Five candidates are vying for the District 7 City Council seat being vacated by Larry Reid, who announced last year he wouldn’t seek a seventh four-year term. Reid has served as the district representative since 1996 and was a staffer for Mayor Elihu Harris before that. Reid never faced a serious reelection challenge over his 24 years in office, a sign of his strong voter base in the district. But several of the candidates running this year said East Oakland residents still face many of the same problems that existed when Reid first took office and that it’s time for change.
District 7 encompasses the southeastern part of Oakland, bordering the city of San Leandro from the hills to the Bay. It includes the Coliseum area, Oakland International Airport, huge industrial parks, middle-class neighborhoods in the hills, and working-class Black and Latino communities in the flatlands where the majority of residents live.
Among the candidates this year are Treva Reid, a public affairs representative for PG&E. She’s also the daughter of Larry Reid and has his endorsement and name recognition. Bob Jackson, the senior pastor of Acts Full Gospel Church and a founding member of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, is also running. Marcie Hodge, executive director of the St. John Boys Home, a center for at-risk youth, has run for mayor and the D7 council seat several times in the past. Marchon Tatmon is the government affairs manager at the SF-Marin Food Bank and served as an intern in Councilmember Reid’s office in the 2000’s. He also ran for mayor in 2018. Aaron Clay is a small business owner who runs Sunswarm Solar Company and is a former full-time teacher at Markham Elementary School in East Oakland. He also taught small groups of students at Grass Valley Elementary before classrooms closed this spring due to COVID-19.
All five candidates have personal ties to District 7 and are intimately familiar with the area’s immense potential—and its problems, which include air pollution, housing insecurity, crime and gun violence, and illegal dumping. They all told The Oaklandside they feel a strong commitment to this largely underserved and overlooked area of Oakland. However, they differ on what policies will best advance East Oakland’s wellbeing.
Over the past decade, there have been few new housing developments in deep East Oakland, affordable or market rate. All the candidates are in favor of developing more affordable housing in order to prevent the displacement of low-income and Black residents.
Reid believes that the housing crisis is the first issue that needs to be addressed. “We’ve got to prioritize those who have been disproportionately harmed and make sure those residents have housing,” she said. In addition to working for PG&E, Reid is a board member of Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, a large Bay Area nonprofit developer that specializes in building subsidized housing.
She said she intends to prevent displacement by enforcing existing tenant protections so no one is illegally evicted. She also wants to access city-owned and privately owned vacant properties to create more housing, as has been done in other parts of Oakland. Reid cited the city’s recent acquisition of a former art student dorm in Rockridge as one example.
Reid wants to expand rental assistance so that the pandemic and its aftermath doesn’t result in thousands of Oaklanders being kicked out of their homes for falling behind on rent. She also supports programs that help expand homeownership among low-income groups.
“The first home I lived in was through an affordable housing program where I had tax abatement and other benefits to help me as a first-time homebuyer, as a first-time mom, to come into homeownership and realize the value and the benefit of equity with housing stability.”
Bishop Bob Jackson believes his achievements as pastor of Acts Full Gospel Church and as a founder of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce show he can solve problems, from housing to economic development. Acts Full Gospel Church has spearheaded affordable housing projects over the past several years in East Oakland. The church and a developer recently finished construction of the Cyrene Acts Apartments Complex. Of the 59 apartments in the building, about 24 are reserved for families earning less than 30% of the area’s median income of $96,400 (which comes out to $28,920) for a family of four.
“We are now in the process of building 55 more units across the street, so I’m not talking about what I’m going to do. I’m talking about what I’m already doing, and we’ll do more when I become city councilman,” Jackson said. He is currently in talks with 12 other pastors whose churches own property, including parking lots, that might be suitable for affordable housing.
Jackson, who grew up in West Oakland’s Campbell Village projects, also believes that city officials have to remove the stigma surrounding affordable housing in order to move forward with more of these projects in District 7. “There’s a stereotype that people who are living in affordable housing are dope fiends, and they’re violent, and it’s simply not true.”
Marcie Hodge believes housing insecurity is largely linked to poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, and mental health issues. She said more homeless people could be placed into housing, but it will require helping them deal with mental health problems. “We need to create some kind of policy to get people to take their meds so that they can actually access and be a part of the community,” Hodge said.
As for housing development, Hodge wants to rezone various parcels of land so that denser housing can be built in more parts of the city, including D7. She said the city should also help landlords maintain their properties if their tenants are not able to pay rent during the pandemic and eviction moratorium. “We need to work with both sides to keep people stabilized and keep the ownership of housing and apartments in the hands of people who actually live here in Oakland.”
Aaron Clay grew up in an affordable housing project in Oakland and while he does plan to advocate for more of these developments in District 7, he said that a spectrum of housing types needs to be built, including transitional and supportive housing for homeless people.
Clay also wants to address the lack of what he refers to as “healthy housing stock.” He is currently working on a project with Revalue.io, a Black-owned local technology startup, that will address the health issues that come from living in old, dilapidated housing.
“We have a lot of families who are living in rental housing that’s just unhealthy,” Clay said. “They don’t even know but it’s causing them ongoing illnesses where kids are going to the emergency room once or twice a year for asthma attacks because there are mold issues and high rodent infestations.” Clay said this issue has been tough to deal with because residents are afraid that if they report the conditions, their landlord might evict them.
Marchon Tatmon thinks that more affordable housing can be built along Hegenberger Road and at the Coliseum site. He pledged he won’t pursue policies that make it hard for locals to stay in East Oakland.
“I’m a person that came from this community, so displacing people even to a further level is not in my plan and it will never be in my plan,” Tatmon said.
The lack of affordable housing and the problem of vacant storefronts in D7, Tatmon said, should be addressed simultaneously. “Everything is interconnected in District 7. We need economic development so we can create community benefits. We can then use that community benefit to start addressing homelessness,” Tatmon said, though he didn’t specify what those benefits or policies would be.
He also wants to change the area’s zoning to allow a broader array of buildings in different areas to be constructed. Tatmon wants to see an assortment of market rate, affordable, and deeply affordable housing in the district.
Tatmon said the city is currently under-utilizing the affordable housing impact funds it collects and that these dollars could go further toward building housing and addressing the homelessness crisis. The funds are collected by the city from developers of market-rate housing and they’re supposed to be granted out to affordable housing developers.
“I was out there doing the homeless count two years ago while most people were asleep at five in the morning,” he said. “I saw how many people were out on the streets. I saw the situations they’re living through. When we’re building only a couple affordable housing places a year to tackle a 5,000 people problem, we will never catch up to that point.”
Land-use and Business Development
District 7 is full of vacant lots and many streets and sidewalks are littered with trash and discarded items because of illegal dumping. Hodge believes that people from outside of Oakland are coming to neighborhoods like those in D7 and using them “as a dumping ground,” and that this could be solved by installing cameras to catch culprits. She said economic growth could be spurred in East Oakland if blight is eliminated.
When it comes to supporting small businesses, Hodge said the city must make sure its tax rates incentivize more businesses to move to and stay in Oakland. “We must attract more bio-tech, technology, healthcare, and green jobs to the Oakland area,” Hodge said.
Tatmon plans to attract development to District 7 by providing micro-grants to small and struggling businesses. He also thinks the city should be doing more to recruit companies to relocate to Oakland in order to create jobs for residents.
Tatmon said he is currently in talks with the African American Sports and Entertainment Committee, an organization trying to bring a Black-owned NFL team to Oakland. “This is a million-dollar if not billion-dollar group that comes from this community, instead of predatory investors who want to do a land grab and reap the financial benefits,” Tatmon said.
Jackson wants to support low-income workers in East Oakland by building a center to help residents develop employable skills so “they would be able to make the kind of money they would need to make in order to afford to live in the city.”
If elected, Jackson said he will also encourage D7 businesses to join the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, as well as the African American and Latino chambers. He said the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce is currently offering entrepreneurship classes to members. He also mentioned the chamber’s recent resiliency fund, which sought to raise $1.1 million for local small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
According to OAACC president Cathy Adams, a total of 150 business owners received grants from the fund, which ranged from $2,500 to $10,000 based on need. The chamber still has roughly $250,000, which they will distribute only to current members who did not apply for the first two phases.
Reid said she will make sure the city’s new Department of Workplace and Employment Standards, which was created by voters in 2018, is fully funded to enforce the city’s minimum wage law and other worker protections.
Reid also wants to ensure existing small businesses aren’t displaced when the Coliseum site and surrounding areas are eventually redeveloped. She said businesses moving into the area should be required to hire local residents, and also thinks the next D7 councilmember should work to attract industries that won’t harm the environment in surrounding neighborhoods.
Finally, Reid said she wants to do more to ensure Bus Rapid Transit along International Boulevard has a less disruptive impact on shops, which have complained about construction, reductions in parking, and other issues.
Clay said he will utilize his experience as co-founder and CEO of an Oakland-based renewable energy company, Sunswarm Solar Company, to guide economic development in East Oakland.
One important job for D7’s next councilmember, Clay said, will be making sure the region’s gig workers are better supported. “The gig economy is here to stay. We need to look at ways to support those who choose to support themselves and their families in this way, whether through enforcing labor laws, supporting our unions, providing group health benefits, community bank financial privileges or other needed community services,” he said.
Clay plans to help small businesses by creating incentives for them to set up shop in District 7 and thinks the city should create a more robust small business program.
“We need a small business enterprise program that does extensive and effective outreach right now to every small business in the city,” he said. This would include assistance for businesses that are planning their transition to the post-quarantine economy, increased marketing and promotional campaigns, help with rent reduction and lease modifications, as well as employee support and training.
Policing and the Budget
Every D7 candidate believes that at least some of the Oakland Police Department’s budget should be cut and funds should be redistributed to other city departments. However, not everyone is on board with the council’s adopted goal of cutting OPD’s budget by 50% in the 2021-2023 budget.
“Just because people are hollering to defund the police department, you want to go in and slash the budget? I don’t think that’s wisdom,” said Jackson. “I think that you need to examine and evaluate those things that are necessary.”
According to Jackson, the city should be focused on hiring a new police chief from within OPD’s ranks. Oakland’s last chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, was fired in February.
“With homegrown leadership in the department, I think you’ll see a tremendous difference within the culture, a tremendous difference with performance, and a tremendous difference with protecting and serving the citizens of Oakland,” Jackson said.
Jackson wants to eliminate the federal monitor position currently overseeing the department, although the city doesn’t have the power to do this. Jackson also wants to see more officers hired from Oakland and more support for OPD’s 911 dispatch center, which according to a recent grand jury report, is critically understaffed and underfunded.
Clay and Hodge have similar positions on policing: They both feel that the community needs to be surveyed in order to understand what portion of the police budget should be cut.
“Instead of just saying, ‘This thing isn’t working so let’s just take their whole budget,’ we need to consider how do we reform it so it actually works,” Clay said. He believes that police officers are overburdened and the city should take away some of their tasks such as mental health checks and homelessness outreach, and give these jobs to community organizations who are already doing the work. Clay said he wants better training in OPD’s police academy, making sure all new cadets have a proper understanding of community policing and restorative justice. He also wants to see more support for 911 dispatchers.
Hodge isn’t so sure District 7 residents want substantial police budget cuts. “District 7 has a very high rate of crimes that are going on right now,” she said, “and while police officers definitely need to be trained on how to effectively engage the community, I’m not sure if District 7 really wants to see a great decrease in policing.”
Like Jackson and Clay, she brought up OPD’s slow response time to service calls, and said she’s worried budget cuts will worsen the situation.
She also said police budgetary issues are secondary to other structural challenges facing D7 residents. “It’s the reduction of people having access to livable wage jobs that creates a lot of problems, it’s the lack of affordable housing that creates instability in communities and quality of life problems,” Hodge said. “I think focusing solely on police creates a blind spot on all the systematic problems that we have to attack as well.”
In a City Council candidate forum hosted last month by the local Democratic Party, Tatmon briefly said he supported defunding the police. In his interview with The Oaklandside, he affirmed this position, and said he doesn’t think it would result in reduced response times for emergency calls.
“In areas where we see dramatic decreases in services such as 911, we can actually reroute some of the funding from the overall OPD budget to this line item so people won’t be put on hold or have a slow response time,” Tatmon said. “This is a life or death situation so I definitely don’t want to risk public safety when it comes to these cuts.”
Like Hodge, Tatmon said improving public safety involves much more than police reforms. “Let me use the terminology from the streets: People ‘hit licks’ and do robberies because they need to feed their families. If we give them a way to feed their family with livable wages and high paying jobs, people won’t have to go out there and do those licks—it will reduce crime,” he said.
Reid said she supports significant budget cuts to OPD, and the recent $14 million cut was not enough. Savings from OPD budget cuts should be used to pay for job creation programs, drug rehabilitation, mental health programs, and more social workers, she said.
In order to achieve this, Reid said the next D7 councilmember will have to tirelessly advocate for their district in council meetings. “We’ve got to come up with a different approach” to getting “the votes that we need for what’s most important to us,” she said. “I believe that I have good healthy relationships with the current council now.”