Make Oakland Better Now! Congratulates The Successful and the Unsuccessful Candidates

Make Oakland Better Now! extends its congratulations and best wishes to Mayor-Elect (and former MOBN! board member) Libby Schaaf, City Council Members-Elect Abel Guillen and Annie Campbell Washington and City Auditor-Elect Brenda Roberts.  Most of these winners campaigned on the need for major changes in Oakland.  MOBN! too believes change is essential, and we look forward to working with you.  We also congratulate Council Member Desley Brooks on her reelection.

Make Oakland Better Now! also thanks outgoing Mayor Jean Quan for her service.  While we often disagreed with her and criticized her actions, we have never believed that Mayor Quan was motivated by anything but the best interests of the City of Oakland.

Finally, we extend our thanks to all mayoral candidates, particularly Joe Tuman (also a former MOBN! board member), Bryan Parker Dan Siegel and Courtney Ruby, all city City Council candidates, particularly  Dana King, Jill Broadhurst, Shereda Nosakhare, Michael Johnson and James Moore and City Auditor candidate Len Raphael for their candidacies.  There is nothing easy about running for office, and your contributions to the public dialog, and commitment to making Oakland a better place had great value.  We have much to do in Oakland, and hope that all of the candidates will join us in the coming years as we continue to address public safety, public works, budget and financial reform, and government accountability.

Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong– Part III

Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong – Part III

This is the third and final day of our looking at the ten most common arguments we are hearing in opposition to Measure Z, and showing why they are wrong.

Opponent Argument Nos. 8 and 9: Measure Y had insufficient oversight for how the money was spent, and Measure Z is even worse. The new commission has insufficient authority.

Response: The answer to this just takes a simple reading of the two measures. Here are the relevant excerpts from the soon-expiring Measure Y:

An independent audit shall be performed to assure accountability and the proper disbursement of the proceeds of this tax in accordance with the objectives stated herein in accordance with Government Code sections 50075.1 and 50075.3. Tax proceeds may be used to pay for the audit.

. . . .

To ensure proper administration of the revenue collection and spending, and the implementation of the programs mandated by this ordinance, the Mayor shall appoint three members of a “Violence Prevention and Public Safety Oversight Committee” and each councilmember shall appoint one member. The committee shall review the annual audit, evaluate, inquire and review the administration, coordination and evaluations of the programs and make recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council for any new regulations, resolutions or ordinances for the administration of the programs to comply with the requirements and intent of this Ordinance.

That’s it – an annual audit, an evaluation of unstated frequency and content, and an “oversight” committee of unknown qualifications and with no required staffing or other financial report that can review everything and make recommendations. That’s all.

How about Measure Z? Measure Z provides for an oversight panel with required qualifications, background and experience. It specifically provides for both financial audits and expert evaluations based on whether the programs are, in fact, reducing community violence. It provides for real and meaningful input from the commission and the City Council about violence prevention strategies. It requires public forums where the participants can show how these strategies are, or are not, reducing community violence. And it provides funding for the evaluation and oversight process.

Here are the relevant provisions (this is a very long block quote, but there is so much erroneous information out there about “oversight,” we wanted to provide all the language):

(A) Commission: Adoption of this Ordinance shall establish a “Public Safety and Services Violence Prevention” Commission.

1. Qualifications: The Commission’s membership must be comprised of individuals with experience in criminal justice, public health, social services, research and evaluation, finance, audits, and/or public policy.

2. Conflicts of Interest: Each Commission member shall certify that the member and the member’s immediate family members, business associates and employers have no financial interest in any program, project, organization, agency or other entity that is seeking or will seek funding approval under this Ordinance. Financial interest includes, without limitation, salaries, consultant fees, program fees, commissions, gifts, gratuities, favors, sales income, rental payments, investment income or other business income. A Commission member shall immediately notify the City Administrator and the Chair of the Commission of any real or possible conflict of interest between membership on the Commission and work or other involvement with entities funded by the taxes provided for in this Ordinance. Any dispute about whether a conflict of interest exists shall be resolved by the Public Ethics Commission.

3. Composition: The Commission shall consist of nine (9) members. The Mayor and each councilmember shall recommend one member of the Commission each. All commissioners shall be appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council in accordance with City Charter Section 601. At least two (2) members will have experience working with service-eligible populations, two (2) members will reflect the service-eligible populations, and two (2) members will have a professional law enforcement or criminal justice background. Other members will meet the criteria as established in subsection 1 above.

4. Meetings of the Commission: The Commission shall conduct regular meetings and such special meetings as it deems necessary.

5. Joint Meetings of the Commission and City Council: The City Council, the Commission and other public safety-related boards and commissions shall conduct an annual joint special public informational meeting devoted to the subject of public safety. At each such meeting, the public, Commission and City Council will hear reports from representatives of all departments and the Chief of Police concerning progress of all of the City’s efforts to reduce violent crime.

6. Duties of the Commission: The Commission shall perform the following duties:

(a) Evaluate, inquire, and review the administration, coordination, and evaluation of strategies and practices mandated in this Ordinance.

(b) Make recommendations to the City Administrator and, as appropriate, the independent evaluator regarding the scope of the annual program performance evaluation. Wherever possible, the scope shall relate directly to the efficacy of strategies to achieve desired outcomes and to issues raised in previous evaluations.

(c) Receive draft performance reviews to provide feedback before the evaluator finalizes the report.

(d) Report issues identified in the annual fiscal audit to the Mayor and City Council.

(e) Review the annual fiscal and performance audits and evaluations.

(f) Report in a public meeting to the Mayor and the City Council on the implementation of this Ordinance and recommend ordinances, resolutions, and regulations to ensure compliance with the requirements and intents of this Ordinance.

(g) Provide input on strategies: At least every three (3) years, the department head or his/her designee of each department receiving funds from this Ordinance shall present to the Commission a priority spending plan for funds received from this Ordinance. The priority spending plan shall include proposed expenditures, strategic rationales for those expenditures and intended measurable outcomes and metrics expected from those expenditures. The first presentation shall occur within 120 days of the effective date of this Ordinance. In a public meeting, the Commission shall make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on the strategies in the plans prior to the City Council adoption of the plans. Spending of tax proceeds of this Ordinance must be sufficiently flexible to allow for timely responsiveness to the changing causes of violent crime. The priority spending plans shall reflect such changes. The Commission will recommend to the Mayor and City Council those strategies and practices funded by tax proceeds of this Ordinance that should be continued and/or terminated, based on successes in responding to, reducing or preventing violent crime as demonstrated in the evaluation.

(h) Semi-Annual Progress Reports: Twice each year, the Commission shall receive a report from a representative of each department receiving funds from this Ordinance, updating the Commission on the priority spending plans and demonstrating progress towards the desired outcomes.

(B) Accountability and Reporting.

1. Annual Program Evaluation: Annual independent program evaluations . . . shall include performance analysis and evidence that policing and violence prevention/intervention programs and strategies are progressing toward the desired outcomes. Evaluations will consider whether programs and strategies are achieving reductions in community violence and serving those at the highest risk. Short-term successes achieved by these strategies and long-term desired outcomes will be considered in the program evaluations.

2. Annual Audit Review: An independent audit shall be performed annually to ensure accountability and proper disbursement of the proceeds of this tax in accordance with the objectives stated herein as provided by Government Code sections 50075.1 and 50075.3.

And before all of this, Section 3, subpart (A), provides as follows: “Allocation. To achieve the objectives stated herein, three percent (3%) of the total funds collected shall be set aside annually for audit and evaluation of the programs, strategies and services funded by this measure, and to support the work of the Commission established herein (including meeting supplies, retreats, and the hiring of consultants).

Make Oakland Better Now! would like to see some of this authority actually vested in the Commission and not in the City Council. But that would take a change to the City Charter, which can’t be accomplished in this ballot measure.

Opponent Argument No 10: There are no meaningful metrics, and no evidence these violence prevention programs reduce violence.

Response: This argument is usually made by people who have done little to learn about violence prevention programs and what they do or do not accomplish. We also find that many people who know little about these programs claim to be very supportive of Operation Cease Fire but to oppose funding for violence prevention programs. Several things are worth noting.

First, no one should talk about whether violence prevention and intervention programs are or are not effective without studying the annual review of these programs, available here. The reviews are far from perfect (which is why we like the fact that under Measure Z, a new, qualified commission will be involved in designing the evaluation process), but it does take place. The process has improved over the ten years of Measure Y. And the requirements of Measure Z are designed to improve the process considerably, by requiring an annual study of whether violence prevention programs are actually preventing violence in the community.

Second, Oakland’s Department of Human Services keeps an enormous amount of data. Make Oakland Better Now! believes in data, so we have to respect that. While the Department is unable to track all Measure Y / Oakland Unite clients, for those it can track, it finds that more than 80% of offenders who receive services do not re-offend. This is a positive result. More details, on a strategy-by-strategy basis, are here.

Third, without violence prevention programs, there is no effective Operation Cease Fire. After the City’s first, failed effort, Make Oakland Better Now! strongly urged Oakland to implement an Operation Cease Fire program following the models of Cincinnati, Boston and other communities that has achieved a significant reduction in gun violence using this strategy. To its credit, Oakland has done so. And we believe that this strategy, while in its infancy, has had a positive impact on gun violence reduction. But part of the model is to offer services to offenders. Without programs, there are not sufficient services, and Cease Fire fails. So it is counterproductive to support Operation Cease Fire without also supporting proven, valid, meaningful violence prevention programs.

Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong– Part II

Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong – Part II

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, we are looking at the ten most common arguments we are hearing in opposition to Measure Z, and showing why they are wrong.

Opponent Argument No. 4: The 678 officer threshold is too low, and the City has too many ways out of it.

Response: Nobody is arguing that 678 officers is enough. This measure isn’t designed to get us all the officers we need. For that, we need to elect officials who will prioritize undertaking a meaningful resource allocation study and a rebuilding of the police department to meet the findings of that study. The 678 number maintains the existing tax and keeps things from getting worse. Right now, only 618 police are paid for by the general purpose fund. Ten are paid for by grants (15 more with the COPS grant received this month) and the rest by Measure Y. The 678 threshold is designed to make sure things don’t get worse.

The ways out are very tough. The first one is for “severe and unanticipated financial or other event” creating financial hardship. As things stand, the Administration is projecting serious economic difficulties in the coming years. So the provision for reducing the threshold for a “severe and unanticipated financial or other event” is almost impossible, since the Administration is already projecting severe financial hardships in the coming years. With these projections, they certainly won’t be able to argue that future tough financial times were “sudden and unanticipated.”

The second out is for an unexpected failure of the City’s hiring plan to meet the threshold. The idea is this: if the City makes a hiring plan that considers historic trends for attrition, academy yield, etc., implements that plan, and still falls short, it won’t be penalized by having the entire tax cut off. So a failure to predict the future won’t cost us $24 million for crime reduction, so long as the City fixes its problems. But this exception cannot apply more than one year in a row. And Oaklanders need to make the political process work by electing officials who will design and implement reality-based hiring plans.

The third “loophole” is for expiration of city grants. We don’t like this loophole, and worked hard to get it eliminated from the measure. But it is not, by itself, sufficient basis to defeat the measure. And what we are seeing from the Justice Department so far suggests that we aren’t going to be losing grant money any time soon.

Opponent Argument No. 5: Landlords will pass through this tax, so everybody pays.

Response: This seems like a small issue, but we’ve seen the statement turn up repeatedly on the forums, and it just is not so. Sixty percent of Oaklander households are occupied by renters, not owners, and here are the true facts: Most renters in properties built before 1983 are protected by the Oakland Rent Stabilization Ordinance – i.e., rent control. Setting aside increases for capital expenditures, which aren’t relevant here, landlords of these rental units can raise rents annually by a cost of living factor decided by Oakland’s rent board. The allowable increase for 2014 was 1.9%, and there is no reason to think it will be higher next year. The allowable increase is unaffected by the passage or failure of a parcel tax measure.

For non-rent-controlled properties, the rent is set by the market. A particular property has a rental value based on supply and demand, not on the continuation of a parcel tax likely amounting to 2-3% or less of the total rent.

Opponent Argument No. 6: Voters were misled about Measure Y, and the City acted terribly in the first years of that measure.

Response: We agree completely. Voters should not have been told they would get 803 officers when the measure only required budgeting for, not hiring that number (and when Measure Y paid for far fewer officers than the voters were told they would get). Oakland should have immediately undertaken the audits required by the measure. And it shouldn’t have waited for years to hire the neighborhood beat officers (now known as problem solving officers). Measure Y was a classic example of over-promising and under-delivering, something that sadly occurs in governments at all levels all the time.

And that is why Measure Z is such a breath of fresh air. Measure Z under-promises. It imposes not just a budgeting requirement, but a requirement that the city hire and maintain at all times no fewer than 678 officers. And as the City Auditor’s review shows us, Oakland will likely have to budget more than 700 officers just to ensure it does not fall below that floor.

We would have liked to have seen a higher threshold number. But Measure Z requires that the City pay for the number of officers the measure funds, and leaves to the political process the determination of how many total sworn police we have. In an election year where 6 out of 7 of the leading candidates advocate for 800 to 900 officers, where we are likely to have 715 by October 31 and the City is planning to accelerate academies to speed up the department’s growth the most significant element of the Measure becomes its no lay-offs provision: If the political process results in 800 or more officers, as we expect it will, Oakland will never fall anywhere near 678.

As we have already shown, anticipated 715 officers are all that will be paid for by the City’s current general purpose fund appropriation, grant money and Measure Z funding. So Measure Z, unlike Measure Y, contains no unfunded mandate (although the Measure Y “mandate” was largely illusory, and the Measure Z hiring requirement is real).

So yes, we agree the City – mostly with different elected officials and a different administration – acted badly in the first years of Measure Y. That is no reason to punish Oaklanders by knocking a $20+ million hole in our public safety budget. And that is what a “no” vote would do.

Opponent Argument No. 7: Oaklanders are already overtaxed, and parcel taxes shouldn’t be used to pay for basic services.

Response: Oaklanders do pay a higher property tax than most California residents. And the main reason is the Police and Fire Retirement System tax override. This results from city decisions made in the 1950s, before most of our current elected officials were born. Those decisions benefit only very elderly police retirees and their surviving spouses, as the plan has been closed since the 1970’s. Whatever we think of those decisions more than 50 years ago, they are no reason to reduce spending on public safety.

And as for the argument that “parcel taxes shouldn’t’ be used to pay for basic services,” a review of Ballotpedia shows scores of parcel tax measures passed throughout the state (although even more have failed) to pay for police, fire, emergency response, schools, parks and other basic services. More such measures are presented for schools and fire than police, but that is for political reasons, not policy reasons.

And again, the opponents fail to answer the key question: if not this, where does the money come from? What will be cut?

Tomorrow: the question of oversight – how Measure Z differs from Measure Y.

Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong – Part I

Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong – Part I

We’re reading a lot on neighborhood list serves, Facebook and blogs about Measure Z, the public safety ballot initiative on this November’s ballot. And much of what we see from opponents of the measure is just flat out wrong. We begin with the assumption that none of the opponents of Measure Z mean ill, so we will avoid the kind of vitriol and ad hominem attacks that appear all over these arguments (e.g. “liars,” “fraud,” “crooks,“con artists” etc.). Instead, in this and the two blog posts that follow, we will look at the ten most common opposition arguments and show why they are factually wrong.

Opponent Argument Number 1: Measure Z does not provide enough police staffing, so we should vote it down and support a measure that provides for 800, or 900, police officers.

Response: None of the people who make this argument have offered an alternative measure. None of them have presented public opinion research data showing that a different measure would pass. Given Oakland’s many past unsuccessful attempts at public safety parcel taxes before and after Measure Y, it would be foolhardy to hinge public safety hopes on a tax measure, or any ballot measure, that has not been researched.

MOBN!, together with Jobs and Housing Coalition, Oakland Community Organizations, Youth Alive!, East Bay Asian Youth Coalition and Acts Full Gospel Baptist Church of God in Christ, financed a significant amount of public opinion research, including focus groups and polling. We learned two important things about Oakland voters: (a) they strongly believed public safety efforts should include both policing and violence prevention and intervention efforts; (b) they were unwilling to pay the tax that would be needed to fund 800 police, let alone 900. The voters’ choke point for a parcel tax was $99.

Some opponents argue that their new, hypothetical, non-existent measure should require the City to guarantee a much higher number of officers without requiring the taxpayers to fund it. In other words, impose a parcel tax of $99 that funds $13 million for police, but demand that Oakland fund as many as 200 more officers than the measure funds, at a cost of $40 million or more per year, plus $25 million for recruiting and training (the cost of five police academies, each yielding 40 police officers.) But none of these Oaklanders tell us what cuts they will make to generate this funding or how City government would otherwise find necessary funding. If they can identify and propose those cuts or funding sources, we may well support them. But this is a major undertaking that will not be aided by reducing dedicated police funding by $12 to $13 million, as the opponents would do by defeating Measure Z.

And finally, while the opponents typically argue that the City should place a “better, cleaner” measure (for which they never articulate any details) on a special ballot next June, none can seem to explain how they will have this hypothetical ballot measure researched, drafted and ready to be voted on by Council by March 5 – 17 weeks after this November’s election – in order to have it voted onto the ballot 88 days before the election, as required by law.

Opponent Argument No 2: The expiring Measure Y’s tax proceeds are all available until June 30, 2015, so there is plenty of time to regroup.

Response: This argument exemplifies the old adage “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.” The correct facts are these: the last of the Measure Y parcel tax will be billed by Alameda County with the 2014 property tax billing statements that some property owners have already received. It will be paid to the County in December 2014 and April, 2015, and the proceeds received by Oakland in the second half of 2015. The parcel tax proceeds are included in the 2014-15 city budget, so this part of the argument is correct.

But Measure Y doesn’t provides for just a parcel tax (which is continued under Measure Z). Measure Y also provides for a parking facility tax (also continued by Measure Z). The parking tax of 8.5% yields about $8.4 million per year, and collection will stop December 31 2014. So if Measure Z fails, Oakland will come up short as much as $4.2 million for the first six months of 2015. And of course, since that 8.5% is already built into parking prices, ending it simply gives an extra 8.5% to parking lot operators – nobody expects them to reduce their prices if the tax goes away.

Opponent Argument No 3: City Hall doesn’t need this money – they just need to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.

Response: It’s common for political candidates in State, Local and National elections to run on a campaign of eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.” One of Oakland’s mayoral candidates is running on this platform. But we have not seen a single successful candidate in any political race in the country who has solved financial problems by rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. Waste, fraud and abuse exist in virtually every government – indeed, in virtually every large organization of any kind – and they ought to be rooted out. But they don’t yield anywhere near the money that Oakland – and most big cities – need.

Several years ago, one of our board members asked one of the leading opponents of Measure Z “How will the City finance these police officers without the parcel and parking taxes?” Her answer: “That’s not my problem – it’s the city’s problem.” We’ve yet to see an opponent of Measure Z who has a concrete answer to this question. They all talk about priorities, but nobody will tell us what they will eliminate.

Tomorrow: Yes, 678 officers isn’t enough. That’s no reason to vote down Measure Z.

MOBN! Releases Responses to Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire

Since the last election, Make Oakland Better Now! has become a 501(c)(3) non-profit.  This means, among other things, that we do not endorse candidates for public office.  However, we continue to obtain questionnaire responses from candidates concerning the most critical issues faced by the City of Oakland.  Today, we are pleased to release responses to our questionnaires from Mayoral candidates.

MOBN! submitted our questionnaire to all fifteen mayoral candidates.  We received responses from all but four, with Jason Anderson, Eric Wilson, Rebecca Kaplan and Ken Houston not participating (although Ken Houston did send us a copy of his platform statement).  The full responses  are available, and here are the links:

Saied Karamooz
Peter Y. Liu
Patrick McCullough
Bryan Parker
Jean Quan
Courtney Ruby
Libby Schaaf
Nancy Sidebotham
Dan Siegel
Joe Tuman
Charles Williams

Ken Houston (platform statement)

The questionnaire, with links to candidate answers to individual questions, is below.

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Responses to MOBN!’s District 6 City Council Candidate Questionnaire

Make Oakland Better Now! sent candidate questionnaires concerning the most critical issues facing the City of Oakland to the four District 6 City Council Candidates. We received responses from two of the four candidates, not receiving responses from incumbent City Council member Desley Brooks or candidate James Moore.

Links to the complete responses are here: Shereda Nosakhare, Michael Johnson.

The questionnaire, with links to candidate answers to individual questions, is below.

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Responses to MOBN!’s District 4 City Council Candidate Questionnaires

Make Oakland Better Now! sent candidate questionnaires concerning the most critical issues facing the City of Oakland to the three District 4 City Council Candidates. We received responses from all three.  Links to the complete responses are here: Annie Campbell WashingtonJill BroadhurstPaul Lim.

The questionnaire, with links to candidate answers to individual questions, is below.

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