The Alameda DA’s show trial of four squatters continues and the stakes are high for them and for community activists across the country. Even though it’s not widely known, squatting is a time-honored method, legally enshrined in California law, for the disenfranchised to take over long abandoned properties, of which there are many in the Bay Area. Squatting actually is one creative way of addressing the local housing crisis and the group Land-Action (Land-Action.org) has been at the forefront of this movement where they have looked for properties long abandoned and whose owners cannot be located. They occupy the property, fix it up, and eventually, legally, take ownership.
However, the Alameda DA has taken a special interest in this recent case because it turns out a relative of the property owner works in the DA’s office. The owner had neglected the property for years to the point it was literally falling down and she hadn’t paid taxes in five years so it was about to go up for tax sale where speculators usually scoop them up’ flip them, and make them even less affordable for the average person. instead of the usual misdemeanor charges such a case has typically warranted, the DA has charged the Land-Action squatters with “Conspiracy to Trespass”, a felony, and a tactic used more and more by law enforcement to quash dissent and protests. There is speculation that the real estate industry is also behind the DA’s attack because they don’t want anyone getting in the way of their incredibly lucrative flipping of bargain basement, tax sale properties.
The Land Action 4, as they have been dubbed, face up to 8.5 years in prison and huge fines. They have a fine legal team which has stepped in to defend them including legendary Defense Attorney Tony Serra, but that is no guarantee of victory when the system has aligned itself against them. Please help pack the courthouse in Oakland on Friday, May 20 and make a donation if you can for their defense fees. There is also a press conference on Tuesday, May 17 with more details about the case and locations are in the press release I’ve tacked on to this e-mail below.
Please support these courageous activists any way you can, even if it’s just sending this e-mail along to your friends, putting it on facebook, etc. Let’s not allow the DA to get away with this blatant attempt to bend the legal system for her own political interests and those of corporate real estate!
General info about Land-Action and to donate:
If you can print out fliers and distribute them that would be great – here are several press releases and fliers:
Pre Trial Hearing for the Land Action 4: Motion to Dismiss
March 31, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Angeles Gottheil firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Xu email@example.com
Oakland, CA After being rescheduled twice, the Land Action 4’s Motion to Dismiss will finally be heard at 9 am, May 20th, 2016, in Dept. 10 of the René C. Davidson Courthouse. This time, they have been promised a full halfday of the court’s time and a courtroom to themselves.
BACKGROUND On Wednesday January 20, 2016 the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office (DA) issued arrest warrants for 4 organizers working with the nonprofit Land Action. The organizers, now being called The Land Action 4, face 7 criminal charges3 of which are felonies, up to 8.5 years imprisonment, and $89,000 in fines.
Among the allegations is that these organizers were involved in a “Conspiracy to Trespass,” a common charge used to target civil rights organizers. The conspiracy charge is a felony, despite the fact that trespass itself is at most a misdemeanor.
The organizers are being charged for their involvement in the occupation of an abandoned property. At the time, Land Action was trying to intercept tax-abandoned properties before they were sold at tax auction, by occupying them and invoking
California’s Adverse Possession code. The goal was to transfer these properties into a land trust so that they would be removed from the speculative market and preserved as low-income housing in perpetuity. The property at the center of the prosecution is a house in the Cleveland Heights neighborhood near Lake Merritt It was well known among neighbors for being abandoned since at least 2010. According to the prosecution’s official complaint, the owner of record admitted to not having lived in the house since 2003. Over the years, a sagging foundation has caused exterior walls to shear, creating large cracks in the stucco that collect rain during storms. The property was also severely tax neglected, and would soon be eligible for tax foreclosure (as of this press release, $46K in back-
taxes remain unpaid).
Because the property met all the criteria for physical as well as tax abandonment, Land Action began the process of acquiring the property via Adverse Possession. Two of the defendants, Patrick Xu and Aisha AlvesHyde, were the onsite property managers on behalf of Land Action. The occupation began in midSeptember of 2015, and for the next 3 months the property managers kept up a constant presence at the house, interacted with neighbors, and made improvements to the property.