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.

Starting in early 2013, MOBN! joined a coalition of community, business, faith-based and non-profit groups looking for answers to these questions. In polling of likely voters, we learned that the community strongly believed we need more police, believed in non-violence programs, and was very unlikely to pass a measure that did not provide for both. We also learned that, while restoring the police department to 800+ officers (the minimum number suggested in the recent Strategic Policy Partners report) would require a parcel tax of more than $250 per year, voters were not going to support a parcel tax higher than the current Measure Y amount (set to go up to about $99).

Make Oakland Better Now! Believes in data; that means we need to pay attention to what the data shows us. And the data showed us that the voters are presently unwilling to foot the bill for the amount of money it would take to accomplish a full department restoration.

After that, the missions became these: (1) design a ballot measure resulting in no increased tax over the Measure Y amount; (2) fix the biggest problem with Measure Y, by requiring the City to hire and maintain a specific number of officers (not just budget for them) in order to collect the taxes; (3) bring a higher level of focus to violence prevention programs, coordinate them and require a higher level of accountability. The resulting proposed ballot measure, distributed to Council for consideration this Tuesday, offers the following:

  • It results in no change in the taxes, setting the parcel tax at $99 (where it would be with inflation next year under Measure Y) and the parking tax at the current 8 ½ percent;
  • It prohibits collection of either of the taxes if the City fails to budget for a minimum number of sworn police personnel (700) or if it fails to hire or maintain that number at all times after July 1, 2016 (the number is actually projected to reach 700 this year, but the measure provides the City some time to stabilize the serious fluctuations it has experienced). While there are several exceptions, they are very narrow, and generally require a “severe and unanticipated financial or other event” or a one-time only unexpected shortfall after the City does all of the right things to recruit and hire.
  • If MOBN!’s proposed changes are accepted, it will prohibit any police layoffs that would result in fewer than 800 officers, meaning as a practical matter that there will be no more police layoffs.
  • It narrows the focus of violence prevention activities, increases the level of coordination, and stresses that when all is said and done, the measure of success will be whether or not the strategies funded by the measure are reducing community violence.

MOBN!, the Community Policing Advisory Board, Youth Alive and several others have made some additional suggestions (including the “no layoffs” suggestion) that can be seen in a supplemental report here.

MOBN! came into this process looking for a revolution – a measure that would rebuild the Oakland Police Department and completely reorganize how we look at programs and coordinate all of our public safety efforts. We still believe Oakland needs all of this. But we also believe Oakland voters should avoid a $22 million hole in the City’s public safety budget. While we cannot expect this one measure to carry all of Oakland’s public safety burden on its shoulders, everything the currently proposed measure does is a good thing for our City. We will be there on Tuesday to support it. Please come and join us. After that, there will be much more work to do.

What: City Council Meeting. When: Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 6:30 p.m. (Ceremonial and Consent Agenda matters from 5:30 to 6:30 or somewhat after). Where: Oakland City Hall, City Council Chambers.

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 3 Comments

  1. Allan Feinstein

    Glad you are addressing the continuation of measure Y (B?). There are a few additional issues that are important in getting votes. Setting the right incentives is tricky. My memory may be somewhat faulty, so someone else may be able to straighten me out.

    Problem with setting a minimum number of sworn officers. When budget got tight, first move was to lay off civilians, assign officers to their jobs. Very inefficient to use higher paid officers instead of civilians, but met the requirements. Next, as budget got tighter, city reduced contribution of discretionary budget, still collecting the supplement. The effect was to distribute the supplement to other city services. Finally, the city could not collect the supplement without modifying the proposition, so we voted to remove restrictions. The result was to lay off expensively newly trained young officers, wasting much of the collected money.

    How about wildfire? Another big one would be a serious public safety issue. What happened to FEMA proposal to reduce fuel? I haven’t heard anything.

    This is not meant as criticism, as the decisions may have been best under difficult circumstances. However, we should think about the possible effects of another difficult time, sure to happen eventually.

  2. Mr. Grumps

    Agree with Allan’s observations. Classic governance problem trying to compensate for elected official incompetence by means of restrictive legislation. Poor official decision-making can easily outflank any legislation. In any area of conflict flexibility inevitably produces more effective tactics.
    Keep in mind that the Council and Mayor have a considerable arsenal of lawyers to work around any legislation, both in the City Attorney and in consultants Oakland enjoys using.

    The “new” Measure Y is actually attempting to solve the strategic political problem of voter confidence in Oakland’s government. For this purpose fine-tuning of “New Y” doesn’t make much sense.

    Bottom line is to come up with an appropriate strategy for significantly increasing voter confidence in Oakland government by working to elect competent new Council members and a new mayor who is not a part of the current establishment. Competent leaders will not only help pass reasonable tax proposals like “New Y” but will also be able to work flexibly to fulfill the intention of the tax proposal instead of figuring out how to defeat it in court after they have failed.

  3. MikeM

    Oakland needs 800+ police to attract more business and retail downtown. I do not think voters will go for the same old 700 police number with attrition the way it is. Measure Y needs to simply apply to getting police up to 800+ and staying there no matter what.

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