. When she arrived at Harvard Law School in 1956, she was one of nine women in her class of 500. When the dean of the law school hosted a dinner for the women in her class, he asked them why they were taking a place of a man. Her story resonated with me, because when I entered Harvard Law 15 years later in 1971, I was one of only 12 African American women in my class; African Americans and women each were 10% of the class. During my first week at the law school, a group of male classmates came to my dorm room to tell me I should leave, because I was taking the place of a man, and because my degree would be wasted as I would only marry and have children. It took Justice Ginsburg decades of fierce advocacy for women’s rights and racial justice to ensure that neither the dean who interrogated her nor the classmates who browbeat me could find their attitudes enshrined in our nation’s laws.

During her 27 years on the Supreme Court, she protected the constitutional rights of all Americans, and her stinging dissents brought into sharp focus the absurdity of the Court as it veered to the right. She had the genius to make things crystal clear. Regarding the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder to eliminate the requirement that states with a history of suppressing the Black vote obtain pre-clearance before enacting new voter restrictions, she issued this biting dissent: “Throwing out pre-clearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

She left this world on the Jewish sabbath and on the eve of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, which in her faith tradition means she was a Tzadik—one known for their righteous deeds, one kept on this Earth by their god until the very last minute, as the need for them here was so great. And indeed it was. We all flourished more under her protection. In her absence, we must take up her great mantle of protection ourselves. We must honor her life and her legacy by correcting the course of this nation, including protecting voting rights, reproductive choice, the environment, and ensuring racial justice and equity. We simply cannot afford to be discouraged. Like Justice Ginsburg, we must fight the good fight until our dying breath. May her memory be not merely a blessing, but a revolution. 

Breonna Taylor

I don’t have the answers or a way to provide solace as we are bombarded and assaulted on a daily basis with dire events. But, I hope and believe that we will summon our inner strength and continue to take action in every way we can to ensure that Black Lives Matter and to honor Breonna Taylor’s life.

Like so many of you, I was sickened and saddened by the news out of Kentucky on September 24. Once again, I was overwhelmed by all too familiar rage, anguish, sorrow, and terror when I read that neither the police officers nor their supervisors would face accountability in the justice system for the murder of Breonna Taylor while she slept in her own bed at home. It is appalling that the life of yet another Black woman could be snuffed out and that her name would not even be mentioned in the indictment or justice system’s account of that night. After months of protests and chants of “Say Her Name,” it was as if Breonna had never existed. The indicted officer was charged only for damaging her neighbor’s property. Not for taking Breonna’s life. Appalling and unforgiveable.

This travesty of justice has happened too often, to too many, for too long. It is terrifying and yet too familiar to read yet another story of yet another Black American whose life was not accorded equal dignity and humanity; Breonna’s death was a tragedy, and the justice system’s response is a farce. To once again bear witness to the truth that foundational American systems of racism, sexism, inequality, and injustice are alive and well; to see how far we still have to go to dismantle those systems, to live in a world where our legal and social systems would value Breonna Taylor’s life and provide justice after her death. As a Black woman, a mother of a Black daughter who just turned 30, a Black grandmother of a nine-year old Black boy and five-month old Black baby boy, I am terrified.

Yet despite the distance between where we are now and a just future, I still have hope. Those who work toward equality are likely familiar with the saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” President Obama loved it so much that he had it woven into a rug in the Oval Office. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama’s source, popularized the phrase in his sermons and writings in the 1950s and 1960s to describe how goodness and truth will rise again, no matter how many times they are pushed down. And before that, Rabbi Jacob Kohn used the phrase in 1940 to assure his congregation that the world has survived the rise, and fall, of many tyrannies. And before that still, a minister named Theodore Parker used these words in a sermon he delivered in 1853, a sermon on justice in which he called for the abolition of chattel slavery.

Thus the history of an “arc of justice” stretches nearly two centuries, from an abolitionist minister living at a time when Black people were legally classified as property to the nation’s first Black president who spoke those words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington. It is a concept that has remained resonant through the Civil War, several world wars, the Jim Crow era, the civil rights movement—and to this very day, when the arc of the moral universe seems to bend backwards.

I feel that. I see that. And I hear that. The grief is real. The pain and trauma are real. And the exhaustion of years of injustice is real.

But we cannot forget: the arc is very long, but it does bend toward justice. It bends because we make it bend: through our individual and collective strength, through our belief that things can change. We have the ability to change history. To say her name: Breonna Taylor. To protect other Black women and girls from her fate. To protect each other through our kindness, our compassion, and our work; through the way we treat each other each day, the advice we give, the words we choose, our commitment to not giving up. As a community, we can hold each other up when one of us is tired. And as a community, we can push for justice, big and small. It all matters. We are still living the arc of the moral universe. We can, and must, bend it together.
City Attorney Co-Sponsors City Council Resolution That Would Establish a City Council Policy to Use Gender-Inclusive and Gender-Neutral Language in Future City Laws, Policies, and Communications

On October 6th, the Council will consider a resolution crafted by our office and co-sponsored by the City Attorney, Mayor Libby Schaaf, City Council President Rebecca Kaplan, and City Councilmembers Sheng Thao, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and Nikki Fortunato Bass that will establish a pathbreaking progressive policy regarding the use of gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language. This resolution will ensure that city laws, policies, and communications use terminology that accounts for all gender identities and does not assume or prescribe any specific gender. The resolution also includes a plan to submit a City Charter amendment to the voters in 2022 that would update the Charter to be consistent with the City’s future-facing policy.

Our office crafted and I co-sponsored this resolution because nonbinary, transgender, pangender, intersex, genderqueer, agender, two-spirit, and other people who may fall somewhere outside of the traditional conceptions of strictly male or female have every right to see themselves reflected in the laws and policies that govern them. LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights, and civil rights, and this resolution is an important step in recognizing those rights and in ensuring that public policy language recognizes and includes all Oaklanders in the discourse and laws of our City.

Although the resolution is a first for Oakland, it is part of a growing movement across California to improve and amend the language of gender in law and policy. In 2017, the California Legislature enacted the Gender Recognition Act, which made California one of the first states to officially recognize “nonbinary” as a third gender marker on state-issued identity documents. The following year, the Legislature adopted a resolution calling for the use of gender-neutral language and gender-neutral pronouns in all new and revised state legislation, much akin to the resolution being proposed in Oakland. Berkeley enacted a similar Ordinance in 2019. And the League of California Cities has issued guidance urging all cities to update their codes and policies to reflect this change in state law.

Amending the City Charter, which currently still refers to a number of City officers using male pronouns or in the alternative as “she or he,” or “she/he”—and still refers to the Mayor using male pronouns—is a longer process that requires voter approval of a Charter amendment. Upon passage of this resolution, , the city’s elected and appointed officials will implement the policy going forward, using gender neutral and gender inclusive language.
City Attorney Wins Court Orders to Stop Owners and Operators of Oakside Independent Living from Illegally Evicting Tenants, and to Appoint a Receiver to Protect Resident Safety

In August, I filed an emergency tenant protection lawsuit and request for a restraining order against the owners and operators of an Independent Living Facility (ILF), Oakside Independent Living, for exploiting and threatening their elderly and disabled tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. ILFs are virtually unregulated lodging for adults who need help with daily responsibilities like meal preparation and housekeeping. This month, the Alameda County Superior Court granted our motion for emergency relief, ensuring that Oakside’s owners and operators can no longer illegally evict or otherwise harm their tenants. In addition, the Court granted our request to appoint a receiver, an extraordinary remedy to ensure the property is managed in a fashion that protects its residents.

In the past, Oakside Independent Living has subjected the elderly and disabled tenants to unsafe and unhealthy conditions at the facility, including severe infestations of bed bugs, cockroaches, and rats. The owner and operators also rented out $900-a-month converted storage spaces too small to stand up straight in as “units,” as if they are fit for human habitation. If tenants complain of poor treatment or conditions, some have been threatened with transfer to Christopher’s Care Home, another ILF managed by one of the defendants. And this summer, tenants have been evicted in violation of the local moratorium. One tenant illegally evicted from his unit described his time at Oakside Independent Living as “the worst experience of my entire life.” We are grateful the Court has taken these issues seriously and acted to protect Oakside’s tenants.

This case was filed by the Neighborhood Law Corps and Community Lawyering and Civil Rights Unit as part of my Housing Justice Initiative. Read more here
Oakland Leads Nationwide Coalition of Cities in Lodging Demand for Records from Trump Administration on Deployment of Federal Agents to Progressive Metropolitan Areas

In early September, I led a coalition of seven cities—Oakland, New York, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta—in partnership with the nonprofit Public Rights Project, to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records from the Trump Administration related to the threatened and actual deployments of federal agents to progressive U.S. cities.The request demands records created after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and in relation to Presidential Executive Order 13933, which claims it permits the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to send federal personnel to "assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.”

After President Trump signed that Order in June, his administration sent more than one hundred federal law enforcement officers to Portland, Oregon, where they violently cracked down on protesters condemning police brutality in the wake of several murders of Black Americans by law enforcement. In the face of the resulting public outcry, President Trump and other federal officials defended their actions and have repeatedly threatened that they would expand these deployments to other cities. And over the past several months, the Trump Administration has escalated its confrontations with American cities ahead of the November 3, 2020 presidential election, targeting cities that have embraced diversity and are working to balance the urgent call for racial justice with their crucial role in maintaining public safety.

I led this effort because the people of Oakland are sick and tired of not being able to take the federal government at its word. So we are asking this Administration to provide a constitutionally sound explanation for apparently unconstitutional targeting of Oakland and other progressive cities that honor free speech and recognize the critical importance of racial justice. The Freedom of Information Act request is one tool that entitles cities to secure that explanation.
City Attorney Co-Sponsors Resolution That Would Make Implementation of Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance a Top Priority

On October 6, City Council will consider a resolution co-sponsored by the City Attorney, Vice Mayor Reid, and Councilmember Taylor to ask City Council to direct the City Administrator to implement and provide updates on implementation of the City’s Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance. The Ordinance was originally sponsored by the City Attorney and Vice Mayor Reid and was adopted in 2005, but has never been fully implemented. The City Administrator fully supports immediate implementation of the Ordinance.

The Ordinance was and is intended to officially acknowledge the crime of African enslavement and its ongoing devastating ramifications and legacy for the descendants of enslaved Africans. In adopting the Ordinance, Oakland joined the states of California, Illinois, Maryland, along with the cities of Berkeley, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, in collectively highlighting how African enslavement and its legacy, beginning with Jim Crow laws, segregation, and sanctioning of brutality and murder of Black people--which continue to this very day--have been a means to build this country and its extraordinary wealth and deprive descendants of enslaved Africans of the fruits of their labor and their contributions and the wealth they created and sustained.

When fully implemented, the Ordinance will: (1) require a full and accurate disclosure to the public of the scope of historical ties to slavery within Oakland; (2) establish a voluntary fund to provide, among other uses, education support and economic development to economically struggling Oakland neighborhoods; and (3) oblige any City contractor providing insurance, financial, textile, tobacco, railroad, shipping, rice, or sugar services to the City to complete affidavits regarding any evidence of those companies’ historical involvement in slavery.

The proposed Resolution will direct the City Administrator to take immediate actions to begin implementing and reporting on the 2005 Ordinance, and will direct the City Administrator to otherwise implement the Ordinance to the full extent of the law. The City Administrator fully supports the immediate implementation of the ordinance.
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