Allan L. Bergano is born and raised in Seattle, WA. He is a product of the Filipino American community that survived two generations of beatdowns and humiliation from American racism and discrimination. Allan’s father and Uncles came to Seattle as teenaged boys in the 1920s. They were greeted with signs that read “Positively No Filipinos Allowed”. They could not live in certain parts of the City. Could not own land. Could not vote. Could not become American citizens. Carlos Bulosan appropriately described the plight of this Manong Generation in these words, “I came to know that in many ways it was a crime to be a Filipino …. I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And this crime is that I am a Filipino in America.”
Despite the horrendous obstacles of blatant racism and discrimination, the Manongs survived and flourished in America. Some of their descendants are known as the Bridge Generation: Filipino Americans born in the US before 1945. They continued the Manong’s War for racial equity and social justice by joining the socio-economic-political revolution of the 1960s. Affirmative action was one of the products implemented. Doors of opportunity for enrollment opened that were previously closed to non-white peoples especially in academic institutions at the university and college levels. In 1977, there were approximately 30,000 students at the University of Washington. Among those were the first Filipino students to be accepted at the UW Medical School and Dental School. Bergano was one of those at the UW Dental School.
City of Virginia Beach, VA
Virginia Beach is the largest of 7 cities combined regionally called Hampton Roads. It is the ranked #2 SMSA in the state of Virginia and #32 nationally. It has the largest concentration of Filipinos on the east coast with over 50,000. The Filipino American community is the largest non-white, non-black ethnic group in Hampton Roads. It is relatively young compared to west coast communities. Over 90% began to settle in the area after 1965. Most served in the U.S. Navy and in health-care professions…. especially as physicians and nurses.
The Filipino American community is very active and compelling. It has three centers. A religious-based center called San Lorenzo Spiritual Center. An academic center at Old Dominion University called the Filipino American Center. A social/community center known as the Philippine Cultural Center of Virginia. This is the largest privately funded Filipino American center in the United States.
The Filipino presence in Hampton roads is very significant. In 2018, Expedia designated Virginia Beach, VA as a travel destination within the United States to represent and experience the rich culture of the Philippines.
Since 1983, the office of Allan L. Bergano, DDS was located in a building complex called Witchduck Office Court. The complex has direct access to a major street called North Witchduck Road.
In February/2014, plans were made public of the street widening of North Witchduck Road. This was the continuation of the street widening project initiated 5 years prior with the widening of South Witchduck Road. The road widening would eliminate all direct access to the complex from North Witchduck Road. In addition, at least 18 parking slots would be eliminated.
In September/2014, the City of Virginia Beach purchased Witchduck Office Court to house some of its Department of Human Services. Bergano was told he had one year to move out because the building would house city services and no longer be conducive to a dental office. He signed a month-to-month lease agreeing to move out in one year. As part of the signed agreement, relocation benefits will be awarded just like to the three other dentists that were displaced for the widening of South Withduck Road. The amount awarded among those dentists was anywhere between $280,000 and $520,000. The funds were used to build-out and equip their new dental facility at their new location.
As was asked by the City, in August/2015, Bergano presented a signed lease for the new office location along with two bids from different building contractors and dental supply companies. The amount was around $470,000. The City rejected this amount. He was told he only qualified for $25,000. Upon appeal, one week later the City informed Bergano he does not qualify for any funding. In addition, he would not be required to move out. The City argued, since Bergano is not being displaced, he does not qualify for relocation benefits.
As a result, Bergano now was paying for two leases…one at the current location…and…one at the new location. In addition, Human Services offices began moving into the complex in July/2015. A hostile environment now pervades Bergano’s Dental office. The complex was now patrolled with security guards that occasionally harassed dental patients and staff. There was a lack of parking. Clients of Human Services were seen sleeping in the parking lot. The presence of handcuffed prisoners in orange jumpsuits made office staff and patients feel uncomfortable.
Bottomline: Bergano’s staff and patients did not feel safe. It was clearly obvious a once thriving dental practice would die in this hostile environment. He had to move.
Why is Bergano being treated differently from the other 3 dentists that were relocated?
Why did the City change its mind 11 months later after telling Bergano to move out within one year?
POWER OF HISTORY
City officials profiled Filipinos and Asians in general as quiet, passive and authority-abiding citizens. Since many served in the US Navy, they always followed and/or obeyed orders. They never questioned authority. As relatively new immigrants, their idea of having political power is having the Mayor, Governor or Senator make speeches and eat food at their parties and picnics. If the political big wigs showed up for any social gathering, this implies political empowerment. Questioning authority implies being a troublemaker…an outcast…a no-no.
City officials treated Bergano differently because they were very confident their directives would be followed and never challenged or questioned. They profiled Bergano to be subservient just like all the other Filipinos and/or Asians they were familiar with.
The City overlooked the fact Bergano was from Seattle, WA whose historical experiences were completely different from Hampton Roads, VA. He is a product of a proud, Filipino American community built on the legacy of overcoming abhorrent obstacles of racism and discrimination. He was raised to be responsible for the betterment of family and community. For over 30 years, Bergano and his wife, Edwina, developed critical and popular programs to help Filipino American youth discover who they are and what they can become. They founded the Hampton Roads Chapter of FANHS in 1990 to help the young and old discover their identity by learning Filipino American history.
Bergano knew, what the City tried to do to him would never happen in Seattle. Of the three dentists receiving relocation benefits: 2 were white males…receiving $280,000 and $300,000. The third dentist was African-American female received $520,000. When it came to the Filipino dentist, he would receive nothing. With real political clout of an active and experienced Filipino American community, do you think the City of Seattle would do this to a popular and law abiding Filipino dentist?
However, all of Bergano’s comrade community activists and their alliances with political power were all living in Seattle. Hampton Roads Filipino Americans are relatively young. They never confronted the harsh racist and discriminatory practices like their Seattle counter-parts. They never had to overcome racist obstacles because they were never confronted with them. They lacked the expertise and experience to question and fight the Establishment because they never had to. The prevading norm…it is better to be passive and not question authority because no harm would occur if they were compliant and quiet. Therefore, the perception of Bergano in the eyes of the City was he was alone.
Bergano is completely opposite because he is a product of two significant Pinoy generations with different historical experiences. He was schooled and mentored by his Father and Uncles of the Manong Generation on the virtues of overcoming racist obstacles and defending the rights and freedoms of the Pinoy way of family and community. The actions of the Bridge Generation took part in protest marches in the 1960s resulting in the use of affirmative action in publicly funded institutions. Bergano knew he would not be who he is today if it were not for the sacrifices of his Father and Uncles of the Manong Generation …and…the Bridge Generation’s product of affirmative action opening the door to be accepted at the UW School of Dentistry. Therefore, he chose to fight the City, validating the sacrifices and struggles of two Pinoy generations…and…to inspire and nurture future Pinoy generations following after him of their obligation to respect and honor the obstacles overcome by those in the past. This knowledge of history fueled his tenacity and resolve to fight the City despite spotty community support.
Bergano vs The City of Virginia Beach began in federal court in December/2015. This completely surprised the City. This also surprised the Filipino American community. Both did not expect a fight. The City also did not prepare the case to be heard in Federal court. At this point, the only way the City could win was to have the case completely thrown out and dismissed. They tried armed with volumes of legal technicalities and tactics but was unsuccessful.
Federal Judge Henry Morgan was assigned to the case. He reviewed the lawsuit and ruled Bergano’s case has merit. In March/2016, this was his opinion: “The problem with this whole case is that the City of Virginia Beach from the very beginning treated this as an adversary proceeding, which it’s not supposed to be,” Morgan said, according to a court transcript. “The City employees work for the taxpayers. … It’s not their purpose to try to get away with paying Dr. Bergano as little as they possibly can or not advising him of his rights and telling him that because he has a lawyer he has to figure out what his rights are.”
“What the city is supposed to do is notify him in clear language what his rights are. … They’re supposed to give him what he is fairly entitled to, and what they have done is they have spent a lot of money trying to keep from paying him anything other than a few thousand dollars. … Virginia Beach was not some entity which was created to fight its tax paying citizens. It was created to serve them, and they haven’t been served in this case.”
“They have tried to use every technicality that they could think of to deprive them of that to which he was entitled. It’s really an aggravated situation, and as you can tell, the Court is very concerned about it because if this is an example of the way the City of Virginia Beach treats its citizens, it speaks very poorly of the City of Virginia Beach, where I happen to live.”
He recommended the City settle outside of court. Unfortunately for taxpayers, this did not happen. Trial date was scheduled to begin in December/2016.
Why did the City refuse Judge Morgan’s recommendation in settling the case? Arrogance…and… complete denial they could actually lose in court to a Filipino American.
In preparation for trial, the City did not use its City attorneys. They hired one of the most expensive, highly successful private law firm in Hampton Roads. This means taxpayers would pay the exorbitant legal cost and court costs including Bergano.
Before the trial started, a surprising transformation began. The City thought they were only fighting one lonely person. However, Bergano organized two outdoor rallies to increase the awareness of the injustice utilized and the use of bullying tactics by the City. During these rallies, a significant amount of previously docile and indifferent individuals came together and became avid, vocal supporters of Bergano. His patients, members of the Filipino American community and numerous sympathetic individuals participated by holding up protest signs along North Witchduck Road. Newspaper articles…TV coverage…social media began proliferating accounts of the City bullying and attacking a popular, well-respected member of the Filipino American community. Bergano stated, “If the City could do this to me, they could do it to you. Together we must make a stand against injustices today for the sake of a better tomorrow for future generations to enjoy.” Bergano was no longer alone. He was now backed up by a symphony of voices outraged towards the City.
In February/2017, Judge Henry Morgan in federal district court in Norfolk, VA., sided with the Plaintiff…Bergano. He ruled that Virginia Beach was in violation of Bergano’s constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law. He also ruled that Virginia Beach is guilty in denying Bergano relocation benefits under Virginia’s relocation statutes.
In May/2017, Bergano settled for $175,000. By settling, Judge Morgan’s verdict is final and the City cannot appeal the case. The settlement sealed Bergano’s victory which serves as redemption and validation for all hardships and sacrifices endured by his Father and Uncles of the 1920s and the protest demonstrations of the Bridge Generation in the 1960’s.
A popular Virginian-Pilot columnist, Kerry Dougherty, accurately captures the disappointment of the citizens of Virginia Beach. “In fighting a Beach dentist, who merely asked for what he was owed – relocation costs after the city ordered him out of his office – Virginia Beach embarked on an expensive battle that promises to cost taxpayers far more than if the city had treated the man fairly from the outset. City officials were arrogant and wasteful at best.”
Since the beginning, City of Virginia Beach officials tried to convince everybody they would save taxpayer’s money by not paying Bergano relocation benefits. With unlimited financial resources, the hiring of the best private law firm money can buy, and thousands of dollars spent on the testimony expert witnesses stating “…there will be no effect on Bergano’s Dental practice by the widening of Witchduck Road.” Despite all the power and money at the City’s disposal, they still lost!!!
The Bergano Case — Cost To Taxpayers
To Dr. Bergano: $175,000
Attorney Fees: $200,000
City’s Outside Council: $310,000
Expert Witnesses: $39,439
Bergano vs. The City of Virginia Beach has become a landmark…eminent domain case…for future small businesses undergoing relocation. A business does not have to physically move out to another location to be considered “displaced”. A signed lease at the new location along with bids from building contractors and equipment suppliers shows intent to move and therefore qualifies as being “displaced”. When a business is considered “displaced”, it is entitled to relocation benefits.
A member of the Filipino American community shared his thoughts. He beautifully sums up Bergano’s victory in the face of immense adversity:
“Doc, you are truly one of a kind. In the midst of this case, the article states that you settled for less money because you were concerned about the city and its taxpayers. The same city that hired high-end attorneys, you show mercy because the taxpayers lose in the end.
All of this could have been resolved in the beginning, but the city attorneys continued. If this were a business, the city attorneys would be fired and pay fines for waste, fraud, and abuse.
I am amazed with your kindness. In what could have been a landmark case against the city, you could have used your trial as the example to make the city pay. Instead, you show mercy. In the end, it is the “bayanihan spirit” that persists in what you represent because you display that what you do, we do together. As you have shown, it was never about you because all the while you thought about us!” Salamat.
Podcast by Emil Guillermo
Federal Court Transcript: Bergano vs City of Virginia Beach
The Virginian-Pilot Newspaper Columnist Kerry Dougherty
WAVY-TV ANDY FOX
IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL WE ARE DONE