Mayor Libby Schaaf will term out of office next year after serving Oakland for the past eight years. Whoever wins the Nov. 8 election and succeeds her will be tasked with addressing longstanding problems like crime, pollution, and homelessness, that call for bold solutions.
Oakland Voices and The Oaklandside teamed up to ask a range of Oakland residents from across the city to set the next mayor’s agenda. Regardless of who wins, what should our city’s next leader focus on?
As you might guess, they laid out a challenging slate of issues that will demand a lot from the next mayor.
Growing up in East New York City, Wyatt feels like she intimately understands the intersecting problems that big cities face. She moved to Oakland in 2001 and currently lives in the Clawson-McClymonds neighborhood in West Oakland.
Public Safety and homelessness, she said, are the two biggest issues the next mayor will need to offer solutions for.
“How do we build our city back from the violence we’re experiencing? Nothing can reduce jobs, the value of property, and the image of a city more quickly than violence,” said Wyatt. “We need a mayor savvy enough to understand that, not just bickering.”
Wyatt has been disappointed by what she sees as either the unwillingness or inability of city officials and members of the community to work together to reduce crime and violence.
“I don’t like the isolationism of OPD or DVP,” she said, referring to the police department and the new violence prevention department. “We need people who are willing and brave enough to collaborate in innovative ways. We can’t keep up with this back and forth of political infighting.”
“I understand the ACAB,” Wyatt added, referring to a slogan used to criticize the police. “I grew up in Black America. We understand the police and dogs and all that. But no mother whose child was killed by gang violence wants to hear all that. They want solutions. They have to sit at the table. We all have to collaborate.”
She feels similarly about how the city is addressing homelessness: Too many people are arguing with each other, she said, rather than pursuing possible solutions like building more ADUs (backyard cottages), supporting Section 8 housing, working with mom-and-pop landlords to stabilize more affordable housing, and creating more supportive housing for people suffering from addiction.
Wyatt added that she’s disappointed with how the city has handled its growing cannabis industry, which is starting to pollute neighborhoods like hers.
“When we heard they were going to try to mend past harms in this community it was great, but now we see some of these places operating as a community nuisance. We have one grow or manufacturing operation in our area, they have a $100,000 PG&E bill they haven’t paid, and now they’re running on generators,” polluting the air, she said.
Harris is a mother and remote tech worker who recently moved from a condo to a house on a quiet block in District 6, after years of living in D4. She sat in her sunny backyard during our interview with her 2-year-old on her lap.
Harris currently works for DoorDash doing customer relations and has worked for several tech startups (most recently for an artificial intelligence company, where she worked to make their AI services “less creepy.”) But before that, Harris said she spent many years in lower-paying jobs with various community-service groups.
For Harris, traffic and pedestrian safety are top of mind. “It’s crazy out there! The cars don’t stop at stop signs and red lights. They speed through intersections, and I don’t think anyone is enforcing traffic laws,” she said. “This is really [a big deal] for me.”
Harris said she’s also concerned about gun violence, and what she described as the city’s ongoing failure to deal with homelessness. She’s been startled to see the size of many encampments, the amounts of trash, and the lack of sanitary facilities. “I was appalled there were no effective interventions,” said Harris.
She is also concerned with illegal dumping and frustrated that “people don’t keep the streets clean.” She noted that other cities in the U.S. also have trash problems, but recalled how comparatively clean the streets were in the foreign places she’s visited in Europe (particularly Paris, she said) and in areas of Mexico City.
Jones is a long-time Oakland resident who’s passionate about her neighbors and her neighborhood in District 7.
She currently works for Maritime and Trades Recruiting, helping formerly incarcerated people get back into the Bay Area economy. When Jones started with the company in 2012, she thought it surprising that with so many well-paid nautical jobs on the bay, so few people of color were employed in that field.
“In Oakland, people need a living wage,” she said. ”Sometimes they need to work more than one job and, sometimes, even that isn’t enough.”
Housing is another big issue, said Jones. “But you can’t change someone’s housing [status] without gainful employment,” she added. “Without that, people wind up on the street.”
Jones believes a lack of adequate mental health services also contributes to housing insecurity. When Jones was experiencing financial woes and stress some years ago, she herself spent a period of time unhoused.
“How does this happen to someone who is educated and not on drugs? I was living out of a car and showering at the gym,” said Jones. “It’s terrifying because you don’t know if you’re going to be safe. I used to be embarrassed to talk about it but that made me who I am today.”
Jones also has an issue with local nonprofit organizations that don’t achieve results. “Are we funding the same groups and getting [the same] limited results?” Rae asked. “I am concerned about how [city] funds are being spent.”
Her son had difficulty finding a job between college semesters, and Jones thinks more can be done by the city and community organizations to provide employment opportunities to the city’s youth through school-based and summer job programs.
“We need less red tape and fewer intermediaries in delivering the services,” she said.
Eastlake resident Emily Wheeler said that for too long, Oakland’s mayors and councilmembers have prioritized outside interests at the expense of existing residents.
“My issue is equity. I want a mayor that will place the interests of Oakland residents, especially low-income Oakland residents, above corporations, investors, and other extractive interests,” Wheeler said. “That means investing in non-carceral public safety solutions, protecting and preserving truly affordable housing, standing up to extractive developments like Howard Terminal, and combatting our climate apocalypse by investing in regenerative open spaces and climate justice.”
Wheeler would like to see more money going toward non-police programs like MACRO as well as services to create a healthier environment. “The bigger a percentage of the city’s budget that goes to OPD, the less funding there is for other things that will improve the quality of life,” she said.
But housing might be Wheeler’s hottest take. As an environmentalist and tenant advocate, Wheeler said that she doesn’t embrace the YIMBY view of building more housing as the first and best solution to affordability.
“Construction is one of the worst things for the environment, especially the amounts of carbon emissions that go into it,” she said. “I’d like to make sure we’re utilizing structures we have to the best extent.” That means even stronger renter protections through rent control and just cause and similar laws, she said.
Rev. ElTyna McCree
The 75-year-old McCree is a community activist, business leader, and reverend who lives in District 3. For the past five years, she has been a chaplain for the homeless at First Presbyterian Church at 21st Street and Broadway. She is the former long-time owner of Oakland Treasures, a clothing and gift shop in the downtown area, and has served on the Oakland Merchant Leadership Forum for small businesses.
“Homelessness is issue number one for me,” said McCree, “because it’s at an all-time high and people live in these terrible conditions. The many encampments have mounds of rubbish and trash all over Oakland. It’s unhealthy and unacceptable.”
Her second concern is crime, which she’s noticed is happening increasingly in broad daylight. “In 2017, a thief forced entry at my store and caused me a near-death experience,” she said. “Now my sons won’t allow me out of the house without a door-to-door ride.”
McCree is also concerned about traffic safety and “those guys doing donuts on the street,” referring to sideshows. “As a resident of Oakland for 46 years and a business owner for 40 of those years, it hurts that the city is not being cared for.”
As for the mayoral race, McCree said she won’t be voting for any of the one-term councilmembers who are running “because of their failure to do anything” on the issues she described.
Having lived in West Oakland for 49 years, Kidd has seen the area transformed several times over by local industries and the periodic influx of new residents.
One consistent hazard he and his neighbors have faced is pollution from the industry at the port. He said his community opposes the idea of introducing new sources of pollution to the area and referred to a contentious plan to add a new gravel facility at the Oakland Port.
“We’re heavily impacted,” said Kidd. “It’s huge mounds of gravel, rock, and sand that would blow dust into the neighborhoods and beyond, and lots of trucks and barges running on dirty fuel. We already have a lot of pollution. The hospitalization rate for children here is three to five times greater than it is in the rest of the state.”
Kidd also cited the years-long battle between developers and community members over a proposed new coal terminal in West Oakland.
“The mayor and City Council have been pretty outspoken opposing that, and we want the new mayor to be equally outspoken on that,” he said.
Gene Hazzard has lived in Oakland since the early 1970s and is a passionate and pugnacious activist on Oakland’s political scene who regularly attends public meetings. Hazzard himself ran for City Council in District 3 in 1975 against incumbent Raymond Eng. He has lived in D3 since 1991.
“I am an advocate on any issue that I feel is detrimental to the community as a whole, especially the inequity that comes to Black community members,” said Hazzard. “For that, I am unapologetic.”
Hazzard said the most important issue to him is the number of unsheltered residents in Oakland. He said he’s worked with councilmembers in the past to address the problem, but it remains a priority that the city must address. “We have seen recently how the governor has spoken out about the failure of the city in dealing with the unsheltered community,” he noted.
While Hazzard has not yet decided who will get his vote for mayor, he has decided who he will not vote for: the three sitting councilmembers in the race, who he considers short on experience. He said that none of the mayoral candidates “comes close to a standard I would use.”
Nonetheless, Hazzard said it’s important that people vote and “choose the candidates they think are best able to solve the city’s problems.”
“Courage is needed to be a successful mayor in Oakland,” said the local artist, activist, and entrepreneur.
In particular, said Belle, many of the city’s advocacy groups are approaching the homeless issue inadequately by not doing enough to connect adjacent problems like mental health. “I don’t know how to fix it,” said Belle, “but we are going about it very ineffectively.”
Belle has been involved with many nonprofit organizations, co-owns the RBA Creative gallery and studio on MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland, and is a founding partner for the Black Cultural Zone collaborative. He has also served on the city’s arts commission.
“When I was on the arts commission (when Ron Dellums was Mayor), we talked about leveraging the arts as an economic engine,” he said. “There is an alchemy in developing the arts in schools and in industry and with tourism.”
Randolph told Oakland Voices that much of what happens in Oakland is based on models that worked somewhere else, instead of centering strategies around the needs and feedback from the city’s most impacted residents.
“When best practices are forced on a community, they don’t always fit,” said Belle. “We got the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and other infrastructure projects installed. But communities of color don’t fare well in these projects, and it kinda tears at the fabric of the neighborhoods.”