Kevin Jenkins in a gray suit raising his right hand at a swearing-in ceremony.
District 6 Councilmember Kevin Jenkins at the city of Oakland inauguration ceremony on Jan. 9, 2023. Credit: Dorean Raye

Kevin Jenkins was born and raised in East Oakland, and now he represents it, too. In January, Jenkins was sworn into City Council to serve District 6, which includes Eastmont, the Coliseum area, Millsmont, Merritt College, and part of Skyline Boulevard. 

Prior to this role, Jenkins was director of housing justice initiatives at United Way Bay Area and a member of the board of trustees for the Peralta Community College District, which he was elected to in 2020. He is a past president of the California Association of Black School Educators and a former member of the Alameda County Public Health Commission.

In an interview with The Oaklandside, Jenkins outlined what he wants to accomplish in his district in the coming term, from reducing the gun violence in East Oakland to revitalizing the Coliseum. He also described his leadership style as a new councilmember and what he thinks the city should do to address its daunting budget deficit.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Next week, Mayor Sheng Thao will release her budget for the next two years. What services do you hope the mayor prioritizes in the city and in your district?

We have a five-year forecast of $100 million in budget deficits each year. The question is, what services are we going to fund, and what are we not going to cut? I think the people of Oakland have spoken. We did a poll on what people wanted to prioritize in their budget, and public safety was the number one thing. Every single councilmember stated that traffic safety was a priority of theirs. 

These are really quality-of-life issues. We need to make sure Oaklanders have a high quality of life in the city they love.

You mentioned the deficit. It’s almost certain that the city is going to have to impose some painful cuts. Can you list some examples of what you think the city absolutely should not cut? And where could significant budget cuts be made without harming Oakland residents and your constituents? Please try to be as specific as possible.

I’ll give you my overarching view. We should look at it in an equitable way and determine what services residents need. We should figure out where we can be more efficient before we look at cuts. We can also look at one-time cost savings. I’m not going to start a firestorm by saying let’s cut from this department or that department.

When we interviewed you last October before the election, you said gun violence was a top concern for residents in District 6. You said you planned to work with the California attorney general and other state and federal agencies to help rid Oakland of illegal guns. Have you started working with any of those agencies? What other steps are you taking to address gun violence and other public safety concerns?

Yeah, gun violence is one of the tougher issues, and it’s something that plagues our city. In one weekend last year, we had four people shot dead in a 24-hour period. Across the street from Mills College, we had a shooting that took the life of one person, I believe he was 18, and seven others were shot. 

I exchanged phone calls with the attorney general, but we haven’t connected yet. I still look forward to working on solving the issue. And I see the attorney general has made pleas through Twitter asking Congress to step up and do their job. 

But I’m seeing it’s very hard for a city to solve this issue. Our advocacy comes from talking to our congress people, talking to our senators, especially when we get back to Washington, D.C.

Assuming you make those connections with the attorney general and others in the future, are there any specific proposals you’d bring up with them as far as concrete actions that could be taken to reduce gun violence?

Right now, 3D-printed guns are really troubling. Anyone can order a gun on Amazon and put it together. We need to figure out how we partner with places like Amazon and shipping locations so we know exactly where those guns are going and who’s getting them. 

Editor’s note: Amazon prohibits the sale of firearms and firearms parts, but reporters have documented cases in the past of gun dealers violating these rules and selling guns on the platform. Other websites openly and readily sell guns and gun parts.

Something that’s been controversial that I don’t think should be controversial is universal background checks. But there has to be some type of action that takes place. 

Urban cities are getting hit extra hard, especially big cities.

In a similar vein, I want to ask you about MACRO, a city program where civilians respond to some non-violent 911 calls. You’ve been a little lukewarm on this program, which has unarmed civilians respond to some nonviolent 911 calls. When we last asked you about MACRO, you said you wanted more time before drawing conclusions. In your list of budget priorities, you said we should continue funding MACRO but also that Oakland should evaluate whether the program is achieving results. Can you tell me why you have reservations about MACRO?  

No reservations. When you have new programming, you have to ensure the quality of it and that it’s reaching its fullest potential. That’s why I want the data to ensure we’re helping MACRO reach its fullest potential. 

It’s my same thought about the Department of Violence Prevention. How can we make these departments more efficient? With declining budgets, efficiency is key to us operating in a way where residents are receiving great services. That’s all that is about.

Is there any specific data from MACRO you’re waiting to see before having a better idea of whether it’s meeting those efficiency goals?

No specific data. I just want the data to tell a story in a quantitative way and also a qualitative way.  

I recently connected with one of your opponents in last year’s election, Yakpasua Zazaboi. He said Oakland has become an increasingly difficult place to be a business owner or entrepreneur. Are there any programs or initiatives you want to develop to keep businesses in District 6 and Oakland in general?  

We have some really good things going on, like ESO Ventures. This is a small business incubator that focuses on businesses in East Oakland. It’s launched a lot of them–I just talked to a chef who was really active during the pandemic, and they launched from ESO Ventures. 

ESO was able to launch because former Councilmember Loren Taylor [who represented D6 before Jenkins] secured $8 million from the state through an initiative  advanced by State Sen. Nancy Skinner. 

There are a lot of wonderful businesses coming out, and we just have to figure out more ways to help them grow.  

District 6 Councilmember Kevin Jenkins speaking last year at a neighborhood rally about illegal dumping in a neighboring district. Credit: Amir Aziz

Rita Forte, a District 6 resident who owns a graphic design shop, said she’d like to see a big anchor business near Mills College to attract more foot traffic to the area. Do you have any thoughts about how to bring in some bigger retailers? 

I’ve been working with the Alameda County treasurer on strategies to get a lending institution into District 6. But one of the issues I’m running into is where it could go. 

I’d love for an anchor business to come into that business corridor near Mills. We just need to work on getting something that would be the right fit. I’m meeting with businesses regularly and pitching them on District 6, and it will happen eventually. 

From an overarching view, we have to do a better job of showing an anchor business would be supported in the district. 

Illegal dumping is a chronic problem for many people who live in East Oakland. You attended a press conference last year organized by Faith in Action East Bay that demanded the city clean up a well-known blighted intersection in neighboring District 5 at 45th Avenue and Bond Street. What solutions are you working on to fix this issue? And do you have the latest on what’s going on with that intersection?  

No, I don’t have the latest on that intersection. 

With illegal dumping, we have to look at how people are taking advantage of the system and taking advantage of Oakland, and I want to hold them accountable. A lot of times, it’s trash haulers that are going around Oakland hauling for people and then dumping their stuff, particularly in East Oakland. I would like to see them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I would like to see more enforcement officers out there. 

Every single day you see more illegal dumping. You pick it up, they dump it. You pick it up, they dump it. There’s a 24-Hour Fitness near High Street in District 5. As you’re making a right turn onto Fruitvale Avenue, you’ll see there are couches, there’s trash. And there’s a whole lot of haulers over there, with their numbers advertised and everything. I don’t mind folks making money, but if you’re just going to dump it in Oakland, that’s an issue.

We have to ensure that people who are hauling are doing the right things. And we need to ensure that when neighbors call for hauling, they call for people licensed by the city. 

We have to make sure everybody has the correct trash bin for their utilization. One of the issues is that some restaurants don’t have the proper trash size, so we have to partner with waste management to ensure everybody has the proper receptacles for the trash they’re producing.  

What are your strategies to address homelessness in Oakland? Your priorities memo mentions funding community-based organizations that help provide permanent, deeply supportive housing and rapid rehousing. Can you get into specifics?

One of the first steps you have to look at is preventing people from becoming unsheltered. It costs a lot more to rehouse somebody than to keep someone housed. And sometimes, it’s just a broken vehicle transmission or something that keeps a person from going to work that can cause them to lose their housing. 

Strengthening rental protections—that’s a big one. The just-cause eviction protections, that’s also a good one. 

But when it comes to homelessness, as I said, deeply supportive housing is a big priority. 

Last September, before you took office, there was a mass shooting in District 6 at the King Estates Campus. Gunmen fired into a school building, killing one person and injuring five. To date, no suspects have been arrested, or to our knowledge, even identified by the police. Have you received any updates from OPD about this case? Are you concerned about the lack of progress?

It was shocking, especially anytime we make the national news, and it’s heartbreaking that it happened. But I haven’t received any updates. 

I haven’t talked to any investigators or our area captain, so I’m not sure where the progress is. But we have a monthly meeting, and that’s something I could bring up. I haven’t heard from any constituents about this, but I know that gun violence is a priority for residents in D6.

The Eastmont Arch at 73rd Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland. October 14, 2020. Credit: Pete Rosos

We recently learned the Oakland A’s owner, John Fisher, struck a deal for a new ballpark in Las Vegas. Some people fear that this kills the long campaign to keep the A’s in Oakland. 

Meanwhile, the city is engaged in an exclusive negotiating agreement with the African American Sports & Entertainment Group to develop the Coliseum in your district. What would you like to see happen there? And how do you feel about Oakland potentially losing the A’s? 

People have so many memories at the Coliseum. I remember going there on Wednesdays, getting in for a dollar, getting the dollar hotdog, and going with my friends. We would catch BART there and have some sense of independence in doing that. People have stories about their connection to the Coliseum and their connection to the A’s, so I think for A’s fans, it’s heartbreaking. And for sports fans of Oakland, the potential of losing three franchises, it’s just crushing. Especially when our slogan is “Rooted in Oakland.”

I haven’t been briefed on what’s been going on. What I saw in the news is there was a deal to purchase land. I’ve also seen some things on Twitter, and I’m not sure if they’re official, but they might be asking for $500 million in public funding in Las Vegas. We’ll see what happens with that. 

Hopefully, we can get the A’s to stay here. I know it’s a long shot. But I know A’s fans who are still invested in the team and hopeful.

We’re excited about the African American Sports & Entertainment Group project. It gives us a chance for people from Oakland to bring back development to East Oakland. That’s the biggest piece of public land to develop in the city. It’s next to millions of dollars of infrastructure. We have BART going there, we have Amtrak going there, we have AC Transit going there, and the airport going there. So there’s just a flood of potential. 

I’ve talked with the folks at AASEG, and they’re committed. They want to bring a WNBA team and are also looking at other sports franchises. And we have the opportunity for jobs and housing, so I’m really excited to work with them. I’ve talked with AASEG at length since the announcement about the A’s purchasing land, so I’m excited to get to work.

I recently chatted with Reverend Harry Williams from Homies Empowerment, a nonprofit community service organization in your district. He said he hopes to see you engage a lot with the community in person. How are you making yourself accessible to constituents and learning about their needs?

If you ask my staff, they’ll tell you I prefer to be outside of City Hall. I prefer to be in the district. Anyone who contacts me, I will speak with them. I’ve also gone on a number of walks with the neighbors to see what they see in their neighborhood, and see the vision of what could be in that neighborhood, and also the deficits that are there. 

We’ve done a number of house parties and a number of listening sessions, and tried to engage on social media with people who are residents of District 6. We’ll continue doing that. I also hold office hours. We use whatever methods we can to get to folks. 

Are there any upcoming events where residents can participate and give you feedback?

We have our Measure U town hall coming up. That’s to share with the neighbors about Measure U, which just passed, which is going to give us much-needed affordable housing infrastructure dollars and help our city. 

Editor’s note: Measure U, passed by voters last year, authorizes the city to raise up to $850 million to spend on a mix of things like affordable housing, roads, city buildings, and other infrastructure.

I recently spoke with Ernest Frohm, III, the owner of a martial arts studio in your district. He’s concerned about the quality of roads and sidewalks in Oakland and the lack of parking in some neighborhoods. I know you want to invest in traffic safety, but do you plan to increase parking or other means of transport in your district?   

I’m not trying to increase parking. I’m more in favor of building walkable communities than increasing parking.

What’s something going on in your district that keeps you up at night?

The violence keeps me up at night, especially on the weekends. The fact that people’s windows are being broken in residential areas. The fact that there are home invasions. The fact that there’s violence that occurs, that people are being shot dead. That keeps me up at night. 

Also, traffic safety. I don’t know the last time you’ve been to East Oakland, but it seems like red lights and stop signs mean nothing. 

Getting a handle on those things and making sure we have a neighborhood that people feel safe to have their children out in and feel safe overall is important. A sense of safety is imperative.

What’s your favorite park in District 6?

You’re going to get me in trouble. I’ll say it like this: I think in D4 they have the crown jewel of parks, Dimond Park. 

I think with work, with programming, and with neighborhood buy-in, Arroyo Viejo Park can be that park as well. It’s a huge swath of land, and there’s so much potential: we have tennis courts, baseball fields, we have violin classes going on, and we also have a commercial kitchen coming as well. I think by focusing and getting that park cleaned up and getting programming in there, it will be a lot of Oaklanders’ favorite park.

Eli Wolfe reports on City Hall for The Oaklandside. He was previously a senior reporter for San José Spotlight, where he had a beat covering Santa Clara County’s government and transportation. He also worked as an investigative reporter for the Pasadena-based newsroom FairWarning, where he covered labor, consumer protection and transportation issues. He started his journalism career as a freelancer based out of Berkeley. Eli’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic,, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Eli graduated from UC Santa Cruz and grew up in San Francisco.