Meet Councilmember Sheng Thao
One of the Bay Area’s Boldest and Most Effective Progressive Leaders
City Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao is a barrier breaking Councilmember and one of our most creative, substantive, and effective leaders on housing, homelessness, and public safety. She’s known for her inspiring life story of perseverance and her unwavering commitment to standing up for those without a voice. Now, Sheng Thao is ready to lead our city as mayor—because Oakland’s time is now.
A Daughter of Refugees, Sheng’s Commitment to Justice and Drive to Make a Difference are Rooted in Where She Comes From
Sheng grew up in poverty, the 7th of 10 kids. Her parents met in a refugee camp in Thailand after each fled their home country of Laos and the genocide against the Hmong people. Sheng’s mom, widowed and eight months pregnant, had been shot in the arm during her escape. Sheng’s dad had helped many other refugees flee across the Mekong River during his journey. Sheng’s parents immigrated to America, settling in Stockton, where they would make a living farming vegetables. It was here Sheng was born.
A Single Mom Who Survived Domestic Violence, Persistence Drove Sheng Thao to Make it, and Then to Make a Difference for Others
As a kid, Sheng’s family was always on social services. For a time, they lived in public housing. Sheng grew up with the very real fear of not having a stable home, so she understands what so many families worry about every day. Sheng got her first job at 16, and left home at 17. In her early 20s, she found herself in an abusive relationship, isolated from family—and pregnant. Sheng was able to escape this domestic violence, but soon had a baby and nowhere to go. For months, Sheng and her son, Ben slept on strangers’ couches, and sometimes in her car.
When Ben was 10 months old, Sheng got a job at Merritt College, and also started taking classes. And, with the help of welfare, and a Head Start program for Ben, she put herself through school. She became class Valedictorian, then transferred to UC Berkeley, where she co-founded a food access program for low-income students and graduated with a degree in legal studies.
A Barrier-Breaking Councilmember and One of Oakland’s Most Creative, Substantive, and Effective Leaders on Housing, Homelessness, and Public Safety
Finding her calling in public service, Sheng joined the office of Oakland’s Councilmember At-Large, which represents the entire city, and worked her way up to Chief of Staff. In that role, Sheng helped manage multiple City budgets, fought for affordable housing, helped small businesses open, worked to get guns off our streets, and fought for cleaner air and water. Sheng knew she could do even more as an elected official herself. So she ran for City Council District 4 and won, becoming the first Hmong-American woman Councilmember in California history.
As a Councilmember, Sheng helped bring the Council together, change the tone at City Hall, and finally break through years of gridlock to make progress on critical issues.
- Sheng secured millions in funding for affordable housing, homeless services, and marginalized youth, and helped save our Head Start program, providing free early childhood education and family services to low-income Oaklanders. And during the Trump years, she stood up to ICE to protect our immigrant communities.
- A champion for workers' rights, Sheng expanded the City’s paid sick leave policy, policy and passed legislation to ensure thousands of laid off workers could get their jobs back when the state reopened during COVID.
- In response to the pandemic, Sheng stood up to protect renters, supporting Oakland’s eviction moratorium, the strongest in the Bay Area. She also co-founded the Oakland Mutual Aid Collective, which distributed 100,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Sheng has fought for better public safety.She helped make historic investments in violence prevention programs, and brought the MACRO program to Oakland, providing alternatives to an armed police response for those in mental health crisis. Sheng also brokered a landmark public safety deal, breaking a Council deadlock, to fund a new police academy in 2021-2022, while also holding OPD accountable for overtime costs and pushing to diversify the police force by hiring more women of color and Oakland residents.
Sheng is City Hall’s leader on wildfire prevention.She’s led on the undergrounding of utilities in high-risk areas, expanded our budget for clearing highly flammable vegetation, and she’s working to establish a regional wildfire prevention strategy with other local governments.
A noted budget expert, Sheng’s colleagues often turn to her for fiscal guidance.She’s helped double the budget for street paving, led major investments in parks across the city, and authored a budget deal to save Chabot Space and Science Center, so Oaklanders from every neighborhood have a place to learn and explore.
In each role she takes on, Sheng’s colleagues elevate her into leadership positions. She’s currently Council President Pro Tem and chairs the Rules and Legislation Committee. Sheng received the 2021 Powerful Women of the Bay Award for her work on behalf of Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods, and has been honored by the Alameda Labor Council for her record of delivering for working families. Sheng is also President of the League of California Cities API Caucus, and has served on boards for the Redwood Heights Association and Oakland Asian Cultural Center.
Sheng lives near Joaquin Miller Park with her partner, Andre, her 14-year old son, Ben and Andre’s 7-year old daughter, Brooklyn. Ben attends public school and is an incredible musician. Sheng is one of only two renters on the Oakland City Council.