Robert Bobb Was Worried About Cynthia Dellums

Sources say Bobb turned down top city job partly over concerns about the mayor's wife's influence inside city hall.

Robert Bobb should have been Oakland’s new city
administrator. He was easily the most qualified candidate, and was
Mayor Ron Dellums’ first choice. Last month, the two men were
talking salary and benefits, as they closed in on a deal to bring Bobb
back to the East Bay. But then Oakland’s respected former city manager
changed his mind, and decided to take over the financially troubled
Detroit public school system. What happened? According to knowledgeable
sources, there were several reasons for why Bobb decided to turn down
Dellums, and one of them had to do with Oakland’s other “mayor” —
Cynthia Dellums.

Bobb had become increasingly worried about Cynthia Dellums’ growing
influence over her husband Ron Dellums, and the unofficial power she
wields inside Oakland City Hall, the sources said. As the
Express reported last summer, Cynthia Dellums has become the
city’s de facto second mayor, acting as Ron Dellums’ political partner
and gatekeeper (see “Meet the Mayor,” September 17). Cynthia Dellums
also is extremely protective of her husband, and won’t tolerate
criticism of him. Sources say her influence over his decision making
has grown even since last year.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Ron Dellums ultimately
chose his longtime close friend and confidante, Dan Lindheim, to
be city administrator when Bobb backed out. Lindheim is a smart,
competent man, but sources said he also is staunch supporter —
and defender — of the mayor. The Oakland City Council is expected
to confirm Lindheim this week. He’s been the city’s acting city
administrator since Dellums fired Deborah Edgerly in July.

Bobb’s decision to turn down Dellums represents at least the second
time that a highly qualified person has backed out of a top Oakland job
because of concerns about the mayor’s wife. In late 2006, just before
Ron Dellums took office, respected Oakland attorney Tony West
decided not to become the mayor’s chief of staff because of concerns
about the lines of communication in city hall between the mayor, his
staff, his wife, and the rest of city government. Sources told Full
Disclosure that Bobb had some of the same concerns. West, a former
federal prosecutor, recently accepted a top post in the Obama
administration’s Department of Justice.

The sources also said that Bobb, who has a strong personality and is
known for speaking plainly, also was worried about Cynthia Dellums’
distaste for criticism, and about whether he would have the power to
remake the city’s dysfunctional bureaucracy. The sources also said he
was concerned about the couple’s repeated absences from city hall and
their preference for working from home (see “Oakland’s Part-Time
Mayor,” December 24).

When reached by phone last week, Bobb didn’t want to talk about his
decision, other than to say that Detroit represented a challenge for
him. Sources said that Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm
strongly pursued Bobb for the Detroit schools post. Ultimately, she and
Bobb worked out a deal just after Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Granholm was in Washington, DC, where Bobb lives, for the
festivities.

But Bobb’s side trip to Detroit does not mean he has given up on
Oakland. The Detroit post is expected to last about a year, and
according to sources, Bobb plans to move back to Oakland in the coming
months and commute to Michigan from the East Bay. There also is strong
speculation that Bobb will then run for mayor himself next year —
especially if former State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata
is indicted.

Berkeley Isn’t Liberal Enough?

The City of Berkeley has been accused of a lot of things over the
years, from being the most liberal city in America to being a hotbed
for left-wing radicalism. But not liberal enough? That’s the novel
allegation being leveled in a pair of recent lawsuits, including one
filed by a large corporation that doesn’t exactly have a reputation for
being progressive itself.

The lawsuits stem from a long running and messy legal battle between
Berkeley and U-Haul International, the move-it-yourself, truck-rental
company. The city has been attempting for years to shut down the U-Haul
center on San Pablo Avenue because of numerous complaints from
neighbors and because it clashes with the city’s vision for the area.
U-Haul has responded by trying to bury the city in litigation. In fact,
Berkeley and U-Haul are now involved in at least five lawsuits over the
matter, both in state and federal court, plus a slew of appellate court
cases.

In one of the most recent lawsuits, U-Haul has taken the unusual
position of accusing the city of discrimination and of violating its
constitutional rights. Last year, after a judge approved the city’s
revocation of U-Haul’s truck-rental permit on San Pablo, the company
suddenly claimed that it was no longer in the truck-rental business,
but had become a “truck-sharing” center. U-Haul, which is controlled by
an Arizona real estate conglomerate, likened itself to car-sharing
operations, such as City CarShare and ZipCar, which have become popular
throughout the Bay Area over the past decade because they help combat
global warming and curtail smog.

U-Haul claims in its lawsuit that Berkeley is guilty of
discrimination because it helps car-sharing operations flourish, while
trying to kill “truck sharing.” U-Haul says that truck sharing, much
like car sharing, will result in fewer people buying gas-guzzling
pickups and SUVs, thereby limiting greenhouse-gas emissions. U-Haul’s
“environmentally friendly truck-sharing business model limit(s) harmful
carbon dioxide emissions and remove(s) polluting vehicles from the
streets,” the company stated in its suit.

And in another lawsuit, a Berkeley woman, who says she’s a longtime
customer of U-Haul, is alleging that the city’s revocation of the
company’s business permit has violated her federal civil rights.
Kerima Lewis, who is black, claims that she and other low-income
African-American residents have suffered because they no longer have
access to an inexpensive moving company in the city. Lewis also claims
that Berkeley leaders are so bent on discrimination that they’ve
ignored the environmental benefits of “truck sharing.”

Berkeley’s lawyers view both lawsuits as laughable, calling U-Haul’s
suit, in particular, “political hyperbole.” They also suspect that
U-Haul is behind Lewis’ suit. Both U-Haul and Lewis are represented by
Los Angeles law firms, and the two suits make very similar allegations.
One of U-Haul’s attorneys, Ryan Lapidus, would not comment on
the matter, and Lewis’ lawyer, Adam Zolonz, did not return a
phone call seeking comment.

Berkeley officials also find it ironic that they’re being accused of
not being liberal enough and are surprised at U-Haul’s seemingly
insatiable appetite for litigation and it’s refusal to abide by
previous court rulings. “It’s so completely astonishing to me,” said
Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan. Cowan believes the city will be
able to get the two discrimination lawsuits thrown out of court. That
may be true, but there is little doubt that Berkeley will have to
expend significant resources fighting the suits, plus all of U-Haul’s
other litigation. In fact, the story of Berkeley’s long war with the
do-it-yourself moving company represents a stark lesson in what can
happen when a large, well-financed corporation simply won’t obey the
law.

U-Haul opened its truck-rental center on San Pablo Avenue in 1975.
Over the years, the business has been very popular, especially among UC
Berkeley students and low-income residents. U-Haul claims that the San
Pablo Avenue center, the only one of its kind in Berkeley, has served
360,000 local customers in the past three decades. But the city has
never been happy about U-Haul’s location at the corner of Addison
Street, and in 1993, the city council rezoned the spot for high-density
development.

Berkeley, however, allowed U-Haul’s business permit to be
grandfathered in and the truck-rental operation continued to thrive
throughout the 1990s and the first half of this decade. But the busy
center also prompted complaints from neighbors, who said that customers
and company employees often parked U-Haul trucks on local streets,
thereby taking up valuable street parking in violation of the company’s
use permit. For more than a decade, the city and local residents
attempted unsuccessfully to get the company to comply with the law.
“They would go off on these tangents that had nothing to do with the
fact that they’ve been horrible neighbors,” local resident Margaret
Fauchier
told Full Disclosure.

Finally, the council voted unanimously in 2007 to revoke U-Haul’s
business permit on the grounds that it had repeatedly violated its
terms. The city also noted that the location at San Pablo and Addison
was not suitable for truck rentals under Berkeley’s general plan.
U-Haul immediately sued to overturn the council’s decision but
ultimately lost when a judge ruled last year that the company had to
stop renting trucks from the San Pablo location. Around the same time
as that decision became final in May 2008, U-Haul began claiming that
it was no longer in the truck-rental business, but the “truck-sharing”
business.

Company officials started telling customers that they could no
longer “rent” trucks from the San Pablo location, but they could still
pick up and drop off trucks there after calling U-Haul’s 800 number.
U-Haul’s attorneys claimed in court documents that this was proof that
the company was no longer in the “truck-rental” business in Berkeley.
The city, however, sued U-Haul, claiming that the truck-sharing
business was a sham, and that U-Haul was violating the previous court
order to stop renting trucks.

In August, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Appel
agreed with the city and issued a temporary injunction, ordering U-Haul
to stop renting or “sharing” trucks from the San Pablo center. A
pivotal moment in the case came when one of U-Haul’s attorneys admitted
during questioning by the judge that the San Pablo center was still
conducting aspects of a “rental business,” even though U-Haul was now
calling it “truck sharing.”

U-Haul has appealed Appel’s decision. The company also has appealed
the previous court ruling that prohibits them from renting trucks at
the San Pablo center. Currently, the company only sells boxes and
packing materials there, although as of last week, rental trucks and
vans were still parked on the parking lot, advertised for rent. City
officials have said they have no objection to U-Haul selling boxes and
packing materials from that location, knowing that the moving company
has indicated in court documents that it cannot afford to not rent or
“share” trucks for long.

After the August ruling, U-Haul filed the discrimination lawsuit
against Berkeley (technically, it’s a countersuit). The city is
attempting to have that case thrown out of court at a hearing next
week. U-Haul’s attorney Lapidus said he believes the company will
ultimately be able to prove that the city violated U-Haul’s
equal-protection rights, because it has treated U-Haul differently from
car-sharing operations.

So is U-Haul’s transition to truck sharing for real, or is it just a
legal tactic? Well, truck sharing does appear to be similar to car
sharing in that customers can rent vehicles for short periods of time
when they need them. U-Haul also recently announced that it is
launching a car-sharing business. When asked whether U-Haul now
considers itself to be in the truck-sharing business, rather than the
truck-rental business, in any other location other than Berkeley,
Lapidus responded that truck sharing has been “the nature of their
business since they started.”

As for Lewis’ discrimination suit against the city, it’s in federal
court, and the next hearing is scheduled for March 23. The city also
must deal with U-Haul’s appeals of both Appel’s temporary injunction
ruling and the previous decision that prohibited them from renting
trucks at San Pablo and Addison. U-Haul also has filed a federal civil
rights lawsuit against the city, but that case will not be heard until
the state court cases are completed. In addition, the city must not
only win all those cases to shut down U-Haul, but it also must convince
a judge or jury to make the temporary injunction permanent. In other
words, it could be several years before this legal war is finally
over.

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