Desley Brooks Helps Family After City Sewer Workers Wreck Their Home

Oct 3, 2014

Posted in CommunityElections & Voting RightsHealthPoliticsResponsive Government

Left to Right: Gerard Gray, Kameron Gray, Christina Gray and City Councilmember Desley Brooks

By Ken Epstein

Gerard and Christina Gray have been working with the City of Oakland for over a year to get back into their home after a city crew accidently caused sewage to back up into their house – completely destroying it.

During that time, the couple says, they have been able to turn repeatedly to their representative, City Councilmember Desley Brooks, who has worked with the City Administrator to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to make sure the city fulfilled its responsibilities to the family.

“We knew this was the city’s fault, and this family should not have to go through this,” said Brooks.

“Along the way, we’ve talked to Councilmember Brooks when the city was not hearing us,” said Christina Gray.

The Gray’s nightmare began on July 16, 2013 when a city crew was working in the neighborhood using pressurized water to flush out the sewer lines, and something went wrong.

Apparently, there was too much water pressure, and a camera had not been used to check the pipe. As a result, sewage erupted from the bathtubs, drains, sinks and toilets in the Gray’s home at Keller Avenue and Mountain Boulevard in East Oakland.

The raw sewage contaminated the garage level and the two levels of the home. The liquid that pooled on the floor of the top level sank through the flooring, causing the ceiling of the first level to collapse.

The Grays, who had been living in their home for 15 years, had only an hour to go into the house in HAZMAT suits to gather their clothes and few personal possessions.

Their home had to be gutted.

The couple moved with their three children to a hotel. Since then, they have lived in hotels and moved six times. Their renovated home is supposed to be ready in January.

The couple called Councilmember Brooks who talked to the City Administrator when the city was being unresponsive.

Though city willingly accepted responsibility for the repairs, staff objected to paying for the family’s hotel stay.

City staff also pressured the Grays to accept the cheapest contractor, who would not thoroughly renovate the home but would instead clean and reinstall the old fixtures and patch instead of replace walls, according to the couple, who had to pay an attorney to represent them.

“(Originally,), all they did was give us a claim form and tell us to save the receipts so we could be reimbursed at the end,” said Gerard Gray, pointing out that the couple has had to continue to pay the mortgage and all the utilities for their home for the 15 months that they have lived in a hotel.

In addition, the City Attorney’s Office in writing agreed to waive permit fees for rebuilding. But staff changed their minds and wanted the couple to pay many thousands of dollars in fees.

Councilmember Brooks brought a resolution recently to the full City Council, which voted unanimously to waive the fees.