On May 26, 2011, General Assistance recipients in Alameda County won a significant legal victory which will protect thousands of GA recipients throughout California from becoming homeless due to an illegal county policy. In an eloquent, unanimous opinion, in Cleary v. Alameda County the California Court of Appeal invalidated Alameda County’s W-9 policy which drastically cut GA grants if the recipients’ landlords did not file W-9 tax forms. If landlords did not file these forms, the County would deny recipients the housing portion of their aid, leaving them, through no fault of their own, $105 per month or $3.50 per day on which to survive.
Alameda County claimed it was obligated under federal tax law to report rent payments it made to GA recipients’ landlords from the recipients’ GA stipends even though it had been diverting a portion of GA recipients’ rent directly to their landlords for 20 years without making these reports. In January 2009, when the County suddenly announced its W-9 policy The Public Interest Law Project (PILP) and Bay Area Legal Aid (BALA) asked that the County drop this unlawful and inhumane policy, and when it refused, filed suit. While the case was pending, the County revised its policy many times, eventually branding it as one of ‘in kind aid’ and promising to offer shelter beds to GA recipients whom it forced into homelessness. Nearly a year after the suit was filed, and on the eve of trial, the County procured an opinion letter from the I.R.S. that it had the right to demand landlords’ W-9s. But PILP argued that the I.R.S. letter should be given little weight, and that in any event, any tax reporting obligation could not justify slashing recipients’ aid based upon the conduct of their landlords.
On December 23, 2009, calling the grant cut “cruel,” the Honorable Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court issued a writ of mandate, ordering the County to abandon its W-9 grant cut. The court found that no tax reporting obligation actually existed and the County had obtained its I.R.S. opinion letter based upon sworn representations that were “untrue,” and agreed with the petitioners’ argument that even if a reporting obligation had existed, the federal tax laws cannot override a county’s obligations under the California welfare statutes to provide last resort assistance. The County appealed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, agreeing that even if a tax reporting obligation existed, which it did not, “the County may not voluntarily implement a policy which conflicts with the mandates of the general assistance law.” Furthermore, the Court said, “a policy which fosters homelessness is inimical to the very purpose of GA legislation.”
Cleary has statewide importance. Many other counties reduce or even deny GA recipients’ aid if their landlords do not supply their Social Security Numbers. With the publication of Cleary, they will presumably abandon these unlawful policies. More broadly, the decision reemphasizes that GA must be administered humanely, and declares that a policy that forces people who have homes to become homeless in order to receive any housing aid is inhumane and violates state law.
Paul Hastings Janofsky and Walker LLP joined PILP and Bay Legal after judgment was entered in the Trial Court, and provided invaluable wisdom on the appeal brief. Five long-time friends of PILP, Legal Services of Northern California, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Homeless Action Center, Asian Law Alliance, and the California Tax Reform Association, joined in two very effective amicus briefs. The amicus briefs were drafted by attorneys at Shearman & Sterling LLP and Dechert LLP. All of the amici, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Legal Aid Society of Orange County, CRLA and others joined in letters requesting publication of the decision, and the request was granted on June 17, 2011.
After four years of litigation, including a successful trip to the Court of Appeal, the Superior Court of Alameda County in September of last year ordered the City of Pleasanton to cease enforcement of its voter-approved cap on housing and require affordable housing development. Passed in 1996, the cap made it impossible for the City to provide for its share of the regional need for housing affordable to lower income households as required under State Housing Element Law. Pleasanton is a regional center for the technology industry, adding thousands of jobs each year. Yet, despite the growing need to accommodate residential development, the city has maintained an absolute cap on housing resulting in exclusion of lower income families and a lack of housing for the city’s growing workforce. The suit was brought by Sandra de Gregorio, a mother of two, and Urban Habitat Programs, an environmental and social justice organization. Plaintiffs were represented by The Public Interest Law Project (PILP), Public Advocates, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, and Munger, Tolles & Olson. The state Attorney General intervened in the case and a parallel suit involving CEQA violations.
The trial court ordered all policies capping residential development removed from Pleasanton’s general plan and compelled the City to rezone sufficient developable sites to meet its lower income housing need. The court also enjoined the City from issuing commercial building permits until it complied with the court’s order. To settle the remaining claims in the suit, the City agreed to a settlement providing that it will adopt: a new housing element within a year to accommodate its affordable housing need, a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a resolution that it will not discriminate against affordable housing. Finally, the settlement ensures that at least 130 units of housing affordable to very low income households will be developed in a mixed use development.
The case has statewide importance as the ruling puts other jurisdictions on notice that local residential growth restrictions could violate the Housing Element Law. The Court of Appeal in 2008 had overturned the dismissal of the case by the previous trial court judge. Significantly, the court found that the City’s growth cap had become inconsistent with the Housing Element Law when Pleasanton was allocated a share of the regional housing need that was impossible to accommodate under the cap.
Urban Habitat Program v. City of Pleasanton, 164 Cal.App.4th 1561 (2008).)
On May 18th, The Public Interest Law Project celebrated its 15th Anniversary in the Sky Room of Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP in downtown San Francisco. Private and public interest attorneys, community advocates, clients, family and friends from throughout the Bay Area assembled to enjoy the breathtaking views and to honor an organization that has expanded considerably since its inception in 1996. more »
In October, 2010, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used his veto power to eliminate funding for the subsidized childcare program for low-income working families known as CalWORKs Stage 3 child care. The low-income parents of more than 56,000 children were told that their child care would end on November 1st, creating havoc for thousands of people who suddenly were forced to choose between keeping their jobs and staying off welfare, or taking care of their children. By forcing many working families back onto welfare, the veto was an ill-advised strategy to save state funds.
The Public Interest Law Project (PILP) stepped in as lead counsel, partnering with the Child Care Law Center and several legal services programs throughout the state, to swiftly challenge the child care terminations. Representing Parent Voices Oakland and four low-income parents, PILP swiftly obtained an emergency order from the Alameda County Superior Court, keeping the child care in place until there was a further hearing. A few days later, Judge Carvill issued an order requiring the California Department of Education (CDE) to continue Stage 3 child care, until it notified families of their right to be screened for other subsidized childcare services. Link to Judge’s Ruling
After obtaining two favorable court orders, the parties negotiated a court-approved settlement with CDE that extended the Stage 3 program through December 31, 2010 and required state-contracted child care agencies to inform families of their right to request a screening for any available child care alternatives. Many families were able to transition to other subsidized child care. When interim funding was appropriated in February 2011, many more of the former Stage 3 families were restored to the program.
In late June, 2011, the parties reached a Final Stipulated Order of Settlement which restores child care services for the remaining parents who have successfully transitioned off welfare but whose wages are still too low to cover child care. The final settlement ensures that all of the former Stage 3 families who lost child care services due to the Governor’s veto will have an opportunity to come back onto the program.
“This settlement gives California working families everything they sought in court,” said Patti Prunhuber of The Public Interest Law Project. “We are grateful that the turmoil unleashed by Gov. Schwarzenegger’s veto can finally be corrected and that children will be in safe, affordable child care while their parents are working.”
“We have achieved success in saving thousands of jobs for working parents and child care providers, but most importantly, we have assured that our number one priority, child care for children, has been upheld,” said Corean Todd, a member of Parent Voices Oakland. This court case not only helped our Parent Voices Oakland members but all parents on a state wide level. Child care keeps children learning and parents earning.”
The Public Interest Law Project co-counseled with the Child Care Law Center, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Public Counsel Law Center, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
Chaos Wrought by Gov. Schwarzenegger’s 2010 Veto Finally Resolved; Families Restored to Subsidized Child Care
OAKLAND, CA – Ending a six-month court case sparked by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s elimination of vital child care funding, the State of California agreed this week to ensure that working families will continue to have child care assistance. The ground-breaking settlement preserves child care for parents who have successfully transitioned off welfare but whose wages are still too low to cover child care. The settlement affects the families of 56,000 California children who had been told they would lose their child care last October. more »
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