Make Oakland Better Now! Looks at the Mayor’s Budget and Two Proposed Amendments – Part 3

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.

Employee Compensation

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!

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.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Hugh

    While I agree with you, your letter is too long and convoluted to briefly tell what you’re advocating for. I get your praise of the positive parts of the various council members’s plans, but the parts you want changed get lost in the combined length and praises. The result is this letter can be used by opposing sides as proof that their budget answers your requests.

    If we’re to push our elected leaders in the right direction, to implement and budget for effective services prioritizing Public Safety, and COLA’s are to come after that, then this must be clearly stated.

  2. Mike Merriman

    Thanks for your hard work and analysis of the proposed budgets. I agree with your suggestions and hope these come across at the June 13th council meeting. I only wish our leaders had realistic plans to push the police force back to 800+ officers. Oakland is missing out on attracting business due to our crime rate… thanks again!

  3. Grumpy

    I have been watching closely this past week as Desley Brooks has, essentially, asserted public safety policy control over City Hall. She’s the only effective leader in that building, but unfortunately is way destructive. Her performance at the 6/13 Council meeting last Thursday was astounding. She had packed the room with supporters. Council President “Whimpy” Kernighan could not control the crowd. Brooks got what she wanted and brought along new Council members Kalb and McEnerney.

    She, Reid and Gallo have changed the agenda from adequate policing and police reform to trash pickup and graffiti removal. They’ve resurrected the divisive campaign of cops vs librarians and other unionized city employees. She’s getting her “more lightbulbs reduce crime” idea funded (Oakland will spend many millions on LED street lights.). She is getting ongoing funding for her questionably-legitimate digital design and culinary training programs.

    Oakland cannot continue to ignore the leadership and ethical vacuum downtown.

  4. Dennis J Evans

    Toss Business Solutions is the answer to ending our longed recession in the U.S Reduceing Oakland’s budget 65% hello my name is Dennis Evans the general manager of Toss Business Solutions offering 250 new jobs with the goal of hiring 1000 qualified people in the city of Oakland.

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