City Council Members Settle Legal Dispute Over Right to Parking Space

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In March, two members of the Oakland (California) City Council finally resolved an epic and high-stakes legal battle after a fight that lasted three months and spawned a legal opinion by the city attorney.  The burning question: who was entitled to the parking space closest to the front door of City Hall.

Oakland, you see, has no other problems or difficulties of any kind that might require the government's attention.

Councilmembers Jean Quan and Desley Brooks both coveted the "prized parking space" that, until late last year, had been clutched firmly in the steely grip of Councilmember Henry Chang.  When Chang announced his retirement, the two women good-naturedly flipped a coin to determine who would get the space.  Of course they didn't do that.  Are you new here?

Apparently, the women were able to agree that parking rights should be determined by seniority.  Unfortunately, they were not able to agree as to who was more senior.  And so at this point, they good-naturedly flipped a coin.  No, they didn't.  It seems that instead the space was claimed each day by whoever arrived first.  That at least would have the effect of getting them to work earlier, but still it was unsatisfactory.  The sensible next step: flip a coin.  The actual next step: make the city attorney research issues related to parking-space entitlement.

Forced to address the issue of which of two adult women would get dibs on a parking space in order to avoid walking a few extra feet each day, City Attorney John Russo generated a five-page legal memo, dated February 17, 2009.  The question presented: "Is seniority based on the date a Councilmember is elected or the date the Councilmember is sworn into office?"

Carefully noting that he took no position as to "whether the Council has used or should use seniority to assign parking spaces" — these were "policy questions that the Council is free to decide" — Russo diligently analyzed the issue.  His ultimate conclusion: it was a tie.  The two women had been elected at the same time and sworn in at the same time, and so neither one had seniority.  The Council, Russo concluded, "is free to base its parking assignments on any criteria that it chooses . . . that do not violate applicable laws."  I assume he was concerned about (1) bribery or (2) trial by combat, although I'm not sure if that last one is illegal in Oakland.

The stalemate continued for another month, until reporter Phil Matier learned about the dispute and wrote about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Guess what — the matter was settled the very next day, with the tossing of the coin that should have been tossed three months before.

The truly sad thing about this story is that one of these two people actually had to win.  As it turned out, it was Brooks.

Link: KPIX-TV (Mar. 10, 2009)