Oakland’s Proposed Budget: Our Recommendations

(This is a post in our Budget Bits series, following Oakland’s mid-cycle budget policy and process. Read our previous updates here and here.)

The Oakland City Budget is now in the process of being reviewed by the Council. At a special meeting on June 10th, the Council will receive the recommended changes to the proposed Budget from Council President Rebecca Kaplan. It will also receive the recommendations from the Budget Advisory Commission.

Oakland is facing significant budget challenges and pressures. With the long and short term in mind, we reviewed the Mayor’s proposed budget, the priorities and adjustments. Our key findings and recommendations our outlined below.

Police Department

For years, we have recommended and supported major changes to the Police Department. It is important to support Ceasefire, the accountability programs instituted by the Monitor, and the Police Commission. The Proposed Budget does this and we fully support it. The Budget also includes $475,000 for the ShotSpotter program, which we support.

Parks and Street Lights

The Landscape and Lighting District (LLAD) was created 30 years ago to fund lighting and parks, but it did not include an inflation factor. As a result, these services are woefully underfunded. The budget has a one-time, fix which we support. But we strongly recommend the Council take steps to place a measure on the March Primary Ballot (yes, it’s in March) to fix this problem.

Fire Safety 

The Proposed budget adds 11 new positions to the Fire Prevention Bureau – covered by fees – to modernize and augment Fire Inspections, Vegetation Management, and Fire Plan Check reviews, and meet the Bureau’s operational needs to improve public safety outcomes. It also invests $1.1 million in one-time funding each year for Wildfire Prevention (total of $2.2 million) and authorizes $100,000 each year ($200,000 total) for implementation of the City’s Vegetation Management Plan. MOBN! supports this proposal and also recommends the Council consider re-submitting the lapsed tax funding for wildfire services.

Homelessness

The Proposed Budget provides $12 million in grant funding for numerous homeless services, in the second year it adds $3.8 million from the newly established Vacancy Tax, and adds staff for the newly created (by Measure W) Commission on Homelessness. It is also expected these funds will be augmented by new appropriations from the state.

MOBN! supports this budget item and further recommends that the County of Alameda become a more active and cooperative participant in addressing homelessness. We also support the creation of a new position, a person who would oversee all of the services that Oakland provides to the homeless, and who would work with the State and County to coordinate efforts and funding.

Capital Investments

As a result of the passage of Measure KK, which MOBN! strongly supported, the budget contains $110.6 million for transportation related infrastructure, including$75.8 for street paving and $30 million for affordable and transitional housing. This is in addition to $32.68 million authorized in the 2017-19 adopted budget. MOBN! supports these actions.

Fiscal Health

The Budget makes continued progress on financial stability by reducing the use of one-time revenues for ongoing expenses and continues paying down negative fund balances pursuant to Council approved policies. MOBN supports this action.

The Proposed budget also implements the Administration proposed and Council approved plan to create long-term funding for the underfunded Other Public Employee Benefits (OPEB) program, which funds healthcare benefits for retired employees. This is a great first step, but the Administration and Council must continue to review and seek solutions to the ever-increasing pension obligation of PERS. No clear solution has been identified except for the potential revenues Split Role Initiative, which is now scheduled for the 2020 General Election ballot. We will have more on this as the policy develops.

 

We urge all members of MOBN! and interested Oaklanders to weigh in on the 2019-21 Budget! Hearings are scheduled on June 10th, June 18th, and if needed, June 25th. Make sure you’re represented in this process.

Attend The City of Oakland’s Special Meeting on Violence Reduction

Measure Z

On Tuesday, April 30, 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, the Oakland City Council, Safety and Services Oversight Commission, Police Commission and Community Policing Advisory Board will hold the annual meeting required by Measure Z, the public safety parcel tax measure passed by the voters in 2014 that funds police staffing and social services directed at reducing violent crime, and that also established the Safety and Services Oversight Commission (“the SSOC”). We encourage all Oaklanders who are able to do so to attend and participate. Continue reading

Oakland’s Getting Ready For Its First Measure Z Meeting. Here’s What Should Happen

Yes on Measure Z

In 2012, Make Oakland Better Now! and several other community groups got involved in the process of creating a property tax and parking tax measure to replace Measure Y, which funded violence prevention program and was about to expire.  We sought a measure that would fund community policing officers and social services geared toward violence reduction, particularly the then recently re-started Operation Ceasefire program. We helped fund and participate in policy research. We organized community focus groups and other activities to craft a measure that would reduce violent crime and win support. And we actively pursued cooperation with City Council members on drafting the right measure. Continue reading

Budget Bits 2: Oakland’s Economic Reality

As the city of Oakland prepares its 2019 – 21 budget, Make Oakland Better Now! has reviewed the documents presented to the City Council. Our summary below will provide background for the budget actions in the months ahead. Clearly, the city is facing significant budget challenges.

In February, the City Council received a budget briefing on the financial realities the city will face in the next two years. Then in March, the five-year fiscal forecast was presented to the Finance and Management Committee. Both of these reports show the city is facing a structural deficit with substantial financial challenges. Here are the highlights:
Continue reading

Budget Bits: Oakland’s Budget Process Is Underway

For many years and several budget cycles, Make Oakland Better Now! has provided Oakland residents with tools to help understand the city budget. We’re proud to continue our analysis, as Oakland’s Mayor, City Administrator, and City Council move toward adoption of the midcycle, 2019-2021, budget.

So far, we’ve seen some budget priorities from individual City Councilmembers including D2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas , D3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and D6 Councilmemeber Loren Taylor. The Finance & Management Committee has also been given an updated Five-Year Financial Forecast, which you can read here.

But what do Oaklanders want to see in the new budget? Back in February, a community survey – now required – was presented by FM3 Research, the survey specialists contracting with the city. The full report is available here. It’s quite lengthy, but there are a couple of key points worth highlighting. Continue reading

Stronger Police Commission, New Compliance Director Needed After the Pawlik Shooting


On February 19, Oakland’s court-appointed Monitor and Compliance Director Robert Warshaw issued an addendum to OPD’s Executive Force Review Board’s report on the police killing of Joshua Pawlik. (The full text of the addendum can be found here; other public documents related to this case can be found here.) In this addendum, Mr. Warshaw is highly critical of the Executive Force Review Board’s conclusions, and of Chief Kirkpatrick, leading some in our community to call for Mr. Warshaw to fire Chief Kirkpatrick.

As Compliance Director, Mr. Warshaw has the right to fire the police chief, but we would not only urge that Mr. Warshaw not fire Chief Kirkpatrick. We would also urge the court to appoint a different Compliance Director. Continue reading

Oakland’s Mid-Cycle Budget: Gun Tracing, Illegal Dumping and More

                                                                                                      (Photo:Jeremy Brooks)

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: Continue reading

A Guide to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA): The Cost

 

In our previous post, we gave a brief history of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). Here, we’ll look at the costs and what can be done to get the Oakland Police Department out from under oversight.

How much does the NSA cost Oakland?
In 2015, Rashidah Grinage, from the Coalition for Police Accountability, filed a Public Records Act request with the City of Oakland, asking for all data on the cost of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. Paula Hawthorn, who serves on the board of Make Oakland Better Now! and is a member of the Coalition, analyzed that data, and found that from 2003 until the time of the request,  the total spent had been about $30,000,000. Continue reading

A Guide to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA)

15 years and over $30 million later, the Oakland Police Department is still under federal oversight. 

History
On January 22, 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved the settlement of a lawsuit between the City of Oakland and 119 plaintiffs who alleged that Oakland police offices had beaten, kidnapped and planted drugs on them in the summer of 2000. The plaintiffs, who were represented by attorneys James Chanin and John Burris, received a payout of $11 million, and the City agreed to reforms embodied in the Settlement Agreement, a list of 51 different tasks which OPD must come into compliance with. These tasks includes reforms in areas such internal affairs, supervision of officers, police use of force, and community policing. Continue reading

Is Oakland Prepared for the Next Fire? (Part 3)

This is the third post in our three-part series on fire safety in Oakland. Read part one here and part two here.  In this post, we’ll continue the discussion of wildfire prevention.

Oakland Fire Department seems to have outdated monitoring systems. 10-15% of properties to be inspected have not turned up on inspection roles in the past. Additionally, a recent audit of OFD’s vegetation management found that in two fiscal years, OFD issued 1,369 invoices for vegetation code violations, totaling $419,386, but only collected $2,121 – because it had to void 98% of the fines due to input errors. Clearly OPD needs more inspectors and better data systems.

This recent audit also found that OFD still needs to improve its internal controls, its oversight of the inspection system, and needs to develop a better enforcement system for cars blocking ingress for emergency vehicles. Furthermore, OFD does not appear to have a system in place to track structure or wildfire deaths year over year. This type of data collection should be required.

OFD has been working for years on a new vegetation management plan, and we are told it should be ready by 2019. This plan will only be a scientific assessment of the vegetation in City parks and open space in the hills, and the best practices and standards for reducing the fire risk. Should the City Council adopt these future findings, we still need the City to commit resources to making sure robust prevention occurs.

OFD can also better protect residents by implementing technology solutions. San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) has invested in automatic electrical switch systems. They cut electricity to 12,000 customers in San Diego County in December during the recent wildfires after winds reached 88 mph in some rural areas. Meanwhile, PG&E is still struggling to develop a policy for whether to embrace automatic electrical shut-offs. The control of electrical lines is not OFD’s responsibility, but OFD could be an advocate for such a solution. SDG&E looks at red flag warnings the same as other utilities look at hurricane warnings – they have built an infrastructure and mind set that lets them and their clients prepare in advance. Oakland and PG&E should invest in the same infrastructure for Oakland as well as other Bay Area communities.

WUI residents are now starting to pay the cost – in addition to bearing greater fire risk. Residents are discovering insurance carriers will no longer cover fire risk (or offer only a small level of coverage, or require much higher premiums). Insurance companies are using more complex models to determine the fire risk in different areas – and the Oakland Hills fall into a high-risk profile. It’s not clear whether better preventive efforts will lead to better insurance policies, but the risk of wildfire, regardless of insurance concerns, demands better support from the City.

What do you think Oakland could do better to improve its wildfire prevention strategy? Comment below or email us at makeoaklandbetter@gmail.com.