Election Round-Up: Oakland, Berkeley & the County
First in a series of election round-ups and analysis of Northern California politics.
Pamela Price makes history as Alameda County’s first progressive District Attorney and first Black woman DA. Price will be replacing the moderate liberal DA Nancy O’Malley for whom Price lost to last time. Price’s competitor, Terry Wiley, ran on an anti-crime campaign specifically targeting Oakland gangs for tougher prosecution amid a city homicide spike and faulting Oakland criminals for the county’s crime issues. Not unlike his predecessor and outgoing DA Nancy O’Malley who was a similar liberal moderate.
The geographic breakdown is stark as Price’s support comes from the Oakland-Berkeley flatlands and pockets of more integrated and older suburbs between San Leandro, Hayward. Wiley carried the support of the semi-remote fringes of the Oakland-Berkeley Hills, elite districts like Piedmont and Claremont, the mostly white and upper class suburbs of Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton; and many Asian suburbs around Fremont, Newark and Union City. Where things are different than Price’s race against O’Malley is that Price managed to pick off large portions of the Berkeley Hills, Oakland’s wealthy enclaves closer to the flatlands and more racially balanced White and Asian suburbs in Fremont, Union City and Newark.
Unlike San Francisco’s DA race, the margins were remarkably close even in Asian suburbs where Wiley won 51-49 or 55-45, allowing for Price’s supermajorities in the urban core to win out. Additionally, and most notably, Price carried every single urban Asian neighborhood in Oakland and Alameda city, almost all of whom are victims of high profile anti-Asian crimes and on high alert against anti-Asian violence. This is in stark contrast to progressive criminal justice reformist Chesea Boudin in San Francisco being outsted by almost every Asian neighborhood and the same pattern occuring with progressive challenger John Hamasaki against incumbent and tough-on-crime DA Brooke Jenkins.
The main cause of this difference is that in San Francisco, the fault of the city’s crime problems are put on the District Attorney by media and emerging centrist political groups — particularly since Boudin — whereas the DA is seldom mentioned for Oakland’s longstanding crime issues and instead blame is put on police. Asian voters in the East Bay did not view Pamela Price’s reforms for criminal justice as at odds with their desires for more police patrols and case closures.
Another factor is that Pamela Price succeeded in unifying Black and Asian neighborhoods for her platform by walking a fine line between highlighting police scandals, human rights issues at Santa Rita jail and perpetual criminalization, and also ensuring both to Asian voters fearing violence but also Black voters irritated with homicides in East Oakland that criminals will be prosecuted.
Oakland city councilmember Rebecca Kaplan failed to surmount Alameda city competitor Lena Tam for county supervisor in a bid to replace the late supervisor killed by a driver. Councilmember Kaplan, leader of the Oakland progressives, might’ve made big strides in the political direction of the board which has traditionally been politically center as it mostly handles the prison, county employees and unincorporated areas. I personally endorsed Kaplan due to my dissatisfaction with how the county supervisors collects fat salaries and yet functions so poorly. Case and point: the remarkable slowness in counting votes that takes much longer than other Bay Area counties.
Tam ran on cracking down on the crime communities in the East Bay are dealing with by proposing more pro-police initiatives, tackling the county’s repeat offenders, smash-and-grabs, anti-Asian crimes etc. Despite Kaplan voting to create more police academies in Oakland to handle OPD’s understaffing and bloated overtime costs, Tam charged that Kaplan wanted to reduce the police department by 50%, mostly based off of 2020-era aspirational defunding goals. Propelled by San Leandro, Alameda city, and Oakland’s Chinatown she’ll be the next Supervisor of District 3.
Tam didn’t speak much on housing development — although she was embroiled in a illegal deal with a developer and a labor union in Alameda city. Not to knock on Tam — I’ll give anyone a chance — but I’m bummed the county Board of Supervisors will likely remain a passive job of supreme mismanagement, vacant inactive public lots not being developed, and treated with apathy by the general public.
Sheng Thao, one of the Oakland progressives, has defeated Loren Taylor and incumbent mayor Libby Schaaf’s circle for Mayor of Oakland by a hair. The hot issue in Oakland is the potential for an A’s stadium at Howard Terminal between West Oakland and Jack London Square, which is a warzone between the city’s moderates and progressives. Thao’s election means that the A’s will not have an ally as sympathetic to their development demands to forego additional subsidized housing requirements and community benefits extractions as Mayor Schaaf and Taylor.
Unlike San Francisco where the Moderates and Progressive’s big issues are on housing approvals and zoning policy, there isn’t much daylight between those parties in Oakland. Note that both Sheng Thao and Loren Taylor supported the recent statewide upzoning law AB 2011 which added 3-6 story housing on commercial corridors. Both of them also voted to study abolishing single-family zoning for fourplex zoning citywide.
The housing development differences are mostly that Thao wanted to increase inclusionary requirements to 15% (from 10%) in exchange for automatic housing approvals and also wanted to boost production to 30,000 homes while Taylor focused more on attracting housing development to East Oakland which has barely any housing in the pipeline. Note that along with YIMBY-majority city councils Berkeley and Emeryville, Oakland City Council consistently endorsed statewide upzoning legislation. So the race between Taylor and Thao, for pro-housing voters, was moreso around their views on tenant protections and homeless encampment policies that zoning and development.
While both voted for the controversial encampment management policy which restricted where tents could be in wide swaths of the city, Taylor has often talked about looking out for Black homeowners and landlords such as ending the eviction moratorium while Thao was a strong opponent against it. Taylor had strong support from Black community groups in East Oakland while Thao was backed by many labor unions. Differences were also crime based, as they usually are in Oakland. Taylor comes from East Oakland and predictably was very strong against the rampant homicides and sideshows (street racers and impromptu car stunts) while Thao had changed her position for police cuts to against after the city’s crime wave last year.
The maps haven’t been released yet but I expect that Black voters in East Oakland, Hispanic voters in Fruitvale who have exhausted their ballots for Igancio, and white voters in the Oakland Hills will have went for Taylor. Thao’s support will probably come from a combination of whiter flatland progressive districts in North Oakland, racially mixed West Oakland and Eastlake areas, and the city’s Asian voters who have loudly backed her. But the margins here are so close it’ll be hard to say entire communities voted one way or the other. We’ll see a lot of 51-49 and 55-45 in the precinct maps for sure.
As Oakland rapidly approaches the housing element deadline, questions remain as to whether Thao’s administration will focus on upzoning wealthier areas of the city like Rockridge (as the state has officially suggested Oakland do) or focus on more density downtown and heed some progressive calls for increased impact fees and inclusionary requirements. Further questions remain on how Thao will differ from Libby Schaaf in treating homeless encampments and tiny homes projects. Anti-homeless reactionaries failed to make a significant dent in the race but the sentiment is there; will Thao cut back on the sweeps? I hope so.
A political nightmare scenario for the city is that it adopts the housing insanity politics and hyper partisan divide on housing that SF uniquely has and Berkeley used to have. An influx of centrist and pro-sweep upper income workers and anti-development progressives from San Francisco bringing their political organizations and capital to Oakland worries me greatly.
I believe Mayor Thao will be above it and that's why I had endorsed her.
YIMBY vs. NIMBY was the sole battle of Berkeley (and the only useful political camp divisions in Berkeley as leftist and liberal have scattered to both sides) and the YIMBYs won but it was closer than expected. In District 1, incumbent councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, overseer of the North Berkeley BART station development, secured a victory against anti-BART development challenger Elisa Mikiten in the city’s most high profile and bombastic race.
This means that more bike lanes, single-family zoning abolition, hotel conversions to homeless housing, and high density development will be coming to Berkeley as the city’s NIMBYs made a valiant and admittedly impressive stand against the housing evolution that occurred in the city.
In District 8 Mark Humbert replaces Lori Droste, vowing to continue her mission to replacement single-family zoning with multifamily zoning citywide. Challengers attempted to take Humbert down from the left but in wealthy Claremont and Elmwood this was almost certain to fail. Droste first won the district by a mere 14 votes in her first election and was one of the early pioneers to spearhead Berkeley away from it’s anti-housing faux-leftist attitude.
On Berkeley’s rent board which oversees all rent controlled housing, for the first time since. . . as long as I remember, a non-Berkeley tenant union member but still a very progressive candidate has won a seat. The homeowners’ attempt to gain a foothold on the board which caused uproar by extending just cause eviction protections to ADUs lossed out but mounted an impressive campaign nevertheless.
Berkeley taxpayers proved to be not so generous by rejecting a large bond measure to finance additional subsidized housing and street repair. The measure, considerably larger than Oakland’s parallel measure per-capita, received unusual opposition from anti-tax liberal moderates and oldtimer anti-development progressives, charging that the city council did not deserve the funding. A majority of voters supported the bond but not the 67% needed to give council a check of $650 million. This unfortunately spells delay for 100% affordable housing projects in Berkeley as the city must now scoop out what’s left from the Measure O bond.
Berkeley voters may have just been tax fatigued. Amid a period of contentious high density housing proposals, many of them publicly subsidized, and street repairs featuring controversial bike lanes, the city’s property owners just didn’t feel like going into further debt at the moment. Voters however approved uncontroversial measures like the vacancy tax and Article 34 authorization for low income housing — neither of whim garnered meaningful (Article 34) or any (vacancy tax) opposition.
Sadly Alfred Twu failed to win their race for AC Transit at-large against incumbent Joel Young despite tremendous support. Further proof that voters are terribly indifferent about AC Transit issues which explains the state of the declining public transportation system.
Later this week: San Francisco Round-Up.