Loren Taylor, a third-generation Oakland resident, has a background in biomedical engineering and management consulting. He joined the City Council as the District 6 representative, defeating incumbent Desley Brooks in 2018.
In an interview with The Oaklandside, Taylor looked back on his first term and discussed the major issues facing District 6 and Oakland, from public safety to the Oakland A’s Howard Terminal ballpark project, which he views more as a real estate deal than a stadium proposal. He also addressed the fact that he’s a landlord, his association with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and expressed a desire to get more community members involved in City Council meetings.
This is part of our series of Q&As with councilmembers. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
You are nearly done with your first term. Looking back over the past three years, what are some moments you are most proud of?
We’ve had a number of accomplishments. We’ve transformed the work and the feel of District 6 and the opportunities that exist there. Examples include the creation of Liberation Park in partnership with the Black Cultural Zone collaborative, more than 30 community organizations, my office having been at the center of envisioning what could be, and supporting and guiding that development. It was an eyesore and a blight on the community and now it’s an urban oasis, with an outdoor roller-skating rink, turf field, recurring farmers market, and healing place. All of that is indicative of what we’ve done partnering with the community to transform spaces into positivity.
Another thing I’m extremely proud of and grateful for is the establishment of the ESO Ventures Entrepreneurship program, where we partnered with Merritt College to create an entrepreneurship accelerator. We’ve got four cohorts who have graduated through that. We are talking about businesses and entrepreneurs anchored to East Oakland tapping into their own innovation, to create value and giving the tools, competence, confidence, and the capital to do so. And going as far to get $8 million from the state budget to invest in Oakland businesses who traditionally struggled to get capital.
When it comes to public safety, I am proud of standing up for a deliberate process of reimaging public safety to make sure we not only redesign and transform the system we have around public safety and criminal justice but do so in a way that protects folks, ensures their continued safety, and that we uphold the need for strong support for residents who call 911 looking for help.
How do you strike that balance when it comes to the question of how many officers are needed to patrol Oakland vs. the community’s call for a non-police response, such as MACRO?
I am connected to the communities that have the highest amounts of crime, violence, and calls for service. Those who are making those calls say absolutely we need to reimagine and transform, and they say if we take away police right now without an alternative in place we know what will happen. It will cost lives. That will disproportionately impact Black and brown communities.
The way to move forward is to acknowledge that what we’ve had is framing that it’s either police and enforcement or violence prevention and focuses on root causes. It has to be both. I often describe the analogy of it’s just like when we built the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. We didn’t annihilate and get rid of the old bridge before the new bridge was up, running, tested, and demonstrated to be effective. That new bridge we know had some faults that needed to be worked on and fixed, like the cracks in bolts and suspension cables. Just like as we move from one bridge to the next one, we have to have a transition and keep the old one in place as a backup and sustain the need it serves we have to do the same with public safety.
That means our current public safety system is the solution when it comes to violent crimes, calls for services, investigations, community policing, partnership, and that is exactly what we need to maintain while we also build up the alternative models as we deploy the violence prevention efforts that we all are hoping will set us up for a reimagined state of less punitive, more intervention root cause investment.
I asked about some of your proudest moments. Are there any moments you regret? Anything you haven’t been able to get done?
I don’t know necessarily if I have regrets. I stand with all the decisions I’ve made. I think I engage and approach policy and decision-making very deliberately with intentional analysis, community engagement, and that has been reflected in the decisions I’ve made. There are some areas I wish I could have gone further. There is a next step to advance when you look at some of the economic opportunities and challenges.
One thing my district has been yearning for is an additional grocery store. Right now, we only have two grocery stores and they are smaller, family-owned grocers. We are still a food desert in District 6. We don’t have a single bank for 64,000 residents. It’s great we were able to get some additional ATM service stations, but that is something when you look at the lack of amenities in District 6 we are building the groundwork to get there, it’s something we haven’t been able to close on yet.
There are still significant infrastructure gaps and disparities that exist when you go into East Oakland versus other parts of the city versus other neighboring cities. When you look at the blight, illegal dumping, and litter. We have done a yeoman’s job of responding and creating some alternative investments adding programs like the Beautification Council to put our unhoused residents to work, helping to clean our streets and our areas. We have invested in surveillance technology and brought in more environmental enforcement officers to keep people from dumping in our city. There is still a way to go. You see the disparity.
One of the things I pushed for when I got in was to push for transparency and a true performance management system in the city. While that was one of my first resolutions I pushed for on the council, we still haven’t gotten a response from the administration. I lay that at the mayor and city administrator’s feet. It’s fundamental for us to have performance dashboards for every department, having transparency to where we can all be held accountable.
On an eight-person council, it’s important to build consensus. In what ways do you think the council has found consensus to accomplish its goals?
When I look at the council, where we are able to make progress and alignment, in general there’s alignment on values where we wanna go. The issue comes in when you talk about the execution of the path to get there. Where we align is around some of the investments. We agree we have got to be able to prioritize more investments toward homelessness and housing, to more alternative solutions to a gun and a badge response where it’s not needed and not as effective. I don’t think the misalignment is on where we are going, it is on how we get there.
On public safety, it seems you have a number of folks who want to move more aggressively without taking into account the safety concerns that many if not the majority of Oakland residents have. With housing and homelessness, we all agree we want to get people housed and stop people from becoming unhoused. The dichotomy that is happening is when it comes to how much we invest in the ultimate solution of getting people into housing. And how much of those dollars we take away from long-term housing in order to make the unfortunate reality of those living on the streets invest there. You see that coming into play in terms of creating a kitchen or commissary in encampments versus should those dollars be invested into creating long-term solutions. The challenge is when we don’t come together and talk in substance about these differences and at least call the question so we can call the vote and move forward. Instead, we talk around each other and above each other.
If you could change one big thing about the way Oakland government works, what would it be. Don’t be afraid to take a big swing here.
What we are missing is we have a small fraction of people who have the time, the resources, and some are professionally paid or incentivized to come to council meetings to advocate. That voice crowds out others. Their voice has a disproportionate weight and impact on decision-making.
What I would change is creating a better representative voice at these critical decision-making moments. Obviously, it’s on each of us as councilmembers to be in touch with the breadth of our constituency and not simply react to the louder voices in the room. But I’ve seen that occur to what I believe is the detriment of the collective voice of Oaklanders are wanting and needing.
The other thing is I think we have to come back in person to having at least the councilmembers together. Having the interaction between elected officials where we have to look each other in the eye, where we have to come together, it can force us to get out of our echo chambers, and engage each other as people and counterparts. I see the benefit of being in closer proximity.
When was the last time the full council was in the same room together?
Before the pandemic. Because of the Brown Act, the only time we come together is in a public meeting and we haven’t had an in-person public meeting. We have two councilmembers who are new and have never been in an in-person meeting with the full council. In my experience on the council, prior to the pandemic, there’s the humanity of seeing your colleagues in person and having coffee and seeing each other at the water cooler.
You’re running for mayor. How do you feel about the fact that a lot of people associate you with Mayor Schaaf, seeing your candidacy as a continuation of her legacy?
That is a naivety of lazy analysis and not really paying attention to facts and activities on the ground. Anybody who sees my record knows I have been driving an agenda that I have established based on the engagement with my constituents. When you look at my major accomplishments none of them have to do with Mayor Schaaf. When you look at the policy positions that I’ve had, they are independently driven and at times opposite of the mayor’s. When you look at the decision to not support Measure AA revenue collection until the courts ruled, that was a clear stance on the opposite side of the mayor.
My push to establish ‘City Hall East,” which still hasn’t happened, but I am pushing for it because I do think we have to have a satellite presence of City Hall in East Oakland, that’s something the mayor is not supportive of but I am extremely passionate about. Look at where I have sided with others on the council on the opposite side. There are folks who simply want to fill their own narrative and aren’t actually paying attention to what’s happening. It’s unfortunate that’s a narrative that’s been adopted since I’ve been on council but when presented with facts folks don’t have much to say or counter. The only way that I can counter that is with what is actually happening and those who pay attention will see and acknowledge that, and those are the ones who are supporting me.
How would you define your existing base of support? And who are you working to convince next?
I am not a typical politician. We have Sheng Thao who grew up as an intern staffer and chief of staff, career politician and corporate ladder politics. Treva Reid is also running for mayor and the majority of her career has been working in and around government, as a staffer to legislators and as a lobbyist. I am a kid from Oakland, born and raised here, who has been successful outside in corporate America as an engineer, as a management consultant, and as an entrepreneur. If you see something that is broken in your town you have a responsibility to extend the blessings and experiences you’ve had to benefit others. And that is what draws me here. I am making decisions for Oakland first and not for career growth. When I look at the opportunities to serve and what Oakland needs now, Oakland needs someone who is going to be all in.
Howard Terminal. What commitments from the A’s do you need to feel comfortable approving a deal and community benefits package?
I see Howard Terminal as a real estate transaction deal. Only 10% has to do with a baseball stadium. I am looking to get out of this deal the best possible options for the city of Oakland. When I look at an investment opportunity, I am looking at what we are putting in and asking, are we going to get significant multiples of value in return? If I’m looking at getting 10 times the return that we as a city invest from the public, then we should be looking at how all of the value that comes back to us aggregates to that. That includes affordable housing. We have already established a 35% affordable housing target for what’s expected in the deal. Job creation.
It has to do with additional revenue created, year over year, moving from less than $100,000 in property taxes moving to tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue per year. It has to do with the workforce development opportunities, with cultural arts, investments into our aging infrastructure.
All of those benefits have to be added up in a way that shows we are getting 10 times what we are investing. In that situation, we are getting a win, even when the party on the other side of the table also gets a benefit. I don’t see why just because the other side of the table is benefiting that we have to say, ‘no we are against the project,’ because we are not worried about their financials, we are worried about ours. In most cases, you need to have a win-win in order to make that work. I know I am working hard to make sure the city gets that win and I know that the A’s are working on their side to do the same. I see light at the end of the tunnel to create that win-win that sets Oakland up for greater success and more revenues to invest in the problems we face.
You are a landlord, correct?
As a landlord, do you see any conflict on issues that either help or hurt landlords? Where do you draw the line?
There is absolutely no conflict. I think it’s important to acknowledge that property ownership is the primary vehicle that wealth has been created in the Black community and other underserved communities over the past couple of generations. It is not something to shy away from or feel as though it’s a negative. We have been at a deficit since slavery and when you talk about creating inter-generational wealth opportunities in the Black community, real estate ownership has been a vehicle for that.
So I don’t see a conflict of interest with someone who understands all sides of the real estate equation. I see that as a huge benefit that is missing with a lot of the decision-making that’s occurring. I have been a property owner, I have been a renter, and I am a current homeowner. Understanding all three of those vantage points is important to make sure we strike the right balance in what’s needed with respect to our policies. It’s lopsided perspectives that set us up for longer-term frustration, pain, and challenges. I do believe that when you are looking for the sweet spot in policy, where you are supporting all sides in a way that ensures longterm effectiveness, you’ve gotta make sure that rental property owners are incentivized to keep properties on the market, to be positive members of the community.
When policies swing too far and disproportionately put a heavier burden on property owners, the property owners who suffer are the Black, brown, low-income property owners who have had this as a pathway to actually moving from lower class to middle class and building some inter-generational wealth. Black communities still have, I think, somewhere on the order of 10 to 20% of the wealth in terms of asset value in their families as their white counterparts. Equity means we have to look at everyone.
This whole thing about a conflict of interest is an issue that we need to get around. There’s no conflict of interest just by being a property owner and having that perspective. A lot of the policies being created push us small mom-and-pop landlords out and who buys it? It’s investors who no longer live in the community and treat it more corporate and therefore as less lenient and less understanding and more value extracting as opposed to community building. So the downside of having weighted policies is we end up creating more of a divide between the property owners and the community and that makes things worse for everybody. I think it’s better to support local mom-and-pop property owners like me and many West Oakland, East Oakland residents who care without being required to do so.
Is there anything else you wish I had asked?
You didn’t ask about the fact that I am from Oakland, born and raised here. When you look at the other mayoral candidates they came here as adults, at least the ones who are frontrunners. I think that has a huge impact on the ability to represent and the connectivity within the community. My grandparents, when I was growing up, lived in North Oakland, 65th Street and Shattuck. I grew up and went to Joaquin Miller Elementary and Montera Middle School in District 4.
My first job was on San Leandro Street in East Oakland at a glass packing factory where I earned enough to pay for my own driver’s ed. My mom was a bilingual teacher in Oakland Unified and taught in the Fruitvale District. When you talk about the connection to different communities that is something that has a strong value and benefit as we move forward and make sure we are pulling together different communities. That is a perspective that is necessary in order to help solve the challenges we have as a city.