Editorial: Ramachandran for Oakland council

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday October 19, 2022
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Oakland District 4 City Council candidate Janani Ramachandran. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Oakland District 4 City Council candidate Janani Ramachandran. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

Oakland is assured of having out representation on the City Council even if, as looks likely, lesbian at-large member Rebecca Kaplan is successful in her bid for the District 3 seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. That's because in the District 4 race, the two candidates are both queer.

The District 4 seat is open because the current member Sheng Thao, opted not to seek reelection and is running for mayor. The district includes much of the Oakland hills and the neighborhoods of Dimond, Glen Highlands, Montclair, Glenview, Laurel, and Redwood Heights, among others. Janani Ramachandran, whom we endorsed during her unsuccessful run for Assembly last year after Governor Gavin Newsom tapped Rob Bonta to be state attorney general (his wife, Mia, won the race to succeed him in the Assembly), is now seeking the District 4 City Council seat. A queer woman, she is a progressive, like Thao, who stated in her Bay Area Reporter endorsement questionnaire that she looks forward to being part of a new wave of leadership that prioritizes people over profit and that centers community voices while co-creating policy agendas.

Ramachandran, who is of South Asian ancestry, is a social justice attorney who stated that she has represented "small business owners, workers, survivors of abuse, and families failed by the status quo." She also served on the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, which she noted "exposed me to the corruption and fiscal mismanagement within the city of Oakland, but also to the potential of innovative local government initiatives to curb unethical behavior and build transparency." She served on the California Commission of API American Affairs, as well as the boards of two local violence prevention nonprofits. All were relevant leadership experience, she noted, and included budgetary management and fiscal oversight.

The candidate is a supporter of supervised consumption sites — places where substance users bring their own drugs and use them under supervisor of staff, which include entry points to recovery services. Newsom earlier this year vetoed a bill that would have allowed pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Ramachandran stated that in terms of Oakland moving ahead with any program absent state legislation utilizing a nonprofit, she would first want the matter discussed with stakeholders and be a "truly community-driven process." "If these conversations reveal interest in doing so, I would then consult with the city attorney's office for guidance, and also push the Board of Supervisors for funding," she wrote, adding she would also advocate the supervisors for more funding generally to be directed to Oakland for much-needed mental health and addiction services. (The city relies on the county and its health department for public health funding and programs.)

Ramachandran also bemoaned the lack of LGBTQ leadership on the council — to date there have only been three out members, Kaplan along with former councilmembers Danny Wan and Abel Guillén. "The lack of representation on [the] City Council has impacted tangibly outcomes for our communities significantly," she noted. She would support nonprofits like the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center and work with the new mayor (none of the major candidates are LGBTQ) to ensure the administration is applying for county, state, and federal grants to support the center's expansion and reach. Asked about Oakland Pride activities and the fact that there were two separate events this year, Ramachandran stated that she would meet with the leadership of each entity to find out why there were two different events a week apart, Oakland Pride and Pridefest Oakland. "I want to explore the benefits of consolidating one large-scale parade in September in future years," she wrote.

On housing, a major citywide issue, Ramachandran stated that the city is below its targets for building low-income housing, largely because of glaring funding gaps. "We are especially not building housing necessary for LGBTQ elders that involve nonprofits providing supportive services and culturally competent medical and mental health care," she wrote. Realizing that neither the city's general fund nor bond measures can provide sufficient funds, she would be a "zealous" advocate for greater state and federal dollars to increase affordable housing programs, especially those focused on unhoused youth and seniors.

On public safety, Ramachandran does not support additional police academies, but does want to prioritize retention — she stated the city is losing 10-11 officers a month. Prior to the pandemic, it was closer to four per month, she noted. Oakland is experiencing an increase in homicides, as well as an uptick in property crimes like car break-ins.

Overall, we think Ramachandran would be an important addition to the City Council. For Oaklanders in District 4, the choice is clear and we endorse Ramachandran.

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