Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media
In February, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Adetokunbo “Toks” Omishakin Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA).
Omishakin, 44, makes history as the first African American to serve in that cabinet-level position responsible for overseeing all state agencies that regulate and support transportation and administer services related to the sector.
“@CAgovernor want to express gratitude for new appt to Cabinet Secretary @CA_Trans_Agency,” Omishaken thanked the Governor in a Twitter post after his nomination was announced in February.
“Looking fwd to continued #partnership and realizing shared vision to implement initiatives with #Equity #Climate #Safety focus, for CA’s transportation system, now and in future. #CAForAll,” Omishakin’s tweet continued.
In California state government’s chain of command, Omishakin’s role as Secretary is a step up from his last role: Director of California Department of Transportation (CalTrans).
Gov. Newsom appointed him to lead CalTrans in September 2019.
Earlier this month, Omishakin’s wife and two children joined him as he took the oath of office in Sacramento to begin serving in the governor’s cabinet.
At the swearing in ceremony Gov. Newsom said Omishakin brings experience and vision to the role.
“As head of the largest and most complex transportation system in the nation, I’m confident that he’ll continue to bring his forward-thinking leadership and dedication to serving the people of California,” Newsom stated “(Omishakin will) advance our ongoing work to build safer, healthier, and more sustainable communities that serve all Californians.”
The same day Omishakin took the oath of office, Gov. Newsom swore in Amy Tong, 48, to succeed his African American Secretary of California Government Operations Agency (GovOps) Yolanda Richardson.
Richardson resigned from the role in February, citing personal reasons. That same week California’s first African American Surgeon General Nadine Burke-Harris also resigned “to focus on her family.”
Tong previously served as Director of the California Office of Digital Innovation. Before that, she was Director of the California Department of Technology.
“A veteran of state service, Director Tong’s deep experience in the public sector and leadership in the technology field have helped guide key efforts to make government more efficient and effective, including our work to bridge the digital divide and help state agencies navigate complex challenges during the pandemic,” Newsom said, pointing out Tong’s past accomplishments.
In his role as CalSTA Secretary, Omishakin will oversee Caltrans, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the California Highway Patrol, the High-Speed Rail Authority, among other agencies and transportation-focused committees.
He is assuming the position after President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill into law last year. The legislation will direct billions of dollars into the state for wildfire preparation, public transit projects, bridge and road repair, and broadband internet.
California will receive $25 billion from the federal government for highways under the Reconnecting Communities Initiative. The program was created to undo some of the effects of the economic and social disruption caused by highway construction through a number of majority Black communities under the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956.
The U.S. Transportation Department estimates that, between 1957 and 1977, nearly 480,000 households across the country were forced out of their homes to accommodate the highway construction, which started under President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. Some of those highway projects entrenched segregation by isolating some of those majority-Black communities and cutting off their access to resources.
In an April 2021 interview with California Black Media, Omishakin said CalTrans needs to “engage more” with Black and Brown communities.
“We need to reach out more to people and businesses to let them know what opportunities exist,” he said.
The position of Secretary of the California State Transportation requires Senate confirmation, and the compensation is $227,178 annually.
Omishakin, born in Knoxville, Tenn., is registered without a political party preference.
Omishakin earned a Master of Arts degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Jackson State University, a Historical Black University and College (HBCU) in Mississippi. He is completing a doctorate degree in Engineering Management at the University of Tennessee.
From 2011 to 2019, Omishakin was Deputy Commissioner for Environment and Planning at the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
In August 2020, Omishakin opened the CalTrans Office of Race and Equity (CORE), which works closely with the Office of Civil Rights to combine equity initiatives. The office hosts a virtual business summit to support small business owners.
“Omishakin has implemented innovative strategies to create a more equitable, world-class transportation network for all users while improving the safety and livability of neighborhoods across the state. Under his leadership, Caltrans has worked to accelerate more than 100 roadway projects during the pandemic, adjusted operations to help keep goods moving amid supply chain challenges and spearheaded the transformative Clean California program that is revitalizing public spaces across California,” said Newsom.