California Set to Give a New Extra-Judicial Eviction Tool to Oakland, Updated with Letter from City Attorney Urging New Eviction Powers

Posted on April 29, 2014

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city councilWhile several patches to Oakland and San Francisco’s tenant rent laws have made the news over the past weeks—notably, the flawed and insufficient Capital Improvements modifying legislation in Oakland, and increases in minimums of Ellis Act Eviction buy outs in San Francisco—there has been more than one potentially catastrophic piece of extra-judicial anti-tenant legislation inching through the sausage making machines in Oakland and the state houses.

Most recently,  AB1513, which passed the Judicial Committee today and heads to the House, will give landlords new abilities to kick out non-leasing holding tenants that would have formerly enjoyed substantial legal protections. All a landlord would have to do to evict tenants under AB1513 is to file an affidavit to the DA, which would generate a three day eviction order.

Not as extensive, but perhaps more troubling—at least because of the enthusiastic participation of City Council and City Attorney in helping craft the legislation—is AB 2310. AB 2310 is a state bill meant to put back into law a lapsed pilot program that, for a short time, gave cities the extra-judicial power to evict based on arrests for illegal weapon and ammunition possession.

Oakland already has city code, 8.23.100, allowing the city attorney to force landlords to evict based solely on arrest and/or “evidence” or other reports—evidence it is not legally required to share with the landlord or tenant. Moreover, landlords themselves can initiate the process by filing a report themselves. This is all bad enough. No one seems to know how many evictions have occurred in Oakland based on 8.23.100– circumventing all tenant laws on the books, based on hearsay, and in the best case scenario, a police report. Though I intend to have more on that soon.

But this latest step captures the kind of lawless and racist behavior that has characterized the city’s wedded response to both gentrification and violence in Oakland. When the pilot program returned as a bill aiming for a permanent law at the state level, the city attorney and the city council introduced a resolution pleading with the the state government to specifically include Oakland [and no other Alameda County city], alongside San Diego and Los Angeles. The city resolution supporting AB 2310 was passed unanimously without comment or discussion by the City Council in just over three minutes.

Despite their best efforts, however, Oakland was, at some point, dropped from the language of the bill. That’s when a lobbying firm working for the city—Townsend Public Affairs—picked up the ball on Oakland’s behalf. TPA, which was given a no-bid contract to represent the city at the Federal and State level in January, successfully returned Oakland to the bill’s language last week, according to public documents, by lobbying the office of California Assembly Member Ridgely Thomas. Some of the email exchanges between Parker and Niccolo de Luca, a TPA lobbyist, are disturbing and revealing.

De Luca, a former Oakland staffer, mentions the Chief of Staff of Assembly Member Ridgley Thomas specifically cautioning against including Oakland because of fears of gentrification:

“The Chief of Staff also mentioned potential concerns that this law could be used to clear out buildings that then become gentrified. I explained to him” writes Niccolo, “…Oakland is very pro-tenant.”

The email stream between Townsend and Parker’s office goes on to explain a disturbing “caveat” that the Chief of Staff also added to Oakland’s Faustian lobbying efforts:

“Here is the only caveat; we will need to use this tool as they will be keeping annual data and if we don’t use it, and they see that, we won’t have much empathy…just passing this on.” Parker replies to Niccolo, “I understand the caveat”.

As I wrote, the city has for some time had the power to force landlords to evict, or to evict on behalf of landlords, tenants simply accused of drug crimes [and non-crimes]. Not even a police report is necessary, apparently. Not content with that, the city is now lobbying, cavalierly, for a new panoply of potential baseless accusations that seem to require an even lower standard of evidence—just the suspicion of possessing illegal weapons, based apparently on evidence the city needn’t show the tenant.

The factors that indicate the potential abuse for such a law seem manifest: a city government desperate to convince newer, whiter and affluent residents entering poor and of color communities that they are “tough on violence and crime”; landlords eager to get rid of Black and Latino tenants who frighten new whiter tenants and neighbors; and a “caveat” that the city must “use it” or “lose it” which would seem to be a admonishment to ramp up extra-judicial evictions.

The city understands the caveat very well. As residents of Oakland we should too.

 

Update:

As part of the request for information pursuant to the city’s communication with the state about this new eviction power, this letter was just released from the office of City Attorney Barbara Parker. In it, Parker requests that the city of Oakland be included in AB2310, and dismisses Assembly Member Ridley-Thomas’ apparent concern that the city would use the law as a way of disenfranchising vulnerable tenants. Parker replies that the city’s Just Cause Eviction ordinance would prevent any abuse of 2310.

While I’m not an expert on the city’s Just Cause law, the ordinance seems to explicitly exclude the kinds of evictions Parker is talking about under the city’s own nuisance ordinance and the state bill. The problem that the state may be foreseeing is that the law itself, as well as the city’s law, require a very low standard of evidence, requiring only an arrest report [or perhaps even the accusation, still not clear], not a conviction. Thus Parker seems to have deliberately misrepresented the potential impact of the state law, which would allow landlords and the city itself to circumvent the Just Cause Eviction ordinance.

It’s not surprising that Ridley-Thomas apparently voiced concern about how the law would be used, given that Oakland is becoming known as the new ground zero for affluence-related displacement in Northern California. People should be outraged that at a time of increased scrutiny on fair and affordable housing, the city attorney’s office is seeking new means of extra-judicial eviction based on flimsy evidence, whether on public safety grounds or not.

 

 

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