From the top of the ticket to local races, there are several candidates and ballot measures that those experiencing homelessness in the East Bay should be aware of. But it’s not always clear what casting a ballot means for the future of housing, support for unsheltered people, or policing. The race grabbing the most headlines is the presidential contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump. But that’s not the only important decision facing voters this year. There are a number of pivotal local races happening, and, of course, it wouldn’t be a California election without a long and confusing list of ballot measures! Here are the ballot measures and local races that directly impact housing, homelessness, and policing.
If passed, Proposition 15 would increase property taxes on commercial and industrial properties in order to fund schools and local government services.
Voting Yes: Would increase taxes on some commercial landowners and provide more funding for schools and city services.
Voting No: Would leave property taxes, school, and city budgets at their current rate.
Funding and endorsements: Prop 15’s primary supporters come from the California Teacher’s Association and SEIU California State Council. Its top opposition donors are industrial property owners.
If passed, Proposition 16 would repeal proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in California in 1996.
Voting Yes: Would allow California to consider factors like race, gender, country of origin and ethnicity to create more inclusive hiring, contracting, and public-school admission.
Voting No: Would retain the ban.
Funding and endorsements: Prop 16 is supported by individual philanthropists, the California Nurses Association Initiative PAC, and others. Its top opposition donors are Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., which contributed to the Californians for Equal Rights committee.
If passed, Proposition 17 would restore the right to vote to Californians on parole.
Voting Yes: Would restore the right to vote for the over 50,000 Californians currently on parole.
Voting No: Would maintain that those on parole cannot vote.
Funding and endorsements: As of the end of August, there were no contributions recorded either in support of or opposition to Prop 17.
If passed Proposition 20 would increase some penalties for low-level offenses, expand the list of offenses that disqualify inmates from a parole program, create a statewide DNA database for those convicted of certain crimes, and reclassify theft between $250 and $950 as a felony.
Voting Yes: Would mean increased penalties for both violent and nonviolent offenders.
Voting No: Would maintain some of the criminal justice reform steps California has taken in the last decade.
Funding and endorsements: The top funders of Prop 20 are three police unions. The top opposition donors are philanthropists, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
If passed, Proposition 21 would allow local governments to enact more stringent rent control measures.
Voting Yes: Would allow local governments to implement rent control ordinances they deem appropriate for their constituents.
Voting No: Would maintain the state law limiting local rent control measures.
Funding and endorsements: The top funder in support of Prop 21 is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, one of the leading sponsors of the Rental Affordability Act. The top opposition donors are three of the top 10 property owners in Silicon Valley.
If passed, Proposition 22 would classify rideshare and delivery drivers as independent contractors, not employees—maintaining the way things are now.
Voting Yes: Would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to continue to treat their employees as independent contractors, exempting them from state labor protections like the minimum wage and worker’s compensation.
Voting No: Would require these companies to extend labor rights to their drivers, including paid family leave, paid sick days and unemployment insurance.
Funding and endorsements: Lyft, Uber, and DoorDash are the leading financial supporters of Prop 22. The leading opposition donors are Transport Workers Union of America, SEIU California State Council, Working Families Issues Committee, Service Employees International Union, and District Council of Ironworkers PIC.
Oakland Council races
Oakland’s City Council elections include races in districts 1, 3, 5, and 7, as well as the citywide at-large council seat, who is elected by to represent the Council as a whole. Here’s how the candidates measure up on the topics of housing, homelessness, and policing.
The District 1 candidates include incumbent Dan Kalb, Stephanie Dominguez Walton and Tri Ngo. Kalb points to his work on the city’s Tenant Protections Ordinance, COVID-19 eviction moratoriums, and the creation of the city’s Police Commission. On policing, he says he’s open to reinvesting in violence prevention and community services, but worries about pulling funding from the emergency response and investigations arm of the police department. Kalb is endorsed by Mayor Libby Schaaf, Councilmembers Kaplan, Bas, Gallo, and McElhaney, State Senator Nancy Skinner, California Assemblymember Rob Bonta, the Alameda County Labor Council, the Oakland Tenants Union, and others.
Stephanie Dominguez Walton says Oakland residents are being ignored by city leadership. She promises to prioritize finding city-owned properties to house those experiencing homelessness, and says if the current Council didn’t prioritize homelessness services before the pandemic decimated the city’s budget, there’s no reason to expect them to now. She supports Councilmember Bas’ proposal to reallocate $25 million from OPD’s budget, and supports measure S1, which increases the clout of the city’s citizen Police Commission. Walton is endorsed by California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Planned Parenthood, YIMBY Action, and others.
Tri Ngo, an engineer at Tesla, has laid out a four-step plan to transition homeless Oaklanders from encampments to permanent housing. He also plans to offer more support to people who are experiencing homelessness but are sheltered by friends or family. On policing, Ngo’s policies include reallocating funds and limiting the ways the city uses armed police. He also promises to limit department overtime and reimagine the citizen Police Commission to give commissioners more sway and have them democratically elected.
In Oakland’s District 3 race, incumbent Lynette Gibson McElhaney faces five challengers: Carroll Fife, Seneca Scott, Meron Semedar, Alexus Taylor, and Faye Taylor.
McElhaney points to her work expanding eviction protections and developing the city’s Department of Violence Prevention, but she’s been criticized as being too moderate when casting votes on housing policy and protections for renters. McElhaney wants to see some of the police budget reallocated incrementally, an opinion critics view as too moderate. McElhaney is endorsed by State Senator Nancy Skinner, California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Oakland Councilmembers Gallo, Kalb, Reid, and Taylor, YIMBY Action, and others.
McElhaney’s most prominent challenger is Carroll Fife, a community organizer who helped found the Moms 4 Housing movement. Fife says housing for those experiencing homelessness and low-income Oaklanders will be her top priority if elected. She also supports reallocating some of OPD’s budget, saying over-policing has not worked for the city. Fife is endorsed by over 100 citizen residents of Oakland, as well as AACE Action, Alameda County Building Trades Council, Bay Rising Action, Do No Harm Coalition, and others.
In Oakland’s District 5 race, incumbent Noel Gallo is running against two competitors, Zoe Lopez-Meraz and Richard Santos Raya. Gallo says while on the council he has been a leader in advocating for low-income housing and support for those experiencing homelessness. However, critics say has advocated for more police involvement in clearing encampments. Gallo has led media tours of encampments and has organized highly publicized camp and street clean-ups. On policing, Gallo has sought to reframe the discussion around defunding OPD, saying he supports increased funding for mental health and homeless services but says he doesn’t see it as an either-or decision between those services and policing. Gallo is endorsed by CA Assemblymember Rob Bonta, Oakland Councilmembers Kalb, Reid, Taylor, Thao, and Kaplan, the Alameda County Democratic Party, the Alameda County Labor Council AFL-CIO, YIMBY Action, and others.
Richard Santos Raya first announced his run for city council during June’s George Floyd protests. He has been a vocal advocate of defunding OPD and has made it his main policy platform. Raya wants to see money for policing reinvested into community support systems that will further racial equity, like better supporting teachers, offering more robust job training programs, and investing in Oakland’s cultural heritage and future. He also has advocated for additional spending for mental health and homelessness services. Raya is endorsed by Oakland School Board member Rosie Torres, Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, Bay Area Rising Action, Block by Block Organizing Network, and others.
Zoe Lopez-Meraz’s is running on a “people’s platform” that centers around housing, divesting from the police, essential workers, environmental justice, and the local economy. Her housing plan includes immediate emergency housing for the unhoused and more robust wraparound services and providing more protections for low-income renters. She says the city should reinvest half of the police budget into other city services.
In District 7, five candidates hope to replace longtime Councilmember Larry Reid, who is retiring. The candidates, Robert Jackson, Treva Reid, Marcie Hodge Marchon Tatmon, and Aaron Clay all want to see more protections for renters, more low-income housing, and a new approach to public safety.
The candidates with the most endorsements are Robert “Bob” Jackson, a bishop, and Treva Reid. The two have different approaches to addressing the housing crisis. Jackson has indicated a more market-based, pro-business approach. On policing, he advocates for making the streets cleaner. He says defunding police would make way for mental health specialists and freeing up OPD to handle violent crime. Jackson is endorsed by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley and Alameda County Treasurer Donald White, as well as a number of pastors and bishops from East Bay congregations.
Reid consistently pushes for low-income housing. She is also campaigning on ending gun violence by funding violence prevention and reallocating funds from OPD for culturally competent mental health services. Reid is endorsed by Oakland Councilmembers Kaplan, Thao, Gallo, and Kalb, State Senator Nancy Skinner, California Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks, the Alameda County Labor Council, SEIU Local 1021, and others.
Councilmember at large
In the at-large race, incumbent Rebecca Kaplan defends her seat as City Council President against candidates Derreck Johnson and Nancy Sidebotham. While on the Council Kaplan has pushed for more affordable housing, alternatives to traditional policing, and services for those experiencing homelessness. Kaplan is endorsed by Oakland Councilmembers Kalb, Fortunato-Bas, Reid, Gallo, housing advocate Randy Shaw, activist Cat Brooks, SEIU Local 1021, Planned Parenthood, and others.
Johnson, on the other hand, promises a more business and market-focused approach, and is wary of pulling funding from OPD. He is endorsed by Senator Kamala Harris, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, California Assembymember Buffy Wicks, East Bay Young Democrats, YIMBY Action, and others.
Sidebotham says the city needs to rethink its approach to policing, but is not in favor of defunding OPD. She worries about the consequences of budget cuts on police services and says the Council shouldn’t rush into something in reaction to public pressure. Sidebotham is critical of the city’s spending on services. She says Oakland properties are taxed too highly for the services the city offers, and has described Oakland as “the welfare city of Alameda County.”
Berkeley council races
In Berkeley, voters will choose the Mayor, as well as councilmembers in districts 2, 3, 5, and 6. Here’s how the candidates measure up on the topics of housing, homelessness, and policing.
The race for mayor in Berkeley is between incumbent Jesse Arreguin, Aidan Hill, Naomi D. Pete, and Wayne Hsiung.
Arreguin says in the last four years Berkeley has invested more in housing, homeless services, and alternatives to policing. If re-elected, he says he’ll continue to push for more housing and funding for homeless services. Arreguin says he’s spearheaded efforts to raise millions of dollars for homelessness services, such as the STAIR Pathways center, which cost $2.4 million and opened up in 2018. He says under his leadership the city began offering more rental assistance, shelter space, and legal representation for those facing eviction. However, he has also been criticized by advocates for passing the overnight RV Ban—which makes it illegal for RVs to be parked in the city overnight—as well as a sit/lie law that regulates how much space one can take up in public rights of way. The Pathways Center has also been criticized by advocates for placing clients into unhospitable housing upon exiting the program.
Arreguin is endorsed by the majority of the Council: Councilmembers Keserwani, Bartlett, Harrison, Wengraf, Robinson, and Droste. He is also endorsed by Governor Gavin Newsom, Assemblymembers Wicks and Bonta, SEIU Local 1021, and others.
Hill, an activist and the Vice-Chair of Berkeley’s homeless commission, says they will make mental health and preventative medicine top priorities in ending the homeless crisis.
Hsiung, a lawyer and founder of radical animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, says if elected he’d make it easier to build housing and set a goal of reducing homelessness by 90 percent in his first term. Both Hill and Hsiung are critical of the current administration’s stance on homelessness. Hsiung’s website refers to current policies as punitive, and says he wants to end the effective criminalization of homelessness in Berkeley, naming the sit/lie law and the RV Ban. Hsiung is endorsed by former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Greenwald, musican and activist Moby, actor and activist Danny Glover, actor and activist James Cromwell, and others.
In District 2, Councilmember Cheryl Davila is seeking re-election in a crowded field. She is running against Terry Taplin, Alex Sharenko, and Timothy W. Carter.
Davila is praised for being a consistent leader on issues that most affect the unhoused. She has pushed to demilitarize BPD and reallocate some of their funding, has pushed the city away from policies that criminalize homelessness. On homelessness services, Davila says she’s pushed the city to expand a program that provides showers and laundry services to the unhoused and to better organize regional support for encampments. Davila is endorsed by Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett, former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, State Assembly Candidate Jovanka Beckles, the Berkeley Progressive Alliance, Bay Area Rising Action, and others.
Terry Taplin, who has the support of several of Berkeley’s current councilmembers, wants to see the city increase housing density around mass transit and remove barriers to building more low and middle-income housing. Apart from his plans to increase housing stock, Taplin’s campaign website does not reflect how he plans to support the unhoused if elected or what changes he’d like to implement around policing. Taplin is endorsed by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Berkeley Councilmembers Droste, Hahn, and Robinson, the California Democratic Party, and others.
Alex Sharenko says homelessness and public safety problems have plagued District 2 under Councilmember Davila. He says public safety is one of the biggest problems facing the district and wants to see more mental health and social workers in Berkeley so the police can focus on violent crime. Sharenko is critical of policies that spend on temporary solutions to the housing crisis. He says if elected he will work to implement policies around RV parking that will lessen the number of RVs in West Berkeley. Sharenko is endorsed by Berkeley Councilmembers Kesarwani, Droste, Wengraf, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, and others.
Timothy W. Carter sees the housing crisis as the biggest problem currently facing the city. He says District 2 needs to make a plan to build more housing at all income levels, which will help low-income residents and the unhoused. He wants to see permits issued for RV parking equally around the city to limit the number of RVs in West Berkeley. He wants to see greater police accountability and oversight in order to lessen racial disparities.
In District 3, incumbent Ben Bartlett seeks re-election against two other candidates. Bartlett says while on the Council he’s championed tenants’ rights, reallocated funding from the police department for mental health emergency response and pushed for more low-income housing. He says in a second term, he’d do more to support low-income workers and push for more housing for the city’s unhoused. Bartlett is endorsed by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arregin, Councilmembers Davila, Harrison, Wengraf, Robinson, and Droste, SEIU 1021, and others.
Deborah Matthews wants to see Berkeley make a larger financial investment in District 3, specifically around housing. She wants to put more money towards subsidizing low-income housing and build housing for the city’s homeless population at the Ashby Bart station. She wants to see a more preventative take on public safety from the city. By focusing on creating opportunities, mediating conflicts, and tackling systemic bias, Matthews thinks the police can rebuild community trust. Matthews is endorsed by former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown, housing advocate Randy Shaw, Councilmember Wengraf, and others.
The third candidate, Orlando Martinez, says the city needs to find a way to build more affordable housing inexpensively. He says by partnering with developers and using modular construction, the city can build more housing with the same funding. Martinez’s campaign website doesn’t address his plans for more effective policing.
In Berkeley’s District 5 race, incumbent Sophie Hahn is running against two other candidates, Andrew Todd and Paul Darwin Picklesimer. While on the Council Hahn says she’s pushed the city to provide more services to the unhoused and if re-elected she will continue to push for more services and affordable housing in Berkeley. Hahn says she’s interested in reimagining how Berkeley is policed and wants to see emergency response alternatives. Hahn is endorsed by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arregin, Councilmembers Wengraf, Harrison, Bartlett, Robinson, the Alameda County Democratic Party, and others.
Challenger Todd Andrew says he would be a more progressive voice on the Council, and bring his experience on the Homeless Commission to his policy-making.
In District 6, incumbent Susan Wengraf is running against Richard Illgen. Wengraf says the city must find more outside funding to build low-income housing for the city’s “housing first” strategy to combat homelessness. She also says the city must do more to house people in the short-term. Recently, Wengraf has advocated for greater community input as the city re-evaluates the role of BPD, especially from communities of color. She says Berkeley’s Black community should be “at the forefront of conversations to re-imagine approaches to policing and public safety in Berkeley.” Wengraf is endorsed by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Councilmembers Hahn, Kesarwani, Bartlett, and Droste, the Alameda County Democratic Party, and others.
Illgen says residents should demand more from their City Council. He wants to see the city offer more tiny homes and motel spaces for the city’s unhoused and says with changes to BPD and better money management, the city will have more money for social services. Illgen is endorsed by Councilmembers Harrison and Bartlett, Just Cities Executive Director Margaretta Lin, environmental leader Helen Burke, and others.
Daniel Lempres is a freelance reporter based in Oakland. He focuses on local government, policing and housing policy. He’s contributed to the East Bay Express, Berkeleyside and the Humboldt Times-Standard. Daniel is a Master’s Candidate at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.