Author Archives: Make Oakland Better Now!

Budgeting Wisely in a Time of Restraint 5:00 p.m. | Monday, June 1, 2020

The city of Oakland is facing a very difficult budget situation. We believe that the mid cycle budget amendments will be more like the adoption of a whole new budget. Join us in this Digital Discourse with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Co-presented by SPUR and the League of Women Voters Oakland.

Register here.



Photo: Sergio Ruiz/SPUR

The State of Oakland’s Finances

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating financial challenges for all levels of government, and the City of Oakland is no exception. Numerous revenues will decrease, if they haven’t already, as the need for municipal services continues. This downturn occurs at a time when the city was facing very significant financial challenges due to underfunded long-term obligations and the emergence of new challenges such as homelessness.

(Read Berkeleyside’s recent coverage: Looming budget crisis ‘like nothing Oakland has ever before experienced’)

Two important reports outlining the state of Oakland’s finances were recently published. We’ll discuss both reports and what they suggest for our city finances. This post summarizes the two reports and provides more details on the City Auditor’s report. The second post will provide more detail on the Finance Director’s report and the Council reaction at its hearing on April 21st.

These two reports are:

1. City Auditor’s report
City of Oakland Financial Condition For Fiscal Years 2012-13 to 2018-19” was prepared  by the City Auditor before the advent of COVID-19. (Its original objective was “to examine the City’s financial well-being by calculating financial ratios, analyzing trends in the City’s financial data over the past seven-year period, and comparing the results to other cities of similar size.”) But the letter of transmittal does note that the current COVID-19 pandemic will likely dramatically compound the issues raised in this report.  It reaches a series of conclusions about the fraught condition of Oakland city finances and recommends corrective actions.

2. Oakland Finance Director’s report
The Finance Director’s new report “FY 2019-20 Third Quarter Revenue & Expenditure Report (Preliminary)” concludes with this stark projection:

In sum, we project that, absent rapid adjustments by the City Council, the COVID- 19 pandemic will result in a GPF budget shortfall over the next fourteen months of approximately $80 million ($26.17 million + $53.78 million).

The report contains a list of a number of actions already taken by the administration and recommends a number of policy considerations for the Council. It states: ‘The point is that – absent an unexpected State or Federal bailout – this problem will not be easily resolved, and it will not be fixed by tinkering at the margins. It will require significant action by City leaders.”

So first, let’s take a deeper look at the City Auditor’s report. Here are some notable excerpts:

  • “Oakland does not rank favorably in most financial indicators, when compared to similar-sized California cities.” This is illustrated by 9 Charts that compare Oakland to 7 other similar California Cities.
  • “This report does not include information on the condition of the City’s infrastructure, the citywide asset replacement value, or the funding gap for infrastructure needs because the City does not produce an annual citywide capital asset report.”
  • “This report prepared prior to COVID-19, however, illustrates the City needs to do more to address its increasing pension and OPEB liabilities, quantify its unmet infrastructure needs, and prepare for the future in which, according to the City’s five-year forecast issued in March 2019, expenses are expected to outpace revenues.”


The report concludes with the following recommendations to City Council to address the City’s unfunded pension and OPEB liabilities:

  1. Convene a retirement advisory group to gather, evaluate, and organize information for a comprehensive solution to address Oakland’s unfunded pension and OPEB liabilities. This Advisory Group will be tasked with designing a plan to impact retirement liabilities on three levels:

    • State/Federal — what legislative changes, if any, are needed to be proposed so that the municipalities may be in better control of their financial future as it relates to pensions.

    • CalPERS — does CalPERS serve the needs of all its member agencies and how can Oakland and other municipalities have a greater impact on CalPERS policies.

    • Oakland — what changes may be made now within the restrictions of CalPERS and State Law, and which of these changes can be agreed to by all stakeholders.

    This process should be convened publicly and have clearly defined processes for stakeholder input, including citizens, unions and employees. The Advisory Group should be comprised of a broad cross section of stakeholders, for example, the City should strongly consider including:

    • Academia and pension/OPEB experts.

    • An independent financial consultant with no ties to the City to perform
    analysis on potential reforms as they are recommended by the Advisory Group.

    • An independent law firm with no ties to the City to evaluate the legality of potential reforms as they are recommended by the Advisory Group.

  2. Form a coalition of cities to find common ground to support comprehensive solutions at the State level and CalPERS.
  3. The City’s Finance Department should provide the City Council with an annual analysis of how the City’s long-term financial position could be strengthened.
  4. The City should develop a reserve policy that is consistent with the GFOA recommendations to maintain unrestricted budgetary general fund balance of no less than two months of general fund operating expenditures.
  5. The City should have a centralized report of fixed assets to be able to monitor changes in the condition of the assets and evaluate cost associated with maintaining and repairing them.


We welcome your thoughts. What do you think the City should do to respond to the immediate and long-term challenges facing Oakland City finances?


Many months ago, seeking a ballot measure to amend the Oakland City Charter, Council President Rebecca Kaplan began circulating proposed changes to Oakland’s Measure LL (Charter section 604), the Police Commission Charter Revision. President Pro Tem Kalb began making conflicting proposals. Both agreed that the Commission needed to have an Inspector General and independent legal counsel. The Make Oakland Better Now! board has agreed with that since Measure LL went to the voters.

These issues are on the Council’s Special Meeting Agenda for Tuesday, April 21, 1:30 p.m., to be conducted virtually (details in the agenda). The vote then will not be to place them on the ballot, but to begin the required meet and confer process with the Police Officers’ union and possibly others.

President Kaplan’s proposal also seeks to remove the ability of the mayor to appoint (with Council approval) any of the members of the police Commission. As written and as approved by the voters, four members of the Commission and all but one alternate are appointed by the Selection Panel, while three members and the remaining alternate are appointed by the Mayor, subject to Council approval. President Kaplan seeks to have all the appointments removed from the mayor and transferred to the Selection Panel.

While we support the two changes concerning Inspector General and legal representation, we believe the other primary proposal is unnecessarily politically divisive, and may well make it harder to succeed in November. So today, we have written the following letter to council:

President Rebecca Kaplan and Members of the Oakland City Council. Via E-mail

Re: Proposed Amendments to Charter Section 604 Concerning Police Commission

Dear President Kaplan and City Council Members:

Make Oakland Better Now! urges your consideration of the following issues concerning some of the April 17, 2020 proposed revisions to the section of the City Charter concerning the Police Commission:

Section 604(a) Creation and Role

We strongly support the provision adding the Office of Inspector General. We propose revising the proposed addition of subsection 5 as follows:

    1. The City Administration may not exercise any managerial authority over Commissioners or their designated staff, and may not initiate an investigation for the purpose of removing a Commissioner. However, it may request an investigation of a Commissioner through the City Ethics Commission or another non-City Administration office with City responsibility for investigating conduct.

Section 604(b) Powers and Duties

We support subsection 12, permitting the Commission to directly retain attorneys to provide the Commission with legal service.

Section 604(c) Appointment, Terms, Vacancy and Removal

We strongly agree with Councilmember Kalb that section (c)(2) should not be eliminated. The question here is whether or not the Mayor retains the authority to appoint two Commission members and one alternate, with approval by the Council. This was strongly debated when the terms of Measure LL were being considered by the Council before the election, and the decision then was the right one. While the majority of Commission members are selected by the Selection Panel, the Mayor and Council should have some authority for a small number of these important appointments. This was agreed to by the voters. Nothing has gone wrong. Suggesting the change for no real reason will simply select a form of political division that should not be involved in this significant matter. Directly related to this, we agree the proposed revisions to what was subsection (c)(3) and is identified as (c)(2) in President Kaplan’s proposed revision, as well as what; was subsection (c)(3)(c) and is identified in the same proposed revision as (c)(2)(c) are not appropriate.

We also agree with President Kaplan’s proposals for subsection (c)(1) concerning the role of alternate commission members as committee members, and Council’s authority to require three commissioners to have certain areas of expertise. And with respect to the role of alternate commissioners, Subsection (g)(3)’s third sentence, partially proposed for amendment by President Kaplan, should provide as follows: “The Chair of the Commission shall appoint a Discipline Committee comprised of three Commissioners, who may be either regular or alternate members.”

We also agree with Council Member Kalb that the proposal to have subsections c(2)(a)(i) prohibit current Department employees from Selection Panel eligibility should not be included.


The Make Oakland Better Now! Board

Note to Oaklanders: We will probably be attending the Tuesday meeting by Zoom or telephone, both to encourage amendments concerning inspector general and counsel, and to stress the importance of eliminating divisive amendments to ensure the significant ones are passed.

COVID-19 Pandemic: Oakland Needs Your Help


Before the outbreak of COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place order last month, Make Oakland Better Now! was preparing for a busy and consequential year. We were fundraising and organizing future events on this year’s top issues like Oakland’s mid-cycle budget and a new ballot measure to strengthen the city’s Police Commission. But like many of you – our neighbors, local activists, advocates, and businesses – our lives and plans were disrupted.

Right now Oakland, as well cities across the country and all over the world, faces a major emergency. The community needs much more help, and our priorities need to change in response.

With this in mind, MOBN! has just donated to the Oakland Fund for Public Innovation, which operates The Oakland COVID-19 Relief Fund. This fund was launched recently by Mayor Schaaf and Councilmembers Kalb, Bas and McElhaney as an emergency fund to serve Oakland’s most vulnerable residents and first responders during the pandemic. Among other outreach efforts, it is partnering with The Alameda County Community Food Bank, SOS Meals on Wheels, Bay Area Community Services, Keep Oakland Housed, La Clinica, Oakland Public Education Fund and Working Solutions

These are all entities playing a critical role in providing services we need right now. We strongly encourage Oaklanders to consider contributing to the Oakland Fund for Public Innovation as well or making contributions, whether in time or money, to its partnering organizations.

A few other local entities that can use our help: The Boys and Girls Club of Oakland; East Bay Feed ER, which works to feed the emergency department and the ICU of five East Bay hospitals two meals a day; and Steph and Ayeesha Curry’s non-profit Eat.Learn.Play, which focuses on childhood health and hunger and has been serving over 300,000 meals a week during this crisis.

Right now, the community needs us all. So for those of us who can, let’s pitch in!


Many Oaklanders have already heard about this, but to make sure you all know:  In this era of the Covid-19 virus pandemic, City Council and Council committee meetings will be rare but not non-existent (there were few in the last days of March, and just one meeting of any kind is presently set in April, a Council meeting on April 7).  And for the time being, pursuant to Governor Newsom’s order, meetings will be telephonic.  In that regard, Council held an emergency meeting on Friday, March 27, and enacted an emergency measure providing tenant and other protections.

Notice of the meeting to consider the measure was so brief MOBN! had no time to schedule telephonic appearances and express views.  But it is certainly critical for Oaklanders to know about it.  And among the key elements of the ordinance, passed on one reading as an emergency ordinance, are the following:

  • The Oakland City Administrator issued a proclamation of Local Emergency which was ratified by the Oakland City Council, and is presently deemed to extend to May 31.
  • Except when a tenant poses an imminent threat to the health or safety of other occupants of the property, and such threat is stated in the notice of termination as the grounds for the eviction, it shall be an absolute defense to any unlawful detainer action . . . that the notice was served or expired, or that the complaint was filed or served, during the Local Emergency.
  • Any notice of rent increase in excess of the CPI Rent Adjustment, as defined in Oakland Municipal Code Section 8.22.020, shall be void and unenforceable if the notice is served or has an effective date during the Local Emergency, unless required to provide a fair return. Any notice of rent increase served during the Local Emergency shall include the following statement in bold underlined 12-point font: “During the Local Emergency declared by the City of Oakland in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, your rent may not be increased in excess of the CPI Rent Adjustment (3.5% until June 30, 2020), unless required for the landlord to obtain a fair return. You may contact the Rent Adjustment Program at (510) 238–3721 for additional information and referrals.”
  • Notwithstanding any lease provision to the contrary, for residential tenancies, no late fees may be imposed for rent that became due during the Local Emergency if the rent was late for reasons resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes, but is not limited to (1) the tenant was sick or incapacitated due to COVID-19, or was complying with a recommendation from a governmental agency to self-quarantine, (2) the tenant suffered a substantial reduction in household income because of a loss of employment or a reduction in hours, or because they were unable to work because they were caring for their child(ren) who were out of school or a household or family member who was sick with COVID-19, or because they were complying with a recommendation from a government agency to self-quarantine, and (3) the tenant incurred substantial out-of-pocket medical expenses caused by COVID-19.  Any notice demanding late fees for rent that became due during the Local Emergency shall include the following statement in bold underlined 12-point font:  “You are not required to pay late fees for rent that became due during the Local Emergency declared by the City of Oakland in response to the COVID-19 pandemic if the rent was late for reasons related to the pandemic. You may contact the Rent Adjustment Program at (510) 238–3721 for additional information and referrals.”
  • In any action for unlawful detainer of a commercial unit based on non-payment of rent, it shall be an absolute defense if the failure to pay rent during the local emergency was the result of a substantial decrease in income (including but not limited to a decrease caused by a reduction in hours or consumer demand) and the decrease in income was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or by any local, state, or federal government response to COVID-19, and is documented. This section shall only apply to small businesses as defined by Government Code Section 14837(d)(1)(A) and to nonprofit organizations. Any notice to a commercial tenant demanding rent shall include the following statement in bold underlined 12-point font:  “If you are a small business as defined by Government Code 14837(d)(1)(a) or a non-profit organization, you may not be evicted for failure to pay rent during the if the failure was due to a substantial decrease in income caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, or by any local, state, or federal government response to COVID-19, and is documented. This does not relieve you of the obligation to pay back rent in the future.”  This section shall remain in effect until May 31, 2020, unless extended. Nothing in this section shall relieve the tenant of liability for the unpaid rent.
  • No Residential Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent that Became Due During the Local Emergency. In any action for unlawful detainer filed under Oakland Municipal Code 8.22.360.A.1, it shall be a defense that the unpaid rent became due during the Local Emergency and was unpaid because of a substantial reduction in household income or substantial increase in expenses resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic.  This includes, but is not limited to, where, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the tenant suffered a loss of employment or a reduction in hours, or was unable to work because their children were out of school, or was unable to work because they were sick with COVID-19 or caring for a household or family member who was sick with COVID-19, or they were complying with a recommendation from a government agency to self-quarantine, or they incurred substantial out of pocket medical expenses due to COVID-19.  Any notice served on a residential tenant demanding rent that became due during the Local Emergency shall include the following statement in bold underlined 12- point type: “You may not be evicted for rent that became due during the Local Emergency if the rent was unpaid because of a substantial reduction in household income or a substantial increase in expenses related to the Coronavirus pandemic. This does not relieve you of the obligation to pay back rent in the future.  You may contact the Rent Adjustment Program at (510) 238–3721 for additional information and referrals.”   Nothing in this subsection shall relieve the tenant of liability for the unpaid rent.


Do You Feel Safe In Oakland? Join a discussion on February 27



Join us for an in depth discussion about public safety and strategies for violence prevention in Oakland as they relate to public health, implicit bias and community/police relations.

  • Director of Violence Prevention Guillermo Cespedes
  • Stanford Professor Jennifer Eberhardt
  • Community Activist Reverend Damita Davis Howard

Doors 6:00pm. Program at 6:30pm. Free & open to public.

Tickets at:


Chief Guillermo Cespedes Shares Strategy for Department of Violence Prevention

Guillermo Cespedes

Make Oakland Better Now consulted with Chief Guillermo Cespedes concerning his plans for the Department of Violence Prevention (DVP) and how to stem violent crime in Oakland. Cespedes described a Violence Prevention and Intervention Strategy that combines a public health and community-driven approach. This plan, which we fully support, is an important step towards reducing Oakland’s violent crime. Read our summary below:

Community-Driven Results
If Oakland is going to prevent violent crime, it will need many voices, leaders, and resources. The following elements guide the concept of a community-driven model:

  • Communities identify the specific problems and participate in the solutions applied to that problem.
  • Communities are provided capacity building tools to identify problems and implement solutions.
  • All members of the community are considered legitimate stakeholders, including those who have been victims and/or perpetrators of violence.
  • All community-centered strategies focus on behavior, not identity.

Violence as a Public Health Issue
In general terms, Chief Cespedes describes the the public health approach to violent crime as one that views violence as a contagious disease that can be stopped by providing effective “medicine” (concentrated programming) at individual, family, peer, school and community levels. This approach is most effective when the medicine is applied in specific places, with specific populations, during the times that the disease is most acute.

The public health approach is comprised of the following elements:

  • Paying attention to underlying risk factors that create and reinforce violence in specific communities;
  • Interventions at the individual, family, peer group, school and community level;
  • An emphasis on specific populations at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of risk. (More on this subject below)
  • Evidence-informed interventions that examine specific people, places, months of the year, days of the week, and times of the day.

Focus Populations
Chief Cespedes described the specific geographic areas that have a documented level of violence. These spots can be as small as four square miles. Populations within these areas will receive four types of services simultaneously:

  1. Primary prevention services. These are for community members between the ages of 8 and 17 years of age who live in high-risk areas but are not involved in delinquent behaviors. This approach, which includes youth development services, can be compared to providing the necessary preventive medicine protects against the disease of violence before it starts.
  2. Secondary prevention services. This involves individual and family-based services for community members between the ages of 8 and 17 years of age who are involved in relatively low-level delinquent activities. (Family, in this context, is inclusive of whatever structure is present, rather than the idealized two-parent family.) The goal is to prevent this population from escalating involvement in violence, thus becoming more “contaminated.”
  3. Tertiary level services. This intervention involves individual and family services for justice involved community members between the ages of 8 and 30 years of age.
  4. Relational policing. In addition, the DVP will provide consultation on “relational policing” activities, defined as those actions aimed at establishing a non-transactional relationship between police and community in which the handcuffs are the last, as opposed to the first, resort. (The DVP does not implement relational policing activities, only consultation.)

Changing Community Norms
In addition to the focused interventions directed at different populations, the DVP’s public health and community-driven approach seeks to change community norms through campaigns and macro-level school and community-based interventions.


Chief Cespedes has guided successful implementation of this Public Health / Community-Driven Approach in Los Angeles* and has provided consultation on the public health model to cities through Central America, the Caribbean, and in North Africa. Addressing the violence in this targeted way, Cespedes notes, is the most effective way of inoculating the entire city against a city-wide violence epidemic.

Oakland has much to do. We are glad to see that homicide and violent crime have gone down over the past five years. But still, in 2019, homicide was up 12% over the year before, and violent crime was up 5% over the year before. There is much to be done. But Chief Cespedes’ plan is a big part of it, and we support him.

*The Los Angeles implementation reduced 9 categories of part one crime including homicides by almost 50%. LA has sustained these reductions as it has completed 10 consecutive years with less than 300 homicides for a city with 4 million residents.



The Fair Chance Housing Ordinance Goes Before Council Tonight

At tonight’s meeting, starting at 5:00 p.m., City Council will be considering the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, supported last week unanimously at a Special Community and Economic Development Committee meeting, and on the Consent Calendar for tonight’s agenda. Make Oakland Better Now! long ago agreed to support this measure, modeled after the Fair Chance Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2018, a California law that generally prohibits employers with five or more employees from asking about a conviction history before making an offer.

This type of law, also known as a “Ban the Box” law, would be applied to housing, and remove some barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals to access housing.

Here, we share an in-depth interview published on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative website from May 2019 with one of the leaders, Make Oakland Better Now! Committee of 50 member John Jones III.

Make Oakland Better Now! Endorses Measure Q


On March 3, vote YES on Measure Q.
Join the
campaign at its kickoff event this Saturday.

Measure Q is a March 3 ballot tax measure, designed to generate revenue to be used for city parks improvement, homelessness services and clean water. The Make Oakland Better Now! board has voted to endorse it, and urges Oaklanders to support it. We join a wide coalition in support of this measure. Among other organizations, it is supported by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club, SF Bay Chapter, League of Women Voters of Oakland, Outdoor Afro and Oakland Tenants Union. Continue reading

Oakland City Council’s Parcel Tax to Improve Funding for City Parks, Litter Reduction, and Homelessness Support

(image source: Oakland Homeless Response)

On November 14, Oakland’s City Council passed a resolution to submit a parcel tax to voters on the March 3, 2020 primary ballot.  The amount of the tax will vary depending on forms and usage of real property, but residential property would be taxed at rates of $148 per single-family residential parcel and $101.08 per residential unit for multiple residential parcels with a 50% reduction for affordable housing projects, and for non-residential units, a rate based on frontage, square footage and building area. (Read the Chronicle’s recent article on the parcel tax here, and East Bay Express’ coverage here.) Continue reading