Category Archives: Mayor

Budget Bits No. 4: The Matter of Deferred Capital Expenses

This is the fourth installment in our series on the 2015-17 budget process. The mayor’s budget is scheduled to be released on Thursday, so between now and then, we’ll summarize some of the observations in the city’s recently published Five-Year Fiscal Forecast, which help set context for the budget decisions to be made over the next two months. In this post, we look briefly at the City’s severe deferred capital problem.

Anyone who lives, works, drives, rides a bicycle or walks in Oakland knows something about our city’s deferred capital expenses. This problem is readily apparent from the horrible state of our streets and sidewalks. According to the Public Works Department, Oakland has 806 miles of streets and 1,120 miles of sidewalks. As the City acknowledges, the streets are on an 85 year resurfacing cycle, compared to the industry standard of 25 years. And (again, according to the City), 38% of the streets are in good condition, 38% fair, and 23% poor condition.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s recent evaluation of Bay Area city streets paints a bleaker picture. MTC assigns a point value, or “Pavement Condition Index” (PCI) score to cities. This year, MTC assigned a 59 PCI to Oakland. This means the streets are “at risk,” a designation when the city has  “[d]eteriorated pavement requiring immediate attention, including rehabilitative work.”

But the issue of deferred capital expenses goes well beyond streets and sidewalks, and includes storm sewers, technological enhancements, buildings and facilities, including the Police Administration Building, which is in terrible condition.

The Five Year Forecast projects an average of $9 million per year for capital projects, and also states that there are projects that total $1.5billion that are key unfunded capital needs, that is, capital projects that are not included in the annual budget. Given that the average forecast total for all fund revenues over the 5 years is a little less than $1.2billion, that is like telling someone who makes $70,000 a year that they will need to a $70,000 repair on their house. And, like the homeowner who needs to make the repairs, the most likely source for Oakland to fund these projects is either to borrow the money (that is, issuing bonds)or to ask for help from the relatives (that is, go to the voters with a special parcel tax request). Let’s look at the projects listed in the Five Year Forecast and decide what needs to be done, and how to do it. The project categories and projected costs are these (and we would like to see a great deal more detail than appears in this table, or in the forecast):

Key unfunded capital needs

When then-Mayoral candidate Libby Schaaf was campaigning, she promised that if Measure BB passed, she would “bond against the new $8 million per year allocated to Oakland for road maintenance to make immediate upgrades in road conditions that will reduce maintenance costs going forward.” This is an important part of the plan for catching up. But there will undoubtedly have to be more.

The next steps for the city government is to prioritize the above projects, determine which to move forward with most quickly, and develop a plan for doing that.


This is the third installment in our series on the 2015-17 budget process, and the second concerning revenue projections in the Five-Year Fiscal Forecast. The mayor’s budget is scheduled to be released on Thursday, so we’re covering this to provide some  context for the budget decisions to be made over the next two months. As we did in the last post, we summarize the Forecast’s discussion of revenue sources, limitations on those sources and projections for revenue.

It isn’t unusual at citizen budget discussions to hear a proposal that wealthier Oaklanders pay taxes at a higher rate. Although this concept is attractive to many – possibly most – people, the suggestion highlights one of many limitations on the City’s ability to levy taxes.  Among those limitations: a California city can’t impose an income tax, or any other tax based on the income or wealth of the people who pay it. Moreover, Proposition 13 limits ad valorem  property taxes. The baseline is 1% of assessed value of property. Beyond that, the City can impose an ad valorem property tax to cover obligations incurred before 1978 (as Oakland does to provide an income stream to partly fund its long-closed Police and Fire Retirement System),  plus an assessment for certain bond measures authorized by two thirds of the voters. The assessed value starts at the sales price of the property, and cannot grow by more than 2% as long as the same owner holds the property.

And much of the baseline property  tax for Oakland properties doesn’t go to the City of Oakland. Although not discussed in the Five Year Financial Forecast, our research has shown that only 26% of the Proposition 13 baseline property tax on Oaklanders goes to the City. Oaklanders’ property tax bills contain a large number of parcel taxes and other special assessments, some supporting police, fire, libraries and other typical city services. Not all of these are city assessments.  Nearly all require a 2/3 vote, and they cannot be based on income levels.  Continue reading


This is the second installment in our series on the 2015-17 budget process. The mayor’s budget is scheduled to be released on Thursday, so between now and then, we’ll summarize some of the observations in the city’s recently published Five-Year Fiscal Forecast, which help set context for the budget decisions to be made over the next two months. For this and the post that follows, we summarize the Forecast’s discussion of revenue sources, limitations on those sources and projections for revenue. 

As a starting point, remember that the city budget consists of the General Purpose fund – the fund over which the city has the most discretion in spending – and all other funds, many of which are restricted due to their source (e.g., grant funds designated for a specific purpose), City Charter restrictions (e.g., the 3% of the general purpose fund that must be assigned to Office For Children & Youth under the Kid’s First! Charter amendment) or other reasons. There is a tendency for the city to look at the General Purpose Fund budget and “All Funds” budget separately, and they do so in the Five Year revenue forecast.  Here’s how the city is calling General Purpose Fund revenues for the next five years:

Table 10

And the City projects that one way or another, about half its General Purpose Fund revenue is related to real estate values:

Budget pie chart

Meanwhile, all funds projections look like this:

Table 11

Note, however, that the rows for “Interfund Transfers” and “Transfers from Fund Balance” don’t reflect real income.  They are just transfers between accounts.  With this in mind, we think the actual projected totals, and growth rates, should look like this (in millions):

All Funds — Revenue in Millions FY 2014-15 Midcycle Adopted Budget FY 2015-16 Forecast FY 2016-17 Forecast FY 2017-18 Forecast FY 2018-19 Forecast FY 2019-20 Forecast
Total  $1,148.69  $1,133.79  $1,149.63   $1,174.77  $1,202.58   $1,227.88
  ($251.72)  ($158.65)    ($159.68)  ($159.72)  $  (162.17)  ($164.06)
Revised Total     $896.97     $975.14  $989.95 $1,015.05  $1,040.41  $1,063.82
Growth Rate 8.71% 1.52% 2.54% 2.50% 2.25%

Overall, the projected numbers are positive: General Purpose Fund revenues are projected to rise between now and 2020 from over $491 to $543 million, and the jump is bigger if you take out the transfers. If the forecast is accurate, it represents the first multi‐year period of revenue growth since before the 2008 recession.

In a post tomorrow, we will look at some of the limitations on revenue sources.

Oakland Budget Bits No. 1 — The 2015-2017 Budget: What’s Happened So Far, and What Happens Next?

As it has in the past several budget cycles, Make Oakland Better Now! will be providing Oakland residents with tools to help understand the city budget.  In the forthcoming “Oakland Budget Bits” series, we will try to present – as concisely as possible—a guide to the process, the challenges, the priorities and the decisions that evolve as Oakland’s mayor, City Administrator and City Council move toward adoption of the 2015-2017 two-year budget. Here, in Bit No. 1, an introduction to the process. Continue reading


Yesterday, attorney Edward Swanson filed his report on what he referred to as a “broken” police disciplinary process to Judge Thelton Henderson. The report is available here, and media reports are here (East Bay Express), here (Oakland Tribune) and here (San Francisco Chronicle).  In this post, we will talk about the background leading up to the investigation and report, where Swanson points his finger (and where he doesn’t), his recommendations, and what they mean for Oakland.


Oakland and its police department have been under Court supervision under the “Negotiated Settlement Agreement” (or “NSA”) in the case of Delphine Allen, et al. v. City of Oakland since January, 2003.  For twelve years, the City has struggled to bring itself into compliance and end Court supervision.  Meanwhile, the Court-appointed monitor, Robert Warshaw, has continued to expand his reach, recommending many departmental changes that go far beyond the language of the NSA. The process of arbitrating police discipline matters arises both out of Section 9.10 of the City Charter (something Swanson did not mention) and the Memorandum of Understanding (or contract) between the City and the Oakland Police Officers Association. The results, although not the process itself, have been under Judge Henderson’s scrutiny for several years. The first time was in September of 2011, when Judge Henderson expressed the belief that something was not right with the arbitration process. An arbitrator had reinstated Officer Hector Jimenez, whom OPD terminated after he shot and killed an unarmed civilian. In response to the judge’s expressed concern, the City assured the Court that it was going to improve its representation and performance in arbitration proceedings. Three years later, an arbitrator ordered reinstatement of Officer Robert Roche, terminated for alleged wrongful use of force during the October, 2011 Occupy Oakland demonstrations. In response, the judge first ordered Warshaw to conduct an investigation, then ordered the City to contract with attorney (and former Judge Henderson law clerk) Edward Swanson. The Court stated that failure of the arbitration / discipline process “undermines the very objectives of the NSA: to promote police integrity … and to enhance the ability of the Oakland Police Department … [to] protect the lives, rights, dignity and property of the community it serves.” Continue reading

What Do Oaklanders Think About Our City Budget? They Want to Be Safe!

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
    Crime/violence 20 13
     More police funding / police issues 10 6
     Public safety 10 5
Education / Public Schools 8 5
Housing costs / affordability 10 6
Street and sidewalk maintenance 8 8
Jobs / Keeping business 7 11
Youth activities 3 3
Homelessness 2 4
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.

Oakland Swears In New Mayor, New Auditor and Three City Council Members — What Will They Do?

Monday, Oakland welcomed its new mayor, Libby Schaaf, it’s new City Auditor, Brenda Roberts, two new city council members, Alex Guillen and Annie Campbell Washington and re-elected city council member Desley Brooks. The inauguration ceremony, at Oakland’s Paramount Theater, was an upbeat, positive, optimistic event as such events rightly should be. But what’s important to Make Oakland Better Now! is this: Each of the newly elected officials, and Council Member Brooks, made specific promises. We believe they need to be held accountable for what they promised. So here, where it can be reviewed in the future, are clips of what each of these elected officials promised to the people of Oakland:

Mayor Schaaf

City Auditor Roberts

City Council Member Guillen (District 2)

City Council Member Washington (District 4)

City Council Member Brooks (District 6)

Oaklanders: remember what you saw here, and be prepared to hold all of our elected officials accountable.

Make Oakland Better Now! Congratulates The Successful and the Unsuccessful Candidates

Make Oakland Better Now! extends its congratulations and best wishes to Mayor-Elect (and former MOBN! board member) Libby Schaaf, City Council Members-Elect Abel Guillen and Annie Campbell Washington and City Auditor-Elect Brenda Roberts.  Most of these winners campaigned on the need for major changes in Oakland.  MOBN! too believes change is essential, and we look forward to working with you.  We also congratulate Council Member Desley Brooks on her reelection.

Make Oakland Better Now! also thanks outgoing Mayor Jean Quan for her service.  While we often disagreed with her and criticized her actions, we have never believed that Mayor Quan was motivated by anything but the best interests of the City of Oakland.

Finally, we extend our thanks to all mayoral candidates, particularly Joe Tuman (also a former MOBN! board member), Bryan Parker Dan Siegel and Courtney Ruby, all city City Council candidates, particularly  Dana King, Jill Broadhurst, Shereda Nosakhare, Michael Johnson and James Moore and City Auditor candidate Len Raphael for their candidacies.  There is nothing easy about running for office, and your contributions to the public dialog, and commitment to making Oakland a better place had great value.  We have much to do in Oakland, and hope that all of the candidates will join us in the coming years as we continue to address public safety, public works, budget and financial reform, and government accountability.

MOBN! Releases Responses to Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire

Since the last election, Make Oakland Better Now! has become a 501(c)(3) non-profit.  This means, among other things, that we do not endorse candidates for public office.  However, we continue to obtain questionnaire responses from candidates concerning the most critical issues faced by the City of Oakland.  Today, we are pleased to release responses to our questionnaires from Mayoral candidates.

MOBN! submitted our questionnaire to all fifteen mayoral candidates.  We received responses from all but four, with Jason Anderson, Eric Wilson, Rebecca Kaplan and Ken Houston not participating (although Ken Houston did send us a copy of his platform statement).  The full responses  are available, and here are the links:

Saied Karamooz
Peter Y. Liu
Patrick McCullough
Bryan Parker
Jean Quan
Courtney Ruby
Libby Schaaf
Nancy Sidebotham
Dan Siegel
Joe Tuman
Charles Williams

Ken Houston (platform statement)

The questionnaire, with links to candidate answers to individual questions, is below.

Continue reading

Make Oakland Better Now! Asks The Candidates: “What Will You Do If You Are Elected?”

Thanks so much to all the Oaklanders who contributed their thoughts about questions to ask Oakland’s mayoral candidates.  Your ideas came in as blog comments, as e-mails and as Facebook posts, and they were great.

We couldn’t use every question, but we used many of them, and we tried to cover every subject you suggested.  The field of candidates is now set.  We’ve sent a questionnaire to all of the 15 Mayoral candidates and another to all of the 12 City Council candidates.  Unlike most of the questionnaires candidates fill out, our questionnaires and the responses are public.  We want the public, and the press, to know what the candidates say now on the issues that matter most to Oakland.

Here is our Mayoral candidate questionnaire:

And here’s the questionnaire we sent to City Council candidates:


We’ve asked all candidates to respond by Thursday, September 11, and we’ll get the responses published as quickly as we can once we receive them.  So stay tuned.
(Post title corrected August 26.)