On June 13, Make Oakland Better Now! will be present at the Oakland City Council Meeting at 6:30pm to urge the City Council to adopt the Mayor’s proposed budget with Council President Kernighan’s proposed changes. In recent posts, we’ve been looking at budget amendments proposed by Council President Kernighan and others proposed by Council Members Brooks, Reid, and Gallo. We encourage all Oaklanders to join us at council in urging your representatives to adopt a budget reflecting the city’s need for public safety and fiscal responsibility.
A recent resolution enacted by council has significantly increased the involvement in the budget process of the Budget Advisory Committee. That committee met last week, and has submitted its recommendations to council here. The highlights:
- Much of the budget debate over the past months has centered around the city’s public employees, and what they can expect in terms of raises. BAC recommends that “the collective bargaining process and the budgeting process should take place at different times during the year. . .” and suggests that the city “engage in labor negotiations on a calendar year schedule, while keeping budget negotiations on a fiscal year schedule.”
- BAC urges the city to adhere to its existing policy that one-time revenues be used for one-time expenditures such as capital improvements, negative fund pay down, debt retirement etc.
- BAC generally supports the Mayor’s budget and Council President Kernighan’s proposed amendments.
- BAC supports prioritization for improving public safety, while recognizing this includes services, blight abatement efforts, etc. BAC also supports civilianization of public safety services “where it makes sense.”
- Finally, BAC “agrees that the city must creatively, equitably and sustainably support a best-in-class workforce.”
Make Oakland Better Now! has also weighed in with its views on the budget. Our letter to the Mayor and council follows:
Dear Mayor Quan, City Administrator Santana,
Council President Kernighan and Council Members:
Make Oakland Better Now! is a citizens group advocating for public safety, public works, transparency, accountability and budget reform in the City of Oakland. As the City of Oakland approaches final decisions concerning its budget for 2013 to 2015, we wish to give you our views concerning these critical decisions that lie ahead.
Transparency in The Budget Process
This cycle’s budget process is, without question, the most transparent and open we have ever seen. We applaud the mayor, the City Administrator and the Budget Director for an outstanding job in this regard. We also congratulate the City Council for enacting the recent resolution supporting a more transparent process now and in the future, and give full credit to Council Member Schaaf, the city’s Budget Advisory Committee and Oakland Rising for their support of this important effort.
Police Services and Civilian Support
Almost everyone in Oakland city government agrees that public safety is our number one priority. Unfortunately, neither the Mayor’s proposed budget nor the proposed alternatives reflect that “number one” status, nor do they adequately reflect the need to combat the public safety crisis in the streets that seriously threatens our most vulnerable populations: the young, the old, and the economically disadvantaged.
Oakland has the highest per capita level of calls for police services of any major city in the United States. It is the most violent city in the State of California, and has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. While we laud the Mayor for beginning to move the department in the right direction, 697 officers is not enough. By any available metric, Oakland needs at least 900 officers. This obviously will not happen overnight. But it needs to be acknowledged for the city’s long-term planning.
We join with other community organizations that have called for increased use of civilians as part of our policing effort. For this reason, we strongly urge the Council to adopt Council President Kernighan’s proposed addition of evidence, crime lab, fingerprint and DNA technicians. We also urge the City to fully maintain funding for the California Highway Patrol contribution to the city’s patrol effort.
The citizens and taxpayers of Oakland are entitled to cost-effective policing, to new approaches to cost management, and creative approaches to revenue raising. Two years ago, the Oakland Police Officers Association agreed to enter into ongoing negotiations for a reduced-priced, second tier compensation schedule for new officers. As far as we can tell, the City of Oakland has never undertaken these negotiations. And last fall, in its Five Year Projection, the administration provided thirty ideas for reducing costs or achieving government efficiencies. We see no evidence that any of these have been seriously investigated. Oakland must investigate these, and others.
Other Public Safety Efforts
Like many others who will communicate with you on budget matters, we realize that there are more elements to public safety than police. For that reason, we are encouraged by the proposals of Council President Kernighan and Council Members Brooks, Reid and Gallo to increase resources to combat such aspects of blight as illegal dumping, graffiti and other manifestations of blight. However, just as all other city services must be provided on a tight budget, resources for these must be dispensed with care and caution. And the city should closely monitor the impacts of these and all efforts on public safety, reporting to Oakland’s residents as to the results of the efforts they pay for.
The Real Estate Transfer Tax
We note there has been recent debate concerning the city’s revenue from the Real Estate Transfer Tax. We have several observations about this subject. First, the best way to ensure an increase in the Real Estate Transfer Tax is to make the city safer. While Oakland, along with the rest of the bay area, experiences a significant increase in real estate sales prices, nothing can help increase these prices, and support more RETT revenue, than significant reductions in crime and the perception of crime. Second, never before has it been more important to protect excess RETT revenue as required by the current city ordinance. With the police department under court supervision, and with no real information about what the Compliance Director will require, it would be a serious error in judgment not to maintain a significant reserve. Furthermore, while the Mayor’s budget acknowledges the enormous structural deficit caused by unfunded liabilities for pensions, retiree medical expenses and inappropriate internal fund borrowing, it does little to correct these problems. Compliance with Ordinance No. 13134, however, can move Oakland at least somewhat in the right direction.
Public Ethics Staffing
We are glad to see the positive progress in funding for Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission. After the current budget cycle is concluded, we encourage council to take a hard look at staffing for this important commission, which clearly is unable to accomplish its mandates with current resources.
Much of the budget debate over the past several months has centered on the extent, if any, to which Oakland can afford to increase the pay of its employees after ending the mandatory furloughs of recent years.
Make Oakland Better Now! strongly supports the collective bargaining process. For that reason, we believe collective bargaining between the city and its unions should take place at the negotiating table, and not in budget deliberations. And we join the city’s Budget Advisory Committee in urging the city to separate these processes and to enter only into contracts – with sworn and miscellaneous employees alike – that are sustainable and neither jeopardize city services nor create the risk of layoffs in future years. In this regard, if the city believes further compensation to employees is a priority, we urge the city to look hard at (a) one-time means of increased compensation; and (b) prioritizing increased compensation for the lowest paid city employees.
We recognize the difficulty of the task before you. While many of Oakland’s recent struggles have been caused by the recent great recession, still more are rooted in poor public safety and fiscal decisions going back fifty or more years. It is time for Oakland to turn the tide. The opportunity is yours, and it is now.
Make Oakland Better Now!