What the New Oakland City Council Will Mean for Businesses

Curious about how the outcome of the local election could change Oakland’s business landscape? Check out this election outcomes analysis from Barbara Leslie, President and CEO of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce.

We’ve reached the point in our post-election cycle where the fog has cleared, and we have real changes on the horizon. While the 2020 presidential election stole the show – understandably – local elections saw some significant changes in Oakland’s City Council. If you’re an Oaklander or local business owner, you might be wondering what these changes look like practically speaking.


Arguably, the biggest change brought by this election is less an ideological shift than experiential one. Beginning January 4, 2021, a whopping 5 out of 8 Oakland City Councilmembers will be in their first term for not just the Council, but for any elected office. 


In District 3, Moms4Housing organizer and ACCE Oakland Executive Director Carroll Fife defeated two-term Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney. Outgoing Councilmember Gibson McElhaney was often a moderating voice on the Council, leading the formation of the Equity Caucus. Councilmember-elect Fife – who is a longtime Oaklander but new to District 3 – will represent the city’s Downtown, West Oakland, and Jack London. 


Treva Reid is the other new face joining the Council in January. However, she’s long been known as a leader in her District 7 East Oakland community, Reid also brings considerable institutional knowledge from the retiring councilmember of 24 years, her father Larry Reid. Councilmember-Elect Reid is poised to hit the ground running. 


Incumbents Council President Rebecca Kaplan, President Pro Tem Dan Kalb, and Councilmember Noel Gallo will all be returned to office for another term. The returning incumbents will rejoin their colleagues Councilmembers Bas, Taylor, and Thao who were all elected to their first terms in 2018. We’re thrilled that the Oakland City Council continues to stand for diversity – this eight-person team represents the racial, gender, and age diversity of our Oakland community. 


Ideologically, Oakland continues to have one of the most progressive elected governments in the country. This has long been a point of pride for Oakland voters and businesses alike. As we’ve seen from experience, being progressive does not mean being anti-business and being anti-business does not make you a progressive. Oakland’s economy will continue to face serious threats in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic that will require Oakland leaders from government, to nonprofit, to business, to union to work together like never before. 


An additional trend to note is that voters generally care most about fiscal responsibility and economic development during a recession – a trend that seems to have initially been borne out in the narrow county sales tax race. Measure W – a sales tax increase passed by an extremely narrow 1,100 votes, barely reaching 50.08 percent. Contrast that to the most recent sales tax increase passed before the shelter-in-place on March 3, 2020 that passed with 64.35 percent of the vote. 


In our October 2020 Pulse of Oakland Poll, likely voters told us that they believed the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was yet to come, and acknowledged that the economy had worsened over the last year. Residents are closely tuned in to how their local politicians are responding to the pandemic, and related crises with our economy and housing. As our recession continues, keep an eye out for this trend to continue to influence the decisions of Oaklanders. 

Regardless of what’s to come locally, the City of Oakland will certainly benefit from steady and friendlier leadership in the White House. We’re also looking forward to seeing Oakland-native Kamala Harris bring her local perspective to national issues as Vice President. While there’s still a lot of work to be done locally and nationally, Oakland will continue to bring real influence throughout both California and the country. 


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