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Q&A: Councilmember Kalimah Priforce reflects on a tumultuous first year in Emeryville Politics

13 mins read
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Recently having completed his first year on Emeryville City Council, Kalimah Priforce provides his candid insights on the often opaque world of local politics that few residents engage with.

To say his first year on council has been “interesting” would be an understatement as he has consistency been at odds with the John Bauters-controlled council with his vote frequently representing a rare dissenting opinion.

2022 Election results saw Priforce as the highest vote getter.

This tension between Bauters and Priforce came to a head at the December 5th meeting when Priforce was overlooked for the Vice Mayor position that is typically given to the highest vote-getter in the prior election which Priforce earned. Instead, Bauters elevated his ally David Mourra to the role.

Whatever your opinions of Priforce, he is certainly not afraid to provide unvarnished and authentic opinions or publicly “call out” anyone that he butts heads with.

We provided Priforce ten questions covering a broad range of topics with his responses published verbatim.

Please note that we are open to Q&A’s with any local Emeryville officials, staff, business leaders, etc.

Priforce speaks to HBCU youth at an Atlanta ‘hacktivist’ event (Photo Credit: Johnathon Henninger)

1). You’re the first City Council candidate in recent memory to be elected despite not receiving the endorsements of all the current and outgoing councilmembers. What did getting their endorsements require, why do you think you didn’t receive them and why do you think you ultimately won despite this?

On this Martin Luther King Day, his words, “…when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, there is no greater need than for sober thinking, mature judgment, and creative dissent,” reflects my first year in politics since becoming councilmember for the City of Emeryville.

I thought going into politics was about managing people and their expectations. My sober thinking has helped me realize that politics is about managing corruption. Every day I exercise mature judgment to not be the type of politician I deeply despised as a child and as an adult: the politicians that would tell the people what they want to hear only to consistently contradict their words with their actions. 

Becoming councilmember for the city I love and have lived in for over a decade is an honor, and my creative dissent is not to be a sycophant of John Bauters. I joined the city council to be a voice for the people of Emeryville who want change, transparency, and honest leadership. They are my neighbors, my community. I can adapt, but I’m not changing who I am for any of them, and I shouldn’t be alone.

Bauters, Welch, and Kaur’s seats can be challenged and I will support those who have the courage, integrity, and drive to be a voice for the people. Don’t wait a few months before November. Start your paperwork now and gather your friends, family, and neighbors and have that tough conversation with them about why you should help lead Emeryville for the next four years. I promise to not have anyone sign a “collegiality pledge” just to garner my support.

Becoming councilmember for the city I love and have lived in for over a decade is an honor, and my creative dissent is not to be a sycophant of John Bauters.

2). What can you tell us about the so-called “collegiality” agreement that you were pressured to sign in order to gain these endorsements from fellow Democrats? Do you think being “cordial” can come at the expense of spirited debate and fosters an echo-chamber mentality which recent Emeryville councils have been accused of?

When I decided to go into politics, my friends from the tech world expressed confusion on why I would work alongside elected officials who they themselves wouldn’t hire for their own companies and why they are so reluctant to financially back local leaders.

So it came as a shock to me when I recognized this snobbery among the Emeryville politically connected that they can hold on to power indefinitely and unchecked. So here I come along, the hacktivist from Brooklyn who was instructed by local Democrats to gain endorsements from current councilmembers. Which I did, but to my dismay, each conversation I had with them turned my stomach.

The way Councilmember Ally Medina spoke atrociously about the unions getting in the way of building housing and Bauters’ fiscally conservative aim to weaken them – like it was some sort of game. I didn’t know much about unions then but I knew they were workers that needed support, and not hamstrung.

Worse was my zoom conversation with Councilmember Dianne Martinez. I got the sense that she didn’t trust me to “play ball,” along with the rest of them, and she was right. Councilmember Courtney Welch suggested I connect with East Bay YIMBY and wouldn’t endorse me until Martinez and Medina drafted a “collegiality pledge,” for me to sign. They required David Mourra to sign one as well, and he may be fine with it, but my experience as a progressive Black man is different from his.

I have gone through racism, microaggressions, and hostile work environments throughout my sojourn in tech, education, and philanthropy, but nothing would have prepared me to sign a pledge that I be “cordial” with the people I would be working with. I’ve posted it on my blog, votepriforce.com.


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3). Give us your impressions on your first year as a Councilmember and the dynamic that exists among the five councilmembers?

Obsessed with his public perception, Bauters’ style is to use others to do his bidding and then sit back and watch the show unfold. So it’s usually 4-1, with my vote a dissent from the status quo they protect. I grew up in group homes. I’m used to young bullies and adult narcissists that prey on the most vulnerable. As a kid, they used to call me the bully-fighter, because whenever there was someone being consistently pushed around, I would stand up for them, and right now, that someone is Emeryville.

I want trees replanted, bike safety secured, our kids playing and learning in pro-nature playgrounds, a thriving school system that wants for nothing, and our Art Center to finally be built that will provide the exhibition and performance space that Emeryville deserves, but housing insecurity is an especially stark focus of mine.

So although there is a new Mayor, he is the one in charge of city hall. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that none of the committee seats changed since he went back to being a councilmember. With that much control over the city, and yet my election victory wasn’t tied to any endorsement from him, I owe my independence on city council to the people of Emeryville who want the same things I do. As Dr. Huey P. Newton said, “I have the people behind me and the people are my strength.”

The City of Emeryville is notorious for not reporting important data trends. It’s how politicians in the present and past have maintained control over Emeryville.

4). You currently rent your home (a BMR), but you also see a value in building more ownership housing within the city and not exclusively rentals like what have been built over the past decade plus. What would you like to see done to incentivize home ownership in Emeryville?

The first thing is data. I can’t legislate if I don’t have all the information in front of me. The City of Emeryville is notorious for not reporting important data trends. It’s how politicians in the present and past have maintained control over Emeryville – by keeping the city siloed so little information about what happens goes out and just as little comes in.

We don’t collect eviction data. We don’t keep and record complaints. Our demographic data is also behind where the rest of the region is. We’ve just recently started collecting data on which businesses in Emeryville are minority and women owned – something I’ve pushed for. My experience in the philanthropic world is that without this data, like how many cars are driving through bike boulevards, it becomes harder to fundraise and win grants for the city. We’ve got something to hide in Emeryville, but it hurts us in the long run to keep our numbers hidden just to make John Bauters look good to Alameda County, Sacramento, and DC.

I believe if we combed through findings, we’d discover a vacancy issue in Emeryville, and that many units are used for AirBnB and the short term rental market. Emeryville has built more than enough rental units to satisfy Sacramento’s YIMBY policies and RHNA numbers, but we greatly underperform with creating very low income to low income affordable units. So I’m never impressed when people tout, “Emeryville is building housing!” For whom? 100% affordable housing isn’t fair affordable housing. Dive into the numbers and the truth is there.

5). One of the biggest splintering among electeds is with “YIMBYism” (Yes In My Back Yard). Can you elaborate on why you don’t align with YIMBYism the way your fellow councilmembers do and does this necessarily mean you oppose new housing?

The YIMBYs are not progressives. As more attention is brought to this pro-housing libertarian-like cult, the more they are exposed for what they are – led by the children of the NIMBYs who moved in from the suburbs to create the next wave of gentrification. It’s a reverse White flight that hurts everyone, including White people who stayed in our cities when they were defunded and blighted. I have a lot of respect for the artists who stayed in Emeryville through all its rottenest phases with politically corrupt leaders, but even they are being forced out because of growing in-affordability.

Most YIMBYs have tech jobs, but their utopia of what city living is, shapes how Emeryville is being redesigned. They need Emeryville to be the YIMBY utopia they have dreamed of, but everywhere YIMBY goes, Black and Brown people lose homes, demographics change, and rents skyrocket. They stabilize for a short moment, but they go right back up because a simple econ lesson in Porter’s five forces illustrates that supply is only one force that shapes market prices.

We can have a bike and public transportation friendly city, but not at the cost of those who need their vehicles, or businesses that need trucks to deliver inventory on time. A city designed to the liking of Uber/Lyft, AirBnB, and DoorDash isn’t a utopia, it’s an extractive economy dystopia. Did we all not get the “protect our planet, protect our habitats” message from Wall-E?

They are afraid of you. They are afraid of the local press. They prefer news going in and out of Emeryville to be controlled.

6). You’re willing to engage with our news platform (commenting, liking, sharing, etc.) when other Emeryville politicians have actively tried to discredit and ridicule us. Explain your views of the importance of local news and foster a dialogue with journalists despite disagreement and criticism.

They are afraid of you. They are afraid of the local press. They prefer news going in and out of Emeryville to be controlled.

When I had to go to Ally Medina, Dianne Martinez, and Courtney Welch for Democratic Party endorsements, they convinced me to help them shut every Emeryville local press down…but then I started reading. The political history of Emeryville was a great resource for me to open my eyes on what we as city council try desperately to hide.

The articles weren’t always about politics. This publication was there to cover the story of when Natasha Middleton and I organized our tenant board’s inaugural meeting. This publication gives community members insights to major crime stories, park activities, art shows, business openings and closings. The E’ville Eye is an incredible resource for the people of Emeryville.

A rent-burdened domestic violence victim facing eviction who struggled with covid-related work disruptions and legal fees have The E’ville Eye to rely on to tell their story. A resident held at gunpoint at the Courtyards at 65th mailroom can share their story through here. When Councilmember Kaur tried coercing the public art committee to add a library to the plans for the art center, a member of the art community asked me to address it or they would go to The E’ville Eye, so I did. Why is that of the two dispensaries in Emeryville, none of them are minority-owned? Is that why they keep lining the pockets of elected officials running for office? All of these stories are important for investigation and transparency, and a free press does that.

My ex-partner was my financial treasurer, and when I lost access to my bank accounts, it created huge delays in reporting my campaign activities to the FPPC. I’ve just now hired a firm to deal with any and all things financially related to my record keeping, because transparency is important to me and that should be reported by this publication because no one should be exempt from scrutiny.

This is our job. The people elected us to be accountable and local news like The E’ville Eye keeps us accountable. I only wish that city hall and local publications like The E’ville Eye had a better working relationship, because we suck at communicating news across Emeryville. Hopefully that will change with a better city council in November.

7). There’s a tension between you and Bauters that likely led to you being panned for the Vice Mayor which has historically gone to the highest vote getter in the last election (you in this case who received in the 2022 election),

What was the tension between John Bauters and Scott Donahue that made it so that Scott Donahue would be skipped out of the rotating mayorship and John Bauters becoming mayor before his time. He then changed it so that every election for mayor since then is determined by the council majority. So playing along doesn’t protect anyone from his power thirsts.

The people of Emeryville should choose their mayor. Either we codify the rotating mayorship or put it to the ballot, but this is another example of the same White man being easily threatened by a person of color who doesn’t obey their commands. It’s not overt racism, but it is a large enough soft bigotry to prove to the voters of Alameda County why he should never be elected to Supervisor Keith Carson’s seat.

The people of Alameda County should have progressive leadership, so I won’t be endorsing him for this seat or any YIMBY-aligned candidate that will sell Alameda County out to the highest developer bidder, forcibly erase homeless encampments without securing homes for the unsheltered, or keeping wages low for our workers. All things he has done to Emeryville because we were too busy to look hard enough at what he does.

I won’t be endorsing him for this seat or any YIMBY-aligned candidate that will sell Alameda County out to the highest developer bidder.

8). Two items that you’ve persistently tried to get on the council meeting agenda but have been denied have been 1). Revisiting including the Pledge of Allegiance, sans the “one nation under God” line, prior to meetings and 2). A Gaza cease-fire resolution. Tell us why you think these are important and ultimately, why you think the other councilmembers have not supported discussing these.

I don’t believe the pledge of allegiance should be required in our schools, but for city hall, we are the government. The pledge of allegiance is a reminder of our collective fight against tyranny in all forms. Without that reminder, we invite tyranny back into our chambers. I’m Haitian, so my people contributed to the building of this nation as we also were colonized by the United States. That pledge of allegiance belongs to all of us, no matter your background, and if our brave officers of EPD take it seriously, so should we. I removed the “under God,” to show that we can revert the pledge to its earlier forms to be inclusive of those offended by that part. I don’t mind losing this argument, but let’s have a discussion about it because enough people have engaged with me that it matters to them.

Ceasefire simply means, “stop shooting,” and I believe most Emeryville residents want a ceasefire resolution, because we are a progressive small city. What I tell people that makes Emeryville different from Oakland and Berkeley is that we don’t default to the loudest person in the room. That isn’t us. We are progressive and we can come up with a ceasefire resolution that works for us, acknowledges our diversity of communities, and keeps our integrity intact since we did come up with resolutions against wars and suffering in other parts of the world.

Priforce was awarded the “Champion of Change” award in 2013 by the Obama White House for pioneering the global “learn to code” movement for low opportunity youth (Photo Credit: Johnathon Henninger).

9). You sit on Emeryville’s Public Safety committee and helped push for the recent adoption of ALPR (Automatic License Plate Reader) technology. Was everyone on board with this or did it take some political maneuvering?

Getting the ALPRs took a community effort. I also would like to thank Vice Mayor David Mourra for chairing the public safety meetings where I brought the issue up. Crime and slumlord behavior in Emeryville was why I formed a tenant board against Essex at the Courtyards 65th apartments where I live. We have an awesome police force in Emeryville, but they have their limits and without those cameras, we would have continued operating as a dark zone for vehicle-related crimes.

This became the only major public safety policy brought before the city council all year and it passed because people called in, left public comments, and the police force presented the scope of their research on why it would serve as an effective tool. Remember my campaign message about getting “tools not toys” to improve public safety? This was it. I only wish we were able to order more cameras, but I’m hoping community members will reach out to our city manager and demand one for their city block. It makes a difference.

I also connected with privacy advocates who reached out to me over the course of the year and invited them to make public comments, but they never showed up. I believe rigorous discussions are vital to a democracy.

10). Is there anything happening in Emeryville that you think your constituents should be more aware of?

I am running to be a leader for the local Democratic Party. Emeryville doesn’t usually participate in these small races, but they are important and I want my city to back me and my slate and I invite everyone to donate to my campaign at priforce.com.

I have a MLK Day Town Hall at Watergate on Monday, Jan. 15 and have more coming up throughout the city. If you’d like me to come to speak to your neighborhood group or community, please feel free to reach out to me and I’d like to learn more about your concerns. Register to vote if you just moved here and thank you for adding to the cultural tapestry of our city. Shoutout to the incredible city hall staff and neighbors please consider running for city council elections in November.

Feature Image: Priforce being sworn in by then Emeryville City Clerk Sheri Hartz.

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.

12 Comments

  1. Kalimah is a breath of fresh air on this City Council. I hope others like him decide to serve the great City of Emeryville and we can rid ourselves of the ones that only care about themselves.

  2. Not a huge fan of Priforce or his positions but I do admire the candid responses. Hopefully telling the truth about Bauters and his cronies will open more eyes and draw more criticism of him now that he is seeking higher office that he is ill equipped for.

  3. In a city 1 mile by 1 mile he is trying to make it illegal to build multifamily housing near single family homes. Not the smartest…

  4. A ceasefire in Gaza and the pledge of allegiance? How is that supposed to help Emeryville? No wonder he gets outvoted 4 to 1

  5. Wait did he just admit to breaking election financing laws in question 6??? The FPPC lists on their website that late filing can be subject to consequences such as criminal prosecution. How can he call others corrupt if he doesn’t even follow fair elections practices, he should be investigated if he hasn’t already

  6. I was one of the people speaking up about privacy concerns with giving the police more surveillance capabilities. I didn’t make a public comment because it passed before I even heard it was being considered, despite me following local news. Maybe that’s my fault, but I have to stay pretty busy to afford to live here so I know I’m doing my best to keep up.

    All that being said, I hope there’s a plan in place to evaluate how effective this new invasive technology turns out to be after a few years using it. Usually giving police more cameras doesn’t significantly impact crime, but I hope EPD proves me wrong. If they don’t I hope we can roll it back.

    • Hey Corry,

      Thanks for chiming in. I’d be open to form an oversight body to monitor how ALPR cameras are used and if privacy is invaded by our law enforcement. Also, having your presence in person, through zoom, or public comment cards would be welcome and greatly appreciated. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way you do and I want to help create space for everyone’s concerns. You may reach me anytime and thank you for taking the time.

      Kalimah

      • My vehicle has been broken into 4 times in past 2 years while parked on Watergate property. Watergate should spend some of the outrageous HOA fees on cameras.

  7. I find his honesty and candor refreshing. We have too many bullies in politics and hope he continues to stand up to them

  8. Anyone who cannot comply with FPPC rules or cannot file their papers or get timely help in doing so is highly unlikely to make good decisions for an entire city. He flip flops on his positions and is very disorganized. He says he is a serial entrepreneur and lives in a BMR. No one knows what he does for a living. What honesty? What candor? He has the blueprint of a grifter. Good Conman to have conned so many voters.

  9. I volunteered for Mr Priforce’s org before. He is a standup guy I trust. I will definitely vote for him.

    –michael

  10. I voted for Mr Priforce but I’ve watched many of the city council meetings throughout the last year, Mr Priforce does not deliver and he’s not an effective nor efficient legislator, leader or politician. I would not vote for him again. He is masterful in grandstanding or articulating the most popular hot topics to garner community support, but he doesn’t DO or know how to move things forward. If you actually watch or go to any number of meetings, you will find this column to be a misrepresentation of truth.

    Mr Priforce simply isn’t prepared during the meetings. He doesn’t ask relevant questions. He doesn’t know how to steer or move an item forward. After a year, he still doesn’t know how to move things through or what a motion is or what a consent agenda is.

    Mr Bauer did the dirty task of articulating the motion to have Ms Welch as mayor and Mr Moura as Vice mayor, but I am certain — Moura, Kaur or Welch would have done the exact same motion. Mr Priforce has no support from ANY COLLEAGUE.

    It’s not a Bauer-controlled council. It’s just that Mr Priforce….isn’t very good in the actual job. I start cringing every time he speaks.

    If you watch any number of meetings, you will come to realize Mr Priforce reminds you of that colleague at work or student in the group project that says all the right things in front of the boss & professor, but the rest of the group is the one who is actually doing the project and pulling the weight.

    Anyone who follows Emeryville politics knows that Welch-Moura was the only combination. Kaur was appointed so they wouldn’t have put her in #2. Bauer couldn’t serve again.

    Take the Watergate ADA door issue as an example. It all started because Mr Priforce answered a watergate elderly resident’s Nextdoor post.

    If you follow the issue’s development, you’ll see that it was Mr Bauer who actually did the favor for Mr Priforce of putting step by step how to get the study and research done around the ADA door.

    All Mr Priforce did was bring up that a resident had a ADA door issue during the call for agenda items. But that’s all he did. He couldn’t articulate the next step or an ask or what he actually wanted done. Mr Bauer had to spoon feed this issue through.

    And at the actual study presentation, pay attention and watch the meeting again closely. Ms Kaur was the one who asked relevant question and could effectively synthesize the analysis. Mr. Priforce actually DEFERRED to Ms Kaur.

    Also take the presentation from the police chief and team about the pilot program to install security cameras at traffic light stops and a map of potential locations.

    Mr Priforce expressed concern that his apartment complex may not get any cameras. And he kept bumbling his ask.

    This isn’t what a council member does. No one cares where your apartment is. Don’t self serve.

    Mr Priforce will not know this but it was Mayor Welch and VM Moura who helped move his issue forward. Welch asked if the map’s locations was fixed. The police chief said no. It was still draft. Moura expressed concerned current map doesn’t have a lot of N Emeryville spots (where Priforce’s apartment is at).

    See the difference in how the council members handle things?

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