Bruce Nye: Does Oakland have a budget crisis? Sure enough it does.

Bruce Nye is Board Chair of Make Oakland Better Now! The opinions in this post, however, are his, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the organization. Make Oakland Better Now! will be holding an emergency city budget meeting to vote on the organization’s position on the city budget on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 6:30 p.m., at Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Hearing Room 4.

For some time, we’ve been hearing Oakland’s politicians talk about a budget crisis. And everybody should be forgiven if they’re numb to this whole discussion. But guess what? There really, really is a crisis, and it’s going to have a huge impact on all of us, particularly if we, as a city, don’t take action.

While I’m one of the leaders of Make Oakland Better Now!, I’m writing this post on my own behalf, and the opinions here are only mine. But my opinion is that every thinking person in the City of Oakland needs to focus on what the city’s current budget problems mean for all of us, and what we as a community can do about them. Without focus and united action, we will lose all hope of controlling our municipal destiny, including our ability to effect desperately needed improvements to public safety.

For the first time in my twenty-six years in Oakland, we have a Chief of Police who is energizing the city, the department, and our citizens with practical solutions to seemingly intractable crime problems. For the first time in anybody’s memory, we have police management prepared to tell us hard truths: that Oakland has to fix its gun, drug and crime problems before it can fix anything else. And now, the city tells us we are on the verge of a financial catastrophe so great as to threaten its ability to fulfill its most essential obligation: keeping citizens safe. What are we to do?

First of all, we recognize the problem. In talking to neighbors, folks in the community and political activists, as well as seeing what’s out there in the “blogoaksphere,” there are clearly lots of people in denial. Even among Make Oakland Better Now! members, there is a lot of belief that our problems could go away if we could just figure out more efficient and less wasteful ways of doing business.

I believe that the City of Oakland, like the Defense Department, General Motors, and virtually every other large organization, is very, very inefficient and wasteful. That is the nature of large organizations. Trying to eliminate all organizational waste is a noble goal and a fool’s errand. Instead, we have to deal in the world as it really exists. And in the real, Oakland world, I am convinced of the following:

  • Out of the city’s $421 million general purpose fund budget, there really, really is a shortfall of nearly $19 million for the 2009 – 2010 fiscal year. There are many things to blame the mayor and city council for, but (a) the immediate shortfall probably isn’t their fault; and (b) whether it is or is not, the shortfall still has to be fixed.
  • In his December 17 report to the council, City Administrator Dan Lindheim identified three primary causes of the shortfall:
    • $10.8 million sales tax shortfall (in his report, Lindheim ascribes this to the “State-imposed correction to the ‘triple flip’ portion of the sales tax;” I admit to not knowing what this means, but in a meeting with him about six weeks ago, he told me the problem was an overall reduction in retail sales, particularly in the retail motor car industry);
    • $4.5 million in budgeted, but not realized Coliseum ticket surcharge (at the same meeting, Lindheim told me this income item was always illusory, because nobody expected the teams to pay it without a lawsuit); and
    • $4.29 million in overspending, “primarily in the Police Department” (I understand from other sources that there was also significant overspending in the mayor’s office, which Lindheim conveniently doesn’t mention; while this omission doesn’t say much for city transparency, the Police Department certainly is the largest player).
  • Of the $421 million general purpose fund budget, all but $93 million is essentially mandated by Oakland’s voters or the officials they elected. Here’s how it works:
    • $242 million is for Police and Fire services (that’s 57% of the general purpose fund). We enacted Measure Y, after the city negotiated a deal with the fire fighter’s union that if Measure Y passed, Fire Department staffing couldn’t be cut. So FD staffing is locked in place.
    • Measure Y also added 63 officers, but provided that the funding for all of them would be lost if the authorized OPD sworn staffing went below 802. So if the city reduces authorized sworn police staffing by one officer, they lose the Measure Y money and have to eliminate another 62 officers. Which means that the city doesn’t save a dime on police salaries until it eliminates its 64th officer.
    • $19.9 million is for Kids First!, a voter-enacted set-aside only somewhat ameliorated last summer.
    • $9.06 million is for library services required under Measure Q.
    • $14.9 million is for other local mandates previously enacted by the voters and grant match requirements (ok, that isn’t all the voters’ fault, but most of it is).
    • $42 million – ten percent of the general purpose fund budget – is for debt service. Remember that when somebody tells you a bond issue doesn’t cost anything.
  • And that leaves $93.14 in pin money for the city. Except that $15.6 million of that is for “self-insurance liability” – the city’s settlements and judgments. I suspect the city could probably stand some risk management auditing to figure out ways to reduce this figure, but the fact is, cities get sued, they have to settle cases, and if they don’t, they get hit for judgments even bigger than the potential settlements. So I see no way to eliminate this category of expense.
  • And $26 million is for “essential internal services.” Now I’m prepared to assume that some of this is actually a waste and slush fund, but, on the other hand, some of it is police and fire department radios, and those seem kind of important. So I’m not quite prepared to shut that whole category down, although I realize it needs some looking at.
  • After we cut the City some slack on the “self-insurance liability” and “essential internal services,” there’s still a thumping $56 million left in other city programs and services that we can readily use to balance the budget, right?

Well, not actually. Here’s why: As I write this post, it’s December 23, 2009. The City Council will next meet on January 5, 2010, and I’m not even sure it will meaningfully address these problems at that meeting. Even if it does, there seems no chance any cuts will take effect before February 1, 2010. The fiscal year runs from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. If the Council actually attempts balancing the budget out of the $56 million available to it, by February 1, $30.4 million will already have been spent. So out of all the city programs and services available to potentially close the budget gap of $19 million, there will be a grand total of $26 million available from which cuts can be made.

To put this in perspective, the entire Park and Recreation general purpose fund budget is $11 million. If the city decides to close the whole department down February 1, it probably realizes a savings of $4.6 million.

How about the Human Resources department? Its budget is $4.5 million for the fiscal year. So there’s maybe $1.9 million left if we shut the whole thing down come February 1.

Then there’s the mayor’s office. If you’re like me, you think we haven’t gotten a dime’s worth of value out of the mayor’s office in the last three years. Suppose we have him close shop too? Sorry, not much impact: Annual budget is about $2.4 million. If we save all of it after February, 2010, we save a thumping $998,000. And since we’re beating up on the politicians, let’s close down the City Council, too. No more salaries, staff, nothing. Total savings: $1,476,000.

So, let’s look at how we do at closing the budget gap just by slashing and burning our way through Parks and Rec, HR, the Mayor’s office and the City Council:

Park and Rec savings: $4.6 million
Human Resources: 1.9 million
Mayor’s Office: 1.0 million
City Council: 1.47 million

Total savings: $7.97 million

Nice start. All we need to do is find another $11 million and we’re all set until July 1, 2010 – when the gap becomes $25 million.

Is there another way? There’s got to be. With V Smoothe’s kind hospitality, I’ll put up another post in a couple of days (probably after Christmas), and look at what just might be a politically practical solution.

75 thoughts on “Bruce Nye: Does Oakland have a budget crisis? Sure enough it does.

  1. Ralph

    I am without speech. It is almost mind boggling that this city can be this far in the red and our elected officials have had their heads in the sand for so long. They knew this day was coming yet have taken no meaningful steps to address it.

    I am personally of the mindset that the city must unfund some of the unfunded mandates. I would prefer this be a permanent solution, but I will settle for temporary. They can start with OO. The program has been in place for over 12 years, yet youth crime is still up and less than 10% of OUSD students go on to attend college, both 2- and 4-year. OO does not require that grant recipients demonstrate results and all evidence would indicate that it has been a waste of taxpayer money.

    This idea may not go go over to well with the non-profits directors sucking off the teat, but I am sure they would rather lose a few dollars today instead of tens of millions in the annual annuity that the voters and city council seem fit to give them.

  2. Patrick

    Furloughs, furloughs, furloughs. Since the vast majority of city workers don’t seem accomplish anything anyway, let’s just furlough them. Maybe they’ll quit and we can hire new people at a more reasonable salary. Mayor Batts is right: Focus primarily on Police and Fire, then parks, streets and libraries. The rest is unaffordable fluff in comparison.

    I don’t mean to hijack this thread with an unrelated comment, but the open comments section seems to be missing. i just got back from South San Francisco (the nearest Peet’s to our office), where I went to purchase a gift card for my boss. South City is BLANKETED with parking meters, since so much of the city is business oriented. Anyway, as I got out of my car, cursing the fact that I always forget to bring change when I go there, imagine my surprise: EVERY parking meter has a little cardboard “tent” in the meter window saying “2 HOURS FREE PARKING! Thank you for shopping in South San Francisco!”

  3. Marleenlee

    No furloughs. Reduce salaries, reduce benefits. Like in the real world when there’s a budget crisis. Figure out why Oakland is so much worse off than other cities. Their debt service is ridiculous. Oakland needs to learn to live within it’s means like the rest of us. Don’t even think about another parcel tax. If this is even proposed by the council they will have to contend with additional litigation that could result in as much as $100 million in liability for five years of failing to ever properly implement measure y.

  4. Eric

    I have to agree with Marleen. We are spending $605 per resident each year for police services. San Francisco spends $475, and Los Angeles spends $300 – less than half of our per capita cost. I’m sick of hearing that the police department is understaffed and we need another parcel tax to pay for increased staffing. The City has more than enough revenue. The council needs to figure out how to get costs under control.

  5. Livegreen

    On a related issue, find below an earlier ABO post from Tagami about how City employees fill out their Time Sheets BEFORE they work their hours:

    “I [Tagami] have had a lot of e-mail in the past few days … here was one from a former city staffer…

    ‘In “normal” businesses, you fill you a timesheet after you work your week and you get paid for that week the following payroll period. Not in the City of Oakland! In Oakland, you fill out your timesheet for the week Monday –Friday and turn it in on Wednesday, before you’ve even worked a couple
    of the days you’ve filled in hours for. This is so you get paid on Friday for the work you did on Friday. So, basically, everyone just assumes that they are going to work their full 7.5 hour day on
    Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. If you happen to be sick one of those days, you are supposed to amend your timesheet. Right. Like anyone does
    that. Total scam.’”

  6. Ken Ott

    I argued in one of my personal blog posts that the city needs to immediately (for the next FY09-10 cycle) cut the city’s expenses by 10%. That would equate to $106MM in expense cutting.

    See blog post:

    Since politicians will categorically NOT do this (cut services, staffing, bonuses, are you crazy?) Oakland will have to hit a brick wall like Vallejo did, or like the USSR did.

    A true economic recovery means jobs. Recovery == Jobs. No jobs, no recovery. I do not forsee any “recovery” to 2005-2007 levels for the next 10-20 years IF EVER. There is no such thing as a “jobless recovery” — that is an oxymoron. Remember this whenever you hear an official mouthpiece spout such nonsense. House values will not rise meaningfully in Oakland for decades either, but I expect they will eventually go up for reasons that SF and Marin real estate are keeping steady.

    Since there is no possibility of sales taxes (of cars, stuff and housing) going back up to the level of our 1980-2008 debt-funded consumer economy, the city MUST shrink its expenses to fit its income.

    Will the city do this? Unlikely. The city will hike rates on dog licenses, residential parking permits, business tax licenses and other fees before making deep cuts.

    There are exceptiosn though. OPOA (OPD police union) agreed to a 15% pay cut this summer. Details:

    Now that 25% of people these days are jobless, and another 5-10% will become jobless in 2010-2011, we need to focus on basics like OPD Chief Batts alludes to.

    Future growth industries will be limited to the bare essentials. Security, food, water, transport, energy, repair and maintenance. Everything else will go, at some point.

    If you are jobless, take note!

  7. Ken Ott

    Is it true that City of Oakland leases patrol cars to OPD for $1,500/month? Crazy. Also crazy that the newest OPD cars are under warranty with local dealers, but the cars MUST have their oil changed by Public Works and it takes about two weeks for PW to do so? So the cars COULD have FREE service, but we pay for them to be Union serviced.

    Is it also true that Oakland Police Dept. is paying rent of $70,000/month for its Eastmont substation in a 30-year contract? Does that mall have ANY tenants paying market rate?


  8. Ken Ott

    our state is broke too, which doesn’t help. so is the federal govt. so china is paying california’s unemployment bennies. (ca borrows from fed, which sells treasuries to china and other — so far — dupes)

    see “As California crumbles, so do other states”:

    “The state’s credit card is about maxed out, the veteran Democratic warns. Payments on bond borrowing are becoming uncomfortably high, crowding out funds for universities, health care, parks — and all the other government services being slashed these days.

    Or, as Assembly budget chairwoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, told a committee hearing Monday, bond payments are “the Pac-Man eating up the general fund” — the state’s main checking account that again is running a deficit. The latest projection is a $21 billion hole for the next 18 months.

    Lockyer’s lecture has broad implications for rebuilding California’s crumbling infrastructure.”

    yes, no more additional debts and credit card charging by City of Oakland please!
    that means, no more bond issues please. I wonder what the city’s muni bond rating is now, not that I believe in those things…

  9. Ken Ott

    the “worst case scenario”

    it’s a useful tool to analyze the world, our nation, state, city. Perhaps modern industrial civilization itself — our 100 year old phenom in all of human history. (Thanks Chevron! We owe ya.)

    Five stages of collapse:

    1. Financial
    2. Commercial
    3. Political
    4. Social
    5. Cultural

    A civilization or society doesn’t always reach stage 5 and it’s not always step by step. Think of NYC 1970, Vallejo 2007(08?), Soviet Union, pre-1789 France.


    Here’s excerpt of the core thesis without the funny commentary:

    “Stages of Collapse

    Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.

    [See FDIC and mergers, the corporate version of cannibalism. -K]

    Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.

    [See "cash4gold" commercials on TV, every rich person with a brain buying gold silver and land and getting out of the almighty dollar.]

    Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.

    [See Katrina, "stimulae" under Bush II and Obama, City of Oakland's high violent crime rate and high OPD pay rate]

    Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost. As local social institutions, be they charities, community leaders, or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum, run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.


    Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity” (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I die tomorrow” (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago). There may even be some cannibalism.”

    [Future. Hopefully not. -K]


    If you look back at the last 10-15 years in America and speed it up like a nature-cam focused on an unfurling flower from spring thru summer, you might start connecting some dots.

    Offshoring of manufacturing jobs allowed by & enrich US elites
    S&L Crisis — thousands of banks close doors across the US
    War Spending making banks, war contractors richer, US Govt/taxpayers poorer
    DotCom Bubble
    Patriot Acts I & II (recently re-signed by Gorbamachev) and (temporary, sort of) repeal of Posse Comitatus Act
    Hurricane Katrina and federal govt lack of response
    Climate change/weirdness
    Peak Oil
    Peak Everything (all material resources)
    Peak Humans
    “Liar” & “NINJA” house mortgage loans made to people with no proven ability to pay. Real estate and finance sectors make a killing.
    Housing/Car/Everything Bubbles
    October 2008 taxpayer bailouts for AIG, hedge fund Goldman Sachs, and other banks
    Random stabbings, shootings on MUNI, around the country

    What some people see is that our society’s large institutional structures are breaking down and losing control. More small actors are attacking chinks in the armor of big institutions and winning. America 2010 is far different from America 1980.

    Given this model of the future in which we eventually reach chaos or feudalism, I can predict with certainty that City of Oakland will not exist in the same form as it does today. The city will certainly default on its debts and pension obligations within our lifetimes. So what?

    I imagine the city either spinning off districts officially and in an organized manner over time, or the city breaking apart quickly all at once in a disorganized fashion. At that point, some combination of current and former police, military, gangs and inmates will begin running security gigs either for you or against you, depending on our ability to pay them. OHA will cease to exist.

    Sounds crazy like the movies Avatar and coLLapse? Maybe.

  10. Ken Ott

    @livegreen thanks for the archival footage!
    @jamesrobinson impossible to reform Roman Empire “from the inside” – we must have a total “reset”

  11. David

    The Roman Empire (the Byzantine successor) took 1000 years to be defeated, and it was defeated “from without.”

    It’s a bit of a stretch to take Oakland’s idiotic management and denial of reality (I agree that tax revenues aren’t coming back to 2005 levels for effectively forever, especially if you inflation-adjust) and extrapolate it to all civilization.

    But I do agree that Oakland, California and many other municipalities and states need to get real fiscally, and this includes busting the union, killing benefits, cutting salaries and personnel. The private sector is, as usual, way ahead of the public sector in rationalizing cost structure. The public sector needs to follow. The added benefit is when the gov’t gets off our backs, the private sector will recover faster.

  12. Ralph

    Shorterm, furloughs are necessary. It happens in the private sector. It will happen in the public sector

    Longterm, Probably want to address the benefits, outsource some positions and flatten the pay scale on others. For those who want to reduce the salaries how much do you suggest?

    I once worked for a Fortune 500 that required all employees to complete a timecard before the pay period was over. We were paid shortly thereafter. Corrections were made the following pay period. There were checks and balances in the systems which prevented abuse.

    I guess what troubles me is the city’s lame attempt at a mission stmt includes the following sentence, “Citizens and employees are treated with fairness, dignity and respect.” If the city of Oakland thought they had a professional workforce they would move into the 20th, yes 20th, century and find a way to discontinue this practice. Seriously, the only need for timecards is for hourly employees and job order costing. I see no reason for professionals to be complete timecards.

    And as long as I am on the mission stmt. My other fav sentence, “Civic and employee pride are accomplished through constant pursuit of excellence and a workforce that values and reflects the diversity of the Oakland community.” I would rather have a staff that is competent not simply diverse. Really what good is a diverse yet incompetent staff?

  13. Livegreen

    A diverse yet incompetant staff as an expression of policy is good for the employees in that it is one more factor preventing the City from doing anything about it, and one more factor opening the City up to lawsuits for termination.

  14. Livegreen

    Re. OPD staffing, I remind readers that the head of OPD staffing is the head of OPOA. This puts him in an unusual position of controling OPD & OPOA staffing policies. That is fine when the City/OPD and OPOA are in agreement but is a potential conflict when they are not.

    For example, if Dom were asked his opinion about the Hiring potential for new officers if salaries and benefits were reduced, would he be able to decide what was fiscally good for the City, but not necessarily for the Officers he represents?

    At the very least, whatever his decision, it would be questioned by one party or another and would add fodder to the cinicism about how our City government is run.

  15. len raphael

    we’ve all given up on our strong mayor leading the way to reach consensus on very deep cutbacks combined with finding a tax increase that is likely to win. there is not enough of an incentive for our cc members to propose draconian cuts a moment sooner then state law and the city’s bondholders require.

    as bruce explained the sooner they cut expenditures, the smaller the financial crater to fix. but it would take an exceptional elected official to sell that to the public and to the city unions. as long as there is still hope that there will be a federal bailout of cities and state governments, or until a bunch of other nearby large cities either get huge wage/benefit concessions voluntarily or via bankruptcy, the political calculus favors delay.

  16. We Fight Blight

    Crises demand leadership. Leadership involves making tough decisions, even if they are painful. The City Council, our beloved Mayor and City Staff have kept their heads in the sand too long hoping that somehow the economy would jumpstart and deliver more tax revenues or the state and/or federal government would magically appear to save the day. Rather than making deep, deep cuts from the beginning, they have chipped away at the margins and have refused to take bold steps leading us down this path of crisis.

    Clearly, required mandates passed by the voters have contributed significantly to the problem. Except for Measure Y, it appears that all other voter mandated programs account for $43.86 million. City Council should not be looking at another parcel tax and trying to convince voters to dig deeper into their pockets, but should be trying to convince voters to rescind existing voter mandated funding. This alone would allow the City to deal with its budget deficit and sock away funding in a rainy day account when the next crisis hits.

    During tought times like these, the City needs to focus on its core objectives–Public safety, infrastructure and revenue generating enterprises. We cannot be all things to all people. Libraries and parks are luxuries when we have one of the highest crime rates in the country. When revenues increase and the economy stabilizes, then we can think about funding other programs. Making these tough decisions takes leadership.

    Also, what is truly frustrating is that Mayor Dellums and his office are less than transparent in their spending sprees. Every little bit counts. Controls and cuts should be placed on the Mayor’s Office as they should be done for all City Departments.

    Like many institutions and government entities, Stanford University has also been hit hard by this economic downturn. Read the article below (see the link) to see how real leadership is excercised in dealing with a budget crisis. The City of Oakland (Staff/Mayor/Council) is by no means Stanford either in intellect or leadership. Nevertheless, the article illustrates a starkly different approach at managing a budget and keeping an institution economically viable. Perhaps the City could learn something from that esteemed institution across the Bay.

  17. len raphael

    stanford approach was interesting. part of why they could make deep immediate cuts in spending is that they had hecka large chunks of long term expenditures such as new faculty recruiting and construction, that they could cut. oakland has been spending every nickle of tax collected plus every dollar borrowed. doubt if stanford has any significant debt.

    before the cuts, oakland workforce was not keeping up with basic needs of residents but stanford was providing cadillac education. hard to downgrade from a broken down toyota carolla .

    also looks like they didn’t do our cockamaney furlough approach, but flatly laid people off. our method tells the employees not to try to work harder or smarter.

  18. Ralph

    Wow, those crazy kids over at Stanford sure know how to make a decision as to what is important and must be saved. They seem to be equally swift at making hard decisions with respect to spending, people, and salaries. And they manage to get stakeholder support from employees and graduates. I wonder what happens when you try to do and to be all to all people. Oh wait, Oakland happens. Could Oakland’s elected officials get stakeholder support if they acted with clear goals, were transparent in their decision making, did their jobs and stopped asking us to do it for them? Like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

  19. Naomi Schiff

    Libraries and parks are not luxuries. They are key components of a democratic and healthy society and they represent a rather small proportion of the budget. We absolutely have to look at the public safety budget because it is the overwhelming percentage of the general fund. (Stanford is surely not a comparable institution. For one thing it is not required by law to serve the public in the way that a local government is.)

    We have already cut parks to the bone and beyond. Can you imagine the screaming if we let them go completely to become property-value-deteriorating eyesores in the neighborhoods, havens for crime, and off-limits for recreation?

  20. Ken Ott

    @david sure roman empire analogy is a stretch for oakland (excepting OHA and excessive 90% pensions for retirees, union bennies, etc) but not for the ole USA… every society starts out “warrior” then goes laborer/farmer/architect, then finally goes sloth and wasteful, lots of parasites at the public feed trough, and shows of ostentation (remember that 2007 ad for Sprint’s “10 billion dollar phone, with free carribbean island included free”? the $55 blingH20 water that britney spears drank? a mcmansion and new car lease for everyone?) and then starts over. it’s natural human tendancy.

    i’d also argue HRE failed from within thru a mix of the above and overextension/exhaustion of its natural resources — timber, food, etc. HRE nearly completely deforested itself building warships and the like. sounds similar to Pharoahic Egypt, that Phoenix AZ native tribe in the desert that used to exist, the Mayans, Venezuela now with their 20% electricity cuts due to drought/el nino, Abu Dhabi/Dubai…. well anyway.

    but at least we can agree on future downgraded tax base ;) what does everyone think of my statements that Oakland needs to cut its expenses by 10% this year and an extra 10% again next year?

    I know the politicians cannot do it — too many vested interests say no.

  21. Ken Ott

    there ought to be a site like for Oakland… where residents and city staff alike can look at the entire budget of our fair city and submit items for everyoen to vote on…

    for example, an idea board.


    1. Change Public Works rules so that OPD car oil changes can be done FREE at the local dealership they came from within a week turnaround time, isntead of being done ONLY by Oakland Public Works department with a two week turnaround time and NOT for free.
    –Estimated cost savings: $100 per car per 3,000 miles (??)
    –Votes for: 4
    –Votes against: 3
    –Net Votes: +1

    2. Buy 4 and 6 cylinder police cars for OPD. Save gas money to use for staff salaries instead.
    –Estimated cost savings: $300,000 per year at $3/gallon regular gas (??)
    –Votes for: 4
    –Votes against: 5
    –Net Votes: -1

    Somehting like this is just an example. We have, why not Maybe this can be a WeBeMOBN’/crimespotting collaborative project?


  22. Ken Ott

    unfortunately len is right. no politician will step up to the plate and demand deep cuts even a second before we absolutely have to. politicians essentially are massive people pleasers and aim to please the most people. it is a weakness of our democratic system.

    so there will be no long-term planning except by (if we are lucky) staff.

    it’s the 1970s all over again, and nobody wants a jimmy carter to tell us to use less, do less. hard to beat our hard-wired human nature of procrastination and short-term thinking eh? are humans smarter than yeast??

  23. We Fight Blight


    I do not discount the need to look closely at the public safety element of our budget and ensure that both the Police and Fire Department operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.

    However, parks and libraries are indeed luxuries when the City cannot provide for the basic safety of its residents and cannot fund core services. Even though they may be a relatively small piece of the pie, parks and libraries, when added to all of the other programs people think are “absolutely necessary”, add up to an overbloated bludget that goes beyond our means.

    If the City could focus on public safety, infrastructure and revenue generating enterprises, perhaps it could create a stable local economy that grows tax revunues not by taxing the middle class more, but by increasing job opportunities and attracting business enterprises. In turn, this will allow us to actually fund those services people deem important for a democratic and healthy society. A democratic and heathly society can only come about if residents’ basic needs are accounted for–safety and security. Libraries and parks, while important, do not necessarily make me or anyone else in Oakland safer. Yes you can argue that libraries keep kids off the streets–but at the end of the day, there are a whole lot of Oakland residents who do not care about going to the library and are more interested in liberating my wallet from my pocket through the use of physical force and intimidation. Libraries don’t stop those thugs, but the police may.

  24. len raphael

    parks are core to making a higher density city where prosperous businesses and individuals want to locate. my impression (does anyone know/) is that during the fiscally distressed 70′s in nyc, it let all the parks decline but protected Central Park with private fundraising. During the booming 80′s and 90′s NYC had so much money it restored and improved parks.

    if oakland doesn’t maintain its parks, it might never get the wherewithal to restore the landscaping and paths, replace fixtures and benches etc.

    re. how and where to cut costs apart from sworn police and fire wages, benefits; non public security unnecessary management layers, there is the sensitive topic of our muni version of the living wage. past analysis here showed that oakland was not overstaffed relative to other cities, even though total compensation here was disproportionately high. I don’t remember if the data was avail, but my sense is that Oakland pays much higher for lower level staff than other cities, but about the same for non management technical/professional staff. Edgerly’s infamous 70k/year meter repair nephew. Need to see a comparison of our compensation schedule to that of other cities of similar size (exclude SF).

    I expect we’ll see a lot of 60k plus full benifited positions for clerks and janitors. That would be ok if we lay off staff and require them to work more productively. Though I’m skeptical of that happening here, a young guy I know who works as a guard for the city buildings tells me it’s already happening.

    -len raphael

  25. Ralph

    I don’t know if parks and libraries are luxuries, but I do know that if city can not increase revenue it will crumble under the weight of itself. The only way to create revenue is to develop an infrastructure that allows businesses to grow. Essential to that is public safety.

    Can someone explain to me why Oakland is not part of the Alameda County Public Library system? As to parks, I think we need more public / private partnerships. But without businesses and their support (and addl taxes) we will continue to have public mgmt. We need the create an infrastructure that brings in the private half of the partnership.

  26. len raphael

    Ralph, by park public/private pshps, do you mean privatizing park maintenance, or private sponsorship of park maintenance? i assume you mean the latter. other than the zoo, chabot space, and museum, i couldn’t see any prestige attached to sponsoring say Raimonde field.

    Having said that, luckily there are individuals and businesses around here who feel otherwise. Someone donated 1mill to upgrade athletic fields. (lights at Tech?).

  27. Ralph

    len, i think you can have both. when i have free time i try to compare Palo Alto Friends, Central Park Friends, Oakland Friends and others. It seem like the other friends are doing more. I would definitely like to see outside capital raised to improve facilities and maintenance at the parks. I could be wrong but I think San Francisco has somehow found corporate partners who have chipped in to improve the quality of the city’s public fields and allow for year-round usage.

    In the long run, we are going to need the public space to be a vibrant community and enrich the lives of the residents. Corporations being the good corporate citizens that they are like to give back in the communities where they set up shop. But we need to get the corps here first.

  28. Livegreen

    I think facing safety and parks off against each other is beside the point. Both need to b run as efficiently as possible, and cost savings need to b looked at in both. This includes both salaries, benefits and operations (including underutilized open-space which IS a luxery if it’s not benefiting anybody and we don’t have money to maintain.)

    But not only safety and parks. The last post V did with details about the budget cuts we discussed the 10% cuts to well-funded cultural institutions. Since thise are non-essential but got the same % cuts as salaries in the City govt one wonders why they couldn’t b cut more. And I assume this is a partial list…might there b others that received less or no cuts?

    Regardless of what we think it makes little difference if the city is not doing the same, and if constituents are howling equally at each and every cut. Without the silent majority speaking up and without some spine by the CC, no decision will b made and as Bruce details that only makes the problem worse.

    Note the same is true for a Prop tax for existing officers: it won’t b voted on for some time meaning any potential benefit is diminished. At the MOST it is therefor only a partial answer. And what if it doesn’t pass? The problem becomes even worse as the indecisive CC sits on it!

    The central conclusion, then (& returning to Bruce’s msg) is the CC MUST SHOW BACKBONE AND TAKE ACTION NOW!

    Is that clear enough of a message that they and all Constituents can understand?

  29. Vivek B

    It feels to me that we’re reinventing the wheel with this convo. Many cities are in this same bind, we need to also look to see what they’ve done. The 12/26 WSJ has a good article on that, far too much content to put into a comment here, but I listed some excerpts on this post

    The article uses Mesa AZ as a big example, not too disimilar to Oakland (460K residents, down to 801 police from 858, 324 km^2 vs Oakland of 145 km^2, density of 1365 vs Oakland’s 2783/km^2)
    Cutting staff, shifting police duties to non-sworn personnel, etc.

    I know folks like to think Oakland is unique, everybody thinks they’re different & special & what works elsewhere won’t work here, but there must be some lessons that are translatable.

  30. Brad

    I don’t understand why the City Council needs to convince voters to rescind voter enacted spending mandates. I mean, the CC has shown nothing but contempt for the voters’ wishes with regard to Measure Y — collecting the tax when they shouldn’t have, spending it on things they shouldn’t have, etc. So why defer to the wishes of the voters when it comes to things that really do need to be cut, like Kids First? Just cut away!

  31. Carlos Plazola

    Bruce, I’m a little confused by your analysis, particularly what Lindheim informed you were the causes of the budget shortfall. I’m confused because there are two sides to the ledger: the income and the expense side. The budget is based on projected income and expenses. Like any business, particularly in this economy, the city has less control over the income side, and SHOULD HAVE almost total control over the expense side. Assuming for a moment that the city officials are doing their job and controlling expenses (which given the state of the economy, has to be a MUST), then the shortfall can only be caused by a drop in anticipated income. Two of the three variables you present represent the income side: drop in sales tax, and erroneously assuming that the Coliseum would deliver $4.5 million in tax surchages. I’m curious about the police overspending. Police overtime is always budgeted. Is Lindheim counting a projected expense as a shortfall? If so, then it is probably a better exercise to figure out where the corresponding income shortfall came from in order to get a better read on the underlying economic dynamics that caused the shortfall. Or is Lindheim saying that the projected overtime budget of OPD was exceeded by $4.29 million, in which case, the question would be why, and who is being held accountable for this?


  32. Livegreen

    Carlos, Ive heard from CC offices in the past that OPD has historically been less than transparent in sharing with the CC the details and management of their budget and specifically with their overtime expenses.

    Was that your experience, and if so, how/why does OPD continue such practices, and how/why does the CC continue to allow this lack of oversight?

    As a related aside, any department not adhering to their budget should consider axing those responsible. And if explanations & clarity are not forthcoming maybe a related audit…

  33. Naomi Schiff

    The standard explanation concerning OPD overtime has been that it is cheaper to pay for overtime than to find, train, and hire more police, because the additional benefits packages would have to be covered. That is, an officer working overtime still only gets the regular health and retirement, etc. Supposedly even paying for so many hours at overtime rates the benefits are so costly that it doesn’t pay to staff up. I am not saying that this is actually true in every case; just that this is the explanation I have frequently received when asking about OT. Of course some police officers enjoy a very substantial boost in income from the overtime. Something I’ve not seen addressed is whether an officer working overtime is by any chance working while fatigued, whether judgment might ever be impaired by working extra, and whether they perform as efficiently when working extra hours.

    I know for myself that when I work 80 hours instead of 40, I don’t necessarily get twice as much done.

  34. Ralph

    Generally speaking the argument in favor of the OT is as you stated. It is true just for about all businesses. The training and benefits pretty much kill the desire to hire new staff which pretty much becomes a permanent fixture. Even if the OT pay amts to the salary of one additional officer it is still cheaper because the benefits don’t increase. OT is essentially temp staff and needs to be managed as such.

    Some forward thinking cities do have sponsors/donors for athletic field. I saw it in a recent issue of Forbes non-profits and munis looking for additional revenue streams to support services.

  35. len raphael

    Ralph, our town’s economy shares more in common with Wash DC than the other cities you might be looking at re private sponsorship of parks. When the biggest employers are either government or nonprofits, there’s neither a tax deduction benefit nor any public relations incentive for those contributions. No way small businesses could afford to fill that role.

  36. Livegreen

    OT for OPD is as u state, but it’s exceeding budget. The intentional use of OT is one thing, but exceeding is another. However OPD and the CC determine the budget for OT it should not then go over it. If they do then it should b explained in detail, and if the reasons aren’t good enough heads should roll (not just with OPD, but anywhere).

  37. Carlos Plazola

    Livegreen, that’s what I’m hoping Ralph or someone else can clarify. If the $4MM OPD OT was budgeted overtime, then it is a smokescreen for either lower than expected income, or for some other department (or departments) having spent more than was budgeted. If it was not budgeted overtime, then there needs to be accountability. What was this overtime used for? Who authorized it? What were the results of the use? etc. This may not be a bad thing, but the questions should be asked.

    At the end of the day, City Council approves the budget, and can ask questions all day long of the administration, but action and accountability must come from the CEO (Mayor) or the COO (Lindheim). The council can’t be held accountable for OPD exceeding their overtime allotment, though they can be held accountable for not asking important questions at critical times.

    What I’m very curious about and will be spending time looking into is the income side of the equation. Where did it fall most, and why?

    I have heard that revenues at CEDA are down somewhere between 65% to 85%. This is huge, if true, because the effects of this means continued reduction in income for Oakland for the next 2-4 years, at least. In other words, if entitlement applications are down by 40% to 50%, as I’ve heard they are, and building permits are down about the same, then the city will face not just the immediate impact of permit fee reductions, but the delayed impact of less and less transfer taxes, building fees, inspection fees, etc. If staffing at CEDA is almost what it was 3 years ago, but revenues fall by 60% to 80%, well then, how is that sustainable?

    Add to this that many of us in the building community who do business with the city of Oakland believe that getting approval for applications is becoming harder, not easier, in the current environment, and well, we’ve got a big problem on the income side.

    And then we have to consider that many believe that retail sales are expected to drop even further next year.

    In other words, Oakland has just begun to feel the pain, and to ensure we get through this somewhat OK, we need to start figuring out how we’re going to increase our income stream and how we’re going to make our city staff more effective at raising income, particularly in CEDA.

  38. len raphael

    if we encouraged the raiders to depart, what would be our net savings after reducing the infamous 10 mill annual subsidary by lost sales tax, business tax, hypothetical parking surcharges?

    probably a good question to ask DP

  39. Naomi Schiff

    Yes, I greatly regret the many useless ill-afforded millions flowing from Oakland’s empty piggybank into Mr. Davis’s overly fat bank account. The least he could do is buy an expensive house in Oakland once in a while instead of hunkering down in Piedmont. I would not be sad if they left. Then we could knock down Mt. Davis, restore our Coliseum as the wonderful architectural success that it once was, and have a baseball stadium.

    I can dream can’t I?

  40. Ralph

    Thanks I will look at the DC model. One thing to note, I think that some park land may benefit from being covered by the Nat’ Park Svc. Just quickly, I noticed that for at least Dog Parks community associations do a lot of leg work and fundraising.

    On OT, I need to find the budget and actuals to do an accurate analysis. But there is clearly some budgeted OT. The problem is the unbudgeted which among other reasons occurs when OPD is below planned staffing levels…

  41. livegreen

    Ralph, re. OT, ok, but then shouldn’t the unused budget for the planned staffing levels be equal or greater? (If the two wash out, or the planned(budgeted) staffing brings in more income than OT costs, if OPD is over-budget the money must go somewhere).

  42. Ken Ott

    Oakland is going to mirror the national situation: millions of “newly downscaled consumers.”

    city can kiss goodbye to retail tax base from homes, cars, furniture-clothes-stuff.a

    about the only things turning a dime here are kaiser (healthcare, 6B profit), clorox (basic ‘necessary’ goods), pot, food, water, power. everything else is fluff.

    len- in a general collapse/crash there is no attracting upper creative classes…anywhere. there are less of them so that’s a nonstarter. we just have to deal with a couple decades of pain ahead.
    what is useful and makes money? food you can grow. fixing essential infrastructure- water, sanitation.

    libraries are very nice but a luxxury. if they don’t have em in the outback in africa or cambodia they are not a necessity to human existence. food/water/energy/security are.

    just those four things. can oakland maintain delivery of those four things for its citizens? does city even have leverage?

    1. food – city could promote gardening/chicken ownership both on city land and at home
    2. water – city could promote rain barrels as sfpw already does
    3. energy – city should try to set up CCA with berkeley emeryville but is too broke to ever do so
    4. security – opd needs more bandaids (officers) but that doesn’t solve teh root problem. not enough jobs/small biz opps for residents. we are simply in a time where the future looks a bit bleak and not encouraging, the middle class has disappeared, and we are devolving into a third world country. it will take another decade or two but we’ll get there. my call for an annual 10% cut to city expenses will look duh-obvious within a few years. anyone want to place bets?

    meantime, let’s have a good time, make oak a bike citty and plant edible plants and trees on city property! and start your own Technology for The Poor biz. (HT to gerald clemente)

  43. KenO

    Carlos and livegreen, ralph and all.
    I’m having a faux epiphany here.

    “Oakland” as a concept is just increasingly irrelevant to me. the place and people matter, but “City of Oakland” will go away eventually, just like “USA” or “USSR”. it will be about your neighborhood. which hood do you have most ties to? probably the one you live in. after that our region, maybe. but no more california or “USA” identity. that is over with.

    if we all buy local and ‘go native’ locally we’ll form a circle of wagons here just as people will in every other country state and city. so we’ll be living in the ‘republic of temescal’ or ‘north oak’

    we need to plan for a future shadow political arrangement which becomes the real deal. CoO isn’t it. i know none of you want to think this–maybe you all still have “faith in the system”?

    this city cannot be reformed structurally. i don’t know who’d do it. did gorbachev succeed? all our troubles of course are related to peak oil and human psychology. socieites run in cycles and the one of our generations is past its zenith.

    i think it’s time for our bloated Too-Big social organisms to whither, fail and die like they should. things will get very messy but eventually be reborn… I don’t wnat to belittle any efforts to make improvements but it seems futile. i’m not excited about all the pain and anguish of a future of dying cities, but it seems inevitable so let’s embrace that.

    survivalism and entrepreneurship, even if underground, will only grow even “huger” in 2010. sorry for length.

  44. V Smoothe

    Carlos, if you’re so curious, why don’t you just read the report (PDF) and get your answer, instead of asking the same question in comments repeatedly (a question that was actually answered pretty clearly in Bruce’s post, BTW). The Police Department is projected to overspend their budget by a few million dollars by year end, due to overtime costs above what was budgeted, and the increased expense of a lateral academy.)

    Also, building permit fees, inspection fees, etc. have no impact on the General Fund or city services.

  45. Carlos Plazola

    Rough night last night, V? Well, I re-read the post and didn’t find the answer to my question as you suggested I would, but perhaps you didn’t understand the question.

    Anyway, I appreciate the attachment. And by the way, do you know if the police overtime was budgeted or not? ;-)

  46. Ralph

    I have not seen a line item budget to provide anyone with budgeted OT. Per review of the OPD activities, it is evident that the dept will incur OT charges. Thus, it makes no sense not to budget for it. You can probably make a fairly good est for annual OT based on prior year. All that being said, I saw a number of ~$16M for planned OT but I am not sure what period that covered.

  47. Marleenlee

    If the police department is considered over budget because of the lateral academy that is not the police department’s fault. By the clear terms of measure y the city must appropriate sufficient funds to maintain the non measure y force at 739, and they didn’t do that. This makes the 2009 collection of measure y taxes patently illegal.

  48. Livegreen

    Couldn’t OPD just budget non-hired Officers to meet M-Y terms (as they’ve done in the past)? Re. the Academy, why wouldn’t they have budgeted that? It’s not like they don’t know the rate of retirement…

    BTW, these are the exact same questions that came up before the City raided M-Y money for the Academy. Me thinks this is a broken record, and that we’ve been here already.

  49. Steve Lowe

    Naomi, I worry that the three sites chosen for the new A’s stadium do nothing to alleviate what you see as the Al Davis problem. As I understand it, the current agreement requires that Oakland pay some $10M a year to the Raiders because that’s the shortfall amount that the poorly-planned, not-very-attractive Coli causes the Raiders to suffer due to chronic low attendance (who wants to go out there when the place is literally bereft of ambience?

    If one of the options to be presented to the Fishers (80% owners), Lew Wolff (10% owner) and the gaggle of others (10% owners. collectively) is a new stadium on the south lot of the Coli, it will make that a unique destination, even more desirable than it is now – especially if the 49er’s want to play there when an upgrade to the entire complex occurs.

    Lew is saying that the Coli won’t work for him and cites several reasons, all of which are supposition on his part and, to most of us, pretty much a thin disguise for his real desire to move the team closer to San Jose. How the Fishers and the rest can continue to have such unwavering confidence in Lew’s decisionmaking prowess after the Fremont fiasco beats me, especially as that super expensive caprice sure as Shinola didn’t come out of his pocket alone.

    Meanwhile, the York family, infinitely more familiar with retail development, are beginning to see that the Coli, the most readily accessible intermodal nexus in the Bay Area, is a fantastic location for guess what? Retail! All it takes is a reconfiguration of the Coli so that the transition over that woebegone bridge to the complex from the BART stop isn’t so painful, and when people are moving around through the space surrounding the various stadiums, they have an intriguing, sports-themed multitude of shops, stores, cafes and restaurants to step into – instead of the bleak, icky, deserted space that’s there now.

    Funny that the Yorks see that, and Lew doesn’t; but then again maybe he’s been blinded by his all-out lust for BART-less San Jose. Still, you’d think that the Fishers, a family that made its billions in retail, after all, would start exercising their own judgment and not defer to the same kind of outside expertise that so ineptly dropped the ball over in the Presidio (or, closer to home, mismanaged x many millions on the Fremont fiasco). And where else in the United States can anyone find a retail center with three (3) major league teams in it to back up a sports motif as the primary retail statement? With the 49ers, that’d be and astounding four (4) teams here! Even Lew might reconsider under that circumstance…

    But maybe the Emperor has no ball cap.

    Happy New Year

  50. Naomi Schiff

    Steve I agree that any stadium-building should happen in the present coliseum area. It makes excellent sense: there is a BART station, plenty of land, central location, direct freeway access, and sports fans are already used to going there. Why you might even be able to double deck some parking to mitigate the pain during construction. I agree that the three alt. sites each have problems, and I question whether it’s a good use of coastal land, regardless of what SF did. We are in a different situation than they are, and if you build on the water side of the freeway there are terrible rail headaches and access difficulties.

    I don’t think the lack of ambience alone is what is hurting Raiders attendance. Might not foolishly high pricing, lousy market projections and planning, a LOSING TEAM, and years of bad p. r. and bad blood between the team management and its readopted city play a role?

  51. Ralph

    LG and other interested parties, I think you can find some deets on the academy in the Public Safety minutes.

    @Steve, If I understand your proposal, you are suggesting 2 stadiums where the Coliseum sits – a new baseball only and a new football only stadium – and some retail (cafe, stores, and restaurants). I definitely agree that 2 stadiums are necessary but the retail component will most likely be a bust. On a non-game day there is going to be little incentive to head that way. The new stadiums – frankly – I think you need 3 – need to be somewhere near where they will attract more foot traffic for the retail component to be viable.

  52. V Smoothe

    Carlos, are you joking? I had a great night, I just can’t believe you’re asking such a totally brain dead question and misleading everyone else reading this in the process. Of course there is a budget for police overtime, just like there is a budget for police overtime every single year. And just like every single year, the police department is going to exceed their overtime budget. Duh. I would expect you of all people to be aware of that.

  53. Ralph

    Basketball. I guess technically that would be an arena. as entertainment facilities, our stadiums and arenas are dated.

  54. Livegreen

    Looking at the Budget topics on ABO, the CC has been considering the budget gap of $18-$19 million (apparently for the same exact reasons) since July. So is there ANY good reason the CC has sat on this, making it only worse as time has gone on?

  55. Ralph

    LG, from my seat, there is no good reason why they sat on this deficit for so long. it is a general lack of leadership. from what i have witnessed IDLF has the strongest grasp on fiscal responsibility but I’ve never witnessed him communicate his message to the voters. I can only assume he is not trying to p/o the people who need the services and programs he wants to eliminate. voters tend to ignore your no votes on council matters that pass (OO), but it is hard to forget a person going door to door tellling you that the compromise is bad.

    No one on council wants to be the person to say, we are cutting senior services. Yet, they have no problem giving the kids $4M additional dollars. Kids, who last time i checked, can not vote and do not pay any significant taxes.

  56. Livegreen

    Ralph, Regardless of the restrictions on the budget placed by voters, which is a problem across CA, it should not b an excuse for inaction. Bruce has made the point that the more time drags on the harder it is to balance the budget. Seeing in black-and-white the amount of time the CC has been sitting on it makes it clear where the blame lies. With the CC.

    Now JB and the others are going to try increasing Property Taxes for existing services, after they’ve been sitting on the same issues since July? This is “LEADERSHIP”?

    I guess if they force people to move out of Oakland the increase in transfer taxes will help solve Oakland’s budget crises. Maybe that’s part of their plan?

  57. KenO

    LG. Pork-barrel governance = FAIL. That is all there is to it. Every country or city-state in every age of human existence has had PBG, and PBG leads to ossified governance, inflexible in the case of unforseen circumstances — natural disasters, sharply dropping energy resources or revenue, invasion…

    I don’t knwo where the other peak oil-aware folks on ABO went, but if you all read this article about the US macrocosm, you’ll understand why the Oakland microcosm is having such difficulty.

    “The Political Ecology of Collapse, Part Three: The Bomb at the Heart of the System”

    Hey, save some time and read the last four paras here:

    “Behind all of this lies the central political fact of the limits to growth: the reduction of First World nations to a Third World lifestyle that will be the inevitable result of any transition to a postpetroleum world, whether that transition is deliberate or unplanned. Metaphors about elephants in living rooms don’t begin to touch the political explosiveness of this fact, or the degree to which people at every point on the political spectrum have tried to pretend that it just isn’t so. Still, set aside delusions about miraculous new energy sources that show up basically because we want them to, and it’s impossible to evade.

    Let’s walk through the logic. The most reasonable estimates suggest that, given a crash program and the best foreseeable technologies, renewable sources can probably provide the United States with around 15% of the energy it currently gets from fossil fuels. Since every good and service in the economy is the product of energy, it’s a very rough but functional approximation to say that in a green economy, every American will have to get by on the equivalent of 15% of his or her current income. Take a moment to work through the consequences in your own life; if you made $50,000 in 2009, for example, imagine having to live on $7,500 in 2010. That’s quite a respectable income by Third World standards, but it won’t support the kind of lifestyle that the vast majority of Americans, across the political spectrum, believe is theirs by right.

    That’s the bomb ticking away at the heart of America’s political system. When it goes off, the entire system of government by pork barrel will explode messily, and it’s only in the fantasies of reformers that what replaces it will likely be any improvement. (My guess? Anything from a military coup followed, after various convulsions, by a new and less centralized constitution, to civil war and the partition of the United States into half a dozen impoverished and quarreling nations.) In the meantime, we can expect to see every possible short term expedient put to use in an attempt to stave off the explosion even for a little while, and any measure that might risk rocking the boat enough to set off the bomb will be quietly roundfiled by all parties.

    A meaningful political response to the growing instability of global climate is one such measure, and a meaningful political response to peak oil is another. No such project can be enacted without redirecting a great deal of money and resources away from current expenditures toward the construction of new infrastructure. The proponents of such measures are quick to insist that this means new jobs will be created, and of course this is true, but they neglect to mention that a great many more existing jobs will go away, and the interests that presently lay claim to the money and resources involved are not exactly eager to relinquish those. A political system of centralized power could overcome their resistance readily enough, but a system in which power is diffused and fragmented cannot do so. That the collapse of the entire system is a likely long-term consequence of this inability is simply one of the common ironies of history.”

    Now when you read the above and know our energy/debt situations in Oakland as well as nationally, you’ll understand why we are “spent” and why so many Americans and Oaklanders have been laid off.

    Any politician in Oakland who would claim that we can fix our budget problems within 2-3 years is lying wholesale. There won’t be a fix ever, the only solution (ironically) is complete collapse!


  58. Carlos Plazola

    V, not sure why you’re being so condescending, but it seems petty and unnecessary.

    Police overtime is a given, and has been for a long time. OPD exceeding their allocated overtime should not be a given, and we, the broader Oakland community, should ask the question “why?”. In fact, I was under the impression that this Blog existed for that purpose–but I am now inclined to think that the “openness” of this blog is tempered by your own temperament. I had thought otherwise. My bad.

    I have 3 companies I am running, 3 kids I am raising, and a non-profit I am Chair of, so my ability to keep up with the budget is somewhat mitigated by my reality. So, if can take the easy route and ask a question and get an answer, then yes, I’ll take that route, now and then, and save myself 20 minutes of research.

    Happy Holidays


  59. KenO

    And, following MLK’s rumination that he’d plant a tree even if the world blew up tomorrow, I look forward to setting up a community garden in the empty Uptown non-parking lot. (Hey, we all gotta eat right?)

    Would anyone be interested in helping with this? I’m also up for doing one in City Hall Plaza at some point.

  60. Steve Lowe

    Ralph, the best way the Coli could lay out, at least as a certain number of us see it, is to build (a) a new baseball-only stadium for the A’s in the South Lot, (b) a new SmartPark garage in the North Lot to replace the surface parking that will be consumed when the new ballpark goes in, and (c) refurbish the exisitng football stadium so that it is truly state-of-the-art and worthy of two teams. This will, of course, mean that the egos of the various owners will have to be assuaged mightily, but the cost savings and increases in ticket sales ought to help out greatly with that problem, or so one might think.

    So there it would be: one great sports complex for four teams, pretty much the epicenter of sports for the whole Bay Area, exactly where a sports-themed retailer would want to set up shop and sell his or her wares to the millions of fans who would be visiting the center every year, seeking to immerse themselves into a sort of Sports Disneyland chockablock with sports bars, sportswear, autograph and memorabilia collections, etc., paradise for those who might enjoy coming early to a game or leaving later to avoid the traffic.

    I think your assessment of how viable the retail element might be on non-gamedays is therefore off the mark, even though it does stand to reason that more folks will likely show up during an actual event than at other times. So a lot will depend on adjusting the retail mix so that the brace of shops and stores will be as compelling as possible to the kind of fan who would naturally be spending time there. One of the main participants during this exercise is a consultant in several major “theme” shopping centers around the country, and he viewed this particular opportunity as virtually unparalleled anywhere in the US due to the location, location, location right here at the convergence of so many different transportation arteries.

    And, in the end, getting the City and the County out from under in this nightmare of a deal we’ve got to live with – especially when Oakland simply can’t afford to give away $10M a year – provides the Joint Powers Authority enough breathing room to restructure its bonds and modernize one of the least productive assets in the Bay Area. Again, if the Yorks see the opportunity after all the consultants they’ve chewed through investigating Santa Clara and Hunters Point, there must be some reason to their thinking other than just using Oakland to better their negotiating position with the others.

    This was also examined by the Mayor’s Sports & Entertainment Task Force and found to be well worth pursuing even before the 49ers’ interest surfaced.

    To bring clarity to Naomi’s query, there’d be three stadia: one, a new ballpark just for the A’s; two, the existing Warriors arena; three, the existing football stadium, but upgraded to accommodate both the Raiders and the 49ers. The new SmartPark garage would mean a fourth structure, all of which would then encircle (more or less) the retail complex in the middle, making it one of the most recognizable, prime destinations in the Bay Area.

  61. Ralph

    LG, I did not claim voter stupidity to be the reason for inaction. I simply stated that OO is a good example of failed leadership. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, our council members don’t have the genitalia to lead. they are too worried about making nice with everybody.

  62. Ralph

    Steve, i do not doubt that a sport multplex is a good thing. i do not doubt that sports multiplex near transportation is a good thing. I do think you are better of killing the existing Coliseum and Arena and bldg new state of the art complexes for both. still, i do doubt the viability of such a center in an area that has no hotels, is not really walkable, and lacks other entertainment options. just by way of comparison, the espn sportzones are near sport centers but the areas also have other draws. I mean there are well over 200 non game days that need to be addressed. plus, if you make the area too dependent on one form of revenue, what happens when people’s interest shift.

    and like you i do not think the Yorks are using Oakland to better their negotiating position. it would be one thing if one team played downstate and the other upstate (NY and PA), but they don’t. we are talking 12 miles. no reason to have 2 stadiums.

  63. Steve Lowe

    Ralph, I think there’s too much information that still needs to be sorted through for us to agree exactly on how the Coli gets improved. Just the issue of hotels alone is a major stumbling block for development anywhere in Oakland, though being right on BART makes up for a lot of that, especially if you believe any of the Smart Growth dialogue out there.

    I think first we have to get the plusses and minuses together on a list – whether it be Coli, Jack London, Howard Terminal, or any other identified site – and start making a real assessment of what’s best for the community and Oakland’s overall economy. Otherwise, the opponents to each of the sites will thwart any effort before it really has a chance to get properly started.

    Given the better weather of the Coli, maybe Candlestick just won’t fly anymore (or maybe the Raiders will get sent there to do penance for their performance this year?).

  64. Livegreen

    Ralph, Agreed. It’s the CA way. Everyone be nice to each other no matter what, and the only ones who have a right to b upset are the poor and the unions. Throw out the Middle Class and Taxpayer concerns with the bathwater (or just accuse them of being conservative to dispense with those concerns, whether they are or not).

    Or in the case of the CC, do nothing then ask for a tax increase.

  65. KenO

    the city would need to court auxiliary sports for the sportplex to succeed.
    –bowling alley
    –another ice skating rink
    –bars, pubs, restaurants

    of course, these amenities would all go well into the barnes and noble at jack london square that’s closing next year.

    if more people of means continue moving back to cities such as oakland then this might have a chance of working. if the US economy continues shrinking at a rate of 8-10% per year (it might) during the coming decade, then maybe not.

  66. KenO

    re bruce nye and oakland’s budget dilemma.

    state of california is in the same boat as oakland but on larger scale — too many highly paid union government jobs, and too many highly compensated at 60-90% public sector retirees from age 50+ people like Deborah Edgerly who made 6 figures as government workers now receiving up to 90% of thheir 6 figure salaries, but as pensions instead.

    we have too many parasites! there are too many ticks on, and tapeworms and heartworms in, the city of oakland animal. this municipal animal named oakland will die any year now.

  67. len raphael

    Ralph, I see the success of Measure OO passing in Nov 2008 more the result of residents and yes the pols getting outsmarted and out spent by kids first! , rather than just a leadership failure.

    according to the kids first! form 990 for the year ending 6/30/08, 81k of their total 425k was spent lobbying. Of that 81k, 62k was spent directly lobbying legislative bodies.

    Reading the charitable purpose of kids first and it’s achivements for that period, it appears that teaching kids to express themselves politically is part of their goal. Which is interesting since about 1/3 of their funding comes from government grants.

    The 990 return for the year ending 6/30/09 hasn’t posted yet. so can’t tell how much more that non profit spent on lobbying in their successful push for passage of OO.

    The only money I’m aware of that was spent to oppose OO was maybe 12k or so for the city council members to state their opposition on a small postcard.

    I don’t have any problem with wealthy individuals or corporations giving money to political causes as long as they don’t get a tax deduction for their contribution and the contributions are fully disclosed.

    Hard to tell which individuals or other non profits contributed money to kids first! and in what time period because the non profits are not required to list that on the 990.

    The only donor i could find in recent years was the private Akonadi Foundation, whose web site listed a grant to kids first! of (i can’t find the cite) 40k. That foundation appears to be entirely funded by a Piedmont couple who have a special mission of supporting social change in Oakland. (i can just picture the smoke coming out of Ralph’s ears).

    A search of the couple’s name pulled up an announcement of an Obamba fundraiser last year at their Piedmont home. Guests include John Burris and John Russo.

    Nothing sinister here, just idealistic rich piedmont folk inadvertently helping Oakland government go broke, as they get a legitimate tax deduction for funding their private foundation.

    -len raphael

  68. Ralph

    If council extended Measure K, which they did, and were opposed to Measure OO, which they were, and could only manage to convey their message in a postcard, then there is a leadership problem.

    If you state that you are going to campaign against OO, like IDLF did, and then don’t, there is a leadership problem. I also have a problem when a decision maker lets the heart rule the head.

    I wonder how many 10 foot poles are in Oakland?

  69. V Smoothe

    Carlos, I don’t have the faintest idea where you came up with the notion that my blog exists so that people can waste my time asking completely idiotic questions that they fabricated in their head. It doesn’t.

    I’m sorry to hear you’re so busy. But I’m busy too, and don’t have time to sit around answering moronic questions that you’re too lazy to figure out the answers to yourself. Next time, please take your nonsense elsewhere.

  70. Michelle

    I discovered that CEDA spends tens of thousands each day on cleaning up properties.

    The problem of addressing blight on foreclosed properties is somewhat unique to Oakland, where Code Enforcement refuses to call bank asset managers directly to have their maintenance crews address blight. In other Cities around the Bay Area, municipalities rely on the banks to keep the properties clean. Here in Oakland, Code Enforcement NEVER contacts the bank asset manager (this is documented in dozens of cases in AOC’s audit report at They simply contract the work to either C&C or Lukate or Desilva or Juguyen (non of which are licensed business in Oakland) and we spend tens of thousands a day paying for blight abatement that should be performed by the property owner.

    We have blight because CEDA chooses to manage the blight itself rather than calling the property owner. This is TRUE and can be verified by any one of you reading this note. If you can find a case where CEDA/Code Enforcement has actually spoken with an asset manager and requested they clean up a property, please inform me directly.

    CEDA is backfilling pools (rather than calling Vector Control) and liening dead property owners rather than calling the asset manager.

    Municipalities around the Bay Area are dealing with this problem well by working directly with property owners, banks, to maintain their own properties.

    Oakland is hemorraging thousands a day with Code Enforcement contracting daily to do what Banks are already paying property managers to do themselves.

    See for yourself at

  71. George

    Fact 1. The City of Oakland police & fire department over-head (benefits) are 64% of each officers’ salary. Fact 2. Police officers do not contribute to their pension. Fact 3. The City contribute 28% of an officer’s pay towards retirement. Fact 4. police and fire dept pay exceeds 70% of the budget. Fact 5. Neither police and fire departments have take actual pay-cuts. Fact 6. a 1% cut in actual pay to police & fire saves the city $15 million annually. All figure are from the 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). Do the math. A 5% actual pay-cut (not deferral pay raises) saves the city $75 miilion and balances the city 2010-2011 budget. Why hasn’t the eight city council members formally asked police and fire to accept 5% less pay to make the city fiscally sound?

  72. david Stein
    Above is a city overtime report on police overtime. Police overtime has been a blame game issue for the City of years (probably decades). Blaming overtime is misleading.
    Bruce, your analysis simply parrots the City’s line. To say the current administration isn’t responsible is mind boggling. Before the turn int he economy we had a big growth in revenue. What happened to that money? Did they pay down debt? Did they save for a rainy day?