Yale University

In Memoriam

Franklin David Grabill


Marin Independent Journal

June 13, 2016

David Grabill
1964 graduation

David Grabill, a Santa Rosa public-interest attorney who became one of the region’s leading advocates for the poor in battles with local governments over affordable housing, died Saturday, June 11, family members said. He was 74.

Grabill was legal counsel to the Santa Rosa-based Housing Advocacy Group, which forced the construction of hundreds of homes for low-income residents and sparked the creation of dozens of shelter beds for the homeless.

Most recently, he pushed for rent stabilization and just-cause eviction rules in a successful campaign in Santa Rosa. Grabill previously championed farm-worker rights as a lawyer for California Rural Legal Assistance.

David Grabill
Recent photograph

“He was a fierce advocate, a compassionate human being, and a brilliant mind,” said Davin Cardenas, co-director of the North Bay Organizing Project.

Julie Combs, a Santa Rosa city councilwoman who considered Grabill a mentor on housing and homeless issues, said his death was a “great loss.”

“He’s been a good teacher to our community,” Combs said. “I don’t think we could have made the progress on housing without the long-time work David has done.”

Grabill was diagnosed last year with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, said his daughter, nurse Jane Battenfeld of Santa Rosa.

His condition worsened Wednesday and he was admitted to Kaiser Permanente medical center in Santa Rosa. He died Saturday morning, she said.

In addition to his daughter, Grabill is survived by his wife, Santa Rosa Junior College trustee and educator Dorothy Battenfeld, as well as three other adult children: Holly Rhodes, of San Francisco; and Megan Rhodes and Christopher Grabill, both of Santa Rosa. He had five grandchildren.

Memorial services were pending, the family said.

The attorney was born in 1942 in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania law school. His father was an anesthesiologist.

He came to Southern California in the late 1960s, working with American Indians and the United Farm Workers union before opening a law practice in Venice catering to low-income clients.

Grabill signed on with California Rural Legal Assistance in San Francisco, helping Central Valley farmworkers before being named directing attorney in the Santa Rosa office.

He went in to private practice in the mid-1990s, shifting his attention to tenants’ rights and unfair evictions. Grabill became the lead lawyer for Housing Advocacy Group, filing suits to force municipalities to build affordable units as called for in general plans.