Volume 20, Issue 10 | November-December 2020
News from Oakland City Attorney
Barbara J. Parker
BJP new
This month:

  • Message from the City Attorney
  • Oakland City Attorney secures immediate relief for tenants and neighbors of two high fire hazard properties threatening public safety
  • California Supreme Court rejects Golden State Warriors’ last-ditch attempt to escape their agreement to pay millions to City, County, Joint Powers Authority for arena renovation
  • City Attorney secures injunction ordering Humanist Hall to cease repeated violations of COVID-19-related public health orders
  • City Attorney’s Office resolves longstanding tenant protection lawsuit against local landlords who operated hazardous apartment complex

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

What a year 2020 has been!—grim, terrifying, and as many of us have shared, surreal. For nearly ten months we have experienced and witnessed the decimation or disruption of almost every aspect of our daily routines and of our lives, the appalling and preventable loss of more than 340,000 lives in the U.S., and now a surge on top of a surge of more infections, hospitalizations, and lives lost. 

So, as we turn the corner entering 2021, I am thankful for many things and counting my blessings. Beginning on January 20th, we will have grownups in the White House—President Biden and Vice President Harris; grownups who have empathy and compassion, who care about the people of this country and our world.  

I also am thankful for the resounding affirmation of the people of Oakland who have given me the opportunity to serve as Oakland’s City Attorney for a third term. I am excited about continuing our important, critical, and groundbreaking work to make our great city even greater. I look forward to continuing to defend the people of Oakland against injustice in all of its forms and fighting for economic, environmental, racial, and social justice and equity.

And I am thankful for you. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to make Oaktown, California, our country, and our world a better place for all of the species that inhabit the planet. And thank you for your optimism and our shared hope for progress on the many challenges our country continues to grapple with, some of the most pressing of which include systemic racism, poverty, homelessness, and the existential threat of climate change. My spirits, like yours, have been buoyed in this bleak time by the Black Lives Matter movement and the broad cross section of our country that acknowledged the ongoing legacies of African American enslavement.
As we ring in 2021, let us reflect on our blessings and renew ourselves to prepare for the important work that we must do to ensure that our children, their children, and their children’s children inherit a better world. I wish you good health, resilience and spiritual fulfillment in 2021.
Please stay safe.
Oakland City Attorney secures immediate relief for tenants and neighbors of two high fire hazard properties threatening public safety

On December 9, the Alameda County Superior Court granted the City of Oakland’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction and for the Appointment of a Receiver to immediately take over management of two properties (1030 Foothill Boulevard and 1130 E. 11th Street) owned by Defendants King V. Chau, James H. Chau, and Judy N. Chau. At both of these properties, Defendants rented out multiple illegally converted units; did not provide basic safety protections such as carbon monoxide or smoke detectors; created severe fire hazards through unapproved wiring and storage of combustible materials; required their tenants to live without power and, more recently, without gas; and subjected their tenants to repeated harassment. These properties placed tenants and surrounding communities at serious risk of harm.

For years, the City of Oakland tried everything short of litigation to push Defendants to bring their properties into compliance with the law. However, despite 27 separate inspections by the City’s Code Enforcement unit, along with eight Notices of Violation (“NOVs”), three Re-Inspection Notices, two Notices of Intent to Obtain an Inspection and Abatement Warrant, one Order to Abate, a right of entry letter, and several Red-Tags formally declaring a property unsafe for human habitation, Defendants refused to take minimal steps to comply and to ensure the safety of their tenants.

Although all of the violations that led to City inspections and notices were serious, the danger to the tenants and their neighbors became more grave in recent months. After yet another fire—the fifth between the two properties in the past few years—the tenants at 1030 Foothill not only lacked electricity, but also lost access to gas. They were forced to use battery-powered lights, rely on quilts to stay warm, and cook using flammable charcoal indoors. As part of the court’s recent order, the appointed receiver, a neutral third-party custodian, took over day-to-day control of the properties to remedy the unsafe conditions and protect the rights of the tenants and neighbors—and did so just in time, as there was yet another fire at the 1030 Foothill property in the days after the court acted.

I brought this case because the tenants and neighbors of 1030 Foothill and 1130 E. 11th Street are entitled to safe and habitable housing. In the midst of a global pandemic and with winter upon us, there is even greater urgency to ensure Oaklanders’ basic rights are protected. The court’s ruling clearly recognizes these tenants’ and neighbors’ plights and grants them the immediate relief they desperately needed.

This case, People v. Chau, was filed by the Neighborhood Law Corps and my Housing Justice Initiative. I launched the Housing Justice Initiative to significantly expand and prioritize work protecting tenants in Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods and holding abusive landlords accountable.
California Supreme Court rejects Golden State Warriors’ last-ditch attempt to evade their agreement to pay millions to City, County, Joint Powers Authority for arena renovations
On December 9, the California Supreme Court denied the Golden State Warriors’ petition for review, the Warriors’ final attempt to overturn an arbitration decision, the superior court’s decision, and the appellate court’s decision, all of which found that the Warriors cannot escape the debt they owe the City of Oakland, Alameda County, and the Joint Powers Authority (JPA) for renovations to the Oakland-Alameda County Arena, debt the Warriors agreed to pay over 20 years ago.

Years ago, as is typical to finance large projects, the County and the City issued bonds worth over $140 million to pay for the new sports arena. They did so in reliance on and assuming the good faith of the Warriors, who agreed to help repay that debt over decades. When the Warriors chose to leave Oakland several years ago, they also attempted to leave their unpaid debt behind. In August of this year, the Court of Appeal rejected the Warriors’ claim that their obligation to pay the debt ended when they chose to leave Oakland and ordered them to comply with the terms of the agreement.

The Warriors’ repudiation of their agreement required the City and County, as the members of the JPA, to engage in years of arbitration and litigation, costing over $1 million. Despite evidence of a shared agreement and shared understanding starting as far back as 1996, the Warriors nonetheless required the local governments to spend precious time and money over many years to enforce the terms of the agreement. The Warriors finally must pay the tens of millions of dollars they owe the City, County, and JPA, including the unpaid debt and legal costs and fees.

I am grateful that this is the end of the line for the Warriors’ shameless attempts to avoid their debt obligations. They have pursued their specious claims as far as they can go, and every court that has reviewed this case has refused to let the Warriors stiff their fans and ignore their debt. It is time for them to pay back the local governments that fulfilled their agreement to renovate the Arena and poured their hearts and souls into supporting the team and yet had to spend years fighting to finally and fully win this battle and justice.
City Attorney secures injunction ordering Humanist Hall to cease repeated violations of COVID-19-related public health orders

On November 18, the Alameda County Superior Court granted the City of Oakland’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the owners and managers of Humanist Hall, which had been holding large, illegal events for months in violation of local and state public health orders. Despite the City’s efforts to work collaboratively with the Hall to bring them into compliance with the law, including through conversations, warnings, notices, and fines, the Hall’s owners and managers refused, including by downplaying the seriousness of the global pandemic of COVID-19. With the court’s grant of the TRO, however, Humanist Hall must comply with the same public health orders that govern all residents, businesses, and others in Alameda County.

Since March, all of Oakland has operated under various local and state emergency, shelter in place, and other public health orders with the purpose and effect of limiting and preventing the spread of the dangerous and sometimes deadly disease of COVID-19. Despite those orders, these Defendants have operated a business—variously denominated a church, an event hall, or a party space—in repeated, flagrant, and knowing violation of local and state public health orders. They have hosted parties and events for untold numbers of people, allowed partygoers and event-goers to pack into their indoor space without masks or social distancing.  
The City tried to help Defendants comply with public health orders. City officials issued courtesy letters, warnings, a notice of violation, fines, and even engaged in person. Despite these many opportunities to stop the activities that pose an imminent risk to public health, Defendants chose to continue, asserting that City officials have no right to stop these unlawful events—and that the underlying public health crisis is a hoax. Because non-litigation efforts to achieve compliance and protect public health and safety failed, I filed a lawsuit, People of the State of California & City of Oakland v. David Oertel et al., and the request for a TRO that has now been granted.
I filed this lawsuit because the impacts of COVID-19 have fallen disproportionately on Black, Latinx, Asian and other people of color, people with disabilities, and other communities that have historically been marginalized and victimized by discrimination. When people and organizations like the Defendants in this case refuse to comply with public health orders, they are further endangering communities that are already suffering disproportionate harm.
City Attorney’s Office settles longstanding tenant protection lawsuit against local landlords who operated hazardous apartment complex

After four years of litigation, I finally and fully settled a longstanding housing justice lawsuit, People v. Jaber, et al., against local landlords who repeatedly ignored harms suffered by their tenants. My office filed this case in August 2016 against the owners of the 30-unit apartment complex located at 1620 Fruitvale Avenue to enforce the tenants’ rights to safe and habitable units. As a direct result of our litigation, the owners were forced to make a number of necessary and long neglected repairs to the building, are required to hire professional property management for 1620 Fruitvale if the building is not sold by mid-January 2021, and have paid my office a sizable monetary settlement that will be used to reimburse City departments for their costs associated with bringing this litigation, and finance future affirmative litigation to protect tenants and others in need.

Before I filed this case, Defendants ignored numerous notices from the City’s Code Enforcement Unit, repair requests from their tenants, and instructions from Alameda County Vector Control to abate the health and safety hazards at 1620 Fruitvale. For years, the owners’ predominantly low-income, Spanish-speaking tenants lived in units that lacked heat and functioning smoke detectors and were infested with cockroaches and bed bugs; tenants had to sleep in closets to avoid insects and some experienced dangerous fires.

“The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the need for safe and affordable housing in our community,” said City Attorney Barbara J. Parker. “Too often, exploitative landlords force vulnerable tenants to live in dangerous conditions, counting on them not to demand the quality of housing to which they are entitled. I am grateful to our partners at Centro Legal De La Raza for their assistance with bringing this lawsuit, and to the tenants at 1620 Fruitvale for their bravery in advocating for their rights.”

The tenants’ individual case against the owners of 1620 Fruitvale is ongoing. Tenants at 2000 36th Avenue also filed an action against the property owners, which settled in 2018. Centro Legal De La Raza represented the tenants in both lawsuits. This case was filed by the Neighborhood Law Corps as part of City Attorney Parker’s Housing Justice Initiative. Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker formed and recently formally launched the Housing Justice Initiative to significantly expand her work protecting vulnerable tenants and holding abusive landlords accountable.
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