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Oakland City Council reconvenes, hears complaints

on September 21, 2011

Councilmembers Jane Brunner and Ignacio De La Fuente discuss a motion introduced by Brunner that would change the Building Services department.

One after another, Oakland residents approached the City Council podium Tuesday night to share their horror stories in dealing with the Building Services Department, part of the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency.

One man complained that his parents were ordered to undergo $181,000 in fixes for a house worth $100,000. Another said he had been cited for an illegal concrete floor that didn’t exist. An 86-year-old woman had her home foreclosed, she said, and bulldozed because of blight.

“We know (CEDA) are bad actors,” said Joe Russack, who found there was no appeals process after he was denied an extension to fix his West Oakland property. “I hate to say it to the council, but you know they’re bad actors. You’ve heard these stories.”

The council, back from its summer recess, convened Tuesday for the first time since July. The meeting lasted more than six hours and featured a loud and impassioned audience that interrupted the meeting with applause or comments. One speaker was removed from the council chambers after Council President Larry Reid (District 7) directed police officers to do so.

The anger and passion were mainly directed at two items on the agenda – more local jobs for the Oakland Army Base development project; and how the council would respond to the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury’s report of systematic problems with the Building Services Division.

In July, the grand jury released a scathing report on the Building Services Division that found numerous problems with the organization, including a lack of process – owners often aren’t notified of possible violations, liens are imposed before there is an opportunity to appeal, and penalties imposed don’t fit the improvements needed. “There is a perception by property owners that the fees are simply a way to generate funds for the city without regard for the residents’ due process,” the report said.

After listening to the heated stream of complaints – which included speakers yelling and pointing at councilmembers – the council responded to the report for the first time.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (At-large) said the Building Services Division has “systematic problems.” Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) called for an independent investigation. Patricia Kernighan (District 2) said residents’ complaints were “truly shocking” and “worse than I could have imagined.”

“The department needs to be redesigned, the processes need to be redesigned, the fee structure needs to be rethought,” Kernighan said. “It’s worth talking about starting from ground zero.”

Jane Brunner (District 1) introduced a motion that included recommendations to create an appeals process with a non-Building Services Division officer, conduct hearings for any house that has been demolished in the past five years, and order that any property owners who address blight and pay the original fine in the next month will have any additional penalties forgiven and liens on the property removed. “Listening to all of you, it’s heartbreaking,” Brunner said.

Councilmember Nancy Nadel (District 3) added that an independent investigation should be conducted by a task force appointed by Reid and the appeals process needs to be fixed. Applause rang through the council chambers when the resolution passed unanimously.

The council spent the bulk of the rest of the evening discussing the Oakland Army Base project, and how to get more Oakland residents working on the project. Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6) raised concerns that the firms contracted to work on the project weren’t from Oakland and weren’t living up to their end of the deal to hire Oakland residents. Last week, Brooks led a “we want jobs” chant before a Public Safety Committee meeting, and demanded that any contractor for the project hire at least one-third of the workforce from Oakland.

“This is a project that should be transformative,” Brooks said. “We should not just have buildings built at the end of the day, but that we should have transformed this community.”


  1. Neils on September 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Who are they trying to kidd? The property owners want to take over the city and City Council folds like paper cup. Enforce the laws, the property owners are making a grab for public land that hasn’t been seen since the Oklahoma Land Rush. Renters unite!

    • LeavingOakland on September 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      Wow… Just wow. I think I will tell my dad, AGAIN, to sell his wonderfully maintained rental property in Oakland to a slumlord. Bust your butt to maintain a great property for your tenants, get harassed by the city for work you never did, and this is the freaking thanks you get? Screw you Oakland!

      • Neils on September 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm

        “get harassed by the city for work you never did”

        You mean work your tenants did?

  2. DrTerence Candell on September 21, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    The city council doesn’t get it. I, personally led the charge, beginning more than two years ago, directly advising the Council and now Mayor Quan of the atrocities being committed by OCEDA against the citizens of Oakland. They ignored me. My constituents advised them of the attrocities and personal experiences. They ignored them. Now that we’ve finally had a Grand Jury investigation headlining in the newspaper, more than two years later, they want to act concerned. A City Council that ignores the people, barring a photo op should be recalled. Last night, the people circulated a recall petition. If you are tired of the abuse or just tired of being ignored, sign it.

    • LeavingOakland on September 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      I totally felt the same way Tuesday night. Ignored. Again. What else is new. I hate this city…

  3. Gwillym Martin on September 22, 2011 at 12:00 am

    If you have been a victim of CEDA, Oakland Building Services Code Enforcement please see the Terrorized by CEDA facebook page and click like.
    You can also find many resources at

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