On Tuesday, June 19, Oakland’s City Council will be considering the usual mid-cycle adjustment to Oakland’s budget. The administration’s initial proposal is here. (Its supplemental reports are here and here.) We’ve spent much time evaluating all of the current possibilities, and considering them in light of our priorities: public safety, public works, transparency and accountability, homelessness reduction and budget responsibility. Our recommendations to the Mayor, City Administrator and City Council are shared below:
Dear Mayor Schaaf, City Administrator Landreth, President Reid and Council members,
As you are aware, Make Oakland Better Now! is a citizens’ advocacy report supporting public safety, public works, responsible budgeting and local government transparency and accountability. We are also strongly committed to City and County solutions to Oakland’s and the region’s homelessness crisis and to City actions to increase communication and trust between the community and police, issues that are both important for justice and for safety. In our support of these issues, as we have done for many years, we offer our views on changes to be made to Oakland’s city budget in the mid-cycle adjustment process.
We have long supported a full study to determine, based on science and not on politics or guesswork, how many police officers are actually needed to provide meaningful and useful patrol, response and investigative services, as one of the elements necessary to continue the reduction of crime in Oakland. Many of our elected officials have committed to preliminary increasing the force to 800 sworn officers, and some have expressed support for a study when that threshold is reached. For some years now, the City has budgeted for 794 sworn officers. And yet this year, the number of officers has been in the 740’s.
While we recognize the risks involved in expediting the hiring of officers without adequate care, we have sufficient confidence in Chief Kirkpatrick and the current Command Staff that we believe steps can be taken to get us to the number of officers we need while substantially increasing the likelihood of the quality of officers our community deserves.
We also wish to address Council Member Kaplan’s gun tracing proposal. We note that she has included the addition of a Crime Analyst to analyze the Gun Tracing data, and we support this proposal.
The Oakland Police Department is doing an excellent job of entering the crime gun trace data into the ATF database. However, Oakland relies on the ATF for the analysis of that data. In some ways, this is a problem: first, it is less efficient to have an outside group do the analysis. The analysis is done at irregular intervals and often does not include data that is necessary for Oakland to shut down sources of illegal guns. Second, the ATF is kept chronically understaffed by the current federal administration, so that Oakland does not get analysis as frequently as necessary.
We all know that Oakland is awash in guns. Among other things, Oakland Police have reported that many in the homeless encampments are armed, so that officers are very concerned whenever dealing with those living in the encampment. While there are many rumors about where all the guns come from, public safety decisions have to be based on facts. These essential facts can only be realized with meaningful analysis of the gun tracing data. Oakland may well have to continue to seek analysis from the ATF, but it needs to be doing its own as well. For that reason, we urge you to support the addition of a Crime Analyst to analyze the gun tracing data, providing the police and the city with the facts they need.
We certainly expected a mid-cycle increase to fund the fire academy that was eliminated during the 2017 budget process, and we believe this is essential. But there are many remaining questions on fire services: Eighteen months after the Ghost Ship tragedy, in the wake of the North Bay wildfires, and with this year’s fire season rapidly approaching, Oaklanders deserve answers on the city’s strategies for fire prevention and safety: How many fire fighters and inspectors are needed, and what will be done to get us to that level? What practices will change when the department is fully staffed? What should be measured, and will it be? What are the City’s long-term plans for fire prevention and suppression? Obviously, we all deserve answers to these questions, and the answers have to be part of the budget process.
We support the proposed additional funding for addressing the burgeoning problems of homelessness and to the extent that additional funds can be dedicated to this serious problem we would be supportive. In addition, we believe it is essential that Alameda County become a more significant partner in addressing homelessness. There are numerous County funding sources which should be considered. We urge the members of this Council to engage with their elected colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to achieve this result.
We certainly agree with the need for more resources to both prevent dumping and mitigate it. Whether the number is three FTEs, as proposed by the administration, or eight, as suggested by some council members, or twelve as urged by some community members, we need a better statement about what will be accomplished, and meaningful metrics. If we are interpreting staff’s most recent supplemental report (from June 14) correctly, it appears that the plan now is to both increase response ability and engage in proactive clean-up, and we support this. But we have seen no analysis from the Public Works Department or anyone else in Oakland concerning what can best be accomplished and how, and what the comparative costs of various approaches might be.
Furthermore, the only metric offered is a statement in the June 14 supplemental report that “the program staff will collect and analyze the number of requests for service and amount of material removed for areas that require more frequent service.” This is not nearly enough. The goal here is to either eliminate the presence of illegal dumped matter on city streets, or reduce it by an agreed amount. Oakland residents are entitled to see such a specific metric and standards, and to see reporting on whether the standards are being met.
We believe there are more approaches to dealing with clean streets and the elimination of costly dumping expenses. For example, Oakland could be and should be looking at ways to make lawful dumping free or less expensive. And we should be looking at a charter amendment increasing the allowed size of fines for illegal dumping, together with a related ordinance. A $1,000 maximum fine for illegal dumping is not working.
We don’t claim to know whether any of these steps will work, but believe that they, and others, should be examined. But for now, Oakland should substantially increase staff for cleaning up, should proactively engage in clean-up, should set metrics for success, and should be prepared to increase its resources if the initial staff increase does not result in meeting those metrics.
We are very pleased that the Council has approved contracting for a study of the OPEB liability and how it might be addressed. However, we also believe that in adopting any budget the Council must continue to be aware of the other unfunded liabilities facing the city. Last year that was acknowledged to be over $2.6 billion and at has grown since then. We must have a long-term plan to address this liability.
In adopting the Mid-cycle adjustments, it is essential that nothing is done that will build future funding deficits into the Budget by using one-time funds for on-going programs. We will have representatives at the June 19 meeting to address these, and other issues.