In an effort spearheaded by County Counsel Ann Ravel, Santa Clara County became the first county in the nation and the first government entity on the West Coast to file suit against lead paint manufacturers. This class action lawsuit was brought in March 2000 on behalf of all public entities that have expended funds to cope with a pervasive public health hazard that is particularly dangerous to children. It asserts that manufacturers produced and disseminated a toxic product for many years after they knew it was hazardous and conspired to mislead the government and the public about its dangers. The suit seeks abatement of the hazard and damages for the funds expended by public entities for testing, treatment, inspection, and abatement efforts.
Despite an organized effort by representatives for the lead industry to discourage other public entities from joining the Santa Clara County suit, many other counties, cities and public bodies later joined the suit. By the time the second amended complaint was filed, Santa Cruz County, Solano County, Alameda County, Kern County, the City and County of San Francisco, the City of Oakland, the San Francisco Housing Authority, the San Francisco Unified School District, the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, and the Oakland Unified School District had joined the suit. In addition, the District Attorney of Santa Clara County joined the lawsuit, alleging in the name of the People of the State of California, with the City Attorneys of San Francisco and Oakland, that the presence of lead in homes, buildings, and other property is injurious to the health of the public and is a public nuisance that should be abated.
Based on a review of the pleadings, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled that the allegations were sufficient for the case to proceed. A few months later, a Rhode Island court issued a similar ruling. National attention increasingly has focused on the effort to address the hazards posed by lead, which has poisoned countless children in California and other communities over many decades.
After discovery on the statute of limitations issues was conducted, the Superior Court granted the lead paint manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment. The case is currently on appeal. The City of Los Angeles and public interest groups such as the Alliance for Healthy Homes and Public Advocates, Inc., filed amici briefs in support of Santa Clara County. Oral argument before California’s Sixth District Court of Appeal is pending.
Information about the harmful effects of lead paint and what to do to protect you and your children may be obtained at the websites of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office of Lead Hazard Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.