Volume 21, Issue 2 | March 2021
News from Oakland City Attorney
Barbara J. Parker
BJP new
This month:

My newsletter usually reviews the events of the recent months. This month, I share my reflections on my Office’s challenges and triumphs during the 2020 calendar year. What follows is a brief “year in review,” as a preview for my Annual Report, which will be available on my website soon. 

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.
2020 Year in Review

Our Mission

Our mission is to provide the highest quality of legal services; promote open government and accountability to the residents of Oakland; and apply the law in an innovative, community-oriented, just, and equitable manner to advance Oaklanders’ rights and improve the quality of life in Oakland neighborhoods. We accomplish this mission by constantly pursuing excellence, professionalism, and a workforce that values and reflects Oakland’s diversity.


In 2020, our Office and staff, like our City, country, and the world, faced unprecedented challenges. Nonetheless, we continued our work to fulfill our mission to zealously protect and advance the rights and interests of all Oaklanders. My team of 80 attorneys, paralegals, administrative professionals, and Information Technology experts, more than 2/3rds of whom are women and/or people of color:

  • Provided daily expert legal advice and counsel to City elected officials; the City Administrator; and City departments, boards, and commissions regarding Oakland’s progressive policies, laws, agreements, programs, projects, services, and nuts and bolts organizational/operational matters;
  • Defended the City in more than one hundred lawsuits and against numerous claims, justly resolving nearly three-quarters of claims and lawsuits for zero dollars; and
  • Represented the City and the People of the State of California in affirmative cases against bad actors such as abusive landlords; some of the nation’s largest opioids manufacturers; the five largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies (“Big Oil”) for climate change; Wells Fargo Bank for predatory and racially discriminatory lending practices; chemical giant Monsanto for waterway pollution; and the National Football League, Oakland Raiders, and the 31 other NFL teams. 
Highlights from 2020
In advising the City on labor and employment issues, we provided key counsel for the City on numerous matters relating to the oversight, accountability, and general management of the City as an employer, represented the City in arbitrations, and led the team responsible for legal oversight of police practices and procedures. Highlights include:

  • COVID-19. We met the challenge of providing emergency advice to City Administration and numerous City Departments on emergent and evolving COVID-19 issues that impacted employee health and safety, sheltering in place, telecommuting, emergency sick leave and family leave, and related labor negotiations, including co-sponsoring the City’s Emergency Eviction Moratorium Ordinances.
  • New worker protection ordinances. We helped to craft an emergency paid sick leave ordinance and a landmark right-to recall ordinance which were designed to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on workers within the City, including leading the development of FAQs and worksite posters to educate and inform employees and employers.
  • Reimagining policing. We helped to develop a proposed Charter amendment that expanded the Oakland Police Commission’s powers and independence; I endorsed the Charter amendment (Measure S1), which passed with overwhelming voter support in November 2020; and we continued to advise and support the Police Commission and the Community Police Review Agency; we also trained Police Commissioners and numerous units of the Police Department.
  • Commitment to transparency. We spearheaded the City’s efforts to be as transparent as possible, particularly in complying with California Senate Bill 1421 which requires disclosure of police officer personnel and police investigatory records: (1) relating to the report, investigation, or findings of an incident regarding an officer-involved shooting or an incident involving the use of force by an officer resulting in death or great bodily injury; (2) relating to an incident involving a sustained finding of sexual assault by an officer involving a member of the public; and (3) relating to an incident involving a sustained finding of dishonesty by an officer directly related to the reporting, investigation, or prosecution of a crime or an investigation of misconduct by another officer. We have reviewed and publishing thousands of SB 1421 records.
  • Fair employment practices. We provided advice to the City Administrator and Personnel Department regarding negotiations with multiple unions, including successfully navigating impasse, factfinding, and mediation procedures in order to ultimately reach agreements.
In advising the City on other matters, we provided legal services to address the full and diverse spectrum of municipal affairs, such as drafting contracts, negotiating real estate transactions, and providing guidance on a wide range of topics (e.g., municipal bonds; city garbage, recycling, utility and other franchises; retirement; benefits; elections; tax; emergency operations, processes, and response; environmental regulatory compliance; constitutional law; ethics and conflicts of interest; and basic operational and risk issues for city offices and departments). Our highlights this year include:

  • Advice on core government services. In 2020, we provided advice on operational, program, and many other matters to numerous City entities, including Finance, Human Services, Parks and Recreation (including managed programs such as the Oakland Zoo, Children’s Fairyland, and golf concessions), Library, Public Works, Transportation, Information Technology, Violence Prevention, Animal Services, and Police and Fire agencies. For each entity, we drafted or reviewed contracts, grant program agreements, resolutions, ordinances, staff agenda reports and pre-litigation claims/disputes, and provided often-daily advice on the many issues that arise in operating the government of a dense and vibrant city.
  • COVID-19 response. My Office led numerous efforts to respond to COVID-19, including advising and assisting in preparing emergency declarations and orders, implementing programs to allow for recreation activities during the pandemic and to provide food distribution, helping manage building and code inspection obligations and protocols, and creating new processes for electronic bidding and signatures. We also took the lead on compliance with complex federal grants and on other state and federal pandemic response funding programs.
  • Open meetings. We staffed and advised City Council and dozens of boards and commissions on open meetings laws, including the California Brown Act and Oakland Sunshine Ordinance, as well as the City Charter and Council Rules of Procedure.
  • Advising boards and commissions. My Office also provided often-daily legal advice to the City’s many boards and commissions, such as the Rent Board and Public Ethics Commission that are responsible for protecting vulnerable Oaklanders and enforcing laws, regulations and policies designed to assure fairness, openness, honesty, and integrity in City government by the City, its elected officials, officers, employees, boards, and commissions.
  • Protecting the physical city. My team advised City Administration on legal issues and proposed legislation related to the City’s infrastructure; public buildings and facilities; code enforcement; transportation, engineering and construction; environment, including sanitary sewers, creeks, watershed and storm water drains, parks, and City landscapes; over one hundred construction professional services contracts for public improvements, garbage collection, recycling and site disposal franchise agreements, streets and sidewalks, and maintenance of the City right of way; encumbrance agreements and access agreements; tree and view ordinances; illegal dumping; homeless encampments; pothole, traffic, bicycle, scooters, and pedestrian programs; and protecting the city from blight and nuisance.
  • Advising the City on homelessness issues and policies as the City faces an increasing housing crisis which has disproportionately impacted Oakland’s Black residents. My Office provided critical advice regarding the City’s policies with respect to homeless encampment management, and regarding the applicable laws and protections for the rights of the unhoused.
  • Developing the City responsibly. My Office led efforts, including negotiating, leases, regulatory compliance, and more, on all legal aspects of the City’s real estate and land use activities, ranging from advising on complex development applications to handling tricky permitting issues; we also advised on the purchase, sale, maintenance, and use of innumerable properties within the City.
  • Cannabis industry. This Office provided critical legal advice in the complex and evolving area of commercial cannabis regulation, including permitting, licensure, regulation, and code enforcement.
In leading or partnering on legislation with City stakeholders:
  • We crafted and co-sponsored amendments to the Tenant Protection Ordinance, Just Cause for Eviction, Rent Adjustment, and related relocation Ordinances that improve protections for tenants facing harassment and provide increased security from eviction.
  • We co-sponsored the 2020 Fair Chance Access to Housing Ordinance, which prohibits landlords from asking for or considering criminal records in rental housing applications, with limited exceptions.
  • We co-sponsored the City’s Emergency Eviction Moratorium, which will remain in effect during the Covid-19 public health emergency.
  • We co-sponsored a Council resolution to endorsing the repeal of Proposition 209, which would have restored the ability to take race and gender into account in public education, public contracting, and public employment. Tragically the measure was defeated in the November 2020 election.
  • We led on several pieces of legislation explicitly dedicated to improving the City’s commitment to justice and equality, including a resolution requiring the City to use gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language in its policies and communications, and a resolution making compliance with the City’s Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance a top priority. 
In defending the City, we sought justice in many forms, ranging from zealously defending progressive City policies to litigating cases through judgment when justice so required. The City Attorney’s Office works strategically and aggressively to limit financial exposure and to seek fair and just resolution of cases and claims. Our highlights from the past year include:

  • Defending Oakland’s Coal Ban. We continued to fight to protect the health and safety of the people of Oakland, and address environmental racism, by keeping coal out of West Oakland’s former army base.
  • Protecting vital City infrastructure. My office defeated litigation that attempted to shift blame for pedestrian negligence to the City for its nearly universal traffic design, which simultaneously has a green light for vehicles and an active pedestrian walk signal.
  • Responding to claims and lawsuits. My office continued to timely respond to claims filed against the City, in areas including municipal infrastructure (streets, sewers, and sidewalks), police matters (conduct, towing, jail, and property damage), and city vehicle accidents. We continued to diligently and justly defend the City against claims and lawsuits. During FY 2019-2020 we justly resolved 74% (nearly three-fourths) of claims and 79% of lawsuits for zero dollars. Less than 1% of claims resulted in payment of more than $25,000. Only 2.6% of lawsuits resulted in payment of more than $100,000.  
In representing the City and the People of the State of California in affirmative cases, we continued to initiate and pursue cutting-edge lawsuits against everyone from local businesses breaking local laws to some of the most powerful companies and entities in our country to hold them accountable for violating the rights of the people of Oakland. Key successes include:

  • Housing justice. We led dozens of cases and investigations under Oakland’s tenant protection laws, intervening to keep numerous tenants in their homes or ensure they were rehoused in safer places, and fighting unscrupulous landlords who commit egregious violations of tenants’ rights by engaging in everything from illegal “self-help” eviction (changing locks, removing belongings, cutting off utilities) to threatening violence.
  • Public health. We continued to prosecute major opioids companies for their lengthy, sophisticated, and deceptive marketing campaign to overstate the benefits of their drugs and downplay their harms and hazards, practices that have gravely injured the people of Oakland, California, and the country; we are headed to trial in this case next month.
  • Federal overreach. We stood up against the Trump Administration in numerous ways, including: (1) leading a lawsuit against the administration’s policy of sending federal agents to progressive cities to quell free speech; (2) joining a coalition of local governments in litigating that lawless administration’s unconstitutional plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census; (3) joining the state and other governments suing over efforts to change California’s political representation and share of federal funding; and (4) authored or joined numerous amicus briefs on issues ranging from harming refugees to Trump Administration efforts to reduce access to reproductive justice.
  • Racial equity. We continued to pursue our federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit against Wells Fargo for their predatory and discriminatory mortgage lending practices against African American and Latinx borrowers in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, winning the right last August to continue to prosecute this important lawsuit.
  • Environmental justice. We took aggressive action to protect our environment, including: (1) working to equitably distribute the benefits of our landmark lead paint settlement requiring that defendant lead paint manufacturers pay $305 million to Oakland and a number of other California cities and counties to abate the nuisance of lead paint that has poisoned tens of thousands of children across California each year; (2) winning a federal appellate court victory in our effort to get the five largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies in the world back into state court so we can prosecute our case against them for the ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise in Oakland caused by the companies’ wrongful promotion of massive amounts of fossil fuels; (3) pushing forward the $550 million settlement of our national coalition case against Monsanto for its contamination of our waterways; and (4) holding people who engage in illegal dumping and other forms of local pollution accountable through administrative and court proceedings.
  • Protecting the City’s investments. We won the longstanding case we were forced to litigate (along with Alameda County and the Joint Powers Authority) when the Golden State Warriors tried to escape the debt they owe us and our partner government entities for renovations to the Oakland-Alameda County Arena – an amount in the range of $40 million+ dollars. The Warriors also must reimburse the City for the $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees that we incurred in defending against the lawsuit and arbitration.
In our efforts to promote justice and equality for all Oaklanders, we engaged in other forms of creative advocacy, including:

  • We launched a new project, the Housing Justice Initiative, to help preserve Oakland residents’ housing, and, among other things, protecting diversity in terms of race, incomes, and professions.
  • We partnered with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to issue FAQs to protect survivors of interpersonal violence during shelter in place orders.
  • And we issued guidance to make sure all Oaklanders were aware that local, state, and federal civil rights protections remained in full force and effect during the COVID-19 pandemic, guidance designed to educate Oakland individuals, businesses, and advocates regarding activities that remain illegal; detail civil rights laws that remain in effect; and explain behaviors considered unlawful, harassing, or discriminatory. 
As we mentioned at the outset, this newsletter highlights some of our work in 2020. This is by no means the majority or universe of our work on behalf of the people of Oakland and our great city. We hope these highlights give you a sense of the scope, depth, and breadth of our work on a daily basis, protecting and advancing the rights of all Oaklanders and providing key advice and counsel on every aspect of our City’s operations, services, and programs. 
Phone (510) 238-3601| Email [email protected] | Home www.oaklandcityattorney.com