This November, residents in District 4 will pick between the two candidates competing to be their new councilmember: Nenna Joiner and Janani Ramachandran.
The D4 boundaries were redrawn by the city earlier this year. If you’re not sure what district you’re in, you can type in your address on the new district map to find out.
Oakland Voices and The Oaklandside paired up to ask a group of D4 residents what issues matter the most to them heading into election season. All of them cited public safety as an urgent priority. Read on to see what they had to say in their own words. All of the responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Jessica Ramos, 19
When Ramos votes in November, it will be her first time voting in a city election but not her first interaction with local politics. Ramos was one of the lead organizers of a 2020 “Defund the Police” protest that marched to Mayor Libby Schaff’s home. She also served as a student director on the OUSD school board during the 2020-2021 school year and co-legislated Measure QQ, which was approved by voters and will allow 16 and 17-year-olds in Oakland to vote in future school board elections. She was also one of the students featured in Peter Nick’s 2021 documentary, Homeroom.
Ramos is looking for a mayor who understands the importance of youth to the future of Oakland. “The next mayor should be always having conversations with us, especially students who are uprising. I think if we had more youth involved in our communities, there would be so much more change.”
Her biggest concern is public safety. “Overall, in Oakland, there’s just a lot of crime and violence, especially with gun violence,” she said. “I always look for somebody that is [going to work] in a way that benefits the city, and not just them.”
She would also like to see more Latinx representation in Oakland’s local government. “There’s a lot of disconnection with our community when it comes to local politics and local government. There isn’t a lot of Latino representation for a city that has a large Mam immigrant population and is also [a] sanctuary city.”
LuTillian “Tillie” Hudson
Since 1992, Hudson has been keeping Oaklanders stylish at Showin’ Out Hair Gallery, her salon on MacArthur Boulevard in the Laurel. She said she’s seen the business district change over the years and not all for the good. “I’ve seen it go up and down over the years, and it’s just not the same anymore,” she said. “Lakeshore is probably one of the better business districts, but we also had a decent area, and it’s just gone down.”
Hudson said crime is her number one issue. “We’ve had various businesses on the boulevard robbed, and that’s a concern for me given that we often work late,” she said. “We used to have community policing, and if [the police] weren’t there, we had hired security guards that walked the boulevard, and that helped us — both the customers and workers — feel safe. That’s something I’d like to see the next council member bring back.”
Also, a priority for Hudson is the general upkeep of the Laurel business district. She appreciates that MacArthur gets regularly cleaned but feels the city could be doing more. “I’m concerned that there are a lot of potholes that need to be repaired. We have blighted businesses that are shut down. All of those things reflect on us, and it would be nice to have them taken care of so they don’t make the area look bad.”
Michael DeSousa, 44
Having lived in various parts of Oakland for more than a decade, DeSousa, the chief program officer at The Oakland Reach, a parent-run group advocating for better schools, believes the biggest concern in his district is traffic safety. “A lot of my friends and neighbors have been concerned with people being hit by cars, speeding, and the impacts of sideshows in their communities,” said DeSousa. “There’s some spaces in D4 that aren’t very safe for pedestrians.”
DeSousa cited the intersection in front of Safeway on Redwood Road as one area that’s unsafe for pedestrians because of high-speed traffic and blind corners. “A lot of people feel unsafe sometimes walking across the street on MacArthur between 35th and High. Random intersections, there are donuts being done—trying to figure out some ways to mitigate intersections where folks are doing sideshows and things like that. I’d love it if we organized sideshows at the Coliseum. That would be really cool.”
DeSousa had other suggestions for council members to support D4: “Hiring more community members to help keep our streets safe and clean is a priority. Giving people meaningful jobs, like some of the ambassador programs that are downtown and trying to get those out in the community more.”
Joanna Trammell, 47
Like other voters we spoke to, Trammell’s main concern is public safety. She said the city’s current leaders haven’t been as focused on the issue as much as they should be, and that she feels there’s a disconnect between elected officials and residents. Being a mom with school-aged children, she’s also worried about the future of public schools.
“We really struggle with having strong middle schools and high schools, and people want to send their kids to private schools. We pay a premium to live here with property taxes, and we’ve passed ballot measures that would provide additional funding and resources. And yet, I don’t think we’re seeing [the benefits of] that,” Trammell said. “What can we really do to make strong public education in our neighborhoods and in our city so that children here and families can get the support that they need to have a quality education?”
She also wants local politicians to tackle the housing crisis by removing roadblocks for people who want to build accessory dwelling units on their properties.
“This might actually seem kind of small, but people are looking for creative ways to expand housing to provide for family members that might need to live with them, as it’s really expensive to live in the Bay Area,” Trammell said. “There’s just a lot of red tape that is discouraging people from going the route of creating additional housing units on their property. I’m hearing it takes people over six months to almost a year to get a permit.”
Joel Tena, 49
Tena has immediate concerns that he would like to see future elected officials in Oakland address with a sense of urgency: “Housing and crime. We need safer streets and safer communities. We have the ability and the power as a city to make significant changes for the better of all Oaklanders.”
Tena supports MACRO, a pilot community-response program where trained civilian workers respond to certain non-violent 911 calls. The program is currently in its third month. “I understand it’s a stressful situation being a cop in Oakland—I’ve gotten to ride along before. But there has to be some level of patience and understanding that we need to serve everybody better here in this town. And I just don’t feel like a lot of times that happens.”
He also wants to see more investment in public programs to help the youth. “Let’s fund services that provide alternatives to violence. Whether it’s libraries, schools, parks so that young people as they grow up learn that there are opportunities out there for them.”
Ivan Garcia, 19
Ivan Garcia voted in the special election last year and volunteered for Mia Bonta during her campaign for the State assembly. As a high schooler, he interned for Mayor Schaaf and served on the Oakland Youth Commission all through high school. For Garcia, being involved in local politics at a young age helped him understand how issues get talked about inside City Hall. “I learned about the bureaucracy of it all,” he said.
His primary concerns as a first-time voter in a mayoral race are public safety and homelessness. “What I’m having trouble with is that a lot of politicians will say one thing and then either go back on that commitment or not fully stick to it. They see that they have to be in the middle for voters who might not lean as far left with violence prevention programs. I want a mayor who is firm on what they believe in terms of police accountability, violence prevention, and where money should be directed. I want transparency. Oakland is at a turning point with communities continuing to get gentrified.”
He also wants to make sure that elected officials and aspiring politicians understand the power of young voters. “Do not sleep on us young people,” Garcia said. “Some of my friends and I are the biggest canvassers. We’re willing to make calls, and sometimes candidates overlook that. And I can say that we’re gonna be showing up for this next election. My generation is growing up seeing the consequences of gentrification, growing up seeing our surroundings change, and wondering how we’re going to afford to live here.”
Jason Kwong, 45
An Oakland native, Kong said he has seen the crime rate rise and fall over the years and has family and friends who’ve been directly impacted.
“I’ve had family members literally get robbed outside the house coming home late at night, car break-ins, vandalism, and all that stuff. I think what needs to be done is a little bit of emphasis on hiring more officers. I understand the defund of the police movement. But as someone who’s grown up here, never left, had friends leave and gone off to the suburbs– I think, for most people, [the reason] is crime. And I mean, I live in [District 4], which is actually pretty good compared to other parts, but it’s still a concern,” he said.
“There’s a relatively new Puerto Rican spot that opened up, and those guys got robbed just trying to leave their business at the end of the night. I don’t like to see businesses like that get hurt, especially when it’s something that is new and diverse to this area.”
Brady Bellis, 53
Bellis thinks the city should do more to make sure its streets and neighborhoods are cared for. “I think just basic infrastructure stuff—fire safety and roads. Whatever can be done as far as improving the overall neighborhoods around here would be pretty good.”
He also thinks the city can do a better job of looking out for small-business owners. Bellis himself owns Rocky’s, a small neighborhood market in Oakmore.
“We would definitely like support for smaller businesses. Sometimes we get things that are not small-business friendly, like fees that masquerade as taxes.”