Portrait of Eli Ferran, City Attorney candidate. (Courtesy of Eli for Oakland)

Elias Ferran, widely known as Eli Ferran, is running for City Attorney against incumbent Barbara Parker, who’s been in office since 2011. The City Attorney advises the City on legal matters, is in charge of overseeing public records requests, defends the City if it is sued, and can also bring affirmative actions for the people of Oakland by suing corporations or people on their behalf. Parker is in the process of one of these cases by suing Wells Fargo for predatory and racially discriminatory lending practices against Black and Latinx Oaklanders.

So far there has been little reporting on Ferran in the mainstream press. While a brief article recently appeared in The Oakland Post, and local independent journalist Jaime Omar Yassin has tweeted about him, the Oakland voting public is largely unaware of him and his past. Here are two things we know and one thing we don’t know that could be noteworthy to voters, especially those concerned with policing, potential conflicts of interest, and tenant issues.

We know he used to be a prosecutor who exclusively enforced minor crimes in East Oakland

Ferran used to work in the City Attorney’s Office. According to a page on the City of Oakland website that has been deleted since Gerran stopped working for the City Attorney’s Office in June, his tenure started “in 2008 as a member of the Office’s former Special Prosecution Team.” The page goes on to say that “as a special prosecutor, he was responsible for handling prosecution of misdemeanor quality of life crimes in East Oakland.”

Quality of life crimes include vagrancy, disturbing the peace, public intoxication and other low level offenses. According to the textbook Criminal Law published by The University of Minnesota, “these offenses tend to target the poor and downtrodden.” Enforcement of these offenses form the backbone of broken windows policing and stop and frisk. 

In a recent debate hosted by East Bay Young Democrats, Ferran introduced himself by boasting of “doing a little bit of everything” in his tenure at the City Attorney’s office, then mentioned starting out by “dealing with quality of life crimes.” Later in the debate, when moderator Zac Goldstein asked Ferran if he believed Oakland “should decriminalize and seek non-policing based solutions for broken window offenses,” Ferran responded by saying “I do believe in decriminalizing these things,” and praised San Francisco’s methods. “They deal with these quality of life crimes a little differently,” Ferran said, then explained a hypothetical situation where a person arrested for drunk in public would have to go to ten AA meetings. But he made no reference to how he, in the past, dealt with the quality of life crimes he would prosecute. While Ferran claims on his website that he plans to “investigate police misconduct,” he started his career by collaborating with police to enforce low level crimes.

We know his wife is a Senior Policy Advisor for an Oakland Council Member

Eli Ferran’s wife is Pamela Ferran. Pamela Ferran works as a Senior Policy Advisor for District 6 Council Member Loren Taylor helping him to create policy and advising him on how to vote.

One role the City Attorney has is advising and determining the legality of policy and proposed policy. If Eli Ferran is elected, it is possible his wife could help create policy with Taylor that Taylor proposes, then Eli Ferran would be in charge of determining whether or not there were any legal conflicts that should block the legislation. The City Attorney and their staff can also sponsor policy, as the current incumbent, Parker, did with Oakland’s recent COVID related Eviction Moratorium Emergency Ordinance which protects tenants from being evicted under COVID. If elected, Eli Ferran could sponsor legislation that Taylor could vote on while Ferran’s wife could formally advise Taylor on his vote.

I emailed Eli Ferran to ask about his thoughts on this potential conflict of interest and how to navigate it in an unbiased way, but he did not respond.

We don’t know whether he believes in expanding rent control or protecting tenants from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ferran’s website claims he plans to “fight unjust housing conditions and landlords who discriminate against tenants,” but he has not answered direct questions I emailed him about rent control and COVID-19 protections. He did not comment on whether he supports Proposition 21, which would allow districts to expand which housing units are covered by rent control. He did not comment when I asked if he supported “limiting landlords’ ability to evict tenants under COVID for non-payment of rent.”

Leah Simon-Weisberg, a tenant attorney and Berkeley’s Rent Board Commissioner said “I think it would be terrible to have [Ferran] as Oakland’s City Attorney,” and emphasized that he would be “hostile to tenant rights,” and also that “he’s hostile to housing solutions that aren’t free market.” Simon-Weisberg praised Oakland COVID-19 protections Parker helped to write as “the strongest tenant protections in the country.” Simon-Weisberg said her opinion on Ferran was informed by her close connections to people who worked directly with him in the City of Oakland but can’t speak about him to the press without risking retaliation.

In a recent debate hosted by East Bay Young Democrats, Ferran only referenced COVID-19 when addressing how he was organizing his campaign. He made no reference to it in relation to housing and did not mention tenants once. The section of Ferran’s website that lists his stances on housing issues does not mention COVID-19. The section mentions Ferran’s intentions to “create and implement a faster planning & building department permit process.” As activists groups like Moms4Housing have called attention to the high vacancy rate in Oakland under a homelessness state of emergency, Ferran is calling for faster development while not offering policy or answering questions about COVID-19 related protections to keep Oaklanders housed.

Zack Haber is a poet and journalist who lives in West Oakland.