March Newsletter:

News from Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker

·     Information/resources about the COVID-19 pandemic and City Attorney’s Office operations during the local emergency.

·     City Council unanimously adopts Eviction Moratorium Emergency Ordinance co-sponsored by the City Attorney.

·     City Attorney calls upon Alameda County’s Sheriff and Chief Probation Officer to do more to reduce detention population, protect the health and lives of youth and adults who remain detained during the spread of the virus, and lessen the financial burden on detained individuals and their families during this public health emergency.

Dear Friends and Fellow Oaklanders:

City Hall, including the City Attorney’s Office, is closed until at least May 3. Like many of you, we are conducting business from our homes. As you know, California is under a statewide shelter in place order to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and preserve critical health care capacity. Alameda County issued a similar order several days before the Governor’s order (read the County’s updated order); and Oakland’s Interim City Administrator has proclaimed a local emergency and issued orders that suspend a number of local laws, policies and procedures during the emergency so that the City can continue business in a manner that is feasible given the shelter in place orders and social distancing guidelines.

One example: On Friday, March 27, the City Council held its open and closed session meetings exclusively via audio teleconference. Members of the public were able to listen to the open session portion of the closed session and to the entire public session; and they were able to speak on the agenda items during the meeting and make comments during open forum.

These are unprecedented times and we are witnessing rapidly evolving circumstances. The City of Oakland website provides updates on a regular basis.

The City Attorney’s Office has established the following temporary policies and procedures during the local emergency:

1. City Hall and our Office are Closed – Because the City Attorney’s Office (along with City Hall) is closed until at least May 3, 2020, we ask that you file claims and serve lawsuits by email to the addresses provided below.

2. The City Attorney’s Office Has Extended the Claim-Filing Deadline –

On March 21, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-35-20 extending the deadline to present claims by 60 days. My Office established a similar policy in for the City of Oakland on March 17. This means that the days between March 17, 2020 and the day after the Governor terminates his order will not be counted in determining the deadline to present a timely claim under Government Code sections 905, 910, and 911.  If you decide to file a claim during this period, please email the claim to: claims@oaklandcityattorney.org.

3. City Attorney’s Office is Accepting Service of Lawsuits by Email – From March 17, 2020 through May 3, 2020, the City Attorney’s Office is accepting service of lawsuits against the City of Oakland by email at: claims@oaklandcityattorney.org.  Service by email will be treated as service by hand-delivery. This temporary policy does not apply to service of lawsuits against individually named City employees.     

Between March 17, 2020 and May 3, 2020, the City Attorney’s Office will have limited access to hard copies of documents you send to the City Attorney’s Office by U.S. mail, or other mailing services.

Note: These policies are subject to change from day-to-day based on new information from or action by the State of California or the County of Alameda or the City of Oakland. Please check our website for updates.

Resources

For the most current information about the virus, how to stay healthy, and how East Bay communities are responding, please go to the Alameda County Public Health Department’s website: http://www.acphd.org/2019-ncov.aspx.

Updates from the City of Oakland can be found here: https://www.oaklandca.gov/resources/updates-on-covid-19-outbreak

Updated from the California Department of Public Health can be found here: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/ncov2019.aspx

On March 27th City Council unanimously adopted an Eviction Moratorium Emergency Ordinance

On March 27, the Oakland City Council unanimously adopted an Eviction Moratorium Emergency Ordinance co-sponsored by Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Dan Kalb and City Attorney Parker to protect residential, small business and non-profit renters during this crisis.

For residential tenants who are subject to the City’s Just Cause for Eviction ordinance, the emergency ordinance provides an absolute defense to eviction lawsuits served during the local emergency, except when a tenant poses an imminent threat to the health or safety of other occupants. Even after the local emergency, the ordinance prohibits landlords from evicting tenants or imposing late fees for rent that became due during the local emergency if the tenant was unable to pay because of a substantial decrease in income or increase in expenses related to the pandemic. The unpaid rent is still owed and may be collected as any other debt, but it is not grounds for eviction.  

The ordinance also prohibits the eviction of small businesses and non-profits that are unable to pay rent during the local emergency due to a substantial decrease in income related to the pandemic until May 31. Rent increases also are limited during this time for tenants in properties covered by Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Ordinance. Nothing in the ordinance relieves tenants of the obligation to pay rent.

Please read the ordinance for details.

On Friday, March 27th, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a more limited statewide order delaying evictions until May 31 for tenants who give notice that they are unable to pay rent for reasons related to COVID-19. The Governor also announced an agreement with some banks that provides a 90-day grace period for mortgage payments (one month for Bank of America loans). Oakland’s ordinance also urges state and federal leaders to work with financial institutions on mortgage relief for property owners.

Many thanks to Supervising Deputy City Attorney Laura Lane and everyone else in my Office who burned the midnight oil to perform the legal research and drafting of this critical ordinance.

In Brief

In March, I asked Alameda County’s Sheriff and Chief Probation Officer to do more to reduce the County’s detention population, protect the health and lives of youth and adults who remain detained during the spread of the virus, and lessen the financial burden on detained individuals and their families during this public health emergency.

Read the letter

My letter acknowledges that the County has released a number of detainees. However, it also expresses my grave concern that the health, safety and lives of people who are being held at the County’s detention facilities (the Juvenile Justice Center and the Santa Rita Jail) as well as their families and our community are in jeopardy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We already have witnessed outbreaks of COVID-19 in jails across our country, and an outbreak locally could have devastating and life-threatening consequences for inmates and staff at County facilities.

To address these dire circumstances, I recommended nine very basic measures that can be implemented, such as evaluating at-risk inmates, including older inmates, to determine if they can be released early, and ensuring that both adult and juvenile inmates have access to soap, hand sanitizer and other products to prevent infection.

The Sheriff’ responded as follows: “I am busy with our operations center trying to do our very best to protect and mitigate this emergency. I do not have time to address your listed issues. Thank you, but I hope you can focus on your city while I focus on the protection of our community.”

It is a well-known fact that the City of Oakland is the largest city in Alameda County and many of the people who are held in County detention centers are Oaklandlers, as are their families, and the employees who work in the centers and their families.  

I again urge the Sheriff and Chief Probation Officer to consider the measures I outlined in my letter consistent with the spirit in which I made them: as a good faith effort for all of us to work together to protect our community and save lives during this crisis. It bears repeating that due to systemic racism, the legacy of enslavement of Africans and the laws that perpetuated racial discrimination for more than a century after abolition, our criminal justice system cites, arrests, charges, detains, prosecutes, convicts and incarcerates a grossly disproportionate number of African Americans. We must do all that we can to ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic does not further aggravate these injustices.  

Also, this month we filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in California Trucking Association v. Becerra to help ensure workers receive the benefits they are entitled to under California law. 

During any crisis, it’s important that we keep informed, stay safe and offer others assistance or help. These are unsettling times, the times that try our souls. But we the people of Oakland and our city are resilient. As we face uncharted waters and challenges at many, many levels and on so many fronts, I am confident that we will survive and recover.  I am thinking of you and I wish you well.

Barbara J. Parker, Oakland City Attorney