Unethical Councilmembers’ Activities with Lobbyists - EBRHA Complaint to Oakland City Mgr
April 10, 2023
Dear Mr. Falk:
I am writing on behalf of East Bay Rental Housing Association’s (EBRHA) 1500 members, primarily small housing providers who own/operate more than 45,000 rental units. Collectively, our members provide homes for over 120,000 residents in Alameda County and Contra Costa County.
We want to register an official complaint about Oakland’s City Council members working with a registered lobbyist and attorney, Leah Simon-Weisberg. It appears that Ms. Simon-Weisberg actively writes Oakland housing legislation for several city council members. The ongoing practice financially benefits the organizations Ms. Simon-Weisberg represents or has an interest in. This breach appears to be a direct violation of the city’s ethics code and rules of conduct and should be addressed immediately. We
are extremely concerned about the lack of the Council’s transparency and flagrant disregard for upholding ethical standards and the public’s trust when engaging in self-dealing activities related to drafting the city’s housing policies.
The state’s Political Reform Act prohibits elected officials and their agents from receiving a financial benefit for themselves, their friends, or their relatives from the action of their office. The City of Oakland has adopted a local ordinance that explicitly prohibits city elected officials from voting on matters in which they or their agents have a financial interest. The lobbyist’s actions constitute a conflict of interest and undermine the public’s confidence in the City Council.
On more than one occasion, members of the public and other municipal leaders informed EBRHA that Ms. Simon-Weisberg may routinely write legislation and ordinances. An example of her involvement in drafting policy includes Councilmember Bas and Kalb’s propose plan to end and “phase out” Oakland’s current Health Emergency Ordinance and Eviction Moratorium. Recently, Ms. Simon-Weisberg also
admitted via social media posts that she engages in authoring housing policy for Oakland. This is alarming because her influence exclusively benefits pro-tenant attorney and legal services groups like the Alliance of California for Community Empowerment (ACCE), where she is Legal Director, and Cento Legal De La Raza, where she is the Directing Attorney.
Additionally, Councilmember Fife has also voted on key housing policy and tenant protection legislation. As Executive Director of ACCE, Ms. Fife did not recuse herself from City Council voting that involved policies relating to tenant protections and rent control legislation in Oakland.
There may be inherent conflicts if Councilmembers Bas, Kalb and Fife allow Ms. Simon-Weisberg to author policy for the city. A central question that EBRHA and other pro-housing organizations have is why and how would Ms. Simon-Weisberg be compensated if she isn’t an employee or paid contractor for Oakland? The housing enforcement policies and laws that she writes are eventually passed by the City
Council. They fuel an industrial legal complex that benefits from the divisions created between renters and property owners and ultimately funded by grants and tax-payer dollars via city contracts. These housing enforcement measures ensure that there is a never-ending stream of city and tax-payer dollars that fund expensive renter-owner resolution and triage. The City of Oakland provides lucrative ongoing program grants to Centro Legal, Eviction Defense Center, East Bay Community Law Center, and Bay Area
Legal Aid. Oakland also contracted with Centro Legal and Eviction Defense (and others) to administer its Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
Additionally, the City Councilmembers’ involvement with the lobbyist’s legislation undermines the public’s trust. It threatens the integrity of our elected officials and the inclusive housing communities they are supposed to support and protect. As such, we believe that the City Administrator is responsible for ensuring that elected officials adhere to the highest ethical standards, and any breach needs to be investigated and addressed immediately.
We request that your office take appropriate steps to ensure that City Councilmembers involved in this ethical breach are held accountable and that any current or future activities the lobbyist engages in are revoked. Additionally, we urge you to take action to ensure that similar financial conflicts of interest are prevented in the future.
Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your response. If you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com or contact me at 510.368.7936.
CC: Ryan Micik, Oakland Public Ethics Commissioner-Chair
Barbara Parker J. Parker, Oakland City Attorney
Courtney Ruby, Oakland City Auditor
Wayne Rowland, EBRHA Board President