The Oakland Sisterhood
Women hold every top leadership job in the city’s bureaucracy. Plus, Libby Schaaf’s mayoral staff has six women in senior roles.
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Photo by D. Ross Cameron
Deputy City Administrator Stephanie Hom.
The Women Behind the Scenes
Among Oakland’s bevy of female leaders, Mayor Libby Schaaf receives far and away the most media attention. She’s the face of Oakland city government. But the women who actually oversee the nitty-gritty work of the city reside on the other side of the third floor inside the City Hall Rotunda in the office of city administrator. There, Sabrina Landreth’s three top deputies—Assistant City Administrators Claudia Cappio and Christine Daniel and Deputy City Administrator Stephanie Hom—actually manage the day-to-day operations of Oakland’s sprawling bureaucracy.
There’s an old adage that the life of a public servant is usually thankless. Like a referee or umpire, you never notice them until things go haywire. But Cappio said this reality suits her just fine. “In my business in government, as a public servant,” she said, “I hardly ever consider myself to have ever won anything.”
Cappio speaks from experience. She began her second stint at Oakland City Hall in 2015 after having served as the city’s planning and building director from 2000-2007 under then-Mayor Jerry Brown. And before that, she worked in economic development for the city of Emeryville. Her current job includes overseeing Oakland’s building boom, which now features several thousand apartments and condos that are approved or under construction.
Cappio’s return to Oakland has also allowed her to see first-hand the completion of several large projects that started during her first go-round in City Hall, including the transfer of the Oakland Army Base to the city, the rebuilding of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in North Oakland, and the refurbishment of the Fox Theater. And despite the public uproar and city opposition to a plan to ship coal through the old Oakland Army Base, Cappio said the overall value of the reuse project is vital to the city’s economic future and includes $250 million of infrastructure improvements. “It’s one of those arcs that I was at the beginning of—the transfer of land from Army to city and port,” said Cappio, who also lives in Oakland. “The transformation that has occurred over the past 10 to 15 years is astounding to me.”
In her current gig, Cappio is also called upon to grapple with some of the city’s thorniest problems. For example, she was a city point person in dealing with the public outcry over how Oakland’s building code inspectors handled the Ghost Ship warehouse before it erupted in flames and killed 36 people in December.
Photo courtesy of the city of Oakland
She’s also Oakland’s go-to person for dealing with the Raiders and the A’s and their stadium issues. It’s a challenge Cappio relished: She said the opportunity to significantly reshape the sports landscape in the East Bay was a prime selling point for returning to City Hall. “The negotiations pertaining to the development of two new major sports facilities in a city is a rare, rare set of tasks and challenges and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is too good to pass up,’” she said. “Messy and challenging is how I like it.”
Like Cappio, Daniel and Hom also spent years in high-level city management roles before joining the Schaaf-Landreth administration. In fact, Daniel left her job as city manager of Berkeley to come work with the nearly all-female team in The Town. Before Berkeley, Daniel worked for the city of Fremont, where she also dealt with then-A’s co-owner Lew Wolff and his attempts to move the team there. Daniel currently is the acting director of Public Works, following the recent retirement of Brooke Levin.
Hom, meanwhile, had worked as a top-tier administrator in Moraga (for then-City Manager Jill Keimach, who now has the same job in Alameda) before Landreth called her and offered her a job in July 2015. “Under the new leadership, I really wanted to give back and to continue Oakland’s renaissance,” said Hom, who also lives in Oakland.
Hom originally started working for the city of Oakland in 1991 under then-City Manager Henry Gardner. Then, after a stint in the private sector with PeopleSoft, she came back to City Hall to work for former City Manager Robert Bobb. “I kind of grew up in this organization,” she said. In fact, Schaaf, Landreth, Cappio, and Hom all knew each other from their earlier jobs in the city.
Hom’s current duties include overseeing the city council agendas, the City Clerk’s Office, contracts and compliance, and Equal Opportunities Programs. Hom also helped set up the new Department of Race and Equity and served for a time as the interim head of the Parks and Recreation Department until Landreth hired a permanent director.
Oakland’s female fire chief, Teresa Deloach Reed, also serves under Landreth. But Reed, who received heavy criticism for the department’s lax oversight of fire inspections of warehouses, including the Ghost Ship, and of properties in the fire-prone hills, has decided to retire effective, May 5.
—Steven Tavares and Robert Gammon