Category Archives: Public Safety

City Council Meeting Tonight: Five Budget Proposals and Lots More — It’s Going to Be A Long Night

City Council holds a special meeting tonight at 5:00 p.m., and it’s going to be very long one. Council will be deliberating over the Mayor’s Budget Proposal and the additional proposals of Council President Gibson Mcelhaney’s proposals and additional proposals by CMs Brooks, Guillen and Gallo. Also before Council will be CM Brooks’ proposed establishment of a Department of Race and Equity and alternate proposals by the Mayor and Council President Gibson Mcelhaney. Many of the reports were only issued at the end of last week, and Make Oakland Better Now! is  still evaluating the Mayor’s budget and some seven other reports.  Our initial reactions to CM budget proposals, however, are discussed in our letter today to Council:

June 22, 2015

Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson Mcelhaney, and Members of the Oakland City Council

Re: June 22 Council Meeting Budget Deliberations,                                                                      Agenda Items 10 and 11                       

Dear President Gibson Mcelhaney and City Council Members:

Make Oakland Better Now! is a citizens’ advocacy group supporting public safety, public works, transparency and accountability in government and budget reform in the City of Oakland.

As we have during each recent two year budget cycle, we are closely monitoring this cycle’s budget process.  With a number of council member proposals having only recently been posted, our evaluation is still in process. However, we do have some initial responses which we will share with you before tonight’s meeting.

Public Safety: The city’s budget priority poll late last year showed what every poll within memory has shown:  that Oaklanders’ number one concern is public safety. This is scarcely a surprise in a city that remains one of the most violent in California (and where serious crime is actually up 5% over last year). We recognize that there are multiple elements to public safety.  However, we have seen no polling that would support, for example, allocation of resources for additional City Council staffing, council member-sponsored festivals, or banner design and fabrication.

As supporters of civilianization and increased investigative capacity, we applaud the proposed additions of police evidence technicians and crime analysts.

However, we are very concerned about the proposal to eliminate the Deputy City Attorney III position for NSA compliance. The recent Swanson report makes it clear how essential this position is to help bring our Police Department and City out from under the ongoing financial burden court oversight. That position will surely be required once court supervision ends to ensure that the NSA-related reforms are sustainable.

We also question the realism of an arbitrary cut to police overtime. We join with council, with the administration, with command staff and, quite frankly, rank and file police in their concern about the heavy burden of police overtime and ongoing overruns of the overtime budget. The department has examined and reported on the causes of this overtime, and until we address those causes – primarily severe departmental understaffing – an arbitrary, budgetary reduction is not reality based.

Fiscal Sustainability:

As shown by the Mayor’s budget, and in multiple reports received by Council over the past few years, Oakland’s long-term liabilities are crushing and have to be faced. The OPEB unfunded liability for contractually required, earned retiree health benefits is close to half a billion dollars. Negative fund balances with no source of reimbursement – which threaten the City’s bond rating – are nearly $76 million.

In past budget cycles, Council has enacted last-minute changes to its fiscal policies that steered the city away from responsibly addressing its debt (by, for example, increasing the availability of one-time funds to meet ongoing expenses instead of to reduce accrued liabilities). Accordingly, we are concerned to see several proposals from Council members to eliminate the proposed pay-down of negative fund balances and reduction of the unfunded OPEB liability. We are also concerned to see proposed reliance on revenue sources that do not yet exist (e.g., an as yet non-existent cannabis producer’s tax), or which the administration believes are unrealistic (e.g., the proposed increase to business tax revenue).  The long-term success of our city depends on a prudent management of the city’s financial obligations and a reality-based projection of revenues.

We will be corresponding and speaking further with you when we complete our analysis of all proposals. We wish you the best in your deliberations.


Make Oakland Better Now!

Joint Statement of Jobs and Housing Coalition and Make Oakland Better Now! Concerning Crowd Control and Crowd Management During Public Demonstrations

Jobs & Housing LogoMOBNgreenlogo

  • We strongly support the efforts by Mayor Schaaf to accommodate and facilitate the exercise of free speech while at the same time protecting persons and property from attack by vandals and others who embed themselves within otherwise lawful and peaceful demonstrations.
  • We believe it is both appropriate, Constitutionally permissible and consistent with Oakland’s Crowd Control and Crowd Management Policy to impose narrowly tailored restrictions on the time and place of demonstrations, including a permit requirement (with streamlined, rapid processing and no or minimal cost), limitations on nighttime demonstrations and reasonable limitations on demonstration locations, including the blocking of streets.
  • We believe that the City Council, the Mayor, the City Administrator and the Oakland Police Department must bring an end to the hijacking of the democratic process such as occurred at the regular City Council Meeting of May 5, 2015. All residents of Oakland and businesses in our city have a right to public governmental meeting conducted by their elected representatives in an atmosphere free of intimidation, disruption and stoppage, protecting the participation rights of all members of the public. Our democracy is damaged when a small number of demonstrators is allowed to halt the business of that democracy, and this is true regardless of the cause they espouse.
  • City government and OPD should make every possible effort to keep communications open with demonstrators before and during demonstrations. If, despite these efforts, demonstrations interfere with the democratic process, or violate reasonable, narrow and constitutionally permissible restrictions, or are embedded with individuals committing violence to persons or property, those demonstrations should be declared unlawful, and participants should be lawfully disbursed.
  • To the extent it is necessary to obtain Court permission to modify Oakland’s Crowd Control and Crowd Management Policy, we urge the City, and all other parties in the Coles v. City of Oakland, Local 10, ILWU v. City of Oakland and Spalding v. City of Oakland matters to enter into a meaningful, cooperative meet and confer process, and if that process does not succeed, we urge the City to petition the Federal Court for appropriate relief.

It’s Time To Modify Oakland’s Crowd Control and Crowd Management Policy

Mayor Libby Schaaf says she supports freedom of expression and the right of Oaklanders and Oakland businesses to be free of violence caused by individuals who embed themselves in otherwise peaceful demonstrations. While we support her efforts to change strategies to eliminate violence at demonstrations, Make Oakland Better Now! encourages her to approach this somewhat differently.

Both  #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName are important local and national movements. Our communitymleaders play a critical role in affirming to the nation that we will not tolerate the injustices we have seen in Ferguson, in Cleveland, in New York and throughout the country, including, much too recently, in Oakland.

Having said that, we are proud of what OPD has done in the past two years to improve its relationship with the community, and most especially with people of color. Far too little of this change has been acknowledged in our public dialogue. It is no accident that OPD has experienced only one officer-involved shooting (resulting in no injury) in the past two years, and that no OPD gunfire has resulted in death for more than three years. Indeed, OPD, working with the faith-based community and outside consultants, leads the country in police legitimacy and procedural justice training. While there is much more to do, no fair-minded person can ignore these recent improvements.

It is now time for Oakland to lead the country in developing a model that balances protection of First Amendment rights for demonstrators with protecting the rights of adjacent business owners.    Continue reading

What Do Oaklanders Think About Our City Budget? They Want to Be Safe!

In May, 2013, Oakland’s City Council passed a resolution, sponsored by then-city council member, now Mayor Libby Schaaf, to substantially revise Oakland’s budget process.  The idea was to add transparency, predictability and order to a process that has often been sporadic and incomprehensible. The new process significantly increased the role of Oakland’s Budget Advisory Committee, set a schedule, and required an orderly approach to public and City Counsel input.

The new process required that Council hold a “biannual” [sic] budget workshop in the fall preceding the budget adoption year, and that staff present a Five Year forecast, to be made widely and publicly available, no later than February 1.  The budget workshop did not happen until January 28 of this year, and the Five Year forecast has not yet been seen.

But there is one requirement of the resolution  where Oakland is ahead of schedule. For this one, the Budget Advisory Committee, not staff or City Council, were responsible.  The resolution requires the following:

During the January – March period prior to Budget Adoption of a budget adoption year, the City Administrator should develop or secure a statistically valid survey for assessing the public’s concerns, needs and priorities. Whenever feasible, the City should conduct a professional poll administered to a statistically relevant and valid sample of residents that is representative of Oakland’s population . . . . If that’s [sic] not possible, then demographic information should be collected and reported out with the survey results.

Prior to release, the survey questions shall be submitted to the Budget Advisory Committee for review of bias, relevance, consistency in administration, inclusion of benchmark questions, and ability to assess concerns, needs and priorities.  The survey instrument, method of dissemination and any instructions for administration shall be publicly available.

Although the “survey instrument, method of dissemination and . . .instructions for administration” were not publicly available, the poll did happen.  A downloadable report (pdf) with the results is here.  And here is what respondents said about their budget priorities:

Respondents were asked an open-ended question about the two most important issues facing Oakland residents that they would like to see prioritized in the City government budget. . . . Their most frequent answers related to crime and public safety, which over six in ten mentioned as either their first or second choice: crime/violence (20% first choice, 13% second), more police/funding/police issues (10% first choice, 6% second) and public safety (8% first choice, 5% second).

This table summarizes responses to the open-ended question:

Current Priorities for the City Budget

(Categories with 2% or More as First Choice)

            In the upcoming two-year budget, what are the two most important issues facing Oakland residents that you would like to see prioritized in the City government budget?

Budget Priority % first choice % second choice
Crime and safety 38 24
    Crime/violence 20 13
     More police funding / police issues 10 6
     Public safety 10 5
Education / Public Schools 8 5
Housing costs / affordability 10 6
Street and sidewalk maintenance 8 8
Jobs / Keeping business 7 11
Youth activities 3 3
Homelessness 2 4
Public transportation / buses 2 2

We are particularly impressed by the fact that these were spontaneous answers to open-ended questions, not a selection from choices.  This is much more compelling than responses to multiple choice polling questions.

So the answer should be clear to the City Council, the Mayor, the City Administrator and the budget office:  more than anything else, Oaklanders want to be safe.  This priority should guide everything that happens during the budget process over the next four months.

And Make Oakland Better Now! will be there to deliver that message to the city, and to let you know how the process is going.

MOBN! Supports Proposed Safety Measure if City Guarantees Officer Threshold


Tuesday night, Oakland’s City Council has a very big agenda (and will be holding a very long meeting). But the most critical item on that agenda is a resolution to place a public safety and services ballot on this November’s election, to take effect in January when Measure Y expires.

As most readers of Oaktalk know, Measure Y was passed ten years ago, and provides for a parcel tax and parking tax that provide $22 million for “problem solving officers,” violence prevention programs and fire funding. We could provide a litany of issues and problems with Measure Y, but will save this for another day. Our questions have been (1) what would happen without the $22 million?, (2) what would the voters be willing to do?, and (3) what politically acceptable solutions were there to solve the biggest problems with Measure Y.

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It’s Time For Oakland To Adopt A Comprehensive Public Safety Plan

Tonight at 6:00 p.m., the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee will meet for the second time on the subject of “Public Safety Initiatives Throughout the City.”  Staff reports are here and here.  MOBN! has long advocated for a comprehensive public safety plan, with coordination of all of the city’s safety efforts, specific goals and accountability.  We had hoped that this is what we would get from Strategic Policy Partners (Wasserman and Bratton).  Instead, we got bits and pieces, and a long memo urging more community involvement.

Despite a slight reduction in violent crime in the last sixteen months, the city has much yet to do.  In this letter to the Public Safety Committee, we set out our view of what a plan would look like, and what some of the key components should be.

Guest Post: Numbers And Nonsense In Oakland’s Search for Public Safety

Make Oakland Better Now! has started a 10 part series on strategies for making Oakland better, and we will be continuing with that soon.  But others have good ideas as well, and we want to share some.   The ideas in this guest post are those of Steve Spiker. A self-described urbanist, technologist, photographer and husband and father, almost new home owner, he is the Research Director for Urban Strategies.    His blog, where this post first appeared, is here.  

Oakland is once again talking about data and facts concerning crime, causes and policing practices, except we’re not really. We’re talking about an incredibly thin slice of a big reality, a thin slice that’s not particularly helpful, revealing nor empowering. And this is how we always do it.

Chip Johnson is raising the flag on our lack of a broad discussion about the complexity of policing practices and the involvement of African-Americans in the majority of serious crimes in our city, and on that I say he’s dead right, these are hard conversations and we’ve not really had them openly. The problem is, the data we’re given as the public (and our decision makers have about the same) is not sufficient to plan with, make decisions from nor understand much at all.  Once again we’re given a limited set of summary tables that present just tiny nuances of reality and that do not allow for any actual analyses by the public nor by policy makers. And if you believe that internal staff get richer analysis and research to work with you’re largely wrong.

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