OAKLAND — New and re-elected officials took their oaths to serve on the Oakland City Council and school district board in a virtual swearing-in ceremony Monday, vowing to tackle inequalities in public safety, housing and health, and to help guide the city through the challenges of recovering from COVID-19 and a looming budget deficit.

In the regular shuffling of council leadership positions, progressive councilmembers assumed leadership roles, including District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, who was elected by her colleagues to be council president.

Former council President Rebecca Kaplan, the at-large city councilmember who was re-elected in November, was made vice mayor by her council colleagues, and District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao was appointed to president pro tempore, which assumes the council president’s duties in their absence.

Nikki Fortunato Bas, Oakland Councilmember for District 2, was named City Council president Monday. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group) 

Upon her election to the council president role, Fortunato Bas said during Monday’s meeting that she was committed to priorities including “housing as a human right, safety focused on prevention and healing, and a progressive corporate tax that will raise critical revenue for the services our residents and small businesses need and deserve.”

Fortunato Bas had introduced a measure earlier this year to ask voters to authorize the city to tax businesses based on gross receipts instead of a flat rate, as it is currently done. But after business leaders balked and lobbied against it, the council agreed to form a task force to work on the issue further before putting it to voters.

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Richmond voters approved a similar measure in November.

Fortunato Bas recommitted to moving that effort forward in Oakland, saying Monday, “It’s long past time for the billionaires and billionaire corporations in our backyard to pay their fair share and invest in our city.”

And in the new council composition, it seems, there is more support for that measure and other progressive efforts.

Carroll Fife, who was elected to replace District 3 Councilmember Lynette McElhaney, said she wants to focus on “fighting for the folks who have not had a voice,” and noted that “neoliberalism is a tool that will undo us all if we don’t stand up and face it.”

New Oakland council, school board vow to focus on
inequality, budget woes, COVID-19 upon inauguration 2Carroll Fife was sworn in Monday as the new Oakland councilmember in District 3. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

In a news release issued Monday, Fife joined Kaplan and Fortunato Bas in opposing cuts to “vital” city services as the city grapples with balancing a $62 million budget shortfall.

City administrator Ed Reiskin last month announced a series of steps to balance the budget that include temporarily shuttering fire stations and laying off temporary employees.

“This work is done by people, and with less people, the work that needs to be done cannot be done. I believe the new majority of progressive councilmembers will work with us so that city workers do not bear the brunt of any budget cuts,” said Laura Takeshita, IFPTE Local 21 Oakland vice president-elect, in the same news release.

Fife is among two newcomers to the council this term. Treva Reid was elected to the District 7 seat long held by her father, Larry Reid, and called the upcoming year one of “promise” and “purpose” in which she will focus on gun violence, housing and food insecurity, among other issues.

New Oakland council, school board vow to focus on
inequality, budget woes, COVID-19 upon inauguration 3Newly elected Oakland Councilmember Treva Reid was sworn in Monday, taking over the District 7 seat held by her father, Larry Reid, who retired from office.  (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Along with Kaplan, District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb and District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo were also sworn into the seats they were re-elected to in November.

Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, its economic fallout and the city’s budget crisis, the new City Council is facing other serious issues in Oakland.

The city saw its deadliest year in almost a decade in terms of homicides: 109 people were killed in 2020, and gun violence exploded in the city, reflecting a pattern across the country which some law enforcement officials attribute to the chaos of the pandemic.

The Oakland Unified School District, too, will face the challenges of guiding students and staff through the continued pandemic and its aftermath, and it will be overseen by a mostly new board that was also sworn in Monday. Newly elected board members Sam Davis, Clifford Thompson, VanCedric Williams and Mike Hutchinson took their oaths on Monday to begin their terms.