A couple of years ago, you couldn’t look at a Council agenda without being confronted with some sort of brain-dead, busybody proposal. Hours of public meeting time and thousands of words of media coverage were wasted on inanity like how long people should be able to tie up their dogs when they’re out shopping, banning plastic bags (later rescinded), declaring Oakland’s opposition to war in Iran, paying at-risk youth to stand around BART stations (never happened but now back in a modified form), and of course, how could we forget, banning smoking outside.
These days you see less of that, I sort of assumed because the Council is too busy leaping from crisis to crisis these days, so they don’t have time to sit around thinking up new ways to waste City resources. Also, with an $83 million (or, probably higher, actually) budget deficit, they don’t want to do anything that’s going to cost any money. Or so I thought.
But Oakland’s eternal devotion to reaching way beyond our capacity rears its ugly head again today at the Finance and Management Committee meeting (PDF), where the Committee will discuss a proposal, introduced by District 4 Councilmember Jean Quan and District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, to create a municipal identification card program (PDF) for Oakland. Ugh.
You may have read about San Francisco’s municipal ID card program, which launched in January and had issued a little over 2,000 cards as of the beginning of May. The idea is that municipal IDs can offer a legitimate form of identification to undocumented immigrants who are unable to obtain a driver’s license or State ID, and are therefore unable to receive certain services. The cards are also supposed to improve relations between undocumented immigrants and the police, although in San Francisco, there are reports of the SFPD not recognizing the cards as legitimate.
Now, I have no problem with the concept of municipal IDs in theory, or with the goals behind the proposal. But Oakland, right now, has no business trying to implement an City ID Card program. To call the proposal before the Committee today “half-baked” would be generous. Let’s take a look at the delusions in the staff report (PDF).
First, the list of groups who need it. The report lists undocumented immigrants as the first beneficiary, which makes sense, because, well, people with no proof of legal US residence is who these sorts of programs were intended to help in the first place. But then it goes on to list youth elderly, homeless, and transgender populations as those who would need the card as well. In the first three cases, because they “may not have access to personal records/documents” for a variety of reasons, and in the fourth because they “may not have medical proof necessary to complete Medical Information Authorization form (DL 328) for name and gender change.” Hello! We can’t issue City ID cards without proof of personal identification! Take a look at the required documents in San Francisco (a similar list is proposed for Oakland in the report), and you can see that the only difference between proving your identity for a municipal ID and a State ID is that identification from other countries counts. If elderly people don’t have the documents required to get a State ID, they won’t have the documents required for a City ID either.
Then there’s a list of potential uses that makes my head hurt. People could use their City ID cards to get discounts at local stores, and as an ATM/debit card, direct deposit, a library card, a student ID, and a bus pass. If Oakland thinks we have the capacity to create a card that does all that, well, someone at the City might want to give the folks over at Translink a call. The report doesn’t explain how all this would be achieved, simply that “We do know that the technology exists to create a card with multiple capabilities.” Uh-huh.
But the worst part, by far, is the “fiscal impacts” section of the report, which basically suggests that starting a City ID program won’t cost the City anything at all, and in fact, might increase revenue. This is beyond delusional. The report indicates that we won’t have to invest anything in a card printing machine, because we might be able to use San Francisco’s or partner with other cities to share one, or have a bank make them, or “use card machine equipment already owned by City departments if such equipment has the capacity to produce high quality, secure cards with the capacity to add additional functions i.e. magnetic strip for future activation.” Yeah, I’m sure we have that just lying around.
It also also “not known at this time whether additional staff resources may be needed.” Hmm. In San Francisco, it cost $500,000 to get their card program going, and because (obviously) you need staff to, you know, issue the cards, it has a budget of $250,000 for the 09-10 fiscal year to cover the costs of the two full-time and one part-time employees manning the program.
It’s deeply offensive to suggest that a City so strapped for cash that it’s proposing having libraries open only two days a week and cutting its park maintenance staff in half should, right now, even consider taking on the additional burden of such a complex program, especially one that’s so poorly thought out. Oakland needs to stop trying to do anything new until we can figure out how to adequately provide the services we’re already supposed to have! If the Committee, then the Council, approves the proposal, staff will be directed to return with an implementation plan including actual fiscal impacts in 8 weeks (well, actually, the fall, since the 8 week deadline lands in the middle of recess, but wev).