Oakland Building Services
The report includes a lengthy and extremely harsh indictment of Oakland’s Building Services division (PDF):
Building Services’ code enforcement inspectors have aggressively pursued blight and sub-standard properties throughout Oakland as determined by their individual interpretations of the applicable city code. This has led to an inconsistent enforcement program backed by inspectors’ threats of filing large liens on the offering properties. This creates an institutional reluctance to lend on these properties and reluctance by property owners to improve their properties.
The Grand Jury found that property owners complained that it is extremely difficult to understand the process for appealing a citation, or to resolve issues with Building Services inspectors. Testimony confirmed there are no standard operating manuals or guidelines for Building Services inspectors. Property owners were frustrated by their inability to speak with inspectors who are only available for short periods of time on an irregular schedule.
The Grand Jury found an atmosphere of hostility and intimidation toward property owners within the Building Services division. When property owners complained, they were sometimes threatened with more fines or, in one case, even loss of their home. Some inspectors inappropriately used their law enforcement authority and their city-issued badges to intimidate property owners. Therefore, the Grand Jury believes that the city of Oakland should reevaluate its policy of granting law enforcement authority and related badges to building inspectors.
The Grand Jury is appalled by the actions of the city of Oakland’s Building Services Division and its impact on property owners of Oakland. The significant contradictions between the testimony of Building Services employees and the testimony of property owners and contractors are disturbing. The division’s practices and its treatment of property owners appear to be a direct reflection of poor management, lack of leadership, and ambiguous policies and procedures.
Their examples make Oakland look pretty bad. Here’s one they give as an illustration of excessive fees. The property was cited for trash and debris:
“Trash and debris, blight” turned out to be children’s toys in the yard. This resulted in fees/fines of over $18k and having to demolish a garage converted to an indoor/outdoor recreation room that had been approved more than 20 years earlier.
Another example, which they cite as “egregious abuse of authority”:
Building inspectors had a warrant for entry to premises for inspection only (not to remove items); they removed and disposed of EVERYTHING in the house and had animal control take the property owner’s dog. Subsequently the city recorded a lien for $30k.
A study of regional emergency communications (PDF), focused mostly on the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority (EBRCSA), a joint powers authority whose goal it is to provide interoperability of radio systems throughout Alameda County and Contra Costa County, in order to allow for coordinated response during disasters, raised some serious concerns about Oakland’s ongoing radio issues:
Focusing on the question of why the city of Oakland has not joined EBRSCA, the current Grand Jury interviewed public safety officials from Oakland and EBRSCA.
Unfortunately, based on our research, the current Grand Jury concludes that the goals of cooperation and interoperability are far from being achieved, and progress towards regional interoperability between the city of Oakland and EBRSCA is at a standstill. The delay in finding a joint solution for this issue leaves the lives of officers and the public in continued jeopardy.
While investigating interoperability, the Grand Jury became aware of persistent radio communication problems within the city of Oakland (internal operability problems). The Grand Jury requested and received copies of reports of radio problems submitted by police personnel over the past year including reports of dead spots and radio failures. The sheer volume of reported problems from these reports, the CTA study, and from witness testimony can only be described as shocking.
Parking citation system
Not all the news about Oakland was bad. The Grand Jury appeared pleased with the results of an investigation of Oakland’s new parking citation system (PDF), although they had a few recommendations for improvements:
While the new system may not solve all parking citation problems, the Grand Jury is pleased that the city of Oakland’s Parking Bureau is keeping up with new technology. To make the system more effective, it would be valuable to have 100% of those issuing tickets use this electronic system. The Parking Bureau should track performance of the new system carefully to document strengths and weaknesses, continue to train staff on its use, and make adjustments as necessary.
Download the full report here (PDF). It makes for some pretty interesting reading.