Four candidates vie for Wilma Chan’s former county seat

A vice mayor, two ex-city council members and a former school board trustee are battling for the wide-open District 3 seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors held by Wilma Chan since 2011.

Chan, who had also served a stint on the board in the 1990s before she was elected to the state Assembly, was killed by a motorist in November while walking her dog in Alameda.

Her seat was temporarily filled that month when the supervisors appointed her longtime chief of staff, Dave Brown, to serve the rest of her term. The appointment was controversial because they did n’t consider other potential replacements and Brown lived outside the district — and Alameda County — until moving to Oakland just a few days before his selection her. The Alameda County Taxpayers Association has filed a couple of lawsuits contending the appointment wasn’t valid.

Brown said at the time he wouldn’t run for her seat in the June 7 primary election. He wouldn’t have been able to run anyway because the county’s charter requires elected officials to live within the district they want to represent at least a year.

District 3 includes portions of Oakland — Jack London Square, Chinatown and parts of downtown and East Oakland — as well as Alameda, San Leandro and San Lorenzo.

To win the seat outright, a candidate must collect more than 50% of the vote in the primary. Otherwise, the top two vote getters will run off against each other in the November general election.

The four candidates for District 3 are Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, former Oakland Unified school board member and youth nonprofit director David Kakishiba, former Alameda City Councilmember Lena Tam and former San Leandro City Councilmember Surlene Grant.

Rebecca Kaplan is running for Alameda County Supervisor District 3. (Courtesy of Rebecca Kaplan)

As an at-large member of the Oakland City Council since 2009, Kaplan has been an influential force because she represents all city residents. Other council members represent the districts in which they were elected.

Kaplan’s progressive policy stances have earned support from tenants’ rights advocates and labor unions over the years but has drawn criticism from political moderates, some businesses and the police.

During her council tenure she has also served on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority Board and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board.

Before she was elected to the council, Kaplan served on the AC Transit Board for about seven years

David Kakishiba is running for Alameda County Supervisor, District 3. (Photo courtesy of David Kakishiba)

Kakishiba has been executive director of the nonprofit East Bay Asian Youth Center since 1980. He served on the Oakland Unified School District board from 2003 to 2015. He was the principal author of two Oakland ballot measures: the Measure K Oakland Kids First Initiative in 1996 and the College and Career Readiness for All Act in 2014.

Tam served on the Alameda City Council from 2006 to 2014 and was an Alameda County planning commissioner before then. She’s also held various local and regional board positions over the last two decades. Tam is the manager of the Water Planning Department at the East Bay Municipal Utility District, where she has worked for about 30 years.

Lena Tam is running for Alameda County Board of Supervisors, District 3 (Courtesy of Lena Tam)

Grant was the first African American member of the San Leandro City Council. She was appointed to fill a council member’s term and then was elected for the next two terms — the maximum allowed in San Leandro.

Grant pushed for the city’s ordinance that requires affordable housing to be built as part of new residential developments. She has also co-founded an anti-racism, anti-bigotry coalition called Unity in the Community San Leandro and cofounded the city’s African American Business Council. She runs a consulting business focused on communications for housing and public affairs projects.

Surlene Grant is running for Alameda County Board of Supervisors District 3. (Photo courtesy of Surlene Grant)

All four candidates say reducing homelessness and alleviating the housing crisis are among their top priorities, along with finding ways to provide better health care access and increase public safety.

More than 800 unhoused people died in the county between 2018 and 2020, according to the county’s first homeless mortality report released earlier this month.

Grant said it’s difficult for people to navigate through the “bureaucracy” of social services. Many who need housing also need other services such as health care, she said, but her recent experiences in helping friends and strangers access county services left her feeling the system is disjointed. Even finding a place in the county’s website to start getting services can be confusing, she added.

“This is a time we need access, and people need information,” she said.

Grant said although she’s interested in the idea of ​​providing universal basic income to help those in need, she’d like to see it applied toward housing.

Tam also believes there should be a connection between housing and access to other services such as mental health care. She said mental health care historically has been underfunded and she wants to identify ways to allocate more money to community organizations that provide wraparound services to people who struggle with homelessness and lack access to health care.

Tam said she’d like to explore turning hospitals slated for closure into mental health care facilities.

Kakishiba said there needs to be a more coordinated strategy for reducing homelessness across the county .

“I have very little sense or understanding from the county that there is unified focus on addressing or reducing homelessness as the No. 1 county priority,” Kakishiba said.

He sees schools as key opportunities to connect wraparound services — ranging from health care to housing to emergency services — for families in need.

Kaplan said the county should do more to house people without homes while providing them other social services at the same time.

That way, Kaplan said, “you’re connecting people with resources, having already given them a place to be. That has proven to be one of the most effective strategies.”

Kaplan said the county should try to acquire more hotels or dormitories for the homeless.

She’d also like to see the county offer more options, such as providing sites with potable water and other resources where people can park and live in their RVs. The county also should identify more public land where affordable housing could be built, Kaplan said.

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