The entrance to the Eastmont Mall. October 14, 2020. Credit: Pete Rosos

District 6, which includes parts of the East Oakland hills and flatlands, has long been a destination for families hoping to find an affordable place of their own in one of the Bay Area’s most bustling and expensive cities.

Residents say they enjoy the district and describe their communities as places where they can relax and get to know their neighbors. But there’s much they’d like to see fixed. Their concerns include the lack of nearby grocery stores, road safety, and gun violence. 

Loren Taylor, the current D6 councilmember, is giving up his seat to run for mayor this year. Four candidates have stepped forward to compete to represent D6 on the City Council: Kevin Jenkins, Kenneth Session, Nancy Sidebotham, and Yakpasua Zazaboi. All four agree that there needs to be more investment made in making this part of the city more self-sustainable and safe, but they disagree on how to make it happen.

We interviewed the four candidates to see what solutions they’ll bring to the table if elected.  

Kevin Jenkins

Kevin Jenkins.

Jenkins serves on the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees, which he was elected to in 2020. He’s also president of the California Association of Black School Educators and he previously was a member of the Alameda County Public Health Commission. 

He told The Oaklandside he’s running because he’s passionate about resolving inequities and providing opportunities to District 6 residents. 

Born and raised in East Oakland, Jenkins graduated from Oakland High School and attended Laney College and College of Alameda. He graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor’s in urban studies and planning and later earned a master’s degree in public administration from California State University, East Bay. 

Growing up in the district, Jenkins said public safety has always been a top concern among residents, particularly gun violence. 

“From [age] about 18 to 25, I would check the Oakland Tribune every first of January to see if I knew anyone who died, because that newspaper would print out everyone who died [the previous year],” Jenkins said. “I think there’s something wrong with a kid growing up in Oakland and experiencing that.”

He said he plans on working with the California Attorney General as well as other state and federal agencies to help “rid Oakland of illegal guns.” 

Attorney General Rob Bonta has expressed a desire to crack down on gun trafficking, including at a public safety meeting in Oakland last February. Bonta said his office is doing its best to implement Governor Newsom’s Real Public Safety Plan, which includes creating a gun buyback program and working with local law enforcement agencies to provide grants and establish protocols for safe firearm disposal. 

Asked about the city’s MACRO program, a pilot in which civilian first responders deal with non-violent, non-emergency 911 calls, Jenkins said he feels it needs more time before he can draw conclusions about its success, or if changes are needed.  

“I want to reserve judgment until we can get into the swing of things and know what’s going on so we can find ways to make the program more successful” he said.

Employment opportunities are also a way to reduce crime, he said. “We need economic employment so that people are gainfully employed and have a liveable wage here in our city.” 

District residents are also concerned about the recent swath of school closures that have occurred in East Oakland. Parker Elementary, located in the district, has been a flashpoint because OUSD is in the process of closing the campus. Jenkins didn’t have any particular solutions in mind—and the city doesn’t run Oakland Unified schools—but he said he is in solidarity with efforts to keep public schools open. 

“I went to a number of the protests surrounding the school closures,” Jenkins said, “and it seems like the parents and the children didn’t get enough time to weigh in on this broken process. I hope that Oakland Unified can get it together and heal the broken trust between the community and the school board.”

Jenkins said that he believes that the Bay Area housing crisis has to be solved at the county level. He is currently the director of housing justice initiatives at United Way Bay Area, where he works to improve access to affordable housing and homelessness prevention resources. 

“There are underlying issues that cause someone to be homeless, so we have to partner with organizations that are in charge of behavioral and mental health resources,” he said. 

Jenkins has endorsed the city’s 2022 Affordable Housing and Infrastructure Bond to pay for much-needed repairs to city streets and other public amenities like parks and buildings. 

“But we have to do it equitably so that all Oaklanders are being served,” he added. 

He believes illegal dumping can be reduced by addressing the staffing problems prevalent throughout the city’s departments, including public works. In addition, he said the city’s garbage contracts need to be re-examined.” We have to get public works staffed so that our workers are able to go help out with the removal of illegal dumping,” Jenkins said. “We also have to look at how we can get more services for our residents with the next garbage contract.” 

Kenneth Session

Kenneth Session. Credit: Kenneth Session.

Originally from Los Angeles, Session first came to the East Bay in 1982 when he was stationed at Alameda’s naval base. He is a real estate agent with over 30 years of experience in Oakland. He has a Youtube channel where he talks about his business deals and delivers positive messages about his faith.. 

He attends Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland and is a retired member of the East Bay Dragons MC, an East Oakland-based Black motorcycle club founded in 1959 and one of the oldest Black motorcycle organizations in the world. 

As a homeowner and landlord in D6 he said that addressing the Bay Area’s housing crisis at the neighborhood level is his top priority. 

“I believe that everything that we do in Oakland from City Hall to East Oakland is based on real estate, one way or another,” Session said.

His platform is focused on getting unsheltered and housing-insecure residents permanent housing, and paving the way for more affordable housing projects. “I don’t want to see anymore market rate housing built in this city until we get every person in this city a place to live,” he said. 

Session wants the city to conduct an audit of the Oakland Housing Authority.  “I want to see how many units are vacant versus how many are occupied because I believe we can house a lot of people with the vacancies that we have right now.

His belief that affordable housing is a cure-all for the city’s economic and safety woes stems from his experience as a landlord. “I rent a building here and I can’t even tell people not to let their cousin come live with them because if I don’t let them stay there, they’re going to live on the street,” Session said. 

If more residents had secure and stable housing, he said, then the rate of violent crimes would plummet. Once rates of petty theft and gun violence start to go down, Session thinks that residents will feel safer shopping and conducting other daily business in East Oakland, resulting in economic reinvestment in District 6. 

“No one wants to come out here and open a business where criminals can run loose,” Session said.

Regarding the blight and illegal dumping, Session said people need to take more personal responsibility to clean up the city. He hopes to mobilize residents to participate in more community cleanups. He currently takes daily walks around the district’s most blighted areas and picks up garbage. 

“There’s a corner of 81st and International [Boulevard] that I started cleaning beginning in January,” he said. “I want to do something similar with our neighbors but on a bigger scale. I want to promote this all over Oakland, but I really want to exhibit it here first in East Oakland.” 

Nancy Sidebotham

Nancy Sidebotham

Sidebotham is a tax consultant who has run for local office several times, including for the 2020 City Council at-large seat, and mayor in 2018 and 2014. She graduated from Merritt College with an associate’s degree in social science and a Bachelor’s degree from California State University East Bay in Hayward.

Sidebotham said she’s running because she feels that Oakland City Hall has become corrupt, “run by a group of backroom players, who reap the benefits and line their pockets,” according to her campaign website. 

She started her political career in 1989 when she ran unsuccessfully for the D6 council seat.  She believes her record of losing elections is due to her race and her knowledge of the city’s corruption.

“I have two things against me,” she said in an interview. “One, I happen to be white so that gives me an edge of not getting elected by certain groups of people, and two, I know too much. I know the city inside and out, I’ve been around a long time, and I scare a lot of people.”

When asked why she believes that her whiteness is a detriment to winning office, she said that it’s because District 6 is largely comprised of people of color. “The people that do vote are voting for people that they want to get in and think are going to do the job for them, until they find out the job doesn’t get done because most of those people have major backers such as one of the candidates I’m running against, and in actuality doesn’t know anything about Oakland,” She said.

Sidebotham views local government as an insider’s game that she would disrupt. “The council is a clique-ish organization—always has been—and has left people out when it comes to districts six and seven, and that’s part of the problem,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think I’m going to do my job, but I work with people. I don’t care where you’re from and what the color of your skin is. If you live where I live and we deal with the same issues, then I’m going to help you to find the information you need.” 

If elected, Sidebotham said she will focus on strengthening the role of the city auditor and bringing back what she referred to as a “strong city manager” form of government. 

Yakpasua Zazaboi

Yakpasua Zazaboi.

Zazaboi is the owner of the IT company Sidewayz Cafe on MacArthur Boulevard near Mills College, which he founded in 2011. 

In the early days of the pandemic, Zazaboi and other parents with the education advocacy group Oakland Reach launched a summer distance learning program to help kids continue their education while regular summer school was closed due to COVID-19. 

Zazaboi is also a filmmaker, and in the early 2000’s he created the documentary “Sidewayz,” which showcased the birth of sideshow culture in East Oakland, the rowdy street parties featuring dangerous stunt driving. The documentary, which started as a school project, gained national attention. 

He said he is running because ever since he moved to Oakland as a teenager in 1996, he hasn’t seen much change. “I just don’t hear anyone like me who is at the table in our city. When we make decisions, we have to understand it from all angles and not talk about people as if they’re just outliers,” Zazaboi said. 

Zazaboi believes that this familiarity with the area gives him an ability to understand the issues that residents care about, such as access to healthier produce, economic development, public safety, better public infrastructure, and illegal dumping. He said he wants to see the city invest more in its workforce development department to help East Oakland businesses. Last year, that department launched a pilot program to offer small business support at its library branches throughout the city. 

When asked how he would bring more grocery stores to the district, Zazaboi said he would focus on making East Oakland’s existing markets like Shop Rite and Gazzali’s more desirable locations to shop at while investing in community-run stores rather than big grocery chains. 

“We have to look at what we are doing to create an environment that welcomes a grocery store, and we also have to think about how we are supporting existing grocery stores,” he said.

Regarding blight and illegal dumping, Zazaboi said he hopes to address the city’s staffing shortage and speed up hiring in departments that deal with these problems. “We have all these vacant positions and we have all these services that need to be filled, so we have to understand where the process is clogged up, then make sure we get those roles filled so that those services are provided,” he said.

Zazaboi also wants to support existing community cleanups and organize a massive district-wide cleanup. He said residents could also benefit from learning more about how the city deals with these kinds of problems so they can better plug in and be part of the solution. 

“A lot of folks just don’t understand how the city operates or know how we can be engaged with the city,” Zazaboi said.

He wants to help residents better understand how the city distributes resources, including things like repaving streets. “I talked to a resident [who is] a rocket scientist and she says she doesn’t understand the plans for how they do the roads. I think it’s important for people to be able to see what’s the 3-year, 5-year, or 25-year plan so that they know why it’s taken so long for them to get their roads fixed.”

On OUSD school closures, Zazaboi said he feels for the students, teachers, and parents who wanted schools like Parker Elementary to stay open. As a parent, he also understands wanting the best for his kids. “The fact that we don’t have good schools in our neighborhoods is terrible. All these schools should be able to perform and get our kids to where they need to go,” he said. “Having a school that’s close enough so that your kids can get to it and be a part of a community is also very important.”

Regarding the housing crisis, he said being able to prevent the city’s most vulnerable populations from losing their homes, while also having clear and accurate data on how many people in the city are homeless and how to extend services to them, is a priority. 

But he added there’s a sentiment amongst district residents that they don’t want their neighborhoods to be “ground zero for encampments.” “You have two different things going on. You have folks that have a real situation on their hands, and you also have residents who are paying lots of money in taxes and don’t feel like the hills are taking their fair share of the encampments,” Zazaboi said.  

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.