Volume 18, Issue 7 | October 2018
News from Oakland City Attorney
Barbara J. Parker
portrait
Highlights:

  • City Attorney secures major settlement in West Oakland environmental justice case
  • Major Case Updates
  • City Attorney appoints Chief Assistant City Attorney to oversee all litigation
  • City Attorney in the Community

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 major settlement in West Oakland environmental justice case 
Santos truck
I am very pleased to announce that the City Attorney's Office has secured a very important settlement in a lawsuit against an outlaw debris hauling company that discharged dangerous dust into the surrounding neighborhood.

Defendants Santos Engineering, Santos’ owner Moacir Santos, and the property owner (2850 Poplar, LLC) will pay $360,000 plus interest over the next three years. In addition, the settlement prohibits Santos from having a physical business address in Oakland for the next 10 years, and requires that the owner of the warehouse on Poplar Street assess future tenants' proposed use of the space at the outset to make sure it complies with the law.

The City Attorney filed an environmental justice lawsuit against Santos in January 2018 after the company set up an illegal, unpermitted debris hauling operation in the middle of a residential West Oakland neighborhood. The lawsuit charged the defendants with intentionally blowing dust from construction debris into the neighborhood around its warehouse on Poplar Street, allowing contaminated water to flow into the City’s storm water system and operating in open violation of Oakland zoning laws. 

Santos knocked out parts of the warehouse ceiling and installed a huge fan to discharge the dust directly into the surrounding neighborhood, where it coated cars and blew into houses through open windows. Since Santos began operations, families in the neighborhood have complained about medical complications such as persistent coughing, eye/throat irritation and lightheadedness, which they attribute to the dust the business generated.

Santos ignored a court injunction to shut down its operation, and in June the court held the company in contempt on 15 counts.

Photo: a truck full of debris at Santos' warehouse on April 14, almost two weeks after the court ordered the company to cease unpermitted debris hauling operations.

West Oakland, a historically African American neighborhood, has suffered disproportionately from pollution in the air, soil and ground water that has severely impacted the health of West Oaklanders, particularly children. Oakland averages 90 times more diesel pollution than the rest of the state, according to the nonprofit Pacific Institute, and according to the Alameda County Health Department, West Oakland residents' life expectancy is nine years shorter than other Californians' life expectancy due to poor air quality.

 This settlement sends a strong message that Oakland neighborhoods will not be dumping grounds for polluters. Anyone who intentionally contaminates our City will be held accountable. I thank Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Scott Hugo and Deputy City Attorney Malia McPherson for their tireless and enterprising work on this case.

Major Case Updates   
Moor Hotel
Moor Hotel Red Light Abatement Lawsuit

On August 27, the City Attorney's Neighborhood Law Corps filed a lawsuit against the owners of the Moor Hotel, a three-story building on San Pablo Avenue that has become a magnet for drug dealing, prostitution and illegal dumping. In addition, the Moor Hotel poses a serious fire risk to residents and to surrounding buildings. 


The building previously operated as a residential hotel, but has been vacant and unsecured for the past 15 years. Sadly, the property is frequently used for drug sales and use, prostitution and other purposes as evidenced by the needles, bottles, used condoms, lighters, discarded food, waste and graffiti both inside and outside of the building. The building has had the same owners since 1988, and they have failed to maintain or secure the property, creating grave danger and a constant public nuisance in the entire neighborhood.

The City has repeatedly communicated to the owners their responsibilities. Several years ago, the City of San Francisco filed a lawsuit against one of the owners related to violations of building and safety codes at properties the defendant owned in that city. The judge ruled that the defendant was "unable or unwilling" to fix the problems at her San Francisco properties, and appointed a receiver to manage the properties.

The City of Oakland has declared the Moor Hotel a public nuisance and has cited the owners for violations related to trespassing, drug activity and prostitution. The Oakland Fire Department has declared the hotel an "imminent fire hazard," and Oakland police consider it to be a "serious threat to public safety." Neighbors have seen candles burning at night in the windows. The building's severely deteriorated structure exposes large sections of flammable dry wood and gaps where a fire would rapidly spread between the walls and the floors. With no alarms and no sprinkler systems, it could be impossible to contain a fire before it spreads to adjacent buildings.

The City has ordered the owners to abate the dangers and nuisances at the property. The owners have disputed the order and have not corrected any of the violations. Our lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction requiring security and third party management of the hotel, appoint a receiver to take possession of the property and come up with a plan to correct violations, and order the defendants to pay significant civil penalties and other fees.


City Attorney Appeals Ruling in Climate Change Lawsuit

Oakland has appealed the recent dismissal of our climate change lawsuit against the five largest publicly owned fossil fuel companies in the world (“Big Oil”).


The City Attorney's Office filed a notice of appeal on August 24.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup dismissed the lawsuits Oakland and San Francisco filed against the defendant fossil fuel companies to hold them accountable for global warming and sea level rise caused by their products.

The defendant companies – Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell – knew for decades that their products would cause unprecedented global warming and sea level rise. Industry scientists warned the companies as early as the 1970s and 1980s of “severe” and “catastrophic” consequences for life on this planet.

Despite that knowledge, for the last 30 years the companies told the world that climate change is not real, and even if it is, it is not linked to fossil fuels. Our lawsuit forced the companies to admit in court that climate change is a reality. But they nevertheless refuse to accept any responsibility for the damage they caused.

Last year, Oakland and San Francisco sued the defendant companies seeking payment for sea walls and other infrastructure that will be necessary to protect lives and property from sea level rise.

Judge Alsup ruled: “The problem (of global warming) deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.”
Our lawsuit was never about solving global warming in its entirety. Our lawsuit focuses specifically on holding these fossil fuel companies responsible for the costs to the City of Oakland – costs that are directly linked to the companies’ reckless, and under California law, unlawful actions.

We believe our lawsuit presents valid claims under California law. California law is clear that companies cannot lie to their customers about the danger of their products and then walk away with impunity. We are committed to ensuring that the defendants pay the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect Oakland from the ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise they caused.
City Attorney appoints Maria Bee as Chief Assistant City Attorney to oversee all litigation   
Otis-Maria
Some major changes have occurred in the City Attorney's Office.
 
Chief Assistant City Attorney Otis McGee, Jr. left our Office at the beginning of October. Otis joined our Office four and one-half years ago to manage the General & Complex Litigation Division (Defense).
 
I want to once again thank Otis for stepping in to supervise litigation defense. In 2014, Otis joined our Office after 17 years as a Partner and Senior Trial Attorney at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, LLP in San Francisco. During his tenure, our Office has managed, defended and handled a number of high profile and highly complex lawsuits, including civil rights cases related to Occupy Oakland, the lawsuit over the proposed coal terminal and litigation related to the Ghost Ship fire. Otis’ next phase will be as an arbitrator, mediator and investigator.

Photo: Otis McGee and Maria Bee

Effective October 2 nd , Maria Bee was appointed as Chief Assistant City Attorney to oversee all litigation. Maria previously supervised our Affirmative Litigation, Innovation & Enforcement Division. She now oversees both the affirmative and defense litigation divisions.
 
Maria has 25 years of experience practicing law and she has fought to protect the rights of and secure justice for vulnerable populations.
 
This is Maria’s second “tour of duty” in the Oakland City Attorney’s Office. From 2000 to 2006, Maria prosecuted civil hate crimes lawsuits and handled various litigation matters including dangerous conditions of public property, breach of contract and alleged constitutional violations. She handled high profile jury trials including a six-week trial in Bari v. City of Oakland , a Fourth Amendment lawsuit filed by two environmental activists who were arrested after a bomb exploded in their car as they were traveling through Oakland and a wrongful death trial. Other jury trials included allegations of an illegal strip search and false arrest.
 
In 2006, then San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris recruited Maria to serve as a member of her executive management team and to serve as Chief of the District Attorney’s Victim Services Division. As chief of the Division she supervised 26 staff members. The Division provides advocacy and services to crime victims.
 
Maria had previously served as an Assistant District Attorney in the SF District Attorney’s Office, where she tried twenty misdemeanor and felony jury trials and prosecuted a wide range of crimes, including hate crimes, robberies and felony assaults. Examples of high profile cases included one case in which several protestors hit Mayor Willie Brown in the face with pies, and a case in which a man was caught throwing metal rebar from his roof at people on the street below. 
 
In 2014 Maria returned to the City Attorney’s Office as a supervising attorney in the Litigation Division; in 2015 she was promoted to Special Counsel to provide expertise and counsel on a wide range of challenging policy issues, legislation and litigation; and in 2016, she was assigned to head the newly established the Affirmative Litigation, Innovation & Enforcement Division which included the Neighborhood Law Corps, the Community Lawyering & Civil Rights Unit and the Code Enforcement/Rent and Public Safety Unit. 
 
Maria began her legal career as an associate at McCutchen Doyle, Brown & Enerson, where she handled general commercial litigation cases.
 
Maria received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in French History from the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated from UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall to those of us of a certain vintage).
 
She is a member of the Charles Houston Bar Association and she chairs the Alameda County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service committee. Maria also is Chairperson of the Board of Directors of La Casa de Las Madres , an advocacy program for survivors of domestic violence.
 
Maria is a native Oaklander. She graduated from Skyline High School and lives in Oakland near Lake Merritt. Maria enjoys running around Lake Merritt, shopping at the farmer’s market and hiking in the East Bay Regional Parks.
 
I am delighted to welcome Maria to her new role in the City Attorney’s Office.
City Attorney in the Community
NLC Oaktoberfest
On September 29th, the City Attorney’s Office hosted a booth at the 11th Annual Oaktoberfest in the Dimond District.

Oaktoberfest has become a great tradition in Oakland, with local artisans, music and delicious street fair food in addition to the many brewers pouring pints.

Thanks to Mark Forte, our Open Government Coordinator, and Neighborhood Law Corps attorneys Scott Hugo, Jax Harris and Farrah Hussein (photo from left to right) for staffing the City Attorney’s table and representing our Office at the event.  
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