Oakland Local Politics

By Allyssa Victory

The COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago with varying regulation, emergency programs and guidance from all levels of our government. These continue to overlap, creating lots of confusion and questions especially around housing. The U.S. and state of California both declared public health emergencies due to COVID-19 in early 2020. Business as usual was forced to stop as millions of people in the U.S. contracted COVID-19 and died of related illness in the first year of the pandemic alone.

To prevent further crises and to help maintain the economic status quo, each level of our government issued moratoriums on evictions. The federal government and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention issued a ban on evictions in early 2020 until overturned by the Supreme Court. The U.S. Treasury Department has spent over $40B funding the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to support housing stability throughout the pandemic.

Funds from the Treasury’s program were available through city and county level ERAP programs.

California likewise issued an eviction moratorium in early 2020 as well as a foreclosure moratorium due to the declared health emergency. California funded and rolled out its own rent relief program “Housing is Key” which provided 100% rent relief to either landlord or tenant applicants. Counties and cities likewise adopted their own local eviction moratoriums due to declared health emergencies.

Check the specific language of the moratorium(s) in your area but they generally prohibited evictions based on non-payment of rent due to COVID-19. Thus, property owners could still evict this entire time for other bases like illegal conduct. Even when a moratorium is lifted, the eviction cannot be based on non-payment of rent for any period of time that the moratorium was in effect. California and local programs offered 100% relief for back-due rent as well as future payments.

California Governor Newsom ended the state’s public health emergency on Feb. 28, 2023. The federal public health emergency is set to end on May 11, 2023. With the end of the pandemic-related health emergencies, the moratoriums on evictions and related financial assistance programs are set to end. Many moratoriums already included a termination provision that they would end within a certain number of days of the end of the health emergencies. Alameda County ended their local health emergency on March 1, 2023, and their eviction moratorium is required to end 60 days from that date: April 29, 2023.

The Alameda County Supervisors rejected the opportunity to extend the moratorium.  However, several moratoriums continue.  San Leandro City Council already voted to extend their city’s eviction moratorium to February 2024. Oakland City Council is debating how to wind down its own moratorium and to strengthen tenant protections.

The City of Oakland has been under a local emergency declaration due to homelessness since 2018; has a homeless population that is over 70% Black, and Oaklanders submitted the most applications for Alameda County-level emergency rental assistance due to the pandemic.

Preventing an eviction cliff and not exacerbating Oakland’s homelessness crisis should be the priority of our leadership at this time. Their decision will also affect considerations for the City’s annual budget process that will ramp up in May and conclude by June 30.

Furthermore, decades of unaddressed issues like crumbling roads and high injury corridors caused residents and advocates to petition the City of Oakland to transfer $20M from the police department to the transportation department. This budget campaign is germane as Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao rolled out the “pothole blitz,” as emergency action under the transportation department and promised to complete the backlog of potholes by May 1.

However, the April report to the special Public Works & Transportation Committee documented additional emergency costs and repairs necessitated by the heavy storm season.  The report promised that “On May 1, 2023, OakDOT will assess the overall progress of pothole repair and determine whether to return to regularly scheduled paving and maintenance activities provided significant impacts have been made on potholes on prioritized locations.”

The City has publicized conflicting dates and information on its goals and success metrics including the number of unresolved potholes but the Mayor’s update on April 17 confirmed that pothole repair had started.

Note: Pothole repair is separate from road paving under the City’s current 5-year paving plan and the City has cautioned that the pothole blitz “will draw resources from the team that paves residential streets on the paving plans.”

As Oakland’s leadership focuses on repair of City infrastructure, it continues to struggle with trash management and control. Oakland hosted a “Spring Clean” community cleanup the week of Earth Day but these special and volunteer clean-up events put only a slight dent in the proliferation of regular trash around Oakland until our leadership creates adequate trash service and maintenance.

Oakland and Alameda County have sunk millions over the years into failed programs that include criminalization of dumping with installation of surveillance cameras, law enforcement and “no dumping” banners. The 3rd annual conference on Illegal Dumping was held the same week in Oakland hosted by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley.

However, even Supervisor Miley’s 2019 report demonstrates that we could instead invest in cost-effective solutions that completely resolve illegal dumping in targeted areas including by adding more dumpsters, public trash cans, frequent trash service and relaxing the strict requirements when residents need to dump items.

Oakland is the county seat for Alameda County and must work with its leadership to provide services to residents and workers. The Alameda County Supervisors have now filled the district 2 vacancy with the appointment of Hayward City Councilwoman Elisa Marquez.

If Marquez wants to keep the seat, she will have to win it in the 2024 election. The primary election will be in March 2024. If no candidate reaches 50% + 1 of the vote, then the top two candidates will advance to the November 2024 general election.

Despite Marquez being added to the 5-person board that governs the entire county, all attention has been on Alameda County District Attorney (D.A.) Pamela Price. D.A. Price is the first Black woman elected D.A. in Alameda County’s history and only one of three Black women D.A.s serving across California. Her predecessor Nancy O’Malley was appointed by the county Supervisors in 2009 and won uncontested elections in 2010 and 2014.

In 2018, D.A. Price was the first person to challenge the incumbent D.A. and won over 40% of the vote. D.A. Price won the 2022 election after defeating three opponents. D.A. Price has quickly acted to transition into her role, to keep this critical county office operational and to deliver on her campaign promises.

Members of her Transition Team released a Report on her first 75 days in office. The Report highlights operational changes like updating office technology; staffing expansion to improve services; policy changes designed to address historic disparities; as well as community and educational events D.A. Price has attended. Price was also featured at a support rally on April 23 called by community advocates, victims, and supporters who oppose the negative attacks on criminal justice reform in Alameda County condemn racial biases and disparity in media reporting on D.A. Price.

Allyssa Victory is a civil rights attorney, former Oakland mayoral candidate and community leader. Contact her on Twitter at @Victory4Oakland.

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