2022 Emeryville City Council Candidate Questionnaire: North Hollis Resident Kalimah Priforce

15 mins read

Emeryville voters will be tasked to fill two open seats this election with incumbents Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue opting to not seek third terms. Five candidates have filed to fill the four year term.

Whomever is elected on November 8 will join John Bauters, Ally Medina (both with two years left on their second terms) and Courtney Welch (elected in 2021’s Special Election and filling out the remainder of resigned councilmember Christian Patz’ four year term).

We have provided each candidate 20 questions relevant to Emeryville to help voters determine which candidates align with their personal priorities. The League of Women Voters candidate forum replay can be watched online.

Kalimah Priforce

Introduction & Priorities

1). First off, how long have you lived in Emeryville, what neighborhood do you reside in and what led you to choose Emeryville as “home”?

Out of the twelve years I’ve lived in the East Bay, since moving out to California from Brooklyn in July 2010, I’ve had the privilege to call Emeryville home for ten years.

I moved to Emeryville because of its walkability, its modern architecture and apartment/condo style living. I worked in Oakland and needed a reprieve from Oakland social life. Emeryville inspired me to learn how to ride a bike and made me fall in love with the city more.

Someone asked me how I could love two cities, Brooklyn and Emeryville. They remind me of each other, but I refute anyone who says I can’t be polyamorous when it comes to my cities. As long as there is a mutual understanding between the two, they are both my home.

2). Tell us what you do professionally. What skills and different perspectives would you bring to Emeryville’s City Council that might be currently lacking?

I am a National Non-Profit Advisor and Memoirist. I evaluate nonprofits and decide along with other philanthropic advisors how they are addressing systems of dehumanization and fund them to continue their amazing work.

I was appointed to the National Advisory Council for Forward Promise because of my unique expertise in technology, culturally-relevant education and youth development, and social impact nonprofits.

Although I am new to the government sector, I thrive on public and private partnerships as a three-times entrepreneur. Becoming a member of city hall would extend my work to bridge government, public, and private partnerships.

Could it work? That is what I am looking to innovate with city hall, a collaboration of many worlds that converge on a singular mission to make Emeryville a better place to work, live, and play.

3). Bullet-point for us what you see as the city’s Top-5 priorities.

I don’t know what the current top five priorities of the city are. After attending candidate orientations held by city staffers, I did notice that affordable housing is a priority for city hall along with transportation.

I support both, but my priorities are to improve affordability as a whole for residents and to increase the city’s budget by bringing additional resources into our coffers. I’m also keeping an eye on the inclusion of unions in the development process. I was informed that our budget was 44 million last year.

I’m not certain if this was just the general fund or the capital budget, but our current operational expenditures are high enough to limit many projects that Emeryville could explore if given the fiscal latitude.

If I am elected city councilmember, it would more than likely be because voters want someone with business insights and a social impact background to bring balance to The Force.

Transit & Bikeability

4). Bikeability and Pedestrian access in Emeryville have improved markedly with the completion of the South Bayfront Bridge (a nearly two decade long project) and gradual expansion of the Emeryville Greenway. Where would you like to see the city focus its efforts on improved bike/ped safety and access during your term if elected?

I would have to see what areas of the city can be improved with improved bike/ped safety, as unfortunately I do not have access to the hazard reports and history of accidents.

All I know is that I am a practicing Buddhist and yet I still evoke in prayer every deity from every religious pantheon whenever crossing the 40-something streets and San Pablo Avenue.

I thought it was just me, but after canvassing the Triangle neighborhood and speaking to residents there, they shared their issues with San Pablo and its traffic dangers.

I don’t know how to drive. It’s mostly because I grew up in New York and partly because of childhood traumas related to driving. I hope to learn one day, but it took me until my late thirties to learn how to ride a bike, and now it’s my preferred mode of transportation.

A factor that drew me to Emeryville was its walkability, but now as a biker, I love Emeryville even more so I am unabashedly biased when it comes to supporting Emeryville’s bike and pedestrian lanes.

Not to the point of hurting vehicle users, which includes my wife, but I do encourage the city council to continue on its path of making Emeryville bike-friendly.

5). The E’ville Eye used its platform to help advocate that a free shuttle from The Emery development to West Oakland BART be included in the CBA after polling riders. When their obligation ends, would you like to see this line merged into an Emery Go-Round Route somehow? Do you see any other adjustments to the Emery Go-Round routes or schedules that the pandemic shift to remote work might necessitate?

Yes. The more Emery Go-Round routes, the better.

It would be good to explore routes to and from Ashby Bart. Routes from West Oakland Bart, MacArthur Bart, and Ashby Bart would significantly increase Emeryville’s mobility, especially as we are seeking to double our population very soon with over a thousand new units in ten years.

Public Safety

6). Despite some high-profile shootings and surges in crime in neighboring cities, violent & property crime levels in Emeryville are slightly lower than pre-pandemic levels. That said, what do you assess as the general concern with public safety from your conversations with neighbors and do you believe the Emeryville Police Department has sufficient staffing levels to keep the city safe?

Our current police department is short staffed and we are having trouble recruiting new police officers. I am in favor of adding a version of the BMR program that targets union members among teachers, police, and firefighters.

This would allow them to live in the communities they work in and be an incentive that rivals what our neighbors like Oakland and Berkeley offer.

Package theft, catalytic converter thefts, and vehicular vandalism come up often for residents I’ve spoken to. As the head of my community’s tenant board association and neighborhood watch, I know first hand how a rising tide of crime has become a recurrent issue.

However, what I’ve found is that property managers who forgo security needs allow cyclical criminal behaviors to foster and then it spills over to other residences. Criminal behavior has a tendency to escalate when it remains unchecked. I intend to continue holding property managers accountable.

7). Bay Street has been the target of looting, violence and massive brawls mostly by unaccompanied juveniles. Are there any programs, policies or technologies you would consider exploring to deter this behavior that ultimately hurts Emeryville and the resident amenity and retail tax revenue this shopping center generates for the city’s general fund?

As I have mentioned in the League of Women Voters candidate forum, they are kids, our babies, and often there is a racial component wherein a group of predominantly Black and Brown children are viewed and treated differently than a gaggle of White children.

However, they still pose an issue, and social disturbances should not be allowed to continue unabated.

I’ve discussed this issue with a current councilmember and they stressed that Emeryville residents would not be open to surveillance that infringes on their privacy rights. I see their point; however, there are things we can still do.

I strongly support additional security cameras subsidized by the city in places where there are crimes, violent and nonviolent, and that includes the kids at Bay Street mall.

I have scheduled a Safety-Action Community Forum at Bay Street mall for October 28th, 2022 wherein matters like these are discussed and I will introduce the idea of a reporting system wherein facial recognition is used to identify participants involved disturbing events at places like Bay Street, and if they happen to be minors, their schools are alerted to their behaviors almost instantly.

As it relates to privacy, as long as those being recorded have access to their data, we can create a system that is humane but precise in its responsiveness in addition to preventing other crimes like child sex trafficking.

I strongly support additional security cameras subsidized by the city in places where there are crimes, violent and nonviolent, and that includes our young people at Bay Street mall.

8). The San Pablo Avenue CVS abruptly closed in September leaving several neighborhoods without a walkable pharmacy. While they did not state specific reasons for closing, many have observed the location was the frequent target of theft and harassment of their employees and much of their inventory was behind locked cases (an anti-theft measure that Target has also recently implored). Do you believe we’ve gotten too permissive as a society with theft & property crime?

I don’t believe we have gotten too permissive as a society. It’s a popular right wing talking point that does not resemble the data. Whole Foods in the Berkeley and Oakland areas experience thefts and has no more or less the amount of security guards as everyone else and they don’t feel compelled to shut down. The CVS business model was outdated and has led to hundreds of store closures around the country.

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Homelessness, Housing & Affordability

9). Despite efforts to incentivize “Family-Friendly” housing over the last decade, Emeryville has the second lowest percentage of youth population in the Bay Area according to 2020 Census Data (up slightly from 10.2 to 10.8% over this span). Is mandating two and three bedroom units in large, multifamily apartment projects the right way to approach retaining families beyond children’s preschool years?

I agree that we should increase the number of 2 to 3 bedroom residential units, especially affordable units.

10). As detailed in the key findings of the city’s 338-page Housing Element draft, 64% of Emeryville’s housing stock consists of studio and 1-bedroom units. The City has not built any significant ownership housing in well over a decade and ⅔ of the units in the city are rentals. What are your other takeaways from this document that will guide your housing priorities if elected?

I agree that we should increase not only the number of home ownership opportunities but the ability for Emeryville residents to own those new homes.

11). The number of people experiencing homelessness in Emeryville has dipped following some lengthy legal battles. However, at a regional level, the problem remains staggering and feels by many to be intractable. What would you like to see done at the local and state levels to compel the unhoused suffering from addiction and mental illness into services and fast-track affordable housing for the working poor?

I do not know the answers to this, but as a council member I would convene a brain trust to come up with viable solutions. I do not believe the government has the answers either or the capability to address unhoused populations. Like crime, municipal governments are in a rush to handle these issues to appear competent in front of voters but in actuality it leads to sloppy policymaking that can’t be enforced or delivered.

In the non-profit philanthropic world we call it capacity-building, and as cash-strapped as Emeryville is, we do not have the capacity to manage the unhoused. What we can do is support and empower organizations who do have the expertise, the history, and talent to address the unhoused and provide them with deadlines and benchmarks to measure their progress.

The best role for the government on local social matters is to lift barriers, seed opportunity, and get out of people’s way.

12). Despite the perception, Emeryville’s housing pipeline appears to be closing other than three city-funded affordable projects that have yet to break ground. How can Emeryville meet the ambitious 1,815 housing units quota established by RHNA over the next decade?

I don’t know how Emeryville can meet the quota, but I’d like to examine if the quota works best for the City of Emeryville and her residents. If I have discovered it hasn’t, I would petition for a negotiation that works best for our development timelines. Is RHNA giving us money to build housing? I’m not sure, but if they did I can see why it would be an issue to not meet their goals in a timely manner. “

What’s in it for my city?” is a phrase I will use for everyone.

Art & Culture

13). History is what binds together generations of Emeryville residents and is among the most popular subject matter with our readers. Yet this has been a low priority for our current leadership. Is History important to you and would you like to see the city do more to capture and promote it within the city (i.e., Landmarks, Exhibits, Monuments, a city committee, Art Center History room as originally envisioned, etc.).

The history of Emeryville should be preserved, but it’s not a priority of mine. History is in the people and I want to keep Emeryville residents in Emeryville and reduce turnover. They are the storytellers and artists that share our history to us and the world.

14). Pioneering Black councilmember & former Mayor Robert Savage’s name was stripped from the former Rec. Center when it was converted to the Family Matters Shelter. How can we rectify this slight to him and his family?

I read the article and no one should be forcibly removed or manipulated from their home, especially as homeowners. Is it the elderly woman’s fault that healthcare prices have skyrocketed? No, she should continue to fight the legal fight to preserve their home.

If the name was stripped, that should be reversed. I could never condone erasure of women, people of color, immigrants, queer community, elderly, unhoused, low-to-no income, and differently-abled people.

Local Business

15). Small Businesses in Emeryville were struggling before the pandemic and the lock-downs and reduced foot-traffic wiped many of them out completely. Is the city doing enough to support them and if not, how will you work to change this if elected?

No. We are not doing enough.

I am organizing a business forum wherein these topics will be discussed.

16). Emeryville does not have a Tourism body and its Chamber of Commerce was dissolved in 2015. Is it time for the city to make an “investment” in promoting itself to spur local businesses and attractions in the city and boost city revenues in the process?

Yes. According to the Green Party, I am a likable but pro-business candidate given my background.

My response was “Damn right I’m a likeable pro-business person. Many Emeryville businesses are owned and operated by women, people of color, queer entrepreneurs, worker-coops, unions, and are cultural mainstays.

I’m pro Rudy’s Can’t Fail. I’m pro Rotten City Pizza. I’m pro Honor Kitchen & Cocktails. I’m pro Arizmendi. I’m pro Arts Africains at Bay Street. I’m pro Sassimint Foods (my wife’s popup business she launched this year). I’m pro Los Moles.

I’m pro low opportunity, working class, and middle class workers who get up every day to create, innovate, and produce for the world. As city councilmember, I would be looking out for them and the non-profits who are creating social impact.”

I would fully support a Chamber of Commerce in Emeryville and a tourism body.

Leadership & Accountability

17). What would you point to as the biggest collective achievement of Emeryville’s current city council over the past 8 years they’ve been in office and conversely what was their biggest failure?

As I mentioned above, Affordable Housing, Transportation, and keeping the city green (although we are under our allotment of parks) and art cultivated has been the greatest strengths of the city council of the past eight years.

Eventually strengths can become weaknesses if left imbalanced. I would not characterize this as a failure.

Also, we get what we pay for. If Emeryville residents want full-time attention from elected officials, then elected officials should not have to balance their full-time work with their duties in office.

Positions should be full-time and I will be working towards drawing up a measure that would make elected city officials full-time public servants and the mayorship an election-based position rather than being chosen by the city council. Most Emeryville residents I’ve spoken to don’t even know that the positions are not full-time and that the mayor isn’t duly elected.

With the mayorship cycling the way it does between city council members, it’s akin to student government rather than a transparent engaging system, which is the basis for a democracy.

It’s no wonder voter apathy is high in Emeryville and voter turn-out is abysmal.

Emeryville deserves an elected city government working full-time with no other professional conflict to consider, whether they be conflict of interests or scheduling conflicts. Emeryville deserves a full-time, four year mayor just like our neighboring cities, elected by the people, for the people, or do we wait until a crisis to happen to change things?

18). If elected, you’ll need to balance the loud, persistent opinions of a few activists & lobbyists who do not necessarily represent the views of the median resident/voter. Talk to us about how you will solicit resident input outside of council chambers.

I will remain open to conversing with everyone, but that is me and I would not place that on anyone else. I will more than likely have a system set up that invites anyone to schedule an appointment with me that is no different than with state or national officials. The difference is that they may take place at city hall or a nearby restaurant or on a park bench with our bikes nearby.

As a council member, I will be available in ways that would be surprising to most. As a business leader, I am accustomed to having an open and public life. However, if there is anyone who tries to troll or harass me, I will shut off their access to me and I am smart and creative enough to loophole every Brown Act provision that would prevent me from doing so. I’m a hacker and it’s how I think.

I must protect my partner and daughter and I will not, as a Black man in America, allow my family to be harassed or bullied by anyone. The same would also go for my colleagues. I would not tolerate the same happening to them and would defend them vehemently, probably more than I would myself.

This isn’t my kind of politics and it needs to change and I don’t care how things were in the past when that was okay. Harassment and bullying from the city council to the public and vice versa will not be condoned by me. I will gladly pull out my vintage Gameboy and Tetris it away if I am asked to be in a room wherein someone is insulting me.

Not happening.

19). As recently spotlighted in this East Bay Times Opinion Piece, the candidate endorsement process that ensures your name and photo will be included in glossy mailers sent to every mailbox in town requires compliance to organized labor and “kissing the ring” of current electeds and insiders. What has your experience been with the endorsement process?

I don’t think the system is any different anywhere else for Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and others.

It’s an antiquated system that is probably corrupt as hell, but I have also enjoyed the questionnaires. I have learned a lot throughout this process based on who has endorsed me, who hasn’t endorsed me, those who have remained silent and are perhaps waiting until the last minute to endorse me, and those who refused to acknowledge or spend any resources into Emeryville.

It has been very informative with good moments, like when a special interest group leader who can’t endorse any candidate drops by my event just to say hello because they believe in my candidacy, or having conversations with a complete stranger who happens to be a union leader and you get to know their family.

They have been mostly good moments.

However, I think the endorsement process can also be weakening for candidates who believe that endorsements are all it takes to become elected. Yes, that might work, but it’s crappy leadership.

If voters don’t feel like we are actively seeking their vote then we are telling them that the system is rigged and that we don’t need their votes and can win without them. This in turn creates a feedback loop, or in education we call it “transference.”

It leads to increased voter apathy and that is why many politicians aren’t great leaders or maybe they are hoping for on-the-job leadership training. This is not different from nepotism in the business world wherein a relative or descendant of a business leader assumes a position they are clearly not ready for and it sinks the prospects of the institution.

Unfortunately, this is part of the human condition and we learn from it generation after generation. What I know is that I remember the faces of the people who directly told me that they are voting for me because I am not playing the lazy or entitled game and that I have earned their vote based on my history, background, and how I have chosen to engage with them. I am fighting for them.

That’s the beauty of the process and if I don’t win, I can say that at least I had fun.

20). How will you fund your campaign? Have you taken or been pledged money from any PACs, business interests, lobbying organizations or other special interest groups?

Oh heck yeah I’m funding my campaign with support from multiple sources, including organizations that believe in my profile as a rising leader. I would not take any funds from any entity that compromises my values. Voters invest in me because of who I am and I won’t fail them on that.

I’m also transparent AF. Checkout http://www.votepriforce.com and see if any other candidate has ever had anything similar.

I’ve learned in the business world that positional compromise is necessary because true innovation takes time, but I will never forfeit my values. I may make mistakes and I hope the electorate forgives me when I do, but I would never intentionally be harmful towards anyone as a spiritual principle.

I will do my best to protect the earth and its inhabitants, great and small. That is the path I humbly walk.

Learn more about Kalimah by going to his website or contacting him via Email.

Read other candidate questionnaires include Sukhdeep Kaur, David Mourra, Eugene Tssui & Brooke Westling.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

1 Comment

  1. Pretty bad responses, did they get like 15 minutes to complete?

    A better question to include would have been how will you complement Bauters and Medina (i.e., are you going to be just another YES [pronoun of choice]?

    Not holding my breath on this one.

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