California Hotel is raided by City of Oakland

Mitchell Stevens, an eight-year resident, shows off the lobby of his home, the historic California Hotel. Oakland’s deputy fire chief commended the residents for how good the building and grounds look since residents took over management and maintenance after the John Stewart Co. abandoned the building.

Residents have organized and taken over management and maintenance since building was abandoned by property manager John Stewart Co.

by Lynda Carson

Oakland – In what is being described as a blatant show of force meant to intimidate and harass the residents of the California Hotel out of their housing, Oakland cops, the fire department and city building inspectors paid a surprise, unannounced visit to the California Hotel on Monday, July 21, to conduct searches of offices and the rooms of the residents who have refused to move after being threatened with eviction and the shutoff of their gas, water and electricity recently.

The tenants of the California Hotel recently responded to threats of forced relocation by refusing to move after receiving a notice stating that the hotel they reside in may shut down after July 15. In response to threats of having their gas, water and electricity turned off, the tenants filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against Oakland Community Housing, Inc., John Stewart Co., CaHon Associates, Charles Fowlkes, Greg Hyson and Laura Sanborn. The tenants are being represented by attorneys John Murcko of Oakland and Stephen Perelson of Mill Valley. In recent days Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch granted a temporary restraining order to keep the owners of the California Hotel from turning off the utilities.

In a well executed raid, the City of Oakland decided to flex its muscles and show the elderly, disabled and poor residents of the California Hotel that there’s nothing in the world to stop the brute force and power of a corrupt city government from doing anything possible to take back control of the California Hotel from its residents, who have lawfully refused to be illegally forced out of their housing.

At around 10:15 Monday morning, July 21, five squad cars containing eight to 10 cops descended upon the California Hotel. Barely minutes later, Oakland Fire Department Deputy Chief James Edwards, Vincent Crudele of the Fire Code Inspection Services Unit and Rick Fielding plus several of his assistants from the Oakland Building Services Division joined the Oakland cops to conduct a search of the historic hotel, a handsome landmark located at 3501 San Pablo Ave.

The surprise inspection involving multiple Oakland city departments frightened the residents of the California Hotel, and no one from the Building Services Division offered them any explanation as to why it occurred. The residents were repeatedly advised that they needed to contact the City Attorney’s Office if they had any questions about the on-going search taking place floor to floor, in their housing units and the rest of the hotel.

Deputy Fire Chief Edwards was kind enough to advise the residents that his department was there as a follow-up to an earlier inspection and that a report detailing today’s inspection findings would be released at a later date.

The grand old California Hotel welcomed people of color even when other major hotels in both the South and the North practiced segregation. Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff remembers it as a mecca, especially the Black club located there, when he first came to the Bay Area in 1950.

According to eye witness accounts, the interior and exterior of the premises was searched from top to bottom, and the cops went searching floor to floor pounding on the doors of the residents, demanding entry into their homes at the old hotel.

“Everybody was scared. They just came busting in without any warning; no one knew they were coming here today,” said California Hotel resident Otis Blacksheer. “I’ve lived here for two and a half years and never saw anything like this before! The cops and inspectors went door to door to search people’s apartments, and even searched the drawers in the offices of the building. We do not know what the cops or inspectors were looking for, and I did not want to get to close to the cops in case they thought I was dangerous or something,” said Blacksheer.

“This is a lawless town!” attorney John Murcko exclaimed in response to the raid. “They’ve never done an inspection like this before. They’re harassing the tenants! The city knows that it is losing in the courts, and this is a blatant display of force and an abuse of power.

“The tenants have rights, and it’s totally illegal to search the rooms of the tenants without a search warrant or some kind of a notice offered in advance,” he said. “The police, Fire Department and building inspectors have violated the Fourth Amendment, which is supposed to guard against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Dawn Phillips and two others from Just Cause Oakland, a local tenant advocacy group, arrived at the California Hotel earlier today at around 12:30 p.m., shortly before the city inspectors left the premises. “The cops were gone by the time we got here,” said Phillips. “There’s a lack of support for the residents of the California Hotel by city officials.

“Today was a big show of force by the city which seemed very intimidating to all the residents being pressured to move out of the hotel. The tenants are doing their own security and groundskeeping work at the hotel ever since the John Stewart Co. abandoned the tenants and the premises.

“The tenants are organized, and on a daily basis since the John Stewart Co. pulled away from managing the property on July 15, the residents have shown the city and the world that they can fend for themselves and keep the building cleaner than the John Stewart Co. ever could. Every day the tenants sweep and clean the building inside and out, and earlier today Deputy Fire Chief Edwards complimented the residents for the fine work that they have been doing.

“The residents have the right to remain in their housing at the California Hotel,” Phillips declared, “and we hope that the city will come around to supporting their position as time passes as they continue to show everyone that they are willing and able to manage the building themselves.”

“There’s nothing to stop the brute force and power of a city government from doing anything possible to take control of the California Hotel from its residents, who have lawfully refused to be illegally forced out of their housing.”

Ricci Graham, deputy district director and spokesperson for Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office in Oakland, called Monday to complain that I had pointed out the lack of visible support for the residents coming from Congresswoman Lee, who has not appeared at any of their recent rallies. I believe Graham was irritated by a July 20 posting at Oakland Focus (http://tinyurl.com/6fym5p), “Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s Office Said to Be Silent on California Hotel Eviction.”

Graham told me that he was a very important man who had spent many years working for a number of major publications before coming to Congresswoman Lee’s office and that I should have called up Congresswoman Lee’s office to ask what her position was in regards to the plight of the tenants at the California Hotel. Fine, I said, and quickly asked what is the Congresswoman’s position in regards to the plight of the tenants at the California Hotel? We’ll have to get back to you on that later this afternoon, Graham said. I never did hear back from him by phone or e-mail.

John Murcko, one of the attorneys representing the residents, stated that he sent a letter to Congresswoman Barbara Lee in regards to the plight of the residents at the California Hotel but never received a response. When I asked Graham about the lack of response by Congresswoman Lee to Murcko’s letter, Graham stated again that he would get back to me with a reply, but he never did.

In addition to the plight of the tenants at the California Hotel, around 20 families at East Oakland’s Drasnin Manor mixed use affordable housing development at 2530 International Boulevard are also in fear for their future and their housing since the property went into receivership last May after Oakland Community Housing, Inc., (OCHI) defaulted on a $510,000 loan.

The John Stewart Co. (JSC) also officially pulled out of the Marin Way housing complex on May 29 but may have stayed on for an extra month according to documents. Marin Way is located at 2000 International Boulevard, Oakland. A 20-unit property also owned by OCHI, 18 families reside there.

On Aug. 29, JSC plans to end its management contract at the Nueva Vista housing complex at 3700 International Boulevard. Nueva Vista has 30 family units; 24 families currently reside there.

At Slim Jenkins housing complex – 30 family units at 700 Willow – and James Lee Court – 26 family units at 690 15th St. – both of which are also owned by OCHI, JSC’s management contract will end sometime during August.

At the San Antonio Terrace housing complex – 23 family units also owned by OCHI – JSC plans to terminate their management contract on Sept. 30.

All these tenants are at risk of losing their homes once JSC ends the contracts to manage those properties, and many more tenants are at risk at other properties in Oakland owned by OCHI. Documents reveal that altogether over 500 residents may lose their homes due to mismanagement by their landlord, the nonprofit Oakland Community Housing, Inc., a member of East Bay Housing Organizations.

On Wednesday, July 23, at 5 p.m., the residents of the California Hotel at 3501 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland plan to celebrate their first week of resident control by dropping a large banner in front of the hotel that will say, “We Will Not Be Moved.” Just Cause Oakland is asking the community to come out and show their support of the tenants at the California Hotel.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com.