By Tulio Ospina
In the City Council race for Oakland District 5, incumbent Noel Gallo is facing off against Viola Gonzales, who previously served on the Oakland Board of Education as an appointee of then-Mayor Jerry Brown.
Gallo, who has been on the council since 2012, is a lifelong resident of the Fruitvale District and previously served on the Oakland Board of Education for 20 years. He also sits on the Life Enrichment, Public Works and Public Safety city council committees.
Gonzales was, until June 30, the chief executive officer of AnewAmerica, a non-profit that helps immigrants and refugees start small and micro-businesses.
According to Gonzales, she has the backing of Mayor Libby Schaaf, former Councilmember Ignacio de la Fuente and former Mayor Elihu Harris.
Councilmember Gallo has achieved broad popularity in the city for his strong role in supporting renter protection and a police commission—Measures JJ and LL respectively— which the City Council placed on the November ballot.
Gallo has also taken strong positions on recent city development decisions, arguing that Oakland’s city-owned land should not be sold to private developers and should, instead, be leased and remain public.
Referring to Oakland’s current housing crisis, Gallo told the Post, “Investors and developers are coming in from out of state and outside the country, and they’re here to make a dollar. They have no commitment to Oakland.”
“If there is to be development, it has to be considerate of the people who live here already. And we must keep public land for public good,” said Gallo.
In terms of the two landmark city measures that Gallo openly supported and is endorsing in November, he said, “The police commission is really important to deal with police discipline and Oakland needs a strong citizens’ body.”
“The housing situation is an emergency issue, too, because people are being displaced like crazy. Whole families are being displaced with children. We see grandmothers and children sleeping in their cars. Every democracy needs to take care of the people who live in it, and that’s what the renter protection measure does.”
According to Gallo, his number one platform priority is increasing public safety in his district.
For four years, he has organized and participated in weekly volunteer walks through the Fruitvale, picking up illegal dumping and cleaning neighborhoods.
An increase in public safety also means concentrating resources to meet the district’s infrastructure needs—building sidewalks, repaving streets and installing crosswalks.
Gallo is asking people to vote for the city infrastructure bond, which will be on the November ballot.
He also wants to increase police presence in his district to try to curb what he sees as an uptick in robberies and traffic violations.
Gonzales, meanwhile, is running against Gallo on a platform of bringing economic development and job creation to Fruitvale, based on her 15 years of experience as an executive of a non-profit.
“We need to create jobs in the community, and I think we can do more,” Gonzales said in an interview with the Post. “Oakland has the responsibility to create more jobs and help local businesses grow.”
Gonzales said she will not take a position on the renter protection and police commission measures, though she says she understands what is at stake and sees why the measures were put on the November ballot.
“I say let the voters decide. I feel like the obligation of the City Council is just to move quickly to do what the public asks and to stop dragging its feet, which is what it’s been doing,” she said.
“With the police commission, I think we’ve got to have accountability, but the commission itself isn’t enough to fix larger issues like racial profiling that permeate society. And with the renters’ issue, we have the Costa-Hawkins state law that limits what you can do.”
Gonzales said she has gained the public and financial support of Mayor Schaaf because she is able to make room for differences in opinion and bring public conversations into meetings. The mayor has contributed $700, the maximum allowed, to Gonzales’ campaign.
“She would not give endorsements unless she thought we could work together,” Gonzales said.