The new district boundaries will be used in the June 7 primary election. District 3, marked as 3-3A in this official final map, includes Oakland Chinatown, Eastlake, and Fruitvale. Credit: Courtesy of Alameda County

Four candidates are running in the June 7 primary election to replace Wilma Chan on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Chan died unexpectedly in November when a motorist struck her while she was walking her dog in Alameda. 

June 7 primary election — full coverage

Read our coverage to find out who’s running, what measures are on the ballot, how the primary election works, how to register to vote, and more.

District 3, which covers all of Alameda and San Leandro, parts of downtown and East Oakland, and unincorporated areas like San Lorenzo, is incredibly diverse in terms of race, income, and the challenges different communities face. The job of a county supervisor is to equitably balance the needs of these different communities by guiding county policies and distributing resources like healthcare, mental health, housing, public safety services, and more. 

Each of the candidates running for District 3 come from different places with different backgrounds. All have served in public office before and are not far apart on many of the pressing issues facing the county. 

Whoever takes over the District 3 seat will be faced with challenging and complex issues, from the county’s affordability crisis to homeless to figuring out how best to use a billion dollar budget to help the most vulnerable residents. 

The way the June 7 primary election works: if none of the candidates receives 50% or more of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote getters will be held during the November general election. 

Below is a look at the candidates, their stated priorities, and where they stand on key issues. We have listed the four hopefuls in alphabetical order. 

Surlene Grant

Credit: Courtesy of Surlene Grant

Grant is a decade-long San Leandro City Council member, whose path into politics started with a telephone box in the 1990s. Grant was working for the city of Oakland in public works and as a public information officer and moved to San Leandro to buy a house in her price range. The phone company’s decision to install a box on her property, she says, led to a fight with San Leandro City Hall and Pacific Bell Co. She felt the company illegally put the equipment on her property, a fight she eventually won. 

The experience helped propel her to be appointed to San Leandro City Council in 1998. She was the city’s first Black representative and said during the first meeting when she took office, half of the people in the council chambers walked out.  “You would like to think it was because of a long night,” she said. 

After her appointment, Grant was twice re-elected to City Council. A community room is now named in her honor. She blazed trails in a city with a history of racism and bigotry against people of color. San Leandro is now one of the Bay Area’s more diverse cities, but in 2001 she recalled having to vote on translating a flier into Spanish. 

“I tell people I do the work in San Leandro and I stay involved because I want San Leandro to be the community I want to live in and not the community I have to live in,” Grant said. 

Grant’s list of endorsements includes several current and former San Leandro councilmembers, former Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, county board of education president Aisha Knowles, and members of the local chamber of commerce. She emphasized her “well roundedness” as both a politician and someone who has worked more behind the scenes. 

“I haven’t been sitting at the dais. I’ve been doing the work in all 14 cities and unincorporated areas so I understand the county,” said Grant.

Since her time on council, Grant co-founded Unity in the Community San Leandro, a resident-based coalition to eradicate racism and bigotry. Grant said she has also been active in helping diversify the command staff of the San Leandro police.

Grant wants to reduce bureaucracy and cited some specific reasons that got her back into politics. This first is a group of people living at a 45-unit townhouse development in Fairview, an unincorporated part of the county, facing eviction during the pandemic despite a countywide moratorium. “Why are we threatening people with foreclosure right now?” she asked in an interview. 

After an experience involving a friend going through a medical ordeal, Grant realized how complicated it can be to go through the county’s health system. Another experience in which a stranger found her through her prior connection to the San Leandro’s chamber of commerce underscored that many people don’t know where to go for help. 

“The bureaucracy is keeping people out and they don’t know where to go,” Grant said. “They don’t know how to fight the system.” 

If elected, Grant wants to introduce a form of universal basic income to help people pay bills and rent. “I’d rather give somebody $200 a month to help them make ends meet than have them end up homeless and we have to take care of them on the other end,” she said. 

Grant also supports oversight of the sheriff’s office and said because she’s read conflicting reports about the Howard Terminal ballpark project, she would need more information before making a decision about whether the county should join the city in forming an infrastructure financing district to pay for upgrades near the project site. 

David Kakishiba

Credit: Courtesy of David Kakishiba

Kakishiba, a longtime resident of Oakland, has served for the past 40 years as the executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth Center, a nonprofit youth development organization headquartered in the San Antonio neighborhood which also has deep roots in the Eastlake and Fruitvale neighborhoods. 

After a dozen years on the Oakland Unified School District board, Kakishiba said he was happy to leave public office in 2014. But the political atmosphere under the Trump Administration and frustration over how local governments responded to the coronavirus pandemic rekindled his desire to return to public service. He said he sought Supervisor Chan’s advice about where he could best serve and when Chan unexpectedly died it “created a huge hole in community drive and progressive leadership at the county level.” So he decided to run for Chan’s seat. 

Kakishiba has made early childhood education and resources for elementary to high school students a top priority of his campaign. He’s received backing from multiple Oakland school board members, members of Alameda’s school board, as well as Peralta Colleges trustees, and current and former Oakland council members Nikki Fortunato Bas, Pat Kernighan, and Abel Guillen. 

Part of his frustration over the coronavirus pandemic shutdown was the closure of schools. Kakishiba agreed that the classrooms should have been closed, but he felt that neighborhood schools should have been kept open as resource and information centers, places for families to get nutritious meals, COVID-19 tests, and more. He sees them as community-trusted sites vital to the overall health of neighborhoods and wants to expand their use. 

“The county has both a moral and a functional self interest in expanding targeting prevention and early intervention strategies for young people and their families so that we see a reduction in the number of people coming through the more crisis driven continuum of the social services net,” he told The Oaklandside. 

One concrete way, Kakishiba said, is to promote robust wellness centers at schools to increase student school attendance and reduce student absenteeism. 

On the A’s Howard Terminal ballpark development, Kakishiba does not currently support the county joining an infrastructure facilities district to cover costs of pedestrian and car bridges, roadway improvements, and adding sewer, water, and electrical lines. The city of Oakland said it needs the county to agree to dedicate tax revenues the county will receive from the project to pay for the upgrades.

Kakishiba supported the sale of the county’s half of the Coliseum complex, saying the county should not be entangled in professional sports business. That hard line extends to Howard Terminal. 

“The county has spent millions of millions of dollars we could have spent on affordable housing and wellness centers with the amount of money we have spent on the return of the Raiders,” he said, adding he could be persuaded otherwise if a county staff analysis showed the project is going to be of “tremendous public benefit.” 

“I don’t think it’s going to pencil out,” Kakishiba said. “It’s not going to be to the benefit of the people that we serve.” 

Kakishiba also brought up the need for more oversight of the county sheriff. He is in support of the current movement to create a civilian board to oversee the sheriff’s office, something similar to the Oakland Police Commission. 

Homelessness is an issue Kakishiba wants to address by providing frontline services and providing stable or permanent housing. “For me it would be encampment by encampment. I think we have to hold ourselves to a simple metric. Overtime, this encampment no longer exists,” he said.

Rebecca Kaplan

Credit: Courtesy of Rebecca Kaplan

Kaplan is Oakland’s at-large councilmember, representing all of the town since 2008, and currently the senior member of the Oakland City Council. During her time on council she has run twice for mayor, unsuccessfully and served on the Alameda County Transportation Commission. She also served on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Coliseum stadium joint powers authority, and the AC Transit board, prior to her election to Oakland council. 

Kaplan said her experience on those regional boards and her years inside Oakland City Hall give her a unique perspective on how to help solve issues that cross city boundaries. For instance, Kaplan wants to work with Oakland and Alameda to improve bicycle and pedestrian access across the estuary from downtown to the west side of the island city. 

Her list of endorsements include a majority of the Oakland City Council, including Bas, councilmembers in Berkeley, San Leandro, and Hayward, and several major labor unions. Among her top priorities are expanding civilian response to 911 calls at the county-level similar to Oakland’s MACRO program, providing more services for homeless residents, establishing oversight of the county sheriff’s office, and working on environmental justice initiatives to clean up the district’s air quality. 

The county controls the majority of funding for homeless services—including state funds—and Kaplan is calling for the county to acquire property and convert county-owned properties as shelters. She’d like to see the county increase its number of navigation centers with drop-in services for unsheltered individuals and add RV sites with onsite sanitation services. 

“The county owns a lot of land including properties that can be used for rapid-build affordable housing and office buildings that could be repurposed,” she said. 

Because the region hasn’t built enough affordable housing, she is looking at ways to keep existing units affordable. One idea is to give existing tenants and affordable housing organizations first dibs on acquiring foreclosed homes that end up on the county auction block. Every year, hundreds of homes are sold at auction. 

“They end up being bought by out-of-state corporations who leave them to be vacant blights,” Kaplan said. The “Moms for Housing” home in West Oakland, for example, was purchased by one of the country’s largest real estate speculators. “That was the one that got all the attention because there was grassroots activism but that is a microcosm of a much broader problem.” 

The councilmember is keeping an eye on staffing levels at the county’s hospitals and clinics, where there’s been a drop in employees, and said she would prioritize expanding access to vaccinations for COVID-19 and flu shots by opening smaller-scale outdoor vaccine centers. 

She wants to continue Chan’s work in making sure underserved communities have access to healthy food and plans to expand community gardens and bring initiatives to fund “healthy corner store conversions.” 

When it comes to the Howard Terminal project, the county’s participation in an infrastructure tax district “should depend on what the money is used to fund,” Kaplan said. If elected, she would hold special budget hearings for unincorporated areas, such as San Lorenzo in District 3, which rely more heavily on county services. 

Lena Tam

Credit: Courtesy of Lena Tam

Tam, a former Alameda councilmember, has also served as president of the city of Alameda Health Care Board and chair of the Alameda County Planning Board. She is currently a manager of the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s water planning department. 

Tam said the passing of Chan “created a void” in a county where a third of residents are Asian. Chan, she said, was the board’s go-to person for Asian residents, even those who lived outside her district. As the first Asian American woman on the Alameda council, Tam said she wants to continue Chan’s legacy. 

“I want to strengthen that multi-racial democracy that’s really important for our success as a county,” Tam said. 

She is endorsed by Dave Brown, a former aide to Chan who was appointed to the District 3 seat to fulfill Chan’s remaining term. Tam is also endorsed by state Treasurer Fiona Ma, state Controller Betty Yee, the county’s assessor and the controller/clerk-recorder, former Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore, and several councilmembers from various Alameda County cities. 

Tam said she is concerned about the safety of residents in District 3 and suggested the county could do more to aid local police departments. 

She suggested sheriff deputies help patrol Oakland streets, as they have with traffic enforcement in the city of Alameda, to help Oakland’s understaffed police department. 

“In Alameda we partnered with the sheriff’s office for traffic enforcement on specific days. I’m sure there can be opportunities to help each other out with specific programs and projects,” Tam said. 

One area of particular concern is pedestrian safety in Chinatown. Tam supports building new bicycle and pedestrian bridges between Oakland and Alameda to help reduce the number of cars going through the neighborhood, many of which are entering or exiting the Webster Street and Posey Tubes. She also would like to find ways to help Chinatown and Eastlake businesses which have struggled through the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Howard Terminal, she said the county has already approved the idea of joining a tax district in concept but is waiting for a staff report on whether any funding “can actually be realized to address the issues that the county cares deeply about.” 

“I share Mayor Libby Schaaf’s adamancy that we do not use existing tax dollars to fund the project and certainly not the sports facility,” Tam said. 

Like the other candidates, she supports forming a sheriff’s oversight committee, saying it is necessary to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the community. Any oversight board should have its own legal counsel separate from the county’s counsel, she said. 

“I have the breadth and depth of experience that would be important in moving a lot of the priorities I outlined,” she said.

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.