Category Archives: City Council

Why Oakland Needs a Department of Violence Prevention

Oakland’s Life Enrichment Committee will consider a proposal by City Council member Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Council President Larry Reid to establish a Department of Violence Prevention. “The mission of the DVP,” they write, “is to work to dramatically reduce violent crime and to serve communities impacted by violence to end cycles of trauma.” (Read the full report, which includes important statistics on the city’s homicide and crime rates, here.)

Make Oakland Better Now! urges the Committee, the City Council, and the community to support this important measure. A brief summary of the reasons for our support, and our suggestions for further action, are set out below. Continue reading

Police Commission Enabling Ordinance: Our Comments

The following constitute Make Oakland Better Now!’s comments on the February 6, 2017 iteration of the Police Commission Enabling Ordinance introduced by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo. (Read about Measure LL and Oakland’s new Police Commission on our blog: here, here, and here.)

We also include several comments on features in The Coalition on Police Accountability’s proposed substitute ordinance. There are some areas where we agree with the Coalition’s suggestions, and others where we support adoption of the February 6 draft ordinance.

On March 8, we sent these comments to the Public Safety Committee.  After public discussion and feedback, the Enabling Ordinance will be revised, refined, and returned  to the Public Safety Committee with a recommendation to the full Council for adoption.

Continue reading

Police Commission Measure: Exactly What Did the Council Just Do?

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Last month, the City Council passed a resolution putting a police commission measure on this November’s ballot. (Read recent coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, and East Bay Times.)

The new commission will differ in a number of important ways from the existing Citizens’ Police Review Board. It will possess subpoena power. The charter provides for mandatory staffing of one investigator for every 100 officers. By a 5-2 vote, it can fire the Police Chief for cause (with “cause” to be defined by enabling legislation). It nominates future chiefs, and the Mayor chooses from the nominated candidates. And it has policy-setting powers to “accept or reject” OPD policies related to use of force, profiling, and First Amendment assemblies. It’s already been called one of the strongest police commissions in the nation.

Like most individuals and organizations involved in this debate, we believe this measure is a terrific step forward, and we will support it. But there’s still much work to be done.

Continue reading

Public Safety Committee Considers New Police Commission


Last week was very hard for Oakland: Police Chief Sean Whent resigned and was immediately replaced by an Interim Chief Benson Fairow, formerly Deputy Chief of BART Police, and a deeply disturbing scandal — involving a possible cover-up — detailed abuse and misconduct by OPD officers.

And it is in this environment that the Public Safety Committee will meet on Tuesday, June 14 at 4:00 p.m. to debate a new charter amendment establishing a strong police commission and other mechanisms of police oversight. The meeting is at Oakland City Hall, Sgt. Mark Dunakin Hearing Room, First Floor.

The details of the proposal under consideration, introduced by Council Members Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo, are available here and here.

While an alternate measure (read here and here) by Council Members Annie Campbell-Washington, Abel Guillén and Larry Reid is also on the agenda, both Campbell-Washington and Guillén announced on Facebook Sunday afternoon that they would withdraw the proposal.

Make Oakland Better Now! has spent a great deal of time researching this issue. Our analysis is in a rather lengthy and detailed letter to the Public Safety Committee, and we will be presenting our recommendations at Tuesday’s meeting. But here are some of the key points: Continue reading

Important Public Safety Committee meeting on gun control

gun control

On Tuesday, December 15, the Oakland’s Public Safety Committee will consider new gun control measures that will ban the possession of large capacity magazines and require the safe storage of firearms.

These ordinances were proposed by councilmembers Dan Kalb, Annie Campbell Washington and Rebecca Kaplan earlier this month. (Read a summary of the ordinances at KTVU and the East Bay Express.)

The NRA is rallying supporters to speak out against these new ordinances, and we are asking that you come out to this meeting, so the NRA is not the only voice in the room.

About gun control in Oakland:

It is currently against the law to purchase large capacity magazines, which allow a gun to be fired many times without reloading. The proposed ordinance would also ban the possession of these instruments of mass killings. Large Capacity Magazines are not used for hunting; their only use is to kill large numbers of people at once.

At a recent press conference, OPD Chief Sean Whent said that the ability to confiscate these magazines, if they are found in someone’s possession, is an important tool for police.

In addition, Allison Anderman of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, stated that “by prohibiting the possession of these types of magazines, people who mean to do harm will have a significantly harder time acquiring them. In fact, a Washington Post study showed that when the federal law prohibiting possession of large capacity magazines was in effect, use of firearms with those magazines dropped dramatically.”

The safe storage of firearms is extremely important. Due to the unsafe storage of guns, children find the guns and then shoot themselves or others. In fact, in the U.S. more children than cops are killed by guns. (For more, read this Business Insider article.)

These ordinances call for safe gun storage in homes and in vehicles. Chief Whent, when asked how this would be enforced, stated that these measures allow police to intervene when they see a gun in plain sight, stored unsafely, in a car or in a home. This is an important tool in helping to keep Oakland safe.

About Oakland’s Public Safety Committee:

The Public Safety Committee meets in the Sgt. Mark Dunakin hearing room, which is on the first floor of the Oakland City Hall. The meeting starts at 6PM, but given that these three ordinances are at the end of the agenda, you will not need to be there until later.

Parking is free in the structure to the side of City Hall, at the corner of 14th St. and Clay St; the entrance is from Clay St. When you enter the parking structure, get the “coin” and get it validated at the front of the meeting room.

You can fill out a speaker card online or get a card at the meeting and submit it before the agenda item is called. These ordinances are agenda items 10, 11 and 12.

City Council Meeting Tonight: Five Budget Proposals and Lots More — It’s Going to Be A Long Night

City Council holds a special meeting tonight at 5:00 p.m., and it’s going to be very long one. Council will be deliberating over the Mayor’s Budget Proposal and the additional proposals of Council President Gibson Mcelhaney’s proposals and additional proposals by CMs Brooks, Guillen and Gallo. Also before Council will be CM Brooks’ proposed establishment of a Department of Race and Equity and alternate proposals by the Mayor and Council President Gibson Mcelhaney. Many of the reports were only issued at the end of last week, and Make Oakland Better Now! is  still evaluating the Mayor’s budget and some seven other reports.  Our initial reactions to CM budget proposals, however, are discussed in our letter today to Council:

June 22, 2015

Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson Mcelhaney, and Members of the Oakland City Council

Re: June 22 Council Meeting Budget Deliberations,                                                                      Agenda Items 10 and 11                       

Dear President Gibson Mcelhaney and City Council Members:

Make Oakland Better Now! is a citizens’ advocacy group supporting public safety, public works, transparency and accountability in government and budget reform in the City of Oakland.

As we have during each recent two year budget cycle, we are closely monitoring this cycle’s budget process.  With a number of council member proposals having only recently been posted, our evaluation is still in process. However, we do have some initial responses which we will share with you before tonight’s meeting.

Public Safety: The city’s budget priority poll late last year showed what every poll within memory has shown:  that Oaklanders’ number one concern is public safety. This is scarcely a surprise in a city that remains one of the most violent in California (and where serious crime is actually up 5% over last year). We recognize that there are multiple elements to public safety.  However, we have seen no polling that would support, for example, allocation of resources for additional City Council staffing, council member-sponsored festivals, or banner design and fabrication.

As supporters of civilianization and increased investigative capacity, we applaud the proposed additions of police evidence technicians and crime analysts.

However, we are very concerned about the proposal to eliminate the Deputy City Attorney III position for NSA compliance. The recent Swanson report makes it clear how essential this position is to help bring our Police Department and City out from under the ongoing financial burden court oversight. That position will surely be required once court supervision ends to ensure that the NSA-related reforms are sustainable.

We also question the realism of an arbitrary cut to police overtime. We join with council, with the administration, with command staff and, quite frankly, rank and file police in their concern about the heavy burden of police overtime and ongoing overruns of the overtime budget. The department has examined and reported on the causes of this overtime, and until we address those causes – primarily severe departmental understaffing – an arbitrary, budgetary reduction is not reality based.

Fiscal Sustainability:

As shown by the Mayor’s budget, and in multiple reports received by Council over the past few years, Oakland’s long-term liabilities are crushing and have to be faced. The OPEB unfunded liability for contractually required, earned retiree health benefits is close to half a billion dollars. Negative fund balances with no source of reimbursement – which threaten the City’s bond rating – are nearly $76 million.

In past budget cycles, Council has enacted last-minute changes to its fiscal policies that steered the city away from responsibly addressing its debt (by, for example, increasing the availability of one-time funds to meet ongoing expenses instead of to reduce accrued liabilities). Accordingly, we are concerned to see several proposals from Council members to eliminate the proposed pay-down of negative fund balances and reduction of the unfunded OPEB liability. We are also concerned to see proposed reliance on revenue sources that do not yet exist (e.g., an as yet non-existent cannabis producer’s tax), or which the administration believes are unrealistic (e.g., the proposed increase to business tax revenue).  The long-term success of our city depends on a prudent management of the city’s financial obligations and a reality-based projection of revenues.

We will be corresponding and speaking further with you when we complete our analysis of all proposals. We wish you the best in your deliberations.

Sincerely,

Make Oakland Better Now!

Budget Bits No. 6: Budget Advisory Committee Has Suggestions for a Better City Budget

This is the sixth installment in our series on the 2015-17 budget process. Council will be considering the Mayor’s budget, the Council President’s proposed changes, and other changes offered by Council members on Monday, June 22 at 5:00 p.m. and Tuesday, June 30 at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall. This Budget Bit summarizes the Budget Advisory Committee’s views.  Next, we will provide a comparison of the Mayor’s and City Council President’s proposals. 

Oakland’s Budget Advisory Committee presented its report to the City Council on June 8th. BAC correctly reported that there were many features in the Mayor’s budget of both a fiscal and procedural nature that were improvements over prior years. The major improvements included public safety funding, recognition of debt and long term fiscal problems, an attempt to take salary disputes out of the budget process, increasing public engagement and improving fiscal transparency.

However, BAC also called for improvements in this, or future budgets, including the following:

  • Survey: Funding a more robust professional survey to reach all Oakland Residents not just voters.
  • Revenues: Improving the discussion of the critical importance of revenues. Revenue presentations are often presented in summary charts with a limited discussion of the underlying basis for the estimates. BAC believes the budget process would be improved by much greater attention paid to explaining and understanding the current and potential sources of revenue in our City.
  •  More Metrics on Outcomes. BAC believes that the entire budget process would be greatly strengthened if it contained metrics for each of the City Departments and their principal operating units indicating a) measurable activities and accomplishments in the prior budget and b) anticipated outcomes for the proposed budget. A clear description of activities and outcomes would provide needed information for the Mayor in preparing the proposed budget, the Council in evaluating it, and the public in understanding the accomplishments of our City government.
  • More Context. This budget states that it maintains service levels, but is that in comparison to the previous biennial budget or other benchmark?  What were service levels before the great recession?  A generation ago?   The public would benefit from like comparative analytics to better understand what the historic service levels were – not just comparing money spent, but other metrics as well, perhaps full time equivalent employees, percent of budget, and, most importantly, what did the public receive?
  • More Trend Data. While Revenue and Expenditure summary tables in the Financial Summaries (starting on page E-65 and E-91, respectively) show four years of data (prior year actuals, current year budget, and the two years of the proposed budget), Departmental Summaries do not show prior year actual financial data. BAC believes the City should consider showing this information at the departmental level so the public can compare spending within departments to past trends.
  • More Percentage Comparisons Include year-over-year percent changes in charts. To enhance the value of the trend data presented in revenue and expenditure Financial Summaries, consider including the percentage increase or decrease for each line item and the totals from the current year budget to the first year of the proposed budget and from the first year of the proposed budget to the second year.
  • Departmental Summaries The departmental summaries do not show prior year actual financial data. Consider showing this information at the Departmental level so the public can compare spending within departments to past trends.
  • Easier Navigation. A budget document is a very large set of information to read and process. The public is greatly aided by a Table of Contents that is comprehensive and designed to help readers locate information. The use of a letter-number system for paginating the document hinders readers’ ability to quickly assess how far into the document a particular section is as listed in the table of contents (example: how far into the document is page E-89?). Consider using a standard pagination format that starts with the number 1 and proceeds upwards from there until the end of the document. Especially as more of the public switches to reading documents on-line, being able to enter a page number from the Table of Contents into a page finder is helpful, and also helps readers who still use printed documents. PDF files should not be scanned documents which cannot be searched.
  • Complete Payroll Cost Information. Include information on the city’s total payroll. The budget includes this information for the general purpose fund (which is only about half of budget expenditures) but not for the whole budget.