How Will Our Next Mayor Set Budget Priorities?

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, and answers about the budget deficit here.  Today, we post the answers to our question about the candidates budget priorities:  In these tough times, what are their highest priorities and what would they cut?

Question 3: Budgeted expenditures reflect a city’s priorities. When you present your first budget to the City Council for consideration, what current city functions will you give the highest priority, and how will your proposed budget reflect that prioritization? For what city functions will you reduce or eliminate expenditures?

Candidate responses:


The entire budget is a priority. All departments have to be properly budgeted. A city is about a good life or its not a city at all. I will work to see that city government delivers all the services that it should. It is not a matter of revenues it is a matter of management and that management has been lacking for many years.


In hiring a City Administrator and budgeting with an eye for the long-term I will implement the kind of responsive leadership and long-term planning needed to make the right choices. My first task after being elected Mayor will be to launch a genuine, unbiased, nationwide recruitment process for the new City Administrator and other key management posts (e.g. Budget Director), with the goal of hiring the best and brightest to be the next generation of City leadership. Many of the specific budget proposals I will bring are outlined in Question 2 above, and include civilianizing some police positions, expanding revenue through business attraction and better handling of our housing and foreclosure issues, and by closing the deal to have police pension contributions as a strategy to end layoffs. While I recognize that there are many spending mandates, unique revenue sources, and collective bargaining agreements that reduce budgetary flexibility, one of my goals for my first budget is to reverse the downward spiral of cuts to park and road maintenance, because performing maintenance early saves costs for the long run. I will restore information technology funding, and use that technology to implement systems (such as an online business permit and tax system) to reduce internal delays and help businesses open. I will better leverage outside funds for local projects, including parks and transit-oriented development. In addition, Oakland is currently subsidizing several buildings which are not being put to productive use, and I will work to shift those assets in ways to make them revenue-generating.

I will change the budget process to create methods for considered public input and real opportunity to adopt effective proposals. I will publish a draft budget well in advance of the adoption deadline, in order to gather more ideas to ensure the document reflects Oakland’s priorities and explores all solutions and efficiencies. I will include evaluation of the Redevelopment budget, and debt financing issues, into the budget considerations so we bring all tools to the table for comprehensive budgetary discussions.


[Note:  this candidate combined his responses to questions 2, 3 and 4.  Please see that response at his response to No. 2, here.


Given highest priority:  1.              Public Safety;  2.              Economic Development / Jobs creation;  3.              Oakland’s Youth: (Parks and Recreation, Libraries, OUSD partnerships)

How my proposed budget would reflect that:

1.         Public Safety: Appropriate level of police force as set by Chief Tony Batts, supported with adequate resources.  Funded through directed cost savings (including pension contributions, two tier retirement system, and cuts to non-critical city services), new revenues (including ½ cent sales tax)

2.            Economic Development / Jobs Creation:  reorganization of CEDA to eliminate waste and duplication, redirect resources and personnel to specific business development and job generation programs – using tools and resources such an enterprise zones and redevelopment project areas.

3.            Oakland’s Youth: joint partnership with Oakland Unified School District and Dr. Tony Smith for shared use of resources and facilities – specifically truancy, school site safety, and playing fields; joint OUSD / City tax measure for program services (after school, recreation, summer, arts and culture). Strengthening Oakland Parks and Recreation – public/private partnership with OPR alumni as leaders.

City functions I would reduce or eliminate to reduce expenditures:

The city has 33 Boards and Commissions.  I would suspend all but those mandated by state or federal regulations until city finances have recovered adequately to reconsider staffing those.

Before firing another police officer, I would identify other non-essential city positions that are either duplicate or create needless layers of bureaucracy, and get rid of them first.

Council President Brunner presented a list of suggested cuts totaling  $20 million.  Along those lines, I would go through the budget line by line, seeking to create efficiencies, streamline operations, eliminate waste, fraud and duplication.  I am the only candidate in this race with the track record of leadership in making such tough decisions and making them work.


Given current budget restrictions the weighting of departments is unlikely to change in the short term. Police will still be the largest portion of the budget, however, the weighting within the budget will change to reflect more civilianization, less overtime, etc. Where possible I will reorganize to reduce administrative costs.


I don’t know what I will cut yet; that will be subject to what I find in the audit. I will, however, do my best to answer your question about budget priorities. For me, the priorities are driven by what I perceive to be the minimal core responsibilities of government. These include public safety, public works, parks and recreation, housing, development and redevelopment, and jobs.


I plan a $100,000,000 Mayor’s Jobs Program, with an on-the-job training component, with a distinct emphasis on “Hire Oakland First”, a committee on which I served for several years, but which had no teeth. With this mayor, it will. The proposal for the ballot already has nearly the required number of signatures. I do not plan to reduce programs. I plan to expand them. That is what you do, when you run successful businesses.


Public safety, education, and jobs. I will eliminate expenditures by cutting City bureaucracy on the top level. We have double the amount of city employees that we need. We will keep people working at the bottom level and will cut fat from the top.

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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