In May, 2013, Oakland’s City Council passed a resolution, sponsored by then-city council member, now Mayor Libby Schaaf, to substantially revise Oakland’s budget process. The idea was to add transparency, predictability and order to a process that has often been sporadic and incomprehensible. The new process significantly increased the role of Oakland’s Budget Advisory Committee, set a schedule, and required an orderly approach to public and City Counsel input.
The new process required that Council hold a “biannual” [sic] budget workshop in the fall preceding the budget adoption year, and that staff present a Five Year forecast, to be made widely and publicly available, no later than February 1. The budget workshop did not happen until January 28 of this year, and the Five Year forecast has not yet been seen.
But there is one requirement of the resolution where Oakland is ahead of schedule. For this one, the Budget Advisory Committee, not staff or City Council, were responsible. The resolution requires the following:
During the January – March period prior to Budget Adoption of a budget adoption year, the City Administrator should develop or secure a statistically valid survey for assessing the public’s concerns, needs and priorities. Whenever feasible, the City should conduct a professional poll administered to a statistically relevant and valid sample of residents that is representative of Oakland’s population . . . . If that’s [sic] not possible, then demographic information should be collected and reported out with the survey results.
Prior to release, the survey questions shall be submitted to the Budget Advisory Committee for review of bias, relevance, consistency in administration, inclusion of benchmark questions, and ability to assess concerns, needs and priorities. The survey instrument, method of dissemination and any instructions for administration shall be publicly available.
Although the “survey instrument, method of dissemination and . . .instructions for administration” were not publicly available, the poll did happen. A downloadable report (pdf) with the results is here. And here is what respondents said about their budget priorities:
Respondents were asked an open-ended question about the two most important issues facing Oakland residents that they would like to see prioritized in the City government budget. . . . Their most frequent answers related to crime and public safety, which over six in ten mentioned as either their first or second choice: crime/violence (20% first choice, 13% second), more police/funding/police issues (10% first choice, 6% second) and public safety (8% first choice, 5% second).
This table summarizes responses to the open-ended question:
Current Priorities for the City Budget
(Categories with 2% or More as First Choice)
In the upcoming two-year budget, what are the two most important issues facing Oakland residents that you would like to see prioritized in the City government budget?
|Budget Priority||% first choice||% second choice|
|Crime and safety||38||24|
|More police funding / police issues||10||6|
|Education / Public Schools||8||5|
|Housing costs / affordability||10||6|
|Street and sidewalk maintenance||8||8|
|Jobs / Keeping business||7||11|
|Public transportation / buses||2||2|
We are particularly impressed by the fact that these were spontaneous answers to open-ended questions, not a selection from choices. This is much more compelling than responses to multiple choice polling questions.
So the answer should be clear to the City Council, the Mayor, the City Administrator and the budget office: more than anything else, Oaklanders want to be safe. This priority should guide everything that happens during the budget process over the next four months.
And Make Oakland Better Now! will be there to deliver that message to the city, and to let you know how the process is going.