September 2015 Volume 15, Issue 5
Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker 
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In our monthly newsletter, we provide important information about the work of the Oakland City Attorney's Office, plus updates on legal issues and matters that impact Oakland residents and businesses.

 

This issue: Oakland City Attorney sues Wells Fargo for damages caused by predatory lending; responding to shootings in Oakland and Oregon; updates on major cases and legal matters; and as always, City Attorney in the Community.


 

I look forward to your questions and comments about the work we are doing on behalf of the people of Oakland.

 

 

 Barbara J. Parker
 Oakland City Attorney
Oakland Sues Wells Fargo for Damages Caused by Predatory and Racially Discriminatory Lending
  
On September 21 I filed a federal lawsuit against Wells Fargo, the nation's largest mortgage lender, to recover damages caused by the bank's widespread predatory and discriminatory lending in Oakland.

The lawsuit charges Wells Fargo with targeting African American and Hispanic borrowers, including minority churches and congregations, for predatory mortgage loans in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act. Evidence shows that Wells Fargo issued more expensive and higher risk loans to minority borrowers despite the fact that they qualified for more favorable loans that the bank regularly issued to white borrowers.

The bank's discriminatory conduct devastated individuals and communities, increasing poverty and wiping out or drastically reducing wealth for minority communities while bankers prospered.  Wells Fargo and other banks knew when they issued predatory loans that many of them would result in foreclosure. None of the responsible bankers have been held personally accountable in any meaningful manner, and the leaders of these institutions earned millions of dollars generated in part by issuing toxic loans to minorities.

We will not tolerate this activity and we are working with other municipalities to stop this unconscionable behavior.
 
The lawsuit asks the Court to order Wells Fargo to cease its discriminatory practices and compensate the City of Oakland for the great financial harm the foreclosure crisis caused the City and its residents. In addition to losing millions in tax revenues, which necessitated police layoffs and other cuts in vital City services such as park and library services and street and sidewalk maintenance, the bank's predatory actions saddled the City and its taxpayers with the massive costs of addressing blight, vandalism and crime associated with foreclosed properties.
 
The U.S. Department of Justice and the cities of Los Angeles, Miami and Miami Gardens previously filed similar lawsuits against the same banks. The City of Oakland joins the growing list of municipalities that are committed to holding mortgage lenders accountable for the devastating consequences of their continuing pattern and practice of issuing predatory and discriminatory loans to minority residents.
 
Oakland understands the importance of having a viable banking presence within the City and supports responsible financial institutions, but we will not tolerate abusive and unlawful treatment - nor can we accept the resulting damage to the City's finances and to the health and welfare of our residents.
 
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Tragedy in Oakland and Oregon
                         
Once again, all of us are trying to process news of yet another mass shooting, this time in Roseburg, Oregon.
 
Another heavily armed, angry and likely deranged young man made an incomprehensible decision to murder total strangers on a school campus.
 
Was there any motive? A desperate attempt to feel powerful? An expression of mental illness that has no rational explanation? Is it just an act of evil? Or a combination of these things?
 
We have a hard time understanding the "why" of these tragedies. But we do know the "how." The New York Times reported that the murderer was armed with six guns during the rampage, and had many other guns at home.  
 
We experienced the same kind of tragedy in Oakland in 2012, when a former student shot and killed seven people at Oikos University. 
 
As horrific as mass shootings are, the number of people killed in these crimes in Oregon and Oakland is dwarfed by the number killed in individual shootings on the streets of our dear city every year. On September 30, the day before the shooting in Oregon, an artist working on a mural under a freeway overpass on West Street was shot and killed. Artist Antonio Ramos was one of four people killed in a matter of days in separate incidents in Oakland. We have had 73 homicides so far this year, most of them committed with firearms.

I wholeheartedly agree with President Obama's moving remarks about the Oregon shooting. As a nation we have become numb in some ways to these horrific events. But if we are numb to mass shootings, we are practically oblivious to the thousands of Americans who are killed by guns every single day in our country, including dozens every year in Oakland, almost all young men of color.

According to CNN, in the last decade, 406,496 people have been killed by guns in America. As CNN put it, for every American killed by terrorism in the U.S. and around the world, more than 1,000 died from firearms inside the U.S. during the most recent decade.

It is worth quoting the President at length about our lack of a response to this massive loss of life: "When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.  When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities.  We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives.  So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn't make sense."
 
I support the handgun bans that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in Washington, D.C. and Chicago in 5-4 decisions in 2008 and 2010, respectively. In fact, the City of Oakland signed on to amicus briefs in the federal courts of appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to uphold those bans. Sadly, the Supreme Court struck them down. 

But even in the current legal context, there still are plenty of smart ideas for regulating firearms without "infringing" on gun ownership. Some common sense regulations: universal background checks and licensing for all gun purchases; a federal law mandating reporting of lost and stolen firearms to prevent straw sales to criminals; raising the legal age for buying a gun to 21; a renewed "assault weapons" ban to limit the sale to civilians of weapons made for no other purpose than to kill large numbers of human beings in the shortest possible time in war.
 
We also must deal with the "why": hopelessness, poverty, lack of opportunity, discrimination, untreated mental illness and fetishization of guns in our national psyche, to name a few factors.
 
I am heartbroken today for families in Oakland, Oregon and elsewhere. The task before us seems almost impossible. If you want to make a difference now, please support the Attitudinal Healing Connection, a local group that supports art and education to break the cycle of violence in Oakland. The AHC is organizing mural projects in Oakland, including the one on West Street that Mr. Ramos was working on when he was killed.    

Candles on West Street where artist Antonio Ramos was killed Sept. 30.   

Major Cases & Legal Matters

Alliance Recycling Center in West Oakland
 
Alliance Recycling at 3426 Peralta Street has been a consistent nuisance to neighbors since it opened in the 1980s.

Neighbors say Alliance accepts stolen metal, encouraging theft of fences, construction materials and other items in the area, and that the thieves use the money they get from Alliance to buy drugs in the park across the street. Blight and trash have been constant problems.

The business has operated under a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) that it originally obtained decades ago.

Since 2014, my Office has been working with the City Administrator's Office to address complaints about the business. After many notices and warnings, a few months ago the City issued citations for more than 40 violations to the business for a total of about $17,000 in fines.

I am very pleased to announce that during our negotiations, Alliance agreed to give up its CUP and close its doors by August 20, 2016. If the business remains open after that date, Alliance will owe the City $1,000 per day until it closes.

Because Alliance is giving up its CUP, no other recycling business will be allowed to open at that location.

I believe this is a good outcome for neighbors in West Oakland whose quality of life has suffered as a result of this nuisance activity.   

City Attorney in the Community
                         
East Bay Women's Political Caucus' Celebration of Women Mayors
 
On September 20, there was a wonderful turnout at the East Bay Women's Political Caucus celebration of women mayors at Downtown Wine Merchants. Alameda County has 14 mayors and seven (50%) are women. Board Chairperson Frieda Edgette moderated an illuminating panel of mayors who discussed their paths to office, what has surprised them and what has inspired them, among other questions. Thanks to the EBWPC for hosting this event!
 
From left to right: Emeryville Mayor Ruth Atkin, Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday, Piedmont Mayor Margaret Fujioka, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker & EBWPC Board Chairperson Frieda Edgette
 
Fourth Annual Delilah Beasley Tea Celebrating Phenomenal Women of Oakland: Past, Present & Future
 
On September 27, I was delighted to co-host the Fourth Annual Delilah Beasley Tea, an event organized by Progressive Oakland Women Empowering Reform (POWER).
 
POWER started this annual event at Mills College to "celebrate contemporary Oakland women whose vision and leadership inspire, transform and empower our communities." The event, which is held during Women's History Month, is named in honor of journalist, author and activist Delilah Beasley (1871-1934). Ms. Beasley was an Oakland Tribune columnist, the first African American woman published regularly in a major newspaper, and author of "The Negro Trailblazers of California," a groundbreaking chronicle of California Black History throughout the 1800s. She began her over-50-year journalism career writing short pieces for a Black Ohio newspaper called the Cleveland Gazette. Ms. Beasley tirelessly fought for integration at every level of civil and social life, including helping to spearhead California's first anti-lynching bill. 
 
This year, the annual event honored Arabella Martinez, Interim CEO of the Latino Community Foundation in San Francisco and retired CEO of the Unity Council in Oakland. Martinez was a founder of the Unity Council and was instrumental in construction of the $100 million Fruitvale Transit Village in Oakland. In the 1970s she served as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Human Development Services under President Jimmy Carter, and was the first Latina ever to be appointed to a sub-cabinet level position.
 
I was honored to be a co-host of this moving event. I commend POWER and look forward to many more fantastic events recognizing the contributions of trailblazing women like Ms. Martinez. 
 

Phone: (510) 238-3601

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