District 6, East Oakland
Challengers: Incumbent Desley Brooks, Marlo Rodriguez, Loren Taylor, Mya Whitaker
By Jordan Rosenfeld
OAKLAND -- Natasha Middleton, a management analyst at the Alameda County Probation Department, has lived in Oakland for 25 years, and brings an extensive background in public policy administration and criminal justice reform to her bid for Oakland City Council District 6, or East Oakland.
She’s running in the district she has called home since 2009 because, she said, “I’m very aware of the challenges [in this district]. We have not seen enough significant changes over time, and we deserve more.”
Middleton’s previous public and political service includes serving on the board of the Family Violence Law Center, as the vice president of fundraising for Montera Middle School, on the board of the League of Women Voters, as a Delegate for Congressional District 13 at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and most recently, on Oakland’s Public Safety and Services Violence Prevention Oversight Commission.
Economic development is one key issue on which she’s staking her campaign. “[District 6 is] underdeveloped for the area,” she said. Middleton points to a dearth of grocery stores, or even farmer’s markets with easy access. “With a car, you have an advantage,” she said. “If you are limited to public transportation or don’t have the means, such as people with disabilities, how do you access food and necessities?”
She believes development has to be done right, however, and is a proponent of “50 percent local hire” and would like to see more of it; that’s why she supports union project labor agreements (PLAs) that help ensure more local hiring and livable wages. “Labor unions train their members using professional and safe measures, and make sure that people are getting paid livable wages,” she said. “Union jobs are the best way to go about that.”
Many unions have endorsed Middleton, including the IBEW Electrical Workers Local 595, the Iron Workers Local 378, The Building & Construction Trades Council of Alameda, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, District 16 Council, International Union, and by the group, East Bay Residents for Responsible Development (the publisher of this site). She has also gained some high-profile endorsements from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, California State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, California Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and a number of local and state leaders.
Middleton’s concerns about development also dovetail with one of her key campaign issues: housing and homelessness. She’s concerned about the lack of progress on housing and development-related issues that would help those in danger of losing their homes or who are being pushed out of their homes due to economic changes, such as seniors or the unemployed.
“Displacement is a real thing,” she said. “There’s a delicate high-wire [act] where you have people who are in crisis and those that are bordering on being homeless.” She cited the example of a civil engineer she spoke with recently who had been out of work for several months. “She owns her house but she’s concerned she may lose it.” Another woman is working three jobs to take care of her kids, but can’t take advantage of “affordable” housing because she makes too much money, Middleton relayed.
And then, of course, there is the looming homelessness crisis. While Middleton acknowledges that there is a lot of work being done by many community and county agencies and organizations to help, “We’re not able to address the needs fast enough as populations are increasing.”
Tent encampments continue to pop up. She estimates there may be as many as 3,000 homeless on the streets in any given week, and would like to do a weekly homeless count. If elected, she will work to set up some sort of navigation center, which would be a “one-stop-shop” for resources and services for the homeless.
Middleton, 50, applauds the efforts of local organizations and even the city for short-term housing, like Tuff Sheds and trailer parks, but she feels that such temporary housing should not be for longer than six months and that there must be “transitional housing” that helps put people into actual homes.
“Right now we’re not building housing fast enough to keep up with homelessness.” Worse, she said, it’s branching into other populations that didn’t use to suffer as much with homelessness, namely students and the elderly. “There are efforts to create an incentive for developers to build housing for students,” she said, “because it’s bad enough that there was the starving student, now there’s the unhoused, starving student.”
“We need a highly strategic, coordinated effort between the city, county, community-based organizations and community members to pitch in and help.”
Another important policy area for Middleton is targeting sex traffickers in Oakland. “District 6 is a high-traffic area for this kind of activity,” she said. “I want to make sure there’s a heightened awareness, and have businesses, community members and local government work in tandem.”
Middleton expressed some frustration with how District 6 is served by its current council member, Desley Brooks, who has served for 16 years. “A council member represents not just the district but the entire city of Oakland,” she said. In her conversations with community members in District 6, she said she has heard that district members do not know who their councilmember is, much less had an actual conversation with her. She also believes it’s time to adopt term limits in Oakland.
When facing the huge challenges ahead of her, Middleton takes inspiration from several political heroes: former President Barack Obama, who she felt was a good example of a political leader who served the people; California Representative, Maxine Waters, who, she said, “Is fighting the good fight…without fear or concern whether she is being admonished;” and California Governor Jerry Brown, whose leadership in creating a state economic surplus impresses her. “Recession is coming, and he’s planning ahead.”
It’s very important to Middleton to put the people she will serve first before anything else, if she is elected on Nov. 6. “Before you do anything, you have to make sure you ask, ‘How is this going to improve the lives of the people we serve?’”
Jordan Rosenfeld is a Bay Area freelance journalist.