Monthly Archives: March 2011

Last chance to complete the East Bay Regional Parks District survey!

Remember back in February when I said you guys should take the East Bay Regional Parks District Survey?

Well, you should still take the survey, and the last day to do it is today! It takes like ten minutes to complete. I know ten minutes is kind of a long time, but surely we can all find a way to squeeze it into our day in order to help guide the direction of our regional parks, right?

If you are a dog person, you really, really, really need to fill out the survey, since one of the big issue they’re asking about is whether to further restrict dogs in the parks.

And as I noted before, a really big issue for me is access to the parks, which is extremely poor for people without private automobiles. EBRPD employees I talk to seem to be under the bizarre impression that it is AC Transit’s job to provide regular bus service to their facilities. I don’t see how that’s AC Transit’s mission at all.

In a period of increasingly difficult budgets, AC Transit needs to focus their resources on a core system that gets the most people around the East Bay. Ensuring that everyone in the East Bay is able to access to their facilities located in hard to reach areas is the responsibility of the Park District. If you agree, be sure to note in one of the open ended questions that they should be subsidizing bus service to their parks.

Oh! While we’re on the subject of the EBRPD and equity, I want to mention this fascinating paper a reader sent me in response to the last blog I wrote. It’s long, but if you’re interested in the subject and have some time, Access to Parkland: Environmental Justice at East Bay Parks (PDF) by this professor at Golden Gate University, Paul Kibel is absolutely fascinating. I’ve been wanting to write about it actually, but just haven’t been able to find the time. I’m sure I’ll get to it someday, but in the meantime, it’s worth just reading yourself.

Anyway. Please, take some time out today to fill out the survey and have a voice in the future of our regional parks.

Jean Quan releases “budget” proposal

The wait is over! Well, sort of.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan promised late last year that we’d see a proposed budget in March. And one day before the end of the month, we’ve gotten…well, not exactly a budget. She’s calling it a “budget framework,” which, based on a quick perusal, seems to be a nice way of saying “We’ll figure it out later.”

Information about the “framework” is available on the City’s website in the three documents. First, a memo from the Mayor (PDF) outlining the City’s budget problems. Second, a summary of potential cut options by department (PDF). Third, a list of the service impacts of previous budget cuts (PDF).

I am looking forward to reading the documents more thoroughly tonight (this is exactly what I needed to break out of my blogging coma!), and will post in more detail tomorrow. But there’s no reason you guys can’t get started now.

Here’s the overview from Quan’s memo:

The projected FY 2011/12 general purpose fund (GPF) decifict is $46 million, despite addressing over $170 million in shortfalls over the last several years. However, this deficit is likely to be much larger due to signs of 1) weakening revenues in the current fiscal year; 2) expected State and Federal budget actions; and 3) mounting health care, pension costs and increases in the cost of doing business. The projected shortfall grows each subsequent year as expenditures rise and revenues recede.

The current budgetary issues are widespread, touching virtually every government service Oakland provides. The policy and management decisions which must be made to stabilize the upcoming budgets will be among the most difficult ever faced by this City. Unlike any other time in our history, this process is going to necessitate nothing short of elected officials, City employees and Oakland’s residents working together to make the required tough choices and critical investments in the coming years. Furthermore the financial challenges are simply too great to be remedied by any one approach in one year and all budget balancing strategies must be on the table. The size of the projected deficit necessitates the following:

  • Staff reductions;
  • New revenues;
  • Restructuring of City departments
  • Prioritization of services and corresponding program eliminations;
  • Additional employee concessions; and
  • Creative collaboration between local, county, state, federal governments and the private sector.

She requests that the City Council provide her a list of their priorities in the budget by April 8th.

Describing her plan in ever so slightly more detail, she offers:

The Administration’s balanced framework for developing its Proposed Budget is as follows:

  • $20-$25 million in departmental reductions (Attachment A) represents over $30 million in potential reductions);
  • $11-$15 million in revenue increases, including approximately $11 million from an $80/parcel tax;
  • $10-15 million in employee concessions; and
  • $10-$15 million in various other balancing measures, such as land sales.
  • Total = $51 million to $70 million

Some of the budget reduction options for FY2011/12 with significant public impacts currently under consideration are listed by department in Attachment A (PDF). In addition to the items included in the attachment, City Administration is also considering various reorganizations and consolidations of City services and programs that require additional analysis and costing. These items include, but not limited to the follow:

  • Centralization of general government functions;
  • Consolidation of payment centers;
  • Civilianization of Police Internal Affairs and other functions;
  • Partnerships with other cities and other agencies;
  • Facilities consolidation (including libraries, recreation centers and senior centers);
  • Elimination of all City vehicles other than OPD, OFD and heavy equipment;
  • Merging of City departments
  • Increasing certain fees for services;
  • Transfer of Animal Shelter services to other outside agency;
  • Installation of cameras on street sweeping vehicles;
  • Moving City towards a “Cloud Computing” model (which would allow most city documents to be stored securely on the web, instead of desktops); and
  • Partnerships with OUSD, County, and other outside agencies for program efficiencies

Of note, the attached options may not be the ones proposed by the City Administration, and additional options may also be proposed that are not included on the list above or the attached departmental pages. This list is merely provided for Council’s information to make you aware of the magnitude of the problem, and no decisions are necessary at this time on any particular reduction or new revenue.

Reactions?

A shrinking Oakland?

I was excited yesterday to see the Census Bureau release a whole bunch of numbers for California. I am particularly excited about looking at how Oakland has changed neighborhood by neighborhood, but those figures are going to take a while to go through.

But the large scale numbers are interesting too, so let’s take a look at those today.

Shrinking Oakland

Most of you have probably already seen that unlike most California cities, Oakland’s population went down. The chart below shows the 20 largest cities in California with their 2000 and 2010 population counts, along with how much they changed.

California Cities population change 2000 to 2010

We also got race data in yesterday’s release. The chart below shows how Oakland’s 2010 population breaks down by race.

Oakland 2010 population by race

Compared with 2000, Oakland has fewer African American residents, and more white and Asian residents. The Latino population also increased. The chart below shows how each category changed since the last Census.

Oakland Population by race, 2000 and 2010

This one isn’t really related to Oakland, but the Census Bureau provided this little map showing how California’s counties have changed over the past few decades, and I thought it was nifty enough to be worth sharing.

Is Oakland undercounted?

So. While yesterday was an exciting day for data geeks, it was not such a great day for Oakland. Just like that, the official Census estimate of Oakland’s population dropped nearly 20,000 people, from 409,189 to 390,724. Ouch.

The notion that Oakland is shrinking was especially surprising considering the California State Department of Finance’s estimates, which showed Oakland at over 430,000 people as of January 2010 (PDF). Not that the State can’t be wrong (I’ve been thinking the last two years seemed on the high side). But 40,000 people is a big error.

I have heard some people already that Oakland was obviously undercounted and should challenge the figure. Yeah, odds are Oakland is undercounted. That’s a safe bet to make without even seeing any numbers — after all, Oakland is full of exactly the populations that are notoriously hard to count.

We certainly wouldn’t be the only city to challenge. After all, a low count can deprive the City of millions of dollars in federal funding. I know Houston has already said they intend to challenge their count.

Tax Fever!

On Monday, the Oakland City Council will hold a special meeting to discuss a number of proposals to add new taxes (PDF) for the June ballot.

Let’s take a look at what’s on the agenda.

Temporary Parcel Tax

First off, we’ve got a “temporary” (five years) parcel tax. I put quotes around temporary because if you think they’re not going to be back at the ballot in five years asking for it again, you are delusional. Here’s the language (PDF):

Shall the City of Oakland establish a five-year temporary fiscal emergency parcel tax to preserve essential city services, including police services and technology, youth violence prevention, library services and parks and recreation services and other General Purpose Fund purposes?

This one is a general tax that we get to pay “for the privilege of using municipal services.” It’s $80 per parcel for single family homes, and $54.66 per unit on multi-unit properties. Owners of vacant units can get half off. There’s a formula for determining the cost on non-residential parcels, and owners of undeveloped land don’t pay. There’s an exemption for very low income homeowners, and a 50% pass-through to renters on rent controlled properties. Non-profits that own for-rent affordable housing would pay only half the tax per unit.

The money has no specific service it would be spent on — it’s just money to go to the General Fund for the City to spend on whatever. It is estimated to generated roughly $11 million per year

Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Libby Schaaf both noted at Rules Committee yesterday that while they were willing to proceed with scheduling the items for Monday’s Special Meeting, they were not willing to support the tax.

Transfer Tax Increase

Right now, the City of Oakland imposes a 1.5% transfer tax on sales of property. If this tax were to pass, the transfer tax would remain at 1.5% for the majority of properties. But for properties with a value of more than $5 million, it would be 2%.

The language (PDF):

Shall the City increase its real property transfer tax rate from 1.5% to 2% for transfers of real-property valued more than $5 million?

Again, this is just money that goes into the General Fund. This one needs only a 50% vote to pass.

I was actually talking to a friend about the transfer tax just the other day. He was suggesting the City come up with some kind of mechanism by which home buyers could pay their transfer tax over a period of three or four years, in order to ease the costs of buying a home.

I asked what the point of that would be, and as an example, he’s like “Well think about if you’re buying a million dollar home. You have pay $15,000 in transfer tax!”

Naturally, I was like “If someone can afford a million dollar home, then one assumes $15,000 is not going to be enough of a burden that they can’t do it. If it is, they should probably reconsider their decision.”

So. I don’t really care one way or another about having a higher tax on really expensive properties. Apparently, they did this recently in San Francisco? I don’t know, but that’s what someone told me today when I mentioned this proposal. Nevertheless, whether or not it makes sense to have a higher transfer tax on higher value properties in theory, I don’t see how this particular proposal makes any sense whatsoever. There’s no rational reason provided for doing this, only that it would bring in some money $1.6 million per year).

Telephone Tax

This is basically the same thing we had on the ballot in November. It failed. Will it pass the second time around? Who knows. Here’s the text (PDF):

Shall the City of Oakland establish a five-year temporary, fiscal emergency telephone “access line” tax at a rate of $1.99 per month per access line and $13.00 per month per “trunk line” to preserve essential city services, including police services and technology, youth violence prevention, library services and parks and recreation services and other General Purpose Fund purposes?

This one would be expected to generate $8.2 million per year for the City, except in the first year, when it would be more like $5 million.

Special meeting on Monday

Some people are against all new taxes on principle. They feel like the City already taxes them too much, or that tax money is never spent as promised, or the City is wasteful, or what have you. I am not one of those people. I am open to supporting new taxes for the City under appropriate circumstances.

However. Saying that we need money and throwing new taxes on the ballot at the last minute without talking to anyone about anything is not an appropriate circumstance. This is just totally random, and I struggle to see how anyone could reasonably expect such measures to pass.

So like I said above, the Council will be holding a special meeting on Monday to discuss the proposed taxes. The meeting starts at 5:00 pm.

In addition to the new taxes, the Council will also consider a proposal for a Charter Amendment that would make some adjustments to the way the pensions from the old Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) are handled. I don’t have time to get into it now, but I do hope to write a longer post about PFRS soon. For now, this memo (PDF) from Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente explains the rationale behind the proposed Charter Amendment.

How should OUSD respond to declining enrollment?

This Thursday, Great Oakland Public Schools will be hosting a conversation about how the Oakland Unified School District should deal with declining enrollment (rescheduled from last month).

Here’s the event info, via GO Public Schools:

Oakland’s Changing Demographics: OUSD’s Hard Decisions

How many schools does Oakland Unified need in its portfolio? How many students should our district aim to serve? What data will be reviewed to make these decisions?

Featuring data and analysis from partner MK Think, GO Public Schools invites you to Oakland’s Changing Demographics: OUSD’s Hard Decisions, a community convening to discuss the capacity, enrollment and demographic data being used for OUSD strategic planning. Click here (PDF) to view a 2009 MK Think presentation that outlines the facilities and assets of OUSD.

Please join us on Thursday, March 3, from 5:30-8:00pm at the Jack London Aquatic Center to discuss these important issues. Refreshments and child care will be provided.

If you’re planning on attending (or even if you aren’t, but have an interest in OUSD’s sustainability), it is definitely worth downloading the MK Think presentation (PDF), which does a good job outlining the types of decisions facing the District.

It also includes some pretty sobering charts illustrating just what a poor job OUSD is doing of capturing Oakland’s school age population.

OUSD captures only 56% of Oakland's student aged population

Their study finds that the Oakland Unified School District, with nearly 6 million square feet of property throughout the city, has 900 more classrooms than it needs. In fact, it has more classrooms than required to meet the needs of its peak enrollment year, 1999.

OUSD enrollment - 1992 to 2009

The costs associated with managing too many facilities are very real. OUSD certainly isn’t the only agency that struggles with it. Any agency providing government services has to find a way to balance the desires of the people they serve, who generally all want services immediately in their neighborhood, and the increased administrative needs created by having more sites.

So how do you deal with that? In a district as cash-strapped as OUSD, does it make sense to have all this unneeded space? Should the District stop operating so many campuses, find alternate (and hopefully, income-producing) uses for unused space that may be needed in the future, and sell off properties that aren’t part of long term need projections? Or, if the District is going to keep using all of its campuses, what do you do with the extra space?

I think it should be a really interesting discussion, and I’ve been tremendously impressed with every GO Public Schools event I’ve attended so far. If you’re planning on going, I think they would appreciate it if you could RSVP online so they have an idea of how many people to expect. But if you don’t get around to that and find yourself with some free time on Thursday night, go check it out.