TWO POLITICAL VETERANS are facing off Nov. 8 to fill the District 3 Alameda County Board of Supervisors seat held by Wilma Chan before her unexpected death last year.

Alameda’s former Vice Mayor Lena Tam is facing Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan.

In a phone interview, Kaplan said homelessness will be her top priority if elected. Tam said her top three priorities are community safety, which includes public safety, homelessness and mental health care access.

Kaplan said following homelessness, she will prioritize job training and student loan forgiveness for frontline essential jobs in medicine, mental health and infrastructure maintenance. Her third priority will be gun crime.

Lena Tam

Tam said she has a history of collaboration, which she said is key for the role of supervisor. Tam said Chan was her role model. Chan was fatally struck by a vehicle in Alameda on Nov. 3, 2021, and Dave Brown, her former chief of staff, was appointed to her seat following her death.

“I hope I can be as good of a facilitator as she was,” Tam said.

Lena Tam, 2022 candidate for Alameda County Supervisor. (Photo by Cedric Cheng of Cheng Design via Bay City News)

Chan had bold dreams to eliminate poverty, and Tam wants to continue and expand Chan’s legacy, Tam said.

Tam is the daughter of immigrants and said she can provide a voice for the immigrant community because she is bilingual. Nearly 34 percent of the county population was Asian last year, according to an estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Tam said the Black and Asian communities need to have a healing forum. Her mom was attacked at on her way to Oakland’s Chinatown from the Lake Merritt BART station, though she didn’t say by whom.

She would also like to see, in all the cities in the supervisorial district, mental health care professionals respond rather than police to non-violent mental health crises, similar to programs in Oakland and Alameda.

Tam would also take on the issue of treatment versus incarceration for the mentally ill. Some in the community believe the seriously mentally ill need treatment rather than jail time.

“We just don’t have enough beds” or mental health care professionals, Tam said.

Tam is currently the water resources manager for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, where she has worked for over 30 years.

She has also served in other capacities in the community, such as president of the board of directors for the Alameda Health Care District, which oversees Alameda Hospital, and chaired the Alameda County Planning Commission.

Tam is endorsed by the mayors of Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro along with the League of Conservation Voters and former supervisor candidates like David Kakishiba, she said.

Rebecca Kaplan

Kaplan has been on the Oakland City Council since 2009 as an at-large member representing all Oakland residents.

She is endorsed for supervisor by, among others, Alameda County firefighters and Oakland firefighters as well as the Alameda County Democratic Party.

Oakland Vice Mayor and 2022 Alameda County Supervisor candidate Rebecca Kaplan. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Kaplan campaign via Bay City News)

Kaplan said she would launch a city-county coordinated response to homelessness.

“It has been handled in a very disconnected way,” she said in a phone interview.

The response might involve the use of dorms and hotels, which would give unhoused residents greater access to needed services and the opportunity to get a job, Kaplan said.

She said the Lake Merritt Lodge in Oakland is an example of a response that is working and needs to be scaled up.

Kaplan also suggests establishing RV parks for unhoused residents living in recreational vehicles. The parks would have utilities and residents would pay a sliding scale to park there.

Oakland and Alameda County own land that could be used for RV parks, Kaplan said.

She said the county needs affordable housing construction, too. The county needs pure affordable housing projects and projects that combine market and affordable housing.

“I think we need both strategies,” Kaplan said.

Bigger parcels like the Coliseum complex might have a whole range of uses such as housing, women’s professional basketball, professional soccer, and as a location for a new Oakland police administration building.

Smaller parcels could be used for purely affordable housing, Kaplan said.

She also said the county should give existing tenants and nonprofits the opportunity to buy homes that the county is selling. Each year the county seizes homes for non-payment of taxes and many of the homes are being bought by out-of-state speculators, she said.

Kaplan’s second priority involves public health, which the county plays a key role in.

She said the county is facing a shortage of mental health care workers.

She suggests paid training for potential mental health care workers. Also, she suggests paying off their student loans if they work in needed roles for 10 years. That will allow the county to hire locally and hire workers who reflect the cultural makeup of the county.

Kaplan’s third priority is tracking and shutting down illegal gun dealers to deter gun crime.

People are profiting by selling death in our communities, Kaplan said. She blames the rise in shootings on the rise in the number of guns in the county.

Almost all shootings are done with illegal guns, Kaplan said. She suggests countywide tracing of illegal guns.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.