Ms. Jensen goes to City Hall

This Tuesday, Tracy Jensen will be sworn in as Alameda’s newest City Council member.

Ms. Jensen finished second in the November election to Councilman Tony Daysog, winning 9,885 votes, and thus succeeded where she had failed twice before (she came in third in the Council race in 2008 and sixth in 2010).

Ms. Jensen replaces John Knox White, who was one of the “progressive” triumvirate – which also included Councilwoman Malia Vella and Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft – that has ruled Council for the last four years.  With Mr. Knox White deciding not to seek reelection, the progressives need a third vote to maintain their hegemony.

Will Ms. Jensen be it?

The answer is not self‑evident.  The main problem is that Ms. Jensen ran a resume‑driven rather than an issues‑driven campaign.  Reciting her service as a public official and her career as a public employee, she proclaimed, more than once:  “I know how to do this.”

(Indeed, Ms. Jensen sometimes slipped into the politician’s habit of taking personal credit for collective decisions.  “I’ve hired” two chief executive officers for the Alameda Health System and two superintendents for AUSD, she wrote on her website – as if her fellow board members and trustees had no role in the process.)

Perhaps this emphasis on experience was meant to distinguish Ms. Jensen from the two first‑time candidates running for Council.  And it very well may have played a decisive role in her victory.  But it occasionally obscured her stance on the issues.

Nevertheless, on her campaign website, in interviews and responses to questionnaires, and at campaign forums, Ms. Jensen took – or at least hinted at – positions that may portend her votes as a Council member.  We’ll look at a few of them today.

During the campaign, Ms. Jensen often coupled a recitation of her own credentials with a critique of the current regime at City Hall.  She never bad‑mouthed Mayor Ashcraft (or any other Council member) by name, but she made clear her displeasure with the status quo.

According to a public‑opinion survey done in February 2022, Ms. Jensen pointed out, only 31 percent of respondents believed that the City of Alameda was “headed in the right direction.”  She decided to run for Council, she told the Alameda Sun, “because I can use my experience and my knowledge of public administration and public finances and leadership to move Alameda in the right direction.”

In her view, Council was to blame, at least in part, for the present sorry state of affairs.

Responding to a question from Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda about ranked‑choice voting, Ms. Jensen stated that, although she “strongly favored” it, the initiative shouldn’t come from Council.  “I would not be comfortable having the Council bring RCV to the voters,” she said, “because the current elected leadership has not established a credible level of voter trust.”

One reason for this low esteem, she suggested, was that the current Council didn’t pay enough attention to its constituents.

She pointed to the controversy over redesigning Grand Street to add “protected” bike lanes and reduce the number of available parking spaces.  This was a “great idea,” she told the Sun.  But Council “moved too quickly,” and the issue of zigzagging traffic lanes “wasn’t fully discussed and shared with the public and with residents of Grand Street.”  Likewise, the issue of parking for disabled persons was not “sufficiently discussed and there was not enough out[reach].”

This was “another indication,” Ms. Jensen declared, “of the City Council and mayor’s need for more discussion and transparency.  This didn’t look good for anyone; for the supporters or the people who opposed the proposal.”

It would be a mistake, however, to read statements like these as declarations of independence.  Tracy Jensen is no Kyrsten Sinema.  Nor should Council members Daysog or Trish Spencer entertain the hope of Ms. Jensen becoming their consistent ally.

In fact, to a large extent, Ms. Jensen took her cues during the campaign straight out of the progressive playbook.

“Housing Is a Human Right,” she proclaimed on her website.  She went on to decry what she described as the “historic racism” of Article XXVI of the City Charter (aka Measure A) and to demand the “elimination of restrictive and inequitable” zoning.  She even went out of her way to explain that she had not taken an active role in the campaign to repeal the Charter provision because she was occupied with Alameda Health System affairs at the time.  “Had I anticipated that I would be running for a City Council seat in 2022,” she wrote on her website, “I would have been more outspoken in my support for Measure Z.”

Along the same lines, she praised the draft Housing Element prepared by City Planner Andrew Thomas – which effectively repealed Article XXVI through the back door – as a “timely, effective, and achievable plan to meet the RHNA requirements.”  In particular, she supported the decisions to put housing on shopping center sites and to spread new units throughout the city (and not just on the West End).  And she endorsed the concept – which pre‑dated the Housing Element – of permitting homeowners to convert single‑family homes into duplexes and to build accessible dwelling units on their property.

(Ms. Jensen never directly addressed the upzoning of residential districts to allow multi‑family housing at densities of up to 60 units per acre or the removal altogether of density limitations in certain areas.  But she pledged that, “As a City councilmember I will never vote for any policy that would allow for destruction of single‑family homes and construction of multi-unit replacement buildings throughout Alameda. . . .”)

Ms. Jensen also backed two of the progressives’ favorite causes:  the McKay Avenue wellness center and a bike‑pedestrian bridge over the Oakland estuary.

The “main policy I’d like to see to address homelessness,” she said at the Alameda Post forum, “is to build the Wellness Center at Crab Cove.  I think that’s the thing that Alameda needs to do, and it needs to get moving.”  (It wasn’t exactly clear how the wellness center, with its targeted clientele of medical respite patients and seniors, would benefit the homeless population living on Alameda city streets, but Ms. Jensen also vowed to support “transitional housing in Alameda for younger residents that are homeless as well.”)

Likewise, Ms. Jensen promised to “take the lead to solicit and obtain regional, state and federal funds to complete” the bike‑pedestrian bridge and to enhance ingress and egress on the West End.  “As with the historic racism of Alameda’s Measure A,” she wrote in response to the BikeWalk Alameda questionnaire, “the inattention to all transit options for the West End of Alameda is an historic bias that must be addressed.”

Despite her overall acceptance of the progressive platform, Ms. Jensen wasn’t always on the same page as Mr. Knox White and Ms. Vella.  For example, both of them adamantly opposed the police department’s request to install automated license‑plate readers at entrances and exits to the island.  Ms. Jensen was not so dogmatic.  The cops “should be given the resources they need to do their job,” she said, but she wanted to ensure that ALPRs weren’t being used in a discriminatory manner before she gave them her blessing.

(On another police‑related issue, Ms. Jensen urged the cops to write more tickets for moving violations.  “[I]f there’s no consequences for these violators of our simple and straightforward traffic laws,” she told the Sun, “then the public safety is going to be at risk in other areas as well.”  This suggestion will earn her no plaudits from the commenters who regularly dial into Council meetings to bash the police.)

At Alameda City Hall and elsewhere, this is the age of planners, both real and self‑appointed, and Ms. Jensen spoke favorably of the various climate‑change and transportation plans that the Council majority has adopted (or soon will adopt), such as the Climate Action and Resiliency Plan, the Vision Zero Action Plan, and the Active Transportation Plan.  Her comments about these treatises mixed the visionary with the practical.

For example, Ms. Jensen declared that, rather than installing new pumps in the Webster and Posey tubes, the City “should be looking at ways to remove the tubes and add another way to get out of the West End of Alameda. . . .”  (The way to get out of the West End she favored was a new transbay BART tube with a station at Alameda Point.) Likewise, although she supported “low‑stress options” for bikeways on Park Street, “I would actually like to see an option to remove all parking and buses from Park Street.”  In her view, “Alameda should move towards an automobile‑free Main Street concept for Park Street.”

At the same time, she cautioned against requiring all homeowners in the city to “electrify” their homes, since “it is not financially feasible for many Alameda residents to replace gas appliances, especially in older homes where new circuits are necessary.”  Similarly, she expressed skepticism about issuing bonds or imposing taxes to pay for infrastructure intended to mitigate climate change.  A bond measure that simply raised funds “to address three feet of sea level rise or to improve drainage and pollutants that are low lying areas that are already prone to flooding” would be “short sighted,” she said.

Moreover, there was one plan that Council hasn’t adopted (because staff hasn’t presented it yet) that Ms. Jensen wanted to see put in place:  a “diversity, equity, and inclusion” policy for all City departments.  “[W]ith regard to license‑plate readers, or housing, or access to schools, or parks, or whatever it might be,” she told the Alameda Post forum, “let’s develop an equity, diversity and inclusion policy first, and then talk about all these other things.”  And she hit the same point again and again, even when asked about a seemingly minor topic like the City’s public‑art program.

Ms. Jensen never went into any detail about what features she wanted included in a City‑wide DEI plan.  (Maybe the reason it’s taking so long to prepare one is that the consultants hired by the City a year ago for a $275,000 fee aren’t sure, either.)  The closest she came to a specific idea was her support for the civilian oversight board for the police department recommended by the police‑reform committee.  “Establishing a Community Steering Committee and then disregarding their recommendations is NOT making Alameda safer,” she wrote on her website.

(After staff advised that implementing this recommendation might require a Charter amendment, Council voted, 4‑1 with Ms. Vella dissenting, to create the position of “police auditor” instead.)

So now it’s time for our predictions.

We think it’s more likely than not that, on most if not all issues, Ms. Jensen will join with Councilwoman Vella and Mayor Ashcraft to form a new progressive majority on Council.

We also expect her to be generally pragmatic like Ms. Ashcraft and not as resolutely doctrinaire as Ms. Vella.  It’s unlikely that she will feel the need to cater to the “activists” who presume to dictate what it means to be a “progressive” (or a Democrat) in Alameda.  (Nor do we think it likely that she will see her mission as advancing the interests of organized labor.)

Although every Council member claims to rely on “data,” we expect Ms. Jensen will be more interested in information about local conditions rather than national trends.  And we don’t think she’ll be prone to manipulate (or misrepresent) the numbers to promote a political agenda.

But the major difference between a Council with Ms. Jensen as a member and the Council as currently constituted may lie in terms of style.  Having watched Ms. Jensen at the campaign forums, we would be surprised if, once on the dais (or the Zoom equivalent), she presumed to lecture her colleagues (and the audience) on what “Everyone knows.”  We also would be surprised if she insisted on revising the language of every ordinance or resolution recommended by staff to make it conform to her own predilections.

If our last prognostication is right – and we’ve been wrong before (we took Jim Oddie in the November election pool) – Alamedans may have reason to cheer.


Alameda Post forum:

BikeWalk Alameda/CASA forum:

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
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4 Responses to Ms. Jensen goes to City Hall

  1. “…accessible dwelling units…” ? “additional” right?

  2. Alamedan for Competent Leadership says:

    Tracy Jensen wasn’t my 1st or even 2nd choice, but the more I learn about her the more I like her. Independent. Competent. Experienced. People who have been bemoaning the lack of true progressives and don’t like our local brand on the island should celebrate this. Her victory was well deserved, congratulations.

  3. Publius says:

    These two don’t square:

    “Had I anticipated that I would be running for a City Council seat in 2022,” she wrote on her website, “I would have been more outspoken in my support for Measure Z.”


    “As a City councilmember I will never vote for any policy that would allow for destruction of single‑family homes and construction of multi-unit replacement buildings throughout Alameda. . . .”

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