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SHAME ON OAKLAND: STOP Suing Small Property Owners To Publicly TAKE Their Properties!

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Together, we must stop corruption and prevent Oakland from taking private properties from earnest, hardworking families.

In 2015, the City of Oakland in California used the legal system to publicly take Empyrean Towers, a 99 unit building in downtown Oakland, from Alice Tse and her mother, in the name housing for impoverished Oakland residents. 

The building was previously named the Menlo Hotel and suffered from a tainted history of abuse by its former owner. Alice’s mother purchased the building in 2011 and Alice served as the building’s manager.  Alice gradually restored the property over a course of 4 years.  In 2012 and 2013, the building was vibrant with law abiding tenants, and participated in the festive Oakland First Friday events.  In 2014, the Empyrean began housing SRO (Single-Room-Occupancy) tenants, consisting of transient weekly renters who move in and out of the residential property.

In July 2014, 30 minutes after a serving Notice to Pay Rent on nonpaying weekly renters, an unidentified individual set fire to the Empyrean building. Soon after, the Oakland based organization, Eviction Defense Center (EDC), along with City Attorney Melosa Granda, began passing out flyers from door to door inside the Empyrean asking tenants to "create" complaints records at the Oakland Building Department and to go on a "rent strike".  Subsequently, KTVU Channel 2 news interviewed nonpaying tenants and obtained footage of substandard housing conditions inside their units.  However, KTVU failed to mention these tenants interviewed were in direct non-compliance with their rental agreement and had not paid rent for months by the time of their interview.

During the media coverage carried out by KTVU, Oakland City Inspector Eugene Martinelli consistently reopened violations after repairs were made to items within the building. In May 2015, a tenant with a criminal record tainted his own faucet with feces, which led to a water contamination hoax and resulted in a building-wide emergency evacuation televised by KTVU. The City of Oakland could not justify a forceful takeover of the property as Alice repeatedly cooperated with abating violations.  City Attorney Richard Illgen resorted to dishonest proceedings while in court, stating more than a hundred people had become sick from drinking Oakland city water, which supposedly the Empyrean Towers single-handedly tainted. This proved to be false information, however it allowed a court-appointed Receiver, an individual meant to manage and maintain custody of a property during a legal dispute, to assume power the same day and effectively forced the owner family out of their own building.  The Receiver, Mark Adams based out of Beverly Hills, California, did not apply due diligence and subjected the building to additional neglect while stripping the owner’s equity in the building. As a result, the building was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2015. 

In March 2016, the Mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, publicly appeared in court with her councilmen to apply pressure on the Bankruptcy Judge, Judge Efremsky, to approve an affordable housing group, Resources for Community Development (RCD), an option to buy the Empyrean Towers for $4.5 million, when other bidders offered $5.5 million. In March 2017, RCD finally purchased the building now worth almost $7 million for $4.8 million using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s federal money.  RCD and the City of Oakland created a housing project costing $20 million of federal and state funds from tax payers, utilizing the property the Empyrean Towers stood on. 

Most egregiously, Oakland has now turned to Alice’s elderly mother in order to get to her last few properties in her retirement. 

The professional tenants are just tools used by Oakland and EDC to take from private property owners, in the name of better housing for the poor.  However, the same tenants who haven’t paid rent for years are now facing eviction by new owner RCD.  In May 2017, these tenants filed new lawsuits alleging the same inhabitable conditions against the Receiver who took over the building management from the Alice 2 years ago.  

The Empyrean lawsuit was created by the City Attorney of Oakland.  The water contamination was a HOAX that allowed Oakland to publicly take the Empyrean from Alice’s mother. Oakland lost face big time in their Ghost Ship Scandal.  Now they found scapegoats in a hardworking family who has already been forced out of their own building 2 years ago.  On top of all that, Oakland wants to take an elderly to the cleaners by taking everything that the mother owns.  What gives?

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