Oakland, CA—Yesterday, the Alameda County Superior Court granted the City of Oakland’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the owners and managers of Humanist Hall, which has been holding large, illegal events for months in violation of local and state public health orders. Despite the City’s efforts to work collaboratively with the Hall to bring them into compliance with the law, including through conversations, warnings, notices, and fines, the Hall’s owners and managers refused, including by downplaying the seriousness of the global pandemic of COVID-19. With the court’s grant of the TRO, however, Humanist Hall must start to comply with the same public health orders that govern all residents, businesses, and others in Alameda County.
Since March, all of Oakland has operated under various local and state emergency, shelter in place, and other public health orders with the purpose and effect of limiting and preventing the spread of the dangerous and sometimes deadly disease of COVID-19. Despite those orders, these Defendants have operated a business—variously denominated a church, an event hall, or a party space—in repeated, flagrant, and knowing violation of local and state public health orders. They have hosted parties and events for untold numbers of people, allowed partygoers and event-goers to pack into their indoor space without masks or social distancing, and plan to continue such activities into the foreseeable future.
The City of Oakland tried to help Defendants comply with public health orders. City officials issued courtesy letters, warnings, a notice of violation, fines, and even engaged in person with Defendant David Oertel. Despite these many opportunities to stop the activities that pose an imminent risk to public health, Defendants chose to continue, asserting that City officials have no right to stop these unlawful events—and that the underlying public health crisis is a hoax. Because non-litigation efforts to achieve compliance and protect public health and safety failed, the City Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit, People of the State of California & City of Oakland v. David Oertel et al., and the request for a TRO that has now been granted.
“Rarely has the hard work of so many to protect public health been threatened by the actions of so few,” said Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker. “The impacts of COVID-19 have fallen disproportionately on Black, Latinx, Asian and other people of color, people with disabilities, and other communities that have historically been marginalized and victimized by discrimination. When people and organizations like the Defendants in this case refuse to comply with public health orders, they are further endangering communities that are already suffering disproportionate harm.”