How Will Mayoral Candidates Deal With Oakland’s Structural Budget Deficit?

Make Oakland Better Now!’s Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire was answered by 8 of the ten candidates.  All of the completed questionnaires are available for viewing at our web site, here. Since some Oaklanders may want to compare candidate responses to each of the questions, we will be publishing the responses sorted by question here at Oaktalk over the coming days.  We previously posted the answers to our questions about Oakland’s November ballot measures here.  Today, we post the answers to our question about how each of the candidates would address Oakland’s severe structural deficit.

Question 2. In June, the City Budget director reported that Oakland faced a five-year general purpose fund structural deficit of $589 million.  (See page 19 of City Administrator’s report at and a spread sheet adding the numbers at   After the City Council’s recent budget amendments, much of that structural deficit remains.  As mayor, what steps will you take to eliminate that deficit?

Candidate responses:


Again the City is in the deficit because of miss management, and waste of funds. This City will not turn around until you deal with the corruption that is going on in the City building offices. This is the only time you will see things change. Management within the City of Oakland starting digging this hole in 2000 with Jerry Brown’s elitist agenda policies, which he used to double the value of his compound on second Harrison which he sold in his last term for roughly 4.6 million.


I would balance the budget by cutting expenses. This will take major structural changes in city employee compensation and benefits as well as implementing a two-tiered system for new employees as well as letting some employees go. This will require convincing the unions that it is in their best interest to do so.


Oakland’s budget deficit is the result both of the current economic downturn, and also the result of many years of expensive decisions that have not been paid for. Our financial crisis must be addressed, as it negatively impacts all of our other goals. This means planning for the long-term, and ending the practice of making longterm fiscal promises that are paid for by putting future generations deeper into debt. Balancing next year’s budget and laying the groundwork for eliminating the structural deficit will be a core responsibility of the next administration, and will require devoted leadership. I will work immediately to resolve the impasse regarding police pension contributions, seeking a 9% pension contribution as part of a strategy to eliminate police layoffs, to address that component of the structural deficit. I will also work immediately to refinance outside debt payments to lower interest rates, and reduce total outside debt, and switch to lower-cost sources, in order to reduce the omponent of the structural deficit made up of debt payments. In the short-term, the City can take immediate revenue-raising measures including repositioning City assets that are currently losing money, and personnel management actions such as retirement incentives to lower personnel costs. I will also work to strongly enforce blight laws, particularly regarding vacant blighted foreclosed properties which are being neglected by the foreclosing banks and are becoming crime magnets in our neighborhoods. Enforcing blight fines will serve to bring in revenue from the fines themselves, will help reinvigorate our neighborhoods by eliminating sources of crime and blight, and will help return properties to real use as homes in our community, which will help stabilize our revenue base with property taxes and transfer taxes.

We must also aggressively seek outside funding for planning efforts and infrastructure repair, such as the funds for local street, road, and sidewalk repair I successfully advocated to be included in the Alameda County Vehicle Registration fee, and the new free Broadway Shuttle for which I helped land grant funding.  In addition, I will effectively obtain outside grants for projects such as transit-oriented development in key locations, which will add to local employment and business, and therefore to the tax base. In the medium term the City must encourage organic tax-base growth by cutting red tape and other barriers to businesses, rewrite the business tax code and zoning code to encourage job growth and economic revitalization, and adopt best management practices, including contemporary technology, to make our systems more responsive, efficient and effective. Civilianizing certain roles in the police department, and changing the relationship between the City and the Port, are part of this effort. In the long term, Oakland must significantly increase the tax base by attracting new industries and new investment, and lower infrastructure maintenance costs by taking action now that will pay off in the future.  Such steps include implementing a clear plan for retail growth; changing zoning, identifying infrastructure needs and revamping recruitment and marketing programs to attract growth industries; and increasing City road and sewer repair efforts (including seeking outside funding) so these infrastructure costs decrease, rather than increase, over the long term. We cannot continue patchwork, short term budgeting, but must budget for today with an eye to tomorrow, instead of passing costs into the future.

MacLeay [Combined Answer to Questions 2,3 and 4]:

I think the city administrator has the facts straight.

If elected, I will call a budget summit, and kind of budget “constitutional convention” where we put the whole budget on the table. A mayor who convenes such a summit can not predict or dictate the outcome. What I will advocate in the process will include:

  • Negotiate a transfer of the existing retirement plan to the employees.
  • Start a new retirement plan that pays its liabilities on pay day.
  • Have a plan for the ups and downs of the business cycle
  • Focus outside funding on LONG TERM infrastructure projects.
  • Mandates, such as Measure Y need to become part of the law and policy of city government, but not the budget handcuffs we now have.
  • Prioritize civilian services to abate, reform and prevent crime.
  • Prioritize city services that most improve the quality of life.
  • Set budget goals that stabilize the different departments.
  • Increased independent oversight and auditing.

Working for the city should be a good, stable job. Maybe not the best paid, but with good conditions, good benefits, security and the room for city employees to treat their jobs as a vocation and as a social service. This has been the deal for public employees. We need to increase the partnership with our city workers, as represented by their unions in order to restore this promise. As each city contract comes up for negotiation we need to keep this goal in mind. Staff is a big cost, but remember that it is nor an evenly distributed cost. We will not get the partnership we need from our employees and our unions if we do not live up to this promise of good conditions, good benefits, JOB SECURITY and a positive working environment. If we do, then we can work out viable contracts.


City Hall is a mess. The  mayor and council have failed Oakland. The budget teeters on  insolvency, core services diminish and massive police layoffs make residents  feel less safe. The one overarching issue: leadership.  There is none.

I believe in Oakland, and I believe that our next four years can be better than the last four.  But we need decisive leadership and hands-on management. Everything needs to begin with the budget.

Currently, the city’s budget is a hall of mirrors. Bargaining units do not trust the numbers city hall shares with them. Council members routinely get sent new sets of numbers indicating an ever changing reality.

My first priority as mayor would be addressing the immediate fiscal crisis. We need experts in public finance to establish a common set of numbers that everyone can agree on in order to work to put together three, five and ten year expenditure / recovery plans for the city.

As a general statement, observation and commitment, city hall must be overhauled. There are too many quartermasters, not enough infantry, top heavy with administrators and supervisors who report to each other and never visit the “job sites”.

I’d be shocked if I couldn’t find 80  jobs in city hall less important than the  80 cops who were laid off. In fact, I’ve identified 30 alone in the city administrator’s office.

I will not abide blaming public workers or workers in general for the failings of those with the responsibility to govern, beginning with those we elect.

I suspect Oakland is nearing insolvency. It has a huge deficit, declining revenues, and  economic  recovery plan and laden with fixed debt. If there is any hope for new voter–approved revenues, it  will  only come after the new mayor can convince Oakland residents their present tax bill is justifiable


  • Negotiate police pension contributions;  extend PFRS payments using existing tax rate
  • Continue to pay down internal debt
  • Reorganize city services to reduce management where possible
  • Increase retail sector revenues, focused economic development


Elimination of our structural deficit in my administration will flow from the following action steps. First, effective immediately, after my election in November, I will engage a private consulting firm to conduct a top-to-bottom audit of all city offices and departments beginning with the mayor’s office and continuing with the city administrator’s office. We will audit to gain a clearer perspective of efficiencies for cost, functionality, and ability to achieve core responsibilities of government. Recommendations for cost savings, reorganization, and streamlining of functions will be identified.

Next, operating on information gleaned from the system-wide audit, I will act to effect as many cost-saving measures as possible in an effort to reduce the deficit. At this point, it is not my judgment that this alone will be enough to close the short-term or long-term deficits facing the city. For that reason, in January, I will also convene a meeting between the Mayor’s office and all labor interests to discuss what other steps must be taken to close our deficits. I will not in this document spell-out what demands I will make on our unions; this kind of information is strategic for negotiation, and only a neophyte would show his hand before the negotiation process has begun. Suffice it to say, I will use the following criteria for negotiation with our labor partners and stake-holders: a, every decision we make with respect to closing the deficit must serve the interest of everyone in the city – not just interested parties or select groups; b, every decision we make must reflect a long-term solution to the city’s fiscal planning. As to the latter of these, I will not allow the City of Oakland to continue the process of short-term fixes for fiscal problems that develop into long-term crises. To be clear, no more kick the can down the road.

Third, I will look for any available sources of external funding from the state or federal government, which might be used to supplement core functions


  • Tax on commuters, who do not live here (1% per paycheck/est. $150,000,000 a year)
  • Toll booths, on the three freeways or off the exits for commuters, who do not live here ($1 a day/est. $300,000,000 a year), just as Gavin Newsome has recently proposed for Treasure Island, hailed as a great idea by Cal Trans.
  • More revenue mentioned in question#7

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

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