Bruce Nye: This Place Is A Mess: Now What Do We Do About It?

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.

My guest post last week used about 1400 words to say the following: the city really is in dire financial straits, there’s no place to hide, there is no possibility of an immediate miracle and the problem won’t be fixed without political courage and leadership. The post drew more than 50 on-line comments. Other MOBN! Board members and I heard just as many comments off-line. A lot of people are angry at city government —as they should be — and responses ranged from the highly macro (e.g., this is the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it) to the policy-based (e.g., the relative values of parks vs. police, parcel taxes, bonds, etc.) to the very micro (elimination of living wage initiatives, furloughs vs. pay reductions, etc.). Many citizens are apoplectic over the very thought of another parcel tax, and some seem even to welcome a municipal bankruptcy.

In this post, I’m going to pose some fairly macro steps that just might be successful in keeping the city afloat by dealing with its most severe problems and starting to set it on the road to solvency and public safety. These steps have something to infuriate everybody. But work with me for a while here. I think we may have a unique opportunity to force the City Council’s hand.

Let’s start 1000 feet up. In my view, Oakland has two equally severe crises: a public safety crisis and a fiscal irresponsibility crisis. We have to start fixing the second one without worsening the first one.

The public safety crisis has three key elements. The first is the epidemic of deaths of our youth on the streets. Do you think it isn’t an epidemic? Try this for a point of comparison: The average murder rate in Oakland from 2001 through 2008 was 108. From 1980 to 2007, the average rate of AIDS deaths in Oakland was 88 (PDF)! Or how about this one: New York City has a population of 8.3 million, and, as of today, 461 murders in 2009. That’s right, with a population twenty times the size of Oakland’s, New York City has four times the murders.

Statistically, a resident of Oakland had one chance in about 3,800 of being murdered in this city this year. That, all by itself, is horrible. But it’s really worse than that. For African-Americans under the age of thirty, the risk of being murdered in Oakland is much greater than one in 3,800. No solution to the city’s problems that fails to directly address the guns, drugs and gangs that the murder epidemic can be accepted by a city that wants to solve its crime problems.

The second element is what Chief Batts calls the lack of legitimacy of the police department as perceived by many residents of the city. This stems from a long history of department misconduct, most painfully manifested by the Riders horror show and the resulting Negotiated Settlement Agreement. Oakland has talked about community policing and struggled to implement it for years. But the fact is, community policing can’t work in an environment where large portions of the community consider the police to be the enemy.

The third element relating to public safety is that routine police services are not provided to the middle class, to businesses, or to any victims of non-violent crimes. Not only is the police department unable to investigate residential burglaries and other property damage crimes; it has a backlog of 2500 domestic violence crimes it can’t investigate, it fails to investigate 2,100 theft reports and 200 robbery reports per month, and can’t even deal with people walking up and down residential streets waving guns.

Chief Batts believes that the city needs twice its current number of police officers to adequately address crime. That sort of increase is politically and fiscally untenable, at least under current economic conditions.

And that brings us to the city’s fiscal crisis. Just like the State of California, during good times Oakland acted as though there would always be good times. And it has continued to add staff – increasing city employees by 13.5% between 1993 and 2009 (before this year’s budget cuts). If anybody’s tried to squeeze more efficiencies out of existing staff, I’m not aware of those efforts (those of you who’ve been following city government longer than I have – let me know). And while the City Council had its first “emergency” budget meeting on December 17, there has been no sign that anybody on the Council is willing to make the kind of hard decisions necessary for the city to live within its means. Jane Brunner apparently wants the city to issue bonds (i.e., borrow money), the financing method normally used to finance capital improvements. Jean Quan wants to have town hall meetings. As far as I can tell, all other city council members have been mostly silent.

So, we have a nearly $19 million budget gap to bridge between now and June 30, 2010, a $25 million deficit for the 2010 – 2011 budget year, and a true nightmare starting after that, as the city starts having to contribute between $39 million and $60+ million per year to police and fire retirement (PDF).

Now, what about bankruptcy? V Smoothe’s excellent post on this subject here about six months ago is essential reading for anybody who thinks of bankruptcy as a panacea. Quick summary: it isn’t, and it doesn’t solve many of our problems. Slightly longer summary:

Even in [the cases of cities who considered bankruptcy but didn’t file], the flirtation with the idea of bankruptcy and financial uncertainty that caused it meant those cities lost completely their ability to borrow money for years. Oakland’s bond rating is in danger of downgrade as it is, and if we were to declare bankruptcy, we could basically expect to entirely lose our ability to bond for the foreseeable future. That’s disastrous.

But it isn’t just the bond rating we have to worry about. The stigma attached to being a bankrupt city cannot be underestimated. All those new businesses and private investment we’re so desperate to attract? If we declare bankruptcy, we can just forget about it. Those new office buildings we’re hoping to get built downtown? They will never happen. Bankruptcy (even talk of bankruptcy) leads to huge flight of investment and tax base, something Oakland may be even more ill-positioned to afford than our enormous pension obligations.

It’s also important to remember that bankruptcy is not a way to avoid drastic service cuts. Our problem at the moment is that we don’t bring in enough revenue to pay for the services we provide. Bankruptcy doesn’t change that (and in fact, would likely reduce our revenue base even further). It has the potential to help us avoid future burdensome obligations, but does nothing to ease the day-to-day pains of trying to operate the city. Also, it costs a fortune in legal fees.

And by the way, how are things going in Vallejo, home of California’s most famous city bankruptcy? Well, as of this month, their police department is down 28%, from 146 employees to 104. A similar reduction in Oakland would reduce our force to 578 officers. Does anybody think that’s a good idea?

Now, about the police department. There are informed, reasonable citizens in this community who say (a) “The police department already takes more than 50% of the city’s general purpose fund, and can’t seem to keep us safe, so the department must be dysfunctional;” or (b) “The city has already proved it can’t be trusted to spend public safety money wisely – we can’t give them another cent.”

Our new police chief, —one of the most highly respected police chiefs in the country —says the force is understaffed by 50%. As I said in the earlier post at A Better Oakland, I have no doubt there is waste everywhere, including the police department. But suppose Chief Batts is right? What if we really are understaffed by 50%? What if we really do need more resources to address what just about anybody would have to acknowledge is a public safety crisis? Imagine the calamity that would result from a significant reduction.

The only responsible approach is to err on the side of caution. Over the short term, a city in law enforcement crisis cannot assume the risks involved in cutting sworn police staffing. Over the long term, this beautiful city of ours cannot grow and flourish (and increase its tax base) unless it is no longer viewed as a West Coast version of “The Wire’s” Baltimore. So my proposal is that the citizens of Oakland support a three-year parcel tax initiative sufficient to fund the following:

  • Maintenance of sworn police personnel at 803 officers
  • Maximized civilianization of police department functions, including transferring all intake of police complaints, public information, press relations, clerical work, and all other activities not requiring the use of sworn, POST trained personnel to civilians
  • A city auditor audit or independent audit of the police department to be completed within eighteen months of enactment of the parcel tax, which would result in a full accounting to the taxpayers of how Oakland Police Department funds are being spent
  • The cost of putting the parcel tax election on the June ballot (which I’m told is about $800,000).

I don’t know what the cost of such a parcel tax would be. My guess is it would be somewhat more than the $88 per year Measure Y tax.

But we can’t let the City Council off the hook. We need to hold the council responsible for balancing the rest of the budget, short and long-term, with real cuts. Before supporting a parcel tax, shouldn’t we citizens insist the City Council adopt additional public safety and budgetary steps that give the city some hope of operating from a sound financial footing? Here are some possibilities:

  • Adopt the $5.1 million in savings identified in the City Administrator’s December 17 report (PDF); (I’ve heard conflicting reports on whether at least this much was implemented on December 17, and haven’t yet watched the video)
  • Implement savings of the remaining $13.77 million required to bridge the deficit by making the difficult, dramatic non-Police Department spending cuts necessary to balance the budget for the remainder of this fiscal year
  • Agree that while savings realized through sale of city real estate assets may be used to balance future budgets, funds received through sale of those assets must either be applied to the city’s reserve or to investment in capital improvements
  • Immediately begin plans, on a top-priority basis, to eliminate the city’s 2010-2011 projected $25 million deficit
  • Undertake a program to civilianize investigation of non-priority criminal activity, as has recently been done in the city of Mesa, Arizona
  • Immediately begin plans, on a top-priority basis, to address the city’s Police and Fire Department pension funding obligations and
  • Implement a three-year-plan to reduce non-public safety personnel costs by 25%

The effect of these steps, and others like them, should be (a) to make the city safer; (b) to make it a more attractive place to live, to raise a family and to own and operate businesses; and (c) to begin raising the tax base, which, in the final analysis, is the only way the city will ever ensure long-term solvency.

We have the opportunity to save and improve police services. We have the opportunity to force the City Council members to do their jobs and make the very serious, drastic short-term and long-term changes the city needs. Are we willing to hold our noses and accept what would normally be an unacceptable regressive tax to give us the leverage to make things better? And if not, what other solutions do we have, and how do they pencil out in the real world?

132 thoughts on “Bruce Nye: This Place Is A Mess: Now What Do We Do About It?

  1. Andy K

    Bruce,

    Good stuff, but I nearly lost my breakfast when you said we should vote for a new parcel tax. No way in hell! Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insane. There is no reason we can expect the CC to be responsible or accountable.

    I agree that public safety is a huge problem in Oakland – far and away the number one problem. The city has maxed out it’s credit cards, can’t pay the bills, has big obligations coming up. Selling assets at this time (when prices are low) does not make much sense. Borrowing money in the past has never lead to responsible spending, and I am sure to say it would not now either. The only thing that makes sense to me is cutting services in areas not related to public safety. While not popular, I don’t see much of a choice. If Oakland were a household, they would have to do the same thing.

    NYCs rebirth gives me hope for Oakland. I just spent a day there last week, the first time I was there in over 15 years, and what a difference. The City had an air of more than hope, but success. Maybe we can do it here too. I, like many, just don’t trust our elected officials to pull it off.

  2. bennett

    So how is the talent necessary to pull this off to be attracted?

    The story behind securing Chief Batts, who previously was planning on retirement, is a moving one.

    Now, without capital resources, we must somehow inspire similar talent to dedicate themselves here immediately—using new and old talent and public-private partnerships, in every aspect of the City’s operations, marketing, and administration, especially brilliant efficiency experts, cost-cutting wizards, and revenue enhancement genius via “non-tax-fine” methodologies.

    Game on.

  3. Bob LaMartin

    Bruce,

    I really like this series of articles, and I appreciate you taking the time to try to get a dialogue going about what to do about Brokeland, but another parcel tax? I’m sorry, but suggesting another parcel tax after seeing what the city did with the last one strains credulity.

    The biggest argument against any parcel tax is Measure Y. The proponents of Measure Y argued that the minimum staffing of OPD required by the measure, the oversight board, the auditing requirement and other safeguards would insure that Measure Y funds would increase the police department to 802 (still 50% less than is needed in Oakland, but those 63 officers are paid for by the parcel tax).

    Where are those 63 officers? Oakland has not had them since the beginning of the fiscal year, but check your tax statement, you’re still paying your parcel tax. In fact there was only a period of less than three months since the tax was imposed that the city even claims to have met the staffing requirements. Now check the language of Measure Y to see if the city can collect that tax if they have neither budgeted or fielded those officers.

    No. There is no way I will ever vote for a parcel tax again after seeing what is happening with Measure Y. In fact, I am hoping that enough people realize that city cannot legally collect this tax that they will protest it. If everyone protested it, the budget deficit would rise by another $20M, but the message sent by the voters that they aren’t a herd of sheep willing to be fleeced would be more than worth it.

    Until the citizens of Oakland demand accountability, we will get the government we deserve.

    Bob LaMartin

  4. Mary Hollis

    I agree 100% with Bob and Andy. no parcel taxes EVER. Oakland cannot afford the luxury of being in the vanguard of providing social services when it is broke. The City should divest assets and shed activities to focus almost totally on public safety.

    And the other big no-brainer is tackling the public sector unions, and the pay and benefit packages of City workers. We simply cannot afford their health benefits and pension entitlements.

  5. Mike Linksvayer

    Spending $800k on an election to maybe pass a parcel tax that may or may not even be a good idea is ludicrous. From the East Bay Express:

    But all the talk of ranked-choice voting isn’t stopping Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner from pressing for a June election anyway. The Oakland Tribune reported that Brunner is pushing for a ballot measure that would raise property taxes to fund police services. The city is facing a projected $25 million budget shortfall come July 1, and Brunner noted that without more revenue, the city may have to lay off more than 100 cops.

    Deep compensation cuts across the board and layoffs from non-safety positions are called for, end of story.

  6. Marleenlee

    No acknowledgement of my previous successful lawsuit against the city. Shame on you bruce. Nobody in their right mind who actually understands what the city did under measure y would ever support such a proposal. Please read my blog from beginning to end if you have any doubts that more taxes is the worst idea EVER. Bruce your proposal is for staffing at 803. That’s the number we are supposed to have under measure y. The idea makes no sense. There is money available. Around $8 million annually for violence prevention , which could be redirected to police. Repeal kids first. These are much better options. I’ve already told the city if they cannot do the right thing with making good on the promises of measure y and go ahead with this loony parcel tax idea I will file another lawsuit (over the failure to budget for academies this year). And I will win, again, and the city will be another $20 million in the hole. The city has zero credibility on parcel taxes until and unless they fix the measure y mess. They can do this by settling my lawsuit. Otherwise no dice.

  7. Bob LaMartin

    Great posting by Marlene! That blog would be at http://defendingmeasurey.blogspot.com/

    We should all file the same lawsuit that Marlene filed, only for FY 09-10, this is a slam dunk. There is no question that the city has neither budgeted or fielded 802 officers, therefore we are not required to pay the parcel tax this year.

    Measure Y has a poison pill which prevents the filing of class action suits, but why aren’t the big property owners in Oakland filing on this? Or at least protesting it with the county? There is no way Oakland can win this lawsuit, and the sooner they realize that we are paying attention, the sooner they will stop trying to jerk us around.

    Start with this simple step, and see if the city starts taking its citizens seriously. Until then, they know we are just a paper tiger, venting on some website, wringing our collective hands together and hoping the city will fix itself. It won’t.

    Bob LaMartin

  8. Livegreen

    Even now the City has cut operating hours of Public Services in order to give temporary furloughs to City Workers. But they’ve NOT reduced their full time pay.
    Instead full-time wages should b reduced and our SERVICES KEPT OPEN (libraries, govt offices, etc).

    Bruce, The big problem is we’ve already passed numerous Prop Taxes and Bonds and all we get is the City asking for more. Why should we expect ANYTHING different this time?

  9. Gregory Arenius

    From the OPD website:

    Police Officer Entry Level current annul[sic] salary is $71,841 to $90,549

    Police Officer Trainee starts off at $5,388 per month (first day of Academy training)

    The City of Oakland is ranked #1 for employer contributions among the 10 largest cities in California. We currently contribute $13,998 per employee as compared to the average $8,812 of other cities of similar size.

    Compare to NYC which has a much higher cost of living compared to Oakland.

    They start at 42,000. They don’t get up to an OPD officers starting pay until they’ve been on the force for 5.5 years. If we cut officer pay by a third we COULD increase the size of the force by 50%.

    Remember when the high cost of housing in Oakland was a reason for the city to give raises to its employees so the could “afford to live here.” Well, now you’re paying them far more than most Oaklanders make so they can afford not to live here.

    I really think this is the root of Oaklands problems. If the city didn’t overpay its staff, especially its public safety staff, by such a huge amount it could afford to hire more people and provide better services.

    And for those of you who are going to counter that we wouldn’t be able to hire people at a third less in pay I say HAH. Even at a third less pay you’d still get hundreds of applicants for every open position.

    Cheers,
    Greg

  10. Gregory Arenius

    Also, I’ve said this before but I’m saying it again, anyway. Parcel taxes are horrible. Even if you want to raise taxes, just raise the property tax rate don’t pass a parcel tax. They’re horrible unfair and completely regressive.

    Own a $50,000 dollar fixer in East Oakland and you pay the same amount as someone who owns a $3,000,000 dollar estate in the hills. How could that be justifiable!

    Cheers,
    Greg

  11. Robert

    Bruce, if you are suggesting a new parcel tax then that is a non-starter, at least for me. How about an alternative? Eliminate all the existing parcel taxes, Measure Y, LLAD, libraries, Kids First, etc., and replace them with a new parcel tax that exactly matches the dollar amount of the old taxes. New tax to require only the 802 staffing level for the police, and eliminate all other spending restrictions on the funds. This would allow the new chief to allocate officers in the best manner he sees to help fight crime, and allow the city council to do their job and make political decisions about what programs get money and at what level. While this would likely lead to reduction in the amount of PSOs, I think that more police in the flats are a better use of resources than a PSO for every beat in the hills. The new parcel tax should also expire in a fixed amount of time (5 years?), which would allow the CC enough time to get spending in Oakland under control.

  12. Robert

    Salaries and benefits need to be brought under control. But since the city just negotiated this with the various unions, with only a slight nod to bringing these down from the stratosphere, this will be a long term solution. Although bankruptcy would allow the reopening of these contracts. (With apologies to the FF, who do appear to have given up significant pay.)

    Just as importantly, the city needs to get away from the concept that years of service alone justifies more pay. The only reason to increase pay should be merit based, as it is now in most large industries (non-unionized).

  13. Robert

    I realize that Kids First is not a parcel tax, but it does dictate how money is spent, and ballot box budgeting is something that needs to go.

  14. Ralph

    Bruce, read my ink – no new taxes. May I suggest repeal the existing budget busters. You can start with M. OO. But I it is good to know that you drink the kool-aid. Because Chief Batts thinks he needs to double the force to do a good job, does not mean he needs to double the force to do a good job. Quite honestly his stmt sounds self serving. If crime does not go down, he can always claim you never gave me the resources.

  15. Born in Oakland

    Hey, how about a Landscape and Lighting Assesment tax? Everyone likes street lights and green foilage.

  16. Robert

    A serious look needs to be given to every program in the budget. For example, I actually agree with Naomi that the public library is an essential civic function, do we really need 15 branches in these times? Another library example, the tool lending library. (Sorry to pick on the library, but the information is available, and it is intended only as an example). The tool library is a new program started about 20 years ago, which serves a rather small portion of Oakland residents. Is this really essential? I suspect that when a detailed analysis of the budget is done, many other programs would be found to have been started or expanded in the last 20-30 years, which seemed like good ideas in flush times, but need some serious reconsideration now.

    The problem with this analysis is that it probably can’t be done from the published budget. The tool library is not disclosed as a line item in the budget. It is only mentioned in a back-handed way in the description of facilities in the intro. Many other programs are probably buried the same way. If meaningful budget changes are to be made, all programs in the budget will need to be publicly discussed as to their importance. And yes, I expect that this discussion will be painful to all concerned.

  17. KenO

    Robert, the hills folks want their PSOs in order to “feel” as if they “receive” what they are paying for, instead of just “subsidizing” the flats. As if they themselves were not subsidized by low-density streets, repaving, public safety services, the existence of WholeFoods in the flats which they shop at, and so on.

    Bruce: bankruptcy may the nuclear option, but it is the realistic eventual option we will get unless our politicians spine up. They won’t, so that is how things will end. Sometimes a big old Oak tree must die so that new trees can take its place. Imagine: Town of Temescal. Dimondtown. Montclair Village. Rockridge hamlet.

    What would really save Oakland money and improve QOL long-term?

    Sell OHA. OHA has $193MM in net assets and a $14MM operating surplus this year.
    Do it gradually, do it all at once, just do it.

    What is OHA? Oakland Housing Authority is a 1938 New Deal type program like Medicare or Social Security. It only existed because of cheap fossil fuel energy “slaves” — you know, the 200 virtual energy slaves enjoyed per American, powered in reality by coal/oil/gas. The hard fact of nature is that we’ve run out of cheap energy.

    Money merely represents energy. Debt is future money paid by high fossil fuel extraction rates. Debt is a steroid for “growth.” More debt “crack” will not help Oakland. Our problems are too much “crack” in the first place. Brunner must be doing some lines of good crack to ask for more via another tax!

    Selling OHA will solve city’s budget problems for about 5 years without any staffing cuts needed. NOT that I’m advocating no staffing cuts. Of course this would be extremely unpopular — the people receiving “social services” AKA FREE RENT and other goodies are a huge built-in constituency. OHA boasts on its site that it has over 11,000 Section 8 units in Oakland, not to mention its other properties, own police force and so forth. And I’m sure Wells Fargo, Citibank and Countrywide (per their 2008 Annual Report) were reaping huge proceeds from this taxpayer-funded HUD handout.

    Agree with everyone here that all Oakland city staff are extremely overpaid.

    Since real estate won’t recover in our lifetimes, the city’s budget must be similarly pared down each year by 10% for the next decade.

    A. Cut city staff pay and headcount based on performance across the board including public safety
    B. Implement Community Choice Aggregation – more renewable energy at lower cost than PG&E with Berkeley, Emeryville, others (similar to Marin CCA)
    C. Sell off OHA – get rid of extremely low rent paying people leeching off the rest of us in more ways than one – gradually or all at once
    D.

    Is this extreme? Yes. Does it maintain and increase public safety in Oakland? Yes.

    Our circumstances were totally forseen by people in the oil and gas industry, scholars like Paul Erlich and the authors of Limits to Growth. But we are all human including me, so we put things off. Now we can’t do that anymore and hence people are angry and everyoen wants a scapegoat.

    Now we see what the downslope of “peak oil” means. It means that people and organizations now have difficulty with debt service. It means everyone goes bankrupt and debts and leverage are worked out and deleveraged.

    Oakland does not need more debt. It needs LESS.

    We should pull together the best we can since Sac, New York and DC will forsake us even further in the coming years. Time to plant winter veggies! =) Good for depression uplift, and something we can ALL do. Positive. Self-sustaining. Sustainable.

    When the USSR disintegrated, lots of people grew potatoes to stay alive. They’re easy to grow in a small space. But it’s better to start sooner so you learn more and have something going before you need it. The institution called “City of Oakland” may go away, but a good number of us will still be here.

    Does it matter if institutions change? Were any of you personally sad to see General Motors the elder go away? Do you miss Circuit City and Linens’n'Things? Probably not.

  18. Robert

    And if we insist on having furloughs instead of laying staff off, then why not have one fifth the the staff on furlough every work day, and not close offices totally on Fridays? At least there would still be some pretense at serving the public every day then. Does the city council actually believe that nobody wants to use the library between Christmas and New Years?

  19. Robert

    KenO, I live in the hills. I would much rather have my PSO down in the flats where he might actually help control crime instead of listening to my neighbors complaints about how somebody parked on the wrong side of the street.

  20. Robert

    KenO, Paul Erhlich predicted 50 years ago that the world would end 40 years ago. He was wrong. (Full disclosure, I believed him then.) As a consequence, I am a little more skeptical of doom and gloom prophesiers now.

  21. KenO

    Robert – so glad you brought up libraries! I thought about this last night too. If we have two police departments (7th St HQ set to implode in a quake, plus the $70k/month rental at Eastmont “Mall”) then we do we need more than two libraries? We clearly need more police stations than libraries.

    how about this. Oakland has three main economic loci: north, east, central. So keep one branch open in each sector — just as Wayne Tucker’s vapid old “geographic policing” has the city broken down into three slices.

    Deleveraging and paying down our debts means that we’ll all do less consumption.

    Less eating out. Fewer flights to Las Vegas or grandma’s. Less clothes bought at JCrew each winter. Less miles driven in your Focus or Prius. More repairing of clothes and shoes. Fewer houses flipped (besides foreclosures, of which there is a huge shadow inventory) and fewer stocks traded (except by big banks and that hedge fund named Goldman Sachs, using funny money).

    This means less complexity. Less tertiary parts of the economy will be needed, and paid for. What is primary and actually needed? Take a trip to India or Cambodia and you will see. Food. Water. Security. Some transport. Perhaps an intermittent energy source.

    Until we have cold/hot fusion, “hydrogen cars” (BS), or a hot air powered city hall (?), then we should really concentrate on the basics. Water, food, security. Everything else is a luxury, including the jacuzzi where I live.

  22. KenO

    Robert – Jimmy Carter, Paul Erlich. They were right. They only made the mistake of assigning a date.

    As you can see, some of our bills have come due and more are on the way, with no paycheck to handle them. Something’s got to give.

    Glad you have a healthy perspective on PSOs.

  23. Bob LaMartin

    I can’t agree with those who advocate redeploying the PSOs for the simple reason that this goes against the specific language of Measure Y, which promised a PSO in every community policing beat. Measure Y is a joke, but the city won’t get it until they can’t collect the tax any more.

    I don’t have a handle on the entire city budget (anyone have a link to the final budget as passed by cc?), but I can reduce the deficit by 10% with the simple expediency of eliminating the Neighborhood Services Coordinators and the alleged adult supervision they get from the Neighborhood Services manager.

    NSCs do next to nothing for anyone except themselves, and cost us 6 figures each in pay and benefits. They are unaccountable and useless, but they have a constituency of sycophants who they have cozied up to in the community who can be counted on to turn people out at cc meetings when they are threatened. I think their budget is ~$2.3M, and as long as they can get away without doing their jobs, everyone else in SICU feels safe in theirs.

    Bob LaMartin

  24. KenO

    Does this sound like Oakland?

    “The sad truth of the matter is that we face the need to fundamentally restructure the way we live and what we do in North America, and probably along the lines of much more modest expectations, and with very different practical arrangements in everything from the very nature of work to household configurations, transportation, farming, capital formation, and the shape-and-scale of our settlements. This is not just a matter of re-tuning what we have now. It means letting go of much of it, especially our investments in suburbia and motoring – something that the American public still isn’t ready to face. They may never be ready to face this and that is why we may never make a successful transition to whatever the next economy is. Rather, we will undertake a campaign to sustain the unsustainable and sink into poverty and disorder as we fight over the table scraps of the old economy… and when the smoke clears nothing new will have been built.

    excerpt from Clusterfuck Nation 2010 Predictions:
    http://kunstler.com/blog/2009/12/forecast-2010.html

  25. david vartanoff

    @ Robert about rolling furloughs. You save much more money not turning on the lights, computers for a day than trying to do 1/5 each day.

  26. Born in Oakland

    So what about combining some functions? Children’s books/programs now occurring at the libraries move to Recreation Centers parttime. (combine some of Parks & Rec w/ Libraries). Have rolling closures of libraries: Dimond open Mon, Wed, Fri and Lakeshore opened Tues and Thurs utilizing the same staff who travel to the opened branch.

    I think there is a real opportunity to find income in the Oakland Business Tax program. For decades I have received a bill and dutifully and honestly reported and paid $13.95 per $1000 of gross income on the small rental units on my property. I know that most of the people on my block who own a duplex or have a mother in law cottage do not pay these taxes. There is no way to get caught unless you once paid and then stopped paying.

    I would vote for a parcel tax if we repealed Kids First (and I was once a supporter of that program). And don’t even get me going on Measure Y or the LLAD.

  27. len raphael

    BiO, i’ve found Oakland tax dept to be very aggressive searching out unreported rental and small business owners who never reported previously. but since Oakland is matching info on income tax returns reported to CA. could be your neighbors are not reporting their rental income on their income tax returns…

    if oakland loosened up on it’s zoning for home based businesses, there might be an instant uptick from small biz’s that report their activities to other cities using PO boxes etc.

  28. Born in Oakland

    Len, you are probably right about not reporting the income on their tax returns. The honest, play by the rules-as-stated, citizen pays Business Tax and Income Tax and Property Tax.

  29. Andrew

    I’ve tried looking up instructions for paying the city’s tax for a small home-based writing practice. It’s an inordinate amount of work to pay just sixty bucks a year: finding and filling out a form, getting a letter from the landlord, making an appointment with the city to arrange a permit, and the instructions are woefully abstruse–maybe there’s more. It costs city staff much more time to permit and administer than the money would justify, not to mention the value of my own time. Forget that.

  30. Livegreen

    Re all this talk about eliminating prior bonds and Prop Taxes, I would like to point out that JB & the CC have not proposed that & they won’t as they’re too afraid of the interests that support them. Also waiting for either that to happen or JB & Bruce’s new tax for existing OPD services will only decrease the time they have to make cuts. As time goes, more money gets spent, and the more drastic the cuts have to be.

  31. Livegreen

    This is a fundamental contradiction in Bruce’s argument. & If they wait for a measure that either never happens or gets rejected, it only gets worse. All this waiting around not taking action, as the CC has been since June, is simply not a viable policy and is not responsible.

  32. Livegreen

    In the Mayor’s race I’ve been on the fence up until now, but the lack of leadership by anybody on the CC strikes against all of them. Politically, JQ is going to b a loser if this continues. All the Dapper Don has to do is shut up, sit tight, and let the CC hang themselves as they’re doing now.

    Which, BTW, is exactly why IDLF isn’t showing any leadership against JBs tax proposal or JQs polling. (Which she needs to form an opinion?)

  33. Born in Oakland

    Anybody heard anything about Robert Bobb lately? Do you think he might pop up once RD declares one way or the other?

    Just googled him and he is continuiing on with the Detroit School system until 2011.

  34. Lee Aurich

    I would support a parcel tax. We the citizens demand a large variety of services from our government and should be willing to pay.

  35. len raphael

    odd, but i’m coming around to seeing the benefits of doing nothing till the last second. (well, maybe 4 mos before we stop making payroll, paybles, and bond pa,yments).

    a. there are certainly going to be more municipal bankruptcies occurring. if we wait till that happens the mere threat of bankruptcy gains credibility with unions and retirees. no union leader who wants to keep her job would suggest massive pay cuts and retiree benefit cuts unless the alternative is the fate of gm’s employees and retiree’s.

    as harmful to our muni borrowing costs/ability bankruptcy would be, at some point we’ll sink to vallejo’s level of desperation. there will be some safety in numbers if a whole herd of cities go bankrupt at same time. might even get lawyers to compete on the fees :) .

    b. if we wait till other cities massively lay off employees, all the city employees will become much more amenable to 25% pay and benefit cuts. if we tried that now, the unions would shut down the city government because they rightfully distrust the pols more than most of us do. eg. by getting rid of deadwood management levels, terminating outsourced social programming, planning the repeal of kids first.

    another 20Mill in the hole is worth it if it means +100mill annual savings. without those massive cost reductions, a small public security parcel tax is trying to fight a house fire with a garden hose.

    -len raphael

  36. Naomi Schiff

    Repeating myself, but: not only are parks and libraries important, they are a comparatively small part of the general budget (currently 3% each). Yes we need the branches; among the large number of library users are children and high school students, who in general don’t have cars. Because few of our schools have libraries, many teachers visit and use the libraries with their classes. The 81st Ave. library is being constructed intentionally for both school and general use. The libraries deliver services to a great many citizens and are a good value.

  37. Ralph

    Let those kids eat cake – more seriously why does Oakland not participate in Alameda County library system. And what is school and general use? When i was a kid, were public libraries used by the public? I don’t recall special school and general use?

    Lee, you can’t possibly be serious. Even CC admits they have not been efficient with our resources and you want to give them more?

  38. Eric

    I have to agree with all of the other comments – the idea of another parcel tax is ludicrous. 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. And New York, with a population of 8.3 million and 461 murders in 2009, down from 2,262 in 1990? A per capita cost of $518. Chief Batts has the money for the largest and finest police department per capita in the country. He and the Mayor and City Council need to figure out how to budget the very generous financial resources already available to build that police department.

    There was a very funny episode of The Simpsons where Bart did something like electrifying a donut. Homer would say “Mmm… doughnut”, grab the donut, get electrocuted, immediately forget what just happened, and repeat the process. You know, a cartoonish depiction of stupidity. When we pass a parcel tax to fix a problem, don’t get the desired results, and propose another parcel tax to fix the same problem, it isn’t quite as funny.

    Throwing money at a problem is only a solution if a lack of money is the problem. In this case it isn’t – the problem is decades of poor management. There isn’t a silver bullet for these types of problems, and if there were it certainly wouldn’t be more money. If we are already paying more per capita for police services than San Francisco, LA, and New York yet have a higher crime rate than any of them how could money possibly be the problem?

    We all want to do something about crime to make us feel in control and like we are helping to make things better. But can’t we just wear a blue ribbon or something? It costs less than a parcel tax and is just as useful.

  39. Livegreen

    If the City accepts COPS funding from the Feds to not fire Officers, is there an obligation to not go ahead and lay off those same Officers & use the money for something else?

    If there is a consequence, JBs threat is empty (at least for the # of Officers that were funded). If there isn’t any consequence the Obama administration will sure look bad if the Republicans find out about Oakland.

  40. Bob LaMartin

    Mr. Aurich,

    Would you support a new parcel tax if the funds were not used to pay for those services? If they were diverted for some other purpose and the promised benefit never materialized, but you had to pay the parcel tax anyway?

    That’s what has happened with Measure Y.

    There is a difference between voting to tax ourselves for services which we might benefit from, and the cynical way we have been lied to about Measure Y. Anyone who still believes that Oakland will use another parcel tax any differently than they have used the last one should be careful about burning their lips on that crack pipe.

    Fortunately, it is unlikely that the Oakland electorate could be fooled again, especially after the facts of Measure Y are laid out. Well, a full 2/3 of the electorate. On the other hand, it is Oakland.

    Bob LaMartin

  41. Livegreen

    Hah! According to COPS Funding Oakland must keep, and cannot fire, “its locally-funded sworn force baseline of officer positions”:

    ” Q: If awarded funding from the CHRP grant program, will our agency be obligated to keep the total number of officers on staff at the time the grant was awarded, or are we only required to keep the grant position at the end of the three year program?

    A: To comply with the non-supplanting of the CHRP grant, the grantee must maintain its locally-funded sworn force baseline of officer positions during the grant award period through the retention period. To comply with the retention requirement of the CHRP grant, the grantee must add all awarded officer positions to its law enforcement budget with state and/or local funds for at least 12 months at the conclusion of 36 months of federal funding for each position, over and above the locally-funded sworn force baseline. The purpose of CHRP is to increase the total number of sworn officer positions that would have otherwise existed in the absence of the grant.”. This from the COPS website: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/Default.asp?Item=2130

    Now the question remains:
    –Is the Baseline the $ of Officers presently budgeted (including the Officers that were in the COPS application but weren’t granted, and weren’t laid off), or is it the Baseline in the COPS application?
    –Could Oakland ask for a hardship exemption?

    Depending on the Baseline, the COPS funding either limits or eliminates or makes it very difficult for Oakland to lay off Officers…

  42. V Smoothe

    Nothing in the CHRP grant prevents us from letting go police officers. If we do, we simply have to give the money back. Just like if we lay off police officers, we would have to stop collecting the Measure Y parcel tax. Same deal.

  43. Livegreen

    Yeah, but then JB has to sell giving free money & 45 Officers back to the Feds in order to tax us more. I wonder if that helps her chances?

  44. MarleenLee

    So a new parcel tax needs support of 2/3 of the voters. Of the 45 responses so far, only one person supports a parcel tax. I’m not saying that there aren’t others in Oakland with Lee’s level of sophisticated logic who would support the tax; I’m sure there are quite a few. Like people who don’t follow the news; like people who struggle with basic arithemetic and don’t realize how much extra we are already paying for public safety, when most cities somehow manage to pay for a decent sized police force with no parcel taxes at all. Like people who don’t own property and who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about forcing others to pay more taxes. Or rich liberals who live in the hills who think paying another $100 is just a drop in the bucket if it means preserving their million dollar house value, but who couldn’t be bothered with concepts as complicated as “principle.”

    But be real – last year’s parcel tax attempt failed miserably, and that was before the verdict came in on the Measure Y lawsuit. When an average citizen (okay, I’m not average, but you get my drift) can sue the City in her spare time, and win, hopefully most people will realize that the City REALLY screwed up with Measure Y, and would be appalled by the mere idea of the City spending a small forturne of their heard earned tax dollars to even put such an insulting proposal before them. What, you want us to pay even MORE taxes while convicted felons keep their job repairing parking meters at $70,000 a year, with full benefits? So that Deborah Edgerly’s daughter can flunk the police academy four times? So that Dellums can keep his limo driver and stay at the Ritz? I could go on and on. And I will when I get time to do a more thorough blog post on the subject.

  45. Barbara Newcombe

    I doubt anyone will endure the preceding trail of responses, but here goes.

    Transferring OPD jobs to civilian employees could help. It will be resisted by OPOA to the max.

    We as ordinary citizens can help by volunteering. A small group cleaned up Cleveland Cascade park, got rid of continuous drinking, drugs, prostitution and made it a peaceful, clean place. Crime has dipped around the Cascade in spite of the fact that it is very heavily used by pedestrians and exercizers. Non-emergency calls to OPD are fairly rare now. One more example of grassroots activism.

  46. MarleenLee

    Just because a union will object to a proposal does not mean that it should not be implemented. That’s one of the problems that I see reflected in the comments here. Like, if the union objects, we can just forget about it. What??? Stop being such wimps! Getting salaries and benefits in line with other police departments. A logical concept, no? But if the union objects to something that is logical and fiscally responsible, we should just roll over? Reducing waste and inefficiency, like civilianizing certain functions. Who would object to that? A bunch of greedy and lazy union leaders/workers who think “accountability” is a dirty word, that’s who. Call the unions on their greed and motives, and let logic and fiscal responsibility prevail. It can be done; it just requires backbone.

  47. len raphael

    Ml, it’s not simply backbone needed to oppose unions. What’s needed is countervailing political force.

    NY and CA state and big city compensation packages rose so much over the last decade was the concentrated political power in public unions both thru pacs and off the book volunteer labor and use of offices, phone banks etc.

    Not to belittle you success’s because they’re vital, but without organizing and motivating oakland likely to vote residents, the cc members will be very cautious about harming the short term interests of union leaders.

  48. MarleenLee

    Len, I think the CC needs to seriously consider who they want to avoid pissing off the most: the unions and their workers, who want to avoid pay cuts/job loss and protect their own self interests, or the rest of us, who take pay cuts and job loss as a given in an economy such as this, and who see the union forces as a bunch of greedy whiners who are an enormous contributing factor to the state and city economic crisis. I really think there are a lot more of us than there are of them and the CC needs to start counting the votes.

  49. Ralph

    Wages are sticky. The private sector may implement temporary wage reductions but I am not aware of permanent wage cuts. The risk of loss of morale, productivity and workers outweighs any benefit to be gained. I recommend job loss, wage freeze, and elimination of the cola and merit/productivity increases. When private sector employers give an employee a raise, it is simply a raise. The raise may be 1% or 7%. They do not distinguish COLA from productivity.

    That being said, there are probably some positions which are well overpaid such as $75K meter repair guy that need to be eliminated and some overpaid positions such as the $180K mayor need to be eliminated because the value is not there.

  50. MarleenLee

    Ralph, public agencies can and do negotiate permanent wage cuts with public employee unions. What some people don’t understand is that most unions negotiate for automatic wage increases for their employees using “step and column” charts, where for each year of service, the employee gets an automatic increase every year, regardless of the fiscal health of the agency, regardless of the employee’s lack of competence, misconduct etc. Then, on top of that, they negotiate on a regular basis for cost of living adjustments. Most of them get benefits you and I could only dream of. Lately, public employers (with backbone and an understanding of fiscal responsibility) have been successful in negotiating wage freezes, slashing benefits and retirement benefits, and even actual wages, in light of the economic crisis. It can and should be done in Oakland.

  51. Bruce Nye

    While I don’t find the vehemence of the response to a parcel tax proposal at all surprising, what is surprising, and disappointing, is this: not a single commenter so far has addressed (a) the city’s outrageous murder rate; (b) the backlog of 2500 uninvestigated domestic violence cases; or (c) the fact that the city has apparently given up on investigating non-violent crime.

    There is clearly a consensus among ABO commenters for furloughs, layoffs or salary reductions to close the budget gap, and my sense is that at least a majority favors making those reductions in departments other than OPD and FF (where they really couldn’t be made anyway). So let’s have a contest: who can tell us what percentage of Oakland’s GPF non-OPD, non-FF personnel costs would have to be cut in order to balance Oakland’s budget for the balance of FY 2009-10? For FY 2010-11?

  52. Livegreen

    Wrong Bruce, I think OPD wages and benefits should also be cut. They were hired at the height of the market at the end of the inflated bubble in PD salaries when PDs around CA were just starting to end their hiring. Dom, head of OPD hiring and OPOA, was optimistic about hiring potential for exactly that reason. He was also a proponent for hiring “the best candidates, up in the valley”. (Another reminder that much of our tax money gets exported to the benefit of surrounding smaller, wealthier & safer cities).

  53. MarleenLee

    I oppose furloughs. Basically, this is just giving public employees the day off, and providing no service to the public. Yeah, the employees don’t get paid for the day off, but the ones who really get hurt by furloughs are the people who are supposed to be served by the public servants. Bruce, I also think you may be misinterpreting our responses on salary cuts. OPD should not be immune. The City needs to look at what other local police departments offer in terms of salary and benefits, and make sure that they are in line. If they are not, cut them. Heck, they should be cut regardless. The officers are still not likely to quit in this economy.

  54. Livegreen

    Bruce, You’re also asking us to pay for the CC sitting on this for months AND according to COPS funding they can’t layoff Officers below the Baseline locally funded #!

  55. Ralph

    Bruce, when you think about it, 1 murder every 3 days is not that bad, try two a days. Find me a major city that still investigates non-violent crime?

    ML, can you provide an example of a public union that agreed to perm wage cuts. I can not find such a case. I am more familiar with concession today only to be recouped in the out years.

    I am not sure how I feel about the step charts. Coming from a union family it is something I learned about as a young lad. I always thought that the professionals who performed were getting screwed because lazy bones got the same raise. But I am also familiar with the horror stories of people, who would in a non-union setting be in a position to evaluate employees and determine raise, holding personal grudges against employees.

    What I don’t understand is why more municipalities have not switched from a DB to a DC. The 90% on 5 yrs highest wages was your delayed benefit for taking low wages today, but if you are going to take high wages today, you need to be willing to change the equation.

    As to city employee pay, the city should adopt the Microsoft model, not trying to be the highest in the industry but somewhere in the middle. I have suggested before and I think it even came up in a city audit, but someone needs to do a salary comparison with other bay area munis and we needed to recalibrate accordingly.

  56. MarleenLee

    Livegreen – earlier this month teachers at West Contra Costa Unified School District agreed to a new contract that takes away family health benefits. For many teachers, this amounts to a takeway of between $5000-$10,000 annually. Previously, when that district was facing state receivership (it was eventually taken over, similar to OUSD) the unions had to take significant pay cuts. Hey, my husband is a teacher and our family pays union dues too. But at his district the union offered a zero pay increase for three years if the District agreed to no layoffs and no pay decreases, and the District refused. It wants the freedom to lay off and/or impose wage decreases, and this is in a district where teachers have NO health benefits and salaries are around the worst in the entire Bay Area!

  57. Ralph

    Just for sake of clarity, when I refer to a wage cut, I mean a cut in salary, i.e. if your annual salary is 50K and your employer chipped in $5K for benefits, then a 10% wage cut would mean your salary is $45K and you still get $5K benes. If an employer strips you of $5K benes, I view that as a loss in total compensation. Of course, the ‘ee will see it as a wage cut because he will need to pay it out of pocket, but it isn’t a wage cut by my defn.

    Long story short, I am not a fan of unions that get entrenched with saving positions. I do think we need to rethink the compensation policies.

  58. Livegreen

    And there are not only Personnel to look at. The CC only cut 10% from some Cultural Centers, equating them to core services, even though they receive outside funding from foundations and serve very few citizens.

    If they continue to get ANY funds they should at least b cut significantly more.
    + they might even get it back from their other donors.

  59. MarleenLee

    Bruce, of course the City’s murder rate is unacceptable. That goes without saying. Oakland’s crime problem as a whole is unacceptable. Rapes, robberies, burglaries, response times – it is all unacceptable. Why comment on something not even worthy of debate? But all you are suggesting is that we pay for the junkie’s next shot of heroin. If you think that giving the City more of our hard earned money will actually make a dent in the crime problem, you have not been following the issues long enough or closely enough. Back in 2004 we generously gave the City $20 million in Measure Y funds, and we were promised in return 63 additional officers and full staffing at 803. Didn’t happen. Oh, and Jane Brunner kept saying we really didn’t need more officers up until recently. Coincidentally, it coincides with a budget crisis. What a surprise.

  60. Livegreen

    And this is for Officers we already have. It’s not like we’re getting more Officers to fight and decrease crime. (Though they can’t do that without losing COPS funding, making it an empty threat).

    Why not threaten us with a cut in libraries and parks unless we pay for another Prop Tax or Bond on that too? Well just like for Pubic Safety we already have one of those, so we won’t vote for a 2nd. But threaten us with Safety and they think they might have a chance at it.

  61. Politically Uncorrected Leftist in Laurel

    I, for one, don’t think that Oakland’s murder rate, or violent crime rate, is unworthy of debate. Of course this violence is unacceptable, but it is much more than that. It is outrageous and an enormous burden on the community as a whole. If we focused on it, talked about it, and explored it, perhaps we would stop playing the Republican game (whatever we think our political orientations may be) of simply blaming government. Not talking about the violence is a good way to deny its significance and to continue to put up with it.

    There’s an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times on the fact that homicides continue to decrease in NYC, despite a sworn officer reduction of 15%. This is due to state-of-the art problem-solving.

    Maybe we should start talking about violence and about good policing (and how to begin it here) rather than which ballot measure, City Councilperson, or other government official is to blame.

  62. len raphael

    ML, actually JB made a mid course correction to support more cops, during the televised election debate with Pat McCullough, spring 2008. But only if residents would agree to a new parcel tax.

    So yes, our cc incumbents do listen to constituents, a little.

  63. livegreen

    I am not a Republican, and I am not engaged in their tactics. We’ve had violence near our house in the past. We pay property taxes. We have had a decrease in income over the past 18 months, and we are not alone among our neighbors. And we are certainly not alone among those struggling to keep up with their mortgages over the same time frame or today.

    I am open to more Officers. I am a proponent of more economic development for blue collar jobs. I’m even willing to put up with the existing job training programs sponsored by our existing taxes and the City. However not paid for by another Property Tax or Bond, esp. for services which we’ve already paid for both through the City’s GPF AND through existing Prop Taxes & Bonds (2x already! where they haven’t been backfilled).

    Chief Batts seems to have some good plans starting. We’ll see where that takes us rather than micro-managing him (at least for now).

  64. livegreen

    In the meantime we can’t sit and wait to see where that takes us to take action on the budget. If, Politically Uncorrected, that is what you’re proposing, well that’s the CC has already been sitting back and doing little since July. (Look under the Issues section of ABO, under Budgets. The same $ amount has been under discussion since then).

    And doing nothing, as Bruce has well documented, is what has gotten us into this place. Did you even read Bruce’s post?

    And you say we shouldn’t hold our CC & Politicians accountable for doing nothing? That is not Democratic OR Republican. That is Democracy.

  65. MarleenLee

    PUL – Nobody is suggesting not discussing the violence in Oakland. It is a frequent topic on this and other Oakland blogs. But the subject of this post was fixing the budget crisis, and the proposal of a tax. All I implied was that it goes without saying that the level of violence here is unacceptable, and hence, the lack of comments on that subject was not surprising. I myself was spurred into action on this particular subject after having been a victim of crime myself (which was never investigated) and after several of my neighbors were mugged. I talk about crime here a lot and have led and attended numerous community meetings on the subject. I don’t know where you get the idea that “blaming” government is a “Republican game.” That’s like saying name-calling is a Republican game. I personally think identifying problem politicians and bad ideas (which you call “blaming”) is very healthy and supports the democratic process, by helping to promote exchange of information and accountability. Of course I don’t think that this is all people should do; they can and should do more.

  66. CitizenX

    A few comments:

    Civilianization of a number of police positions is a good idea, BUT if a position held by a sworn officer is civilianized and the City doesn’t reduce the sworn position, there is an additional cost to fund the new civilian.

    The City shutdown days are the way the City has of unilaterally reducing the pay of its employees. As noted above, it also reduces services to the public. Of course, it is ineffective against sworn public safety employees, because the City won’t/can’t reduce their services.

    Wages are subject to bargaining. The City may not simply impose lower salaries and benefits. No doubt, now is a great time to negotiate concessions, given the current economy. The City has little leverage with its sworn unions. With the civilian units, it’s concessions vs. layoffs. The CC, in their infinite wisdom (NOT), gave up this leverage with firefighters, through their (backroom) minimum staffing agreement, and with police officers, through the drafting of Measure Y.

    Measure Y was a loser before the voters approved it. The CC knew it would not fully fund the additional police officers or the full staffing of firehouses over time. The 40% funding for feel good social programs was simply a bone for all the citizens who believe cops are bad and criminals are victims of society. Times have changed since 2004 and the public outcry for more police protection has grown and the social programs have done little other than keep certain non-profits flush with cash. Time for an initiative to scrap Measure Y and implement a new and improved measure that will actually make a difference?

  67. Bruce Nye

    So I proposed a contest, and nobody entered. The questions were these: “who can tell us what percentage of Oakland’s GPF non-OPD, non-FF personnel costs would have to be cut in order to balance Oakland’s budget for the balance of FY 2009-10? For FY 2010-11?” To answer these questions, it doesn’t matter whether you are talking about furloughs, paycuts, shutdowns; we’re just talking dollars. And for 2009-2010, it doesn’t matter what you think about parcel taxes, since no parcel tax is giong to impact the rest of this fiscal year.

    As far as I can tell, the answers are these: If the proposed one time funding for FY 2009-10 is actually worth $5.1 million, and if you make the leap of faith that this, and the internal budget tricks of $3.4 million are acceptable ways to bridge part of the gap, there is still a gap of $10.4 million. To close that gap with personnel reductions outside of public safety would, if my tentative calculations are correct, take an average per department GPF personnel budget reduction of somewhere in excess of 30% for the balance of the fiscal year. Because of various mandates (none of which are going to be changed in any way during this fiscal year), some departments would have to take lower cuts, while others would have to take higher ones.

    The personnel cuts to bridge the 2010-11 gap of $25 million (and we all know it will ultimately be more than that, but let’s live in fantasyland here for a while longer) will also be between 30% and 33%.

    Anybody see the CC making those kinds of cuts?

    I’ll post more on this (and show my work) either at ABO (if I’m still welcome here) or Oaktalk, or somewhere, next week.

  68. jack b dazzle

    Bruce,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough post. Reality really bites. Why aren’t you on the city counsel?

    Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, we will have less police, less services, and more crime in the near future. We will continue to fall as a city if we do not recognize that we can no longer afford libraries, sports teams, NIMBY’s and early retirement for our civil service workers. We will all have to work together to focus on what really is important to us.

    I for one would support a tax increase if I trusted our leaders. Right now, giving more money to Oakland just enables the city to continue down the wrong path and will only allow us to get deeper in the hole.

  69. Livegreen

    Bruce, Thanks and I do appreciate your posts (updates too). I just disagree that it’s taxpayers that should foot the bill. First we’re paying both GPF & initiative Fund money for some of our basic services already. 2nd, we have the highest paid City (taxpayer) employees in the Country, yet they’ve only received a temporary furlough (NO permanent salary cuts). 3rd, an increase in Prop Taxes is going to add to the challenges facing many struggling homeowners who have received much larger pay cuts from Private employers. 4th, we haven’t yet looked at non-payroll city spending.

    I’m a moderate Democrat and this is not real world accounting. The City should not b run just for City employees alone, but for the taxpayers. If not all we get is higher paid City employees for stagnant or lower services. It has been well demonstrated on ABO how we’re paying much more for equivalent or lower services when even compared to the most expensive place to live in the country, NYC.

    The CC hasn’t started to make the hard choices, only the easy ones. It’s time for them to do their job and work for the taxpayers (not the City employees, many of whom don’t even live in Oakland). Personally I do welcome the continued discussion, even if you disagree.

  70. Ralph

    Bruce,
    You are always welcome here. I just have no interest in giving the junkie their next shot of heroin. (I really can’t wait to use that when CC gets around to their survey re: new taxes.) You give me a proposal that includes curtailing existing ballot box budget measures and limits future ballot box measures, then I am with you.

  71. Bruce Nye

    Thanks everybody, this has been a great discussion. The real job, though, is to take the discussion outside the blogging world and into the real world. Regardless of how severe each of us may think the cuts have to be (and where they have to be made), the CC hasn’t yet showed up on this at all. Take a look at the agenda for next week’s meeting, and locate the sections dealing with the city’s financial crisis. The agenda is here: http://tiny.cc/wVMFY Go ahead and look, I’ll wait.

    Oh, you say there’s nothing about that in the agenda? Well that’s ok, the heavy lifting must be going on in committees, right? Finance & Management meets on 1/12, and their agenda is here http://tiny.cc/7z0V2. Must be a detailed plan for addressing the financial crisis, right? Well, no, actually there’s a detailed plan for assigning free parking places to city employees. http://tiny.cc/snGdN

    So, on January 11, 6:30, let’s turn off the computers, come down to City Hall for MOBN!’s emergency budget meeting and figure out as a group what we tell the City Council. If you’d like to help us promote the meeting off-line (and we could really use the help) please e-mail me at oaklanders@makeoaklandbetter.org.

  72. Politically Uncorrected Leftist in Laurel

    My previous comment was intended to try to spur some new thinking about two interrelated problems, Oakland’s budget and Oakland’s crime problems. Although I succeeded only in stimulating some posters’ defensiveness, I won’t stop trying.

    Discussions of violence, here and elsewhere in Oakland, are, in my opinion, mostly unproductive. Such discussions focus almost completely on gross measurements of the size of the Oakland Police Department or whether there are a certain number of investigators doing whatever. Seldom do discussions focus on the substantive issues of effective policing, which I, and others, think are far more important.

    There also isn’t discussion of the perpetrators of this violence. Chief Batts has mentioned guns, drugs and gangs, which may be better than nothing, but is hardly definitive. Where is the evidence so that the police can do some real problem-solving? How is such evidence gathered and analyzed?

    Last, there is a completely-neglected but critical area about Oakland crime which needs full exploration. This has to do with the culture of violence here, which likely arises out of the structural violence suffered by certain socio-economic classes in Oakland. The real, long-term problem to solve may well be this structural violence. Those who are interested in exploring this topic, which is much more difficult and not nearly as satisfying as blaming Oakland’s officials, can read James Gilligan’s “Violence.”

  73. Bob LaMartin

    Bruce,

    Before I join the contest and try to address your question, I wanted to share this link http://www.oaklandbudgetchallenge.com/

    You can go through the budget yourself and make the hard decisions without the need to fear SICU, lawsuits or the backlash of the electorate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it has been updated since last spring, but back then it was fun to close the budget gap, and I found it remarkably easy to do.

    As to your specific question, I think this is a trick question. Your question was “who can tell us what percentage of Oakland’s GPF non-OPD, non-FF personnel costs would have to be cut in order to balance Oakland’s budget for the balance of FY 2009-10? For FY 2010-11?” Forgive my ignorance, but are you talking about FF from 2002? What does that have to do with the budget if GG, HH, and II didn’t pass? Is this a different FF? What about OFD?

    Also, I disagree with you that “no parcel tax is going to impact the rest of this fiscal year.” There is some small chance that if just a few more people challenge the Measure Y tax that the city has forfeited by neither funding or fielding 802 officers, the city attorney will be forced to admit that Measure Y taxes cannot be collected in FY 09-10, and the budget deficit will increase by ~$20M. I don’t know why RHANAC isn’t running with this, since they have the most to gain for their members. Marlene has shown us all the way, all of her pleadings can be found on domain web http://apps.alameda.courts.ca.gov/domainweb/html/index.html and entering the case number RG08380286. That could have a big impact on the budget, though admittedly in the other direction than you were suggesting.

    I look forward to your updated posting, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that it is ~$10.4M. No, I don’t see the city council having the collective spine to make those kinds of cuts. I have suggested eliminating the NSCs, I believe that would save about $2.3M, but I didn’t get a lot of response to that idea. Oakland has too many sacred cows, and every one of those cows has a constituency.

    So what is the answer? I’m afraid that the only answer I see is electing a strong mayor to fill the “strong mayor” position which is now vacant (empty suit), have him or her hire a strong city manager like Robert Bob (“call me Mr. Bob”), and start holding managers and city employees responsible for the jobs they are paid to do. Fire everyone who isn’t doing their job and replace them. If that takes bankruptcy to eliminate the strangle hold of the unions on our collective throats, it’s the lesser of two evils. Oakland has already declared moral bankruptcy, I don’t know that fiscal bankruptcy is so different.

    Bob LaMartin

  74. Naomi Schiff

    One reason that Bob Bobb left is BECAUSE of the strong mayor structure. If you want a strong city manager, get rid of the strong mayor structure. (I am speaking here of the structure called “strong mayor” not the actual strength of any mayor.) One thing that “strong mayor” has done is to widen the gulf between mayor and city council. It has also reduced the amount of contact btween mayors and the public. And, it has turned the city manager into more of an instrument of the mayor’s initiatives. Overall, Strong Mayor doesn’t appear to be a success in this city, except for the part where it lures has-been politicians into running for the office.

  75. Bob LaMartin

    Ms. Schiff,

    I agree, that’s one of the reasons he left, but if we had an effective mayor, he or she could clean house with a good city manager. Unfortunately we have an empty suit for a Mayor and and an empty seat for a city manager (both big improvements over the previous occupants). You said it yourself, the city manager is an instrument of the mayor’s initiatives. I agree the strong mayor initiative doesn’t seem to have been very successful, but neither was the strong city council.

    I would like to suggest a third alternative: The strong citizen. Our elected officials fear only three things: the unions, the courts, and the citizens at election time. If there is a consensus on this by any group willing to do some heavy lifting, we could reduce the power of the parasitic unions, flex our muscles in court by demanding the city follow the law and the mandates of the people, and maybe even influence elections by attacking the old guard and fielding some candidates who would be willing to do what’s right for Oakland.

    Bob LaMartin

  76. Ralph

    Bob,
    Part of Oakland’s problem are the mandates of the people – ballot box budgeting comes to mind. The people are stupid and the politicians even more so. This town needs an enema.

    I’ve no idea why the mayor concept fails in Oakland. It has worked everywhere else I have lived that has a mayor and council. I do not see a mayor / manager concept working when each expect to have the same amount of power. But if you had a manager COO that might work.

  77. len raphael

    BN, the same point you’re making about unwillingness of residents and cc members to cut favored expenditures and entitlements was expressed by most posters on ABO re. opposing defeating Measure D (daughter of OO kids first) and then working to repeal OO. So now most of us bloggers agree that OO has to go and soon, plus massive cuts in all payroll and social programming before any parcel tax increases.

    Yes bloggers are not represenative of normal residents. (Nor are good government hills people.) But likely voters in an off year election recession housing crash year without Obamba running against Bush, are not representive of a random sample of all Oakland residents either.

    With say a 100k mailing/email/road sign campaign any additional parcel taxes would be defeated by a enough newer home buyers working class and middle class who are very likely to vote in a prop 13 mood. Many of these residents are already paying prop taxes that are a multiple of what upper middle class older residents are paying.

    Defeating all new parcel taxes would not be simply angry irrational frustration. Without a 40% cut in all non contracted general fund spending and a negotiated or forced cut in unfunded retirement obligations, a modest parcel tax would leave us limping along with substandard/deferred services and maintenance and would not provide the underpinnings of growing Oakland to where it could afford effective public amenities and social programs. In two or three years when the unfunded retirement costs hit, we’d be back in an even worse pit.

    Dismissing bankruptcy as you and V did is not a good strategy even if we never intend to go that route. We need more info on that route to evaluate and put a serious scare into union and non profit leadership. If the cc won’t or can’t discuss the bankruptcy option publicly, then citizen groups like MOBN and League of Women Voters should.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  78. Bob LaMartin

    Ralph,

    Good point. I was thinking in particular of Measures like Y, which is not delivering the 63 sworn officers promised (but the taxes continue to be collected, and more importantly, paid), without thinking about Measures like K and O, which were … shortsighted to say the least.

    Unfortunately, whatever system we can think of won’t compensate for incompetent people, and the best people in the world won’t compensate for the system we have allowed to develop.

    I do believe that this mess could be cleaned up, but it would take a great deal of political will, and a lot of hand holding of city council members who tremble in their boots and heels at the power of the unions. Oakland doesn’t try very hard to collect revenue due, and once an employee has been hired to do a job in Oakland, it is next to impossible to eliminate that employee, even if they are not doing their jobs.

    I think if Oakland were serious about raising revenue, they would try harder to collect it, and we wouldn’t be paying six figures in salaries and benefits to people who contribute little or nothing to the city (like the NSCs). Until we get serious about collecting revenue and eliminating waste, we’ll stay on the same old merry go around.

    Bob LaMartin

    PS: This thread wandered into civilianizing OPD positions, but unless someone has some specific suggestions, that issue has been looked into pretty thoroughly by OPD for at least the last 3 chiefs. Of the ~1151 employees in the Police Services Agency, aren’t ~784 sworn and ~367 civilians already? Please correct me if I am wrong.

  79. Bob LaMartin

    Yes, that’s 784 sworn, not 802. I don’t want to hijack this conversation, but it does seem on point to mention Oakland has no legal right to collect the Measure Y tax. Our illustrious city attorney may have gotten away with parsing “appropriation” to mean “budgeted but not funded or spent,” (for now) but even that wasn’t true in 2009, nor has it been true in FY 09-10.

    Any year that the city doesn’t fund 739 officers, the entire Measure Y parcel tax (and hotel tax) cannot be legally collected. The city is currently funding 721 sworn officers, and that number is falling.

    I think it is incumbent on anyone suggesting that Oaklanders should pay an additional parcel tax to address the critics who say the last parcel tax was a Trojan horse for more wasteful spending (the crack and heroine analogy), and anyone who thinks that 2/3 of the Oakland electorate would do so again is definitely smoking one of those two substances.

    Read the language in Measure Y:

    http://www.smartvoter.org/2004/11/02/ca/alm/meas/Y/

    “Section 4. MINIMUM POLICE STAFFING PREREQUISITE AT FISCAL YEAR 03-04 LEVEL

    No tax authorized by this Ordinance may be collected in any year that the appropriation for staffing of sworn uniformed police officers is at a level lower than the amount necessary to maintain the number of uniformed officers employed by the City of Oakland for the fiscal year 2003- 2004 (739).”

    Also read the the text of how the money must be used.

    “Section 3. USE OF PROCEEDS The tax proceeds raised by this ordinance may only be used as part of the following integrated program of violence prevention and public safety intervention, in accordance with the following specific purposes:

    1. Community and Neighborhood Policing: Hire and maintain a least a total of 63 police officers assigned to the following specific community-policing objectives:

    a. Neighborhood beat officers: each community policing beat shall have at least one neighborhood officer assigned solely to serve the residents of that beat to provide consistent contact and familiarity between residents and officers, continuity in problem solving and basic availability of police response in each neighborhood;

    b. School safety: supplement police services available to respond to school safety and truancy;

    c. Crime reduction team: at least 6 of the total additional officers to investigate and respond to illegal narcotic transactions and commission of violent crimes in identified violence hot spots;

    d. Domestic violence and child abuse intervention: additional officers to team with social service providers to intervene in situations of domestic violence and child abuse, including child prostitution;

    e. Officer training and equipment: training in community-policing techniques, establishing police-social services referrals and equipping officers provided in this paragraph, the total costs of which shall not exceed $500,000 in any fiscal year that this ordinance is in effect. ”

    Bob LaMartin

  80. Bob LaMartin

    Ralph,

    I agree, Marlene (Sacks) has covered the Measure Y illegality in great depth. I have a slightly different take on it than she does, but I apologize if I am covering old material. If she has already covered this, then my question is: Why are we still paying the parcel tax?

    I would say that as long as the city is able to illegally collect the Measure Y tax, all the blogging in the world won’t blind them to the simple fact that talk is cheap, and the citizens of Oakland will continue to put up with these kind of abuses, no matter how bad it gets.

    Bob LaMartin

  81. MarleenLee

    We’re still paying the tax because the CIty thinks they can get away with it. Same reason they took the $7.7 million from Measure Y in 2008. And these are the same people that Bruce wants you to make another “donation” to. The only thing that could stop the City from collecting the tax would be a lawsuit, combined with a request for preliminary injunction, which is exactly what will be coming the City’s way in the coming weeks if I can’t get a satisfactory settlement out of them. I’ve already filed my request for a refund for 09/10 (no response). Have you?

  82. Bob LaMartin

    Ralph,

    Yes! Submitted to the Director of Finance 150 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 5215
    Oakland, CA 94612. I’m awaiting my reply, and I fully expect it to be rejected, but that is a prerequisite for court action (and I see no reason why we can’t clog the small claims court with our cases, either).

    Everyone has a full year from the date of the payment to file such a request for refund, so depending on when you made your first payment for FY 09-10 (or your last payment for FY 08-09), you still have plenty of time.

    Thank you for asking. If enough people did the same, and prevailed (slam dunk), the city attorney would be forced to concede that Oakland has no right to collect this tax, and further attempts to collect the tax would force them to come to court with unclean hands. On the other hand, that sort of goes against the spirit of Mr. Nye’s posting, since this will add an additional ~$20M to the budget deficit.

    Hey, no big deal, maybe the city attorney can make up that amount through his other brilliant idea, the Personal Seat License fee at the Coliseum (roughly the same amount every year!). He’s got a lot of clever ideas.

    If V. Smoothe consents, I will write a step by step “how to” on getting a refund, based on my own experience, but only if enough people commit to filing for it. Remember, Ms. Sacks’ original complaint was a complicated equity issue, and she asked for injunctive relief. This is a simple claim of illegal collection of tax, and I can supply the legal rationale (perhaps with some vetting by other experts who write in to this blog). Many of the same issues, but an easier DIY case, especially in small claims.

    Here are the instructions from the text of Measure Y (how very prescient to have a process for dealing with illegally collected tax refunds).

    “Section 10. REFUND OF TAX, PENALTY, OR INTEREST PAID MORE THAN ONCE; OR ERRONEOUSLY OR ILLEGALLY COLLECTED.

    Whenever the amount of any tax, penalty, or interest imposed by this ordinance has been paid more than once, or has been erroneously or illegally collected or received by the City it may be refunded provided a verified claim in writing therefore, stating the specific ground upon which such claim is founded, is filed with the Director of Finance within one (1) year from the date of payment. The claim shall be filed by the person who paid the tax or such person’s guardian, conservator of the executor of her or his estate. No claim may be filed on behalf of other taxpayers or a class of taxpayers. The claim shall be reviewed by the Director of Finance and shall be made on forms provided by the Director of Finance. If the claim is approved by the Director of Finance, the excess amount collected or paid may be refunded or may be credited against any amounts then due and payable from the Person from who it was collected or by whom paid, and the balance may be refunded to such Person, his/her administrators or executors. Filing a claim shall be a condition precedent to legal action against the City for a refund of the tax. ”

    Anyone else willing to file for a refund?

    Bob LaMartin

  83. Livegreen

    Yes, I am. However please clarify: inpast the City budgeted for the min # of Officers (in accordance wihh M-Y), even though they didn’t hire them. Are they no longer even budgeting them? Even with the COPS funding?

    I’ve seen this alluded to, just not the specs. Sorry if I missed something or any prior posts detailing the actual # of Officers budgeted, etc.

  84. MarleenLee

    Bob, leave the legal arguments and filing of lawsuits to lawyers. Remember Charlie Pine? He was the first one to sue the City over Measure Y and he didn’t even make it out of the gate. His pleadings were actually pretty good for a non-lawyer, but fighting City Hall in court on an issue like this is not for amateurs. It’s hard. And expensive. I’ve been slogging it out for nearly two years and have spent thousands of dollars of my own money. You can’t stop collection of the tax in small claims court, and this is not a “DIY” matter. As for filing a claim for a refund, go for it, to make a statement. But note that if your claim is denied, you’d need to appeal that decision, as specified in Measure Y. (The court in my case actually ruled that I was not entitled t a refund because I did not do this. I actually disagree, because I interpret the language regarding appeals as discretionary as opposed to mandatory, but to be on the safe side, you would need to appeal.)

  85. Bob LaMartin

    Livegreen,

    Good for you!

    I would dispute that in the past the city budgeted for the minimum number of officers “in accordance with Measure Y”, I still dispute the City Attorney’s cynical interpretation of the letter of Measure Y, which is diametrically opposed to the spirit of of Measure Y.

    I believe that this issue has not been fully resolved, but if this unconscionable interpretation stands, then it is incumbent on all of us to remind the electorate that this is how parcel taxes get abused by a clever Manhattan lawyer who thinks he got one over on the rubes of Oakland. Fool us once, Mr. Russo, shame on you, fool us twice …

    My understanding is that the budget does not currently contain funding for 739 sworn officers, as required by Measure Y, but I am relying on the proposed budget dated May 5, 2009, along with the amendments made by council before it was passed before the summer adjournment. (Am I the only one who finds it odd that the adopted budget is not available on the budget department pages of Oaklandnet.com?)

    In that budget the city eliminated 140 FTEs of sworn officers from a total that was already well below the 802 required to continue to collect Measure Y funds, so unless the COPS grant is going to restore more than 140 FTEs (my understanding is that it will not), then the answer is no, they are no longer even budgeting for them.

    Or perhaps they have just found a new stratagem for concealing how they are stealing Measure Y funds.

    Bob LaMartin

  86. Bob LaMartin

    Ms. Sacks,

    Thanks for that ordinarily good advice, but I think I cam make … different arguments than Mr. Pine. On the other hand, I haven’t read his filings, so If you have the docket number for his case, I’ll check it out on Domain Web. I would not have raised all the points you raised, I dismissed many of them long before the court did, but you were approaching it from a different direction.

    I think your heroic (and expensive) battle with city hall is commendable, and I hope it will not be in vain. I have enjoyed both your filings and your blog since you filed this case. All of Oakland owes you a debt of gratitude, I intend to pay that debt by following your lead into this battle, just from a different flank.

    I welcome your constructive criticism; hell, any criticism. If you (or anyone) can find the flaws in my reasoning or arguments, that can only help me as I tilt at the city. On the other hand, if we want to form the old Oakland firing squad with me in the middle, who but a small circle of friends cares? Talk is cheap, blogging is free. Only action will carry the day.

    I may not be able to stop the collection of the Measure Y tax in small claims court, but I assure you that I can bring an action for a refund, as can we all. As you yourself pointed out, you didn’t ask for a simple refund. Ten thousand people filing in small claims court may do as much as one all encompassing action. What if I win? What if we all win? When and if the time comes to appeal, I think I can figure that out as well, I think I know how to use the state and local rules (all online), as well as the rules for civil procedure (the Witkin library is an oasis of peace in the squalor around the courthouse, and not subject to the same county budget cuts).

    Lots of roads to the same destination.

    Are you aware of anyone else who has tried this, win or lose?

    Bob LaMartin

  87. Robert

    Bob, I believe that there was a budget revision passed after the COPS funding was known that included funding for the 802 officer total. At some point in the fall they had to certify to the Alameda County Tax Collector that the city met the requirements to collect the Measure Y tax. That should have been at a council meeting in Sept/Oct.

    Marleen, my recollection about your case was that the court ruled that in order to collect the Measure Y tax the city needed to budget for the required officers, but did not need to have actually hired them. Correct?

  88. Bob LaMartin

    Robert,

    Unfortunately, I stopped going to council meetings after the summer recess and haven’t been back (too depressing, I just didn’t want to see a full nervous breakdown by a council member).

    Does anyone have any documentation at all about this certification to the Alameda County Tax Collector, or any subsequent information about how the city council was able to polish this … statement?

    Saying so doesn’t make it so, as we have learned. And where is the final approved 09-10 budget? I can’t find it anywhere on the Oaklandnet.com site, but the 08-09 budget is there. Why are we even discussing budget issues without a budget to refer back to? This is a great thread, but let’s include footnotes and links so we can all refer to the same information.

    Bob LaMartin

  89. Robert

    Bob, If I had the link handy I would have included it. Sorry. The website is terrible to try and find things.

  90. Mary Hollis

    This may sound naive but does the City of Oakland own either the Airport, the Coliseum or the Docks?

    Couldn’t any or all of them be sold for a significant sum?

    And why did Oakland never do what Emeryville did with an almost identical Bay frontage and DEVELOP?

  91. Becks

    The Port owns the Airport and the docks. Though you might think those would bring in lots of money, the way they’re being run means that the Port is in arguably worse financial shape than the City.

    The Coliseum is also a money loser.

  92. Ralph

    if i recall correctly the Port loses tons of business to LB, LA and Seattle because they can bring in bigger ships. But I’ve also heard teh Port is making improvement to the transportation network, which should make it attractive, and benefits from NorCal agri, but what do I know.

  93. Mary Hollis

    But if those three assets are all currently losing money, then doesn’t it make even more sense to sell them?

    It just seems to me that Oakland should focus on the handful of things it has to do, rather than run a diversified portfolio of utilities which someone else could maybe run much better?

    Especially if a sale would raise tens of millions.

  94. Becks

    The City can’t sell Port owned properties – only the Port can. The reason we’re losing money on the Coliseum, as I understand, is because of debt service so even if we sold it, we’d still have to pay off that debt.

  95. len raphael

    Brings up an “interesting” question about the total muni debt, terms, which is secured by particular facilities, and which are general obligation bonds. i might have misread, but thought somewhere in the past three years the city “refid” long term debt into lower interest rate short term.

    if we were talking private sector bankruptcy, only the secured debt would be assured of getting at least some payment. where are the muni bankruptcy wonks out there?

  96. Robert

    Municipal bonds are usually not ‘secured’ through liens on facilities, but are guaranteed through the taxing power of the government. This is true regardless of whether of whether there is a specific tax levied to pay back the bond, if they are used to fund specific projects, or if they are general obligation bonds.

  97. len raphael

    Rbt, for muni bonds, icorrect my impression that a general obligation muni bond only goes into default if the entire municipality enters bankruptcy, but a special purpose muni bond is only backed by the revenue of the specific project? so that it is less secure for the lender?

    in a default situation, do the holders of special purpose project debt have priority claims over other creditors to the assets of the specific project, or to the future tax revenue of that project, or do those special purpose bond holders suck hind tit to the GO bond holders in all respects?

  98. Robert

    I don’t know if a general bankruptcy impacts the ability to pay off special revenue bonds such as the Lake Merritt improvement bonds, which have a separate tax stream. I would assume that a general bankruptcy would not impact those bonds guaranteed by specific taxes at all, but am not sure. I don’t think bond holders have any claim to assets, only to revenue streams. However, I am not an expert on munis.

  99. Brad

    I wonder how many of the anti-parcel tax posters on this thread would reduce their opposition if the amount of the tax were dependent on the value of the property. So that owners of low value properties would pay much less than owners of higher value properties. (Of course, hills residents would be all up in arms about this kind of proposal.)

    The other main sentiment on this thread seems to be the necessity of cutting city salaries. And with this I wholeheartedly agree. Municipal employees get paid far too much and their benefits are far too generous. Does anyone know if the City Council is even anywhere close to having the backbone necessary to take even the slightest action on this issue?

  100. len raphael

    Was just talking with an acquaintence who’s worked for the city since 2006. He mentioned how about the time he started, the council approved big retirement plan contribution increases that were retroactive some 10 or 20 years. Then the last contract took away much of the increase, but not retroactively.

    Bottom line: younger city workers and residents got scrooged.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  101. Bob LaMartin

    Brad,

    My opposition to parcel taxes wouldn’t change one iota if the amount of the tax were dependent on the value of the property (you didn’t mention whether this would be the Prop 13 valuation or the market value, I am presuming Prop 13).

    I’ve already made some of these points in this thread, but I just posted this to another 2000 people in my own neighborhood, so I decided to cut and paste it here as well. I think it is on point in an argument about new parcel taxes.

    There has been some discussion in this thread about bankruptcy, but the City of Oakland has already declared moral bankruptcy on the parcel tax issue, and Measure Y has become the strongest argument against any parcel tax. Ever. When we have to trust the city to deliver the services we voted to tax ourselves for, the city has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will betray their own citizens..

    We voted to tax ourselves, we entrusted the City of Oakland to spend these funds as promised, and we were deceived, lied to, and betrayed.
    The language in Measure Y was very clear that the first purpose of the proceeds of this tax were to “hire and maintain a least a total of 63 police officers” assigned to specific community-policing objectives.

    Measure Y appeared to be equally clear about the number of officers which Oakland had to maintain in order to collect this tax: “No tax authorized by this Ordinance may be collected in any year that the appropriation for staffing of sworn uniformed police officers is at a level lower than the amount necessary to maintain the number of uniformed officers employed by the City of Oakland for the fiscal year 2003- 2004 (739).”

    That 739 figure was only added after Measure R failed to pass because it would have allowed OPD to continue to collect the tax if OPD only had 63 sworn officers (unless you use Mr. Russo’s reasoning, in which case they could collect the tax even if Oakland didn’t even have one sworn officer!).

    Our clever city attorney argued in open court that the city had the right to lie to the electorate, and that Oakland did not have to actually “hire and maintain” 739 officers, they only needed to have an “appropriation” for those officers. No requirement to hire, train, equip or deploy, just a requirement to include them in the budget, even if there was never any intention to put more sworn officers on the street to protect the citizens of Oakland.

    On the other hand, since the law requires that the budget balance, the more liberties the city takes with this creative “appropriation,” the deeper they dig themselves in by playing fast and loose with their budgetary games.

    This blatant misrepresentation of the use of Measure Y funds to the voters of Oakland, coupled with the cynical parsing of the language of the measure by the City Attorney which justified collecting taxes for officers who are “appropriated” but not hired is one of the chief reasons that property crimes are not taken seriously in Oakland, and why OPD doesn’t have the necessary staff to address the kinds of complaints that have recently been discussed on this list. Everyone OK with that? Just keep paying that tax, even though you don’t have to.

    The City of Oakland has already foregone the legal right to collect Measure Y taxes by neither budgeting or fielding the 739 officers required by Measure Y. The city appears to be hoping that no one will notice, or if they notice they won’t mind paying for something they’re not getting. They are banking that even if people don’t like being bamboozled, tricked and lied to, they won’t do anything about it. A move is afoot in the city council to try to modify Measure Y to eliminate the requirement that the city maintain a threshold level of 739 officers in order for us to pay for 63 more, as specifically provided for in Measure Y.

    Fortunately, this will require a 2/3 vote of the electorate, and I am (reasonably) confident that with the failure of Measure R, and the close vote on Measure Y, this would have little chance of passage.

    On the other hand, it is Oakland. We get the leaders we deserve. If no one is willing to do anything about the fact that we voted to tax ourselves for a service we are not getting, can we really blame the politicians for taking advantage of us?

    I will be posting a step by step do it yourself guide to getting a refund on this parcel tax, along with the legal arguments and rationale. The initial protest must be made to the Director of Finance within 1 year of the date of payment, on forms provided by the Finance Department, and if rejected, can easily be brought to small claims court.

    The forward thinking drafters of Measure Y actually anticipated illegally collected taxes, and included the process for getting a refund in Part 3, Section 10, cut and pasted below. They also included language to try to prevent class action suits on behalf of all Oakland taxpayers who are being cheated by this tax, thereby forcing everyone to take action separately.

    “Section 10. REFUND OF TAX, PENALTY, OR INTEREST PAID MORE THAN ONCE; OR ERRONEOUSLY OR ILLEGALLY COLLECTED.

    Whenever the amount of any tax, penalty, or interest imposed by this ordinance has been paid more than once, or has been erroneously or illegally collected or received by the City it may be refunded provided a verified claim in writing therefore, stating the specific ground upon which such claim is founded, is filed with the Director of Finance within one (1) year from the date of payment. The claim shall be filed by the person who paid the tax or such person’s guardian, conservator of the executor of her or his estate. No claim may be filed on behalf of other taxpayers or a class of taxpayers. The claim shall be reviewed by the Director of Finance and shall be made on forms provided by the Director of Finance. If the claim is approved by the Director of Finance, the excess amount collected or paid may be refunded or may be credited against any amounts then due and payable from the Person from who it was collected or by whom paid, and the balance may be refunded to such Person, his/her administrators or executors. Filing a claim shall be a condition precedent to legal action against the City for a refund of the tax.”

    The entire text of Measure Y can be found at http://www.smartvoter.org/2004/11/02/ca/alm/meas/Y/ I would respectfully suggest it is worth printing out and reading, especially when anyone proposes another parcel tax.

    Bob LaMartin

  102. Ralph

    Brad,
    My opposition to a tax will not change under any circumstance. With a few exceptions, starting at the top with a mayor who claims that his disability is reason enough to screw the residents of Oakland out of $60K this city is managed by a bunch inept fools who probably have no idea how to balance their own checkbooks with borrowing money.

    City Council, backbone puh-lease?

  103. len raphael

    what’s the background on the 2 mill Fox loan out of Redevelopment funds? (how much money does RDA have left for that district?)

    Typical cost overrun that was always expected would get covered by the city or by the developers?

    btw, who does own the Fox?

  104. len raphael

    For a layperson’s overview of Chapter 9, muni bankruptcy, this document written when New Orleans was one month away from being unable to pay its bills is good start. I presume that the state of LA and the Feds bailed out New Orleans at the last minute, which was not done for our Vallejo.

    “During the pendency of a Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceeding, the municipality is not required to pay principal or interest on general obligation bonds. Special revenue bonds are payable to the extent that the special revenues are available after payment of the ongoing operating expenses of the project or system from which the revenues are derived.”

    “Despite steps taken to date, both the City of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish School Board
    are teetering on the edge of a cliff. The School Board is dealing with chronic cash flow problems and would be running a deficit were it not for federal disaster-related grants and loans. The City is one month away from running out of cash, and there is no plan in place for dealing with the cash flow problem. In late March, the City issued a request for proposals for
    financial and management consultant services to advise the City about how to improve its revenue forecast model, expand revenues, contain spending, and enhance its credit rating.”

    “While BGR and PAR are cognizant of the importance of local government entities’ paying outstanding indebtedness, they submit that debt repayment needs to be considered in the larger context of restoring the community’s health and recovery: What conditions are needed to retain and attract residents and businesses? Would the various options for dealing with the entity’s
    debt and other obligations promote or impede the creation of those conditions?
    For destroyed communities, recovery depends in part on the government’s ability to deliver vital services, such as police, fire, and sanitation, and to cause an attractive environment to rise out of the ashes. In the case of Orleans Parish, it also depends on the continued reform of the school system, and the availability of sufficient resources to elevate the level of public education.
    For a devastated community, continuing to shoulder pre-Katrina debt loads and obligations may interfere with its ability to create the conditions needed for recovery. In that context, bankruptcy is a legitimate line of inquiry and should be evaluated. While its limitations and negative implications must be carefully considered, the drag of outsized debt, reduced services, and elevated tax rates on redevelopment should also be analyzed. It becomes a matter of a hard-nosed cost-benefit analysis. As noted at the outset, it is not the purpose of this report to advocate bankruptcy as a solution to local fiscal problems, but simply to examine it as an option.
    The state has consistently taken the position that the disadvantages of bankruptcy outweigh any advantages a local public entity might gain. It must now take the next step and provide alternative means of relief. It could begin by tapping into relief funds and programs provided”

    Vallejo’s bankruptcy seems to be going in favor of the city. eg. the unions seem to have caved, for now. Apparently if the judge rules that contracts are burdensome, they can be overturned even though city and state law mandates binding arbitration if subsequent collective bargaining fails.

    Not clear to me whether retiree medical benefits can be cut, but it my first impression is yes they can. They are 150Mill for Vallejo. So, i’d assume they would be much bigger for Oakland. This link briefly discusses effects on CalPers retirees. http://www.ci.vallejo.ca.us/GovSite/default.asp?serviceID1=713&Frame=L1

    Effect on short term borrowing costs would be bad. Effect on mid and long term costs could be positive.

    Legal costs are high, in the several millions for Vallejo, which is about 1/4 size of Oakland. But heck, we’re used to paying millions for legal advice that costs us addiitonal money.

  105. V Smoothe

    Len –

    The situation in New Orleans is very different than the situation in Oakland, and most of what you quote would not apply in our case. For example, our bond payments all come from property taxes. Since they have a dedicated revenue source behind them sufficient to make payments, it is almost assured that we would still have to continue paying them.

    Every municipal bankruptcy case is different – there are not a lot of them, and I’ve studied many of them. The one thing they all have in common is that they are not something you want to happen with you. As far as I am aware, the situation in Vallejo has not progressed at all since the last time I wrote about bankruptcy, and no contracts have yet been nullified.

    I have said this repeatedly, and I will say it again. Bankruptcy does not solve Oakland problems. If you think bankruptcy is a good idea for Oakland, it means that you don’t really understand municipal bankruptcy.

  106. len raphael

    Since our general fund’s structural long term deficit is caused by pension and retiree medical obligations not so much by debt service, then our debt service mostly coming from dedicated revenue streams would work in our favor with respect to the impact on our future credit rating/perceived risk.

    ie. bankruptcy wouldn’t hurt most of our lenders and would vastly improve our long term ability to borrow more and repay them.

    Yes in the short run without a bankruptcy filing we can lay off employees; deferr maintenance further, cut social programming etc. and if we had the political would be able to negotiate much lower compensation and retirement plan levels for existing and new employees. We’ll end up vastly understaffed with po’d younger employees in order to pay for ridiculously high retirements for older workers for the next 20 years.

    it’s not clear yet whether the Vallejo filing will set aside the Calpers obligations or the medical retirement benefits. but it looks possible enough that Oakland retirees and current employees might be brought back to renegotiate those items rather than face the uncertainty of losing most of their benefits in a bankruptcy.

    This is the link to the summary of Chapter 9 re. New Orleans written in 2006.
    http://www.la-par.org/Publications/PDF/Municipal%20Bankruptcy.pdf

    Did the last revision to the fed bankruptcy act change Chapter 9? significantly from what that article described?

    -len raphael

  107. len raphael

    in Chapter 9 muni bankruptcy, assets do not get sold or go to the creditors.

    It does seem that there are high burdens of proof on the city to prove that bankruptcy is the only solution, but it doesn’t require the city to cut all services except for minimum public safety. Chapter 9 is intended to make the city viable in the future.

    Oakland would have to first make major cuts, and try to pass a big parcel tax. I don’t know if chapter 9 judge would accept an actuarial projection of annual amount needed to fund various unfunded retirement costs.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  108. Robert

    While the bulk of Oakland’s debt is paid through special tax revenue, there is approximately $36 million annually that is paid out of the general fund, and would be impacted by a bankruptcy.

  109. Robert

    len, Oakland is going to have to make serious cuts regardless of whether we declare bankruptcy. In the absence of bankruptcy, which would reopen contracts with the various employee groups, these cuts are going to have to come from programs. The only way to do this is to go through the programs and determine if they are essential.

    For example, rent control has a direct enforcement/monitoring cost of over $1 million. Scrapping rent control would lead to an elimination of those costs, and most likely lead to long term revenue increases for the city from increased property assessments.

    The current city council practice of spreading the pain around is not making hard choices, it is making the easy choice.

  110. David

    Like many businesses in the US, 80% of municipal and state governments’ costs is labor.

    There is no way to balance any municipality or state budget like CA, IL, WI, etc without addressing labor costs. Period.

    Either labor forces are reduced by 10-20%, at a minimum, as it’s really the benefits that kill, not the salaries, so that’s why furloughs are ineffective, or pensions/benefits/salaries are reduced 10-20%, depending on the state/municipality.

    That’s it, folks. The math doesn’t lie. I don’t care how you feel about your local beat cop or fireman or teacher or bureaucrat. They simply can’t get paid $90K (or even $60K regarding teachers), PLUS 10%++ retiree contributions, PLUS current retiree payments, PLUS health care, cars, etc etc. Period. yeah, it sucks to get your comp slashed, but welcome to our (private sector) world, guys. You either take a 10, 20, 30% cut, or you get a 100% cut (get fired).

    Again, the revenues aren’t coming back. Period. It would take 5 years of record-breaking (for the past 20+years at least) consecutive growth to just get back to 2005 tax revenues (for a commentary, Mitch Daniels wrote in the WSJ a nice analysis of Indiana’s budget pointing that fact out). Again, it’s simple math. It’s…just…not…possible.

  111. Ralph

    Furloughs, to be clear, are only useful if you are dealing with a short-term temporary condition. They are not the way to solve a long-term structural problem.

  112. len raphael

    David, make the cuts and the layoffs out of current employees, slash the programming, all to balance current expenditures with expected revenues, but then we have Calpers shortfalls to fund, and massive unfunded retiree costs. Another round of layoffs/pay cuts. All of which only gets us a skeleton police force, bad infrastructure, not to mention a broken school system.

    That’s a nice deal for currently retired or active vested employees. Equivalent to running to stay in place just to support your aging parents who you made the big mistake of promising to keep them living in the style they were accustomed to while working. Except you have to move your family into a one bedroom place and learn how to dumpster dive.

    Yes we’d have to do all those same cuts out of the backs of current employees and ngo’s to qualify for bankruptcy protection, but why not spend the extra 10mill of legal fees and several mill more interest costs/year for several years if it breaks the ball and chain of those retirement obligations and puts us in a situation where future revenue increases can go to improving this place instead of down the retirement rathole.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  113. David

    len. I totally agree I’d much rather slash pensions than payrolls (especially of police & firemen…teachers, well, OUSD should be privatized). I’m just saying the math doesn’t lie. Labor costs–salary, pension, benefits, the whole cost structure, needs to be reduced. Prioritizing, I’d first cut health benefits (Medicare’s good enough for private sector folks, it should be good enough for public sector folks–after all, it’s government-run programming at its finest, right?), then pensions (starting with all the double-dipping abuses, etc), then salaries/wages, then people (yeah, there are always patronage etc jobs to cut, but if we cut salaries etc, those jobs will be less attractive, shrinking the cost base anyway).

    All new employees would get 401(k)’s and no significant retiree health benefits. Again, you’re a 22 year old cop starting at $90K before overtime, well, save some of that….you’re already in the top 10% of college grads aged 25-35 according to the census.

  114. Ralph

    Question for the choir, why if it so painfully obvious to us mere unelected people that double dipping on the COLA and raise is bad, that pensions and other benefits are bloated, that 401K are better for Oakland’s financial well being, then why is it lost on our elected officials?

  115. len raphael

    michelle, help me understand your conclusions. your saying that ceda inspectors are abusing their authority in order to increase city revenue.

    I wouldn’t use the word abuse, but for sure ceda employees are well aware of the muni money problem and now charge for every paperclip.

    eg. it seems that expediting charges are required more often now to get building permits checked when building activity is 0, then when the boom was going full blast.

    you’re not saying they’re doing any of the “abuses” for direct personal monetary gain?

    i’ve had interactions with one of the inspectors you had circled, and found the person to be absolutely straight shooter, who tried to save the owner unneccessary fees.

    are you saying that they citing blight violations by exagerating conditions? my very limited experience is that some inspectors tend to be too sympathetic with large proproperty owners/developers, rather than too harsh.

    -len raphael

  116. Livegreen

    Because they’ve come of age in this system, because the unions are some of their biggest supporters, and because their agenda is so bloated with a stew of important and trivial issues mixed together that they can’t tell up from down, nightime from the day, etc.

    First their agenda is full of 2nd, confirming votes on a whole host of matters. By the time they get to the first view of important matters it’s already 9 or 10pm at night. They’re too tired by then, so they just vote their gut, or with the majority.

    In addition for many it’s their second job, so they just don’t have enough time…

  117. David

    Ralph, it’s because these deals get done in the dark. No one paid attention to these benefits for 30 years because the economy was growing etc etc. The unions supported their politicians, their politicians supported them. Low-turnout elections get dominated by unions etc etc. As a final straw, they hold the city hostage (what, you don’t want cops to get paid? what about teachers? what about the CHILDREN?).

    It’s past time for regular folks to break the public sector parasites.

  118. len raphael

    Jane Brunner fatalistically marching forward proposing a “public security” parcel tax for a special June election even as she previously stated it probably will fail. Our mayor will give his ineffective support as he did last time. At the cc meeting Lindheim seemed shellshocked by the enormity of the city’s financial problems, or maybe just bemused.

    But why would the ousd pick this same time to request a possible $200 parcel tax to boost teacher compensation?

    Aren’t real estate values continuing to drop in much of Oakland? So ad valorem prop taxes will go up, again.

    Strange times.

  119. Livegreen

    Len, The example Michelle gave at the bottom of her website was a city inspector who actually bought one of the properties her associates were placing liens against. At the very least a conflict of interest, and possibly more. (are there rules against this type of conflict of interest)?

  120. len raphael

    Yup, that example of a CEDA manager ending up as the owner of a property that was liened by CEDA inspectors appears abusive, even if the fines and liens were justified. I have had extensive official dealings with one of those inspectors, and I would be very surprised if the violation was exaggerated.

    So the manager is Antoinette Renwick/Toni Helloway? and property 7900 Phaeton?

    Did Michelle give other examples of CEDA staff acquiring CEDA liened property?

    Were any of them examples where a particular inspector who made the citation also acquired the property? or where there was a pattern of an inspector on one property becoming the buyer of another liened property?

    LG, if you can help me read her offputting documentation, I’ll follow up with the city. (I’m through with my construction projects so I don’t mind annoying people there. But I also don’t want good ceda inspectors blamed for doing their job properly.)

    -len

  121. livegreen

    Len, I think that’s what Michelle said. Look at the paperwork on the bottom of her web page. I asked her specifically about Antoinette and she said she works in inspections at CEDA, but now I can’t find that exchange on ABO (wherever Michelle first chimed in)…

  122. len raphael

    re. OUSD proposed parcel tax for this june.

    OUSD board should steal a page from the Kid’s First playbook and sponsor a ballot measure that revises Kids First so that all of its funding goes to OUSD and the publicly charter schools.

    How could any voter resist a plea to help k-12 education without paying higher taxes?

    How many OUSD board members would have to recuse themselves to even discuss that because of their ties to Kids FIrst?

    Don’t know how much of it now goes to such, but any increase to ousd would be better than it going to programming monitored by teenagers.

    Since that won’t be enough money, continue on to revising Measure Y so that the 40% going to “anti-violence” programs also gos to OUSD and the public charter schools. (risk is that cc members would hijack any Measure Y revision into allowing them to spend the other 60% on anything)

    For the rest of OUSD’s deficit, all the usual cost cutting has to be performed. Though people interested in fixing oakland schools seem even more polarized, more ideological than people trying to fix city hall.

    -len raphael

  123. Livegreen

    Len,
    –Which OUSD Board Members are Kids First members?
    –Do you mean Kids First the non-profit, or the nick-name for Measure K, OO, etc. that funded OFCY?
    –Measure Y (MY) used to fund an OUSD conflict resolution program, but a year or two Mayor Dellums, Jeff Baker, etc., in their infinite wisdom, cut the program to concentrate even more on “street outreach”. So there is little to no MY funded programs to transfer to OUSD.

  124. len raphael

    LG, my phrase was “ties to Kids FIrst” and by that I was referring to the member(s) activity in support of two previous ballot initiatives. eg. endorsements. I should have specified that.

    But as far as ties to Kids First the non-profit org, I’ll need your help on that.

    I’ll look around also.

    -len

  125. len raphael

    I can’t find a list of the Kids First individual members, so i’ll retract my suspicion that any other members of the ousd board were active supporters of OO or D other than its long time president, David K.

    He was the lead endorser on the Measure OO ballot item (http://smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/alm/pdf/OKOO-4.pdf); and an endorser of the Measure D ballot item also. (http://www.smartvoter.org/2009/07/21/ca/alm/meas/D/) where he lists himself as a member of the Kids First Coalition.

    “Kakishiba remains confident it will meet the 50 percent threshold required for passage, though he acknowledged that the city’s $42 million budget deficit — and national and international financial crises — will be weighing in voters’ minds when they are asked to approve the increase in funding.

    He still sees no reason why officials can’t accept an increase in youth-program funding.

    “Is 2.5 percent an extraordinary amount?Absolutely not,” he said, adding, “If our elected leaders can’t figure out how to increase support to young people, to kids, I just find that mind-boggling.”

    In a more recent situation a couple of months ago, the ousd’s in house attorney and an independent outside law firm concluded he had a “potential” conflict of interest because of ” David Kakishiba’s dual roles as Oakland school board member and executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC)”

    (http://www.ibabuzz.com/education/2009/11/13/conflict-of-interest-a-big-can-of-worms/)

    His ngo received millions in contracts from OUSD.

    He did the honorable thing by resigning but the ousd board begged him to withdraw his resignation. He graciously acceded to their wishes.

    In the accounting world i come from, there is no distinction between a “potential” and an “actual” conflict of interest if you are in a position to make decisions and recommendations that affect others

    So yes, I would say that at least the president of the OUSD board would have a conflict of interest in any OUSD discussion as to whether it would be in the best interest of OUSD is to seek modification of Measure D so that all of its funds go to ousd and public charter schools; or whether it should propose a new parcel tax for public education.

    -len raphael

  126. Livegreen

    Len, You’re correct on the overlap between he OUSD board and OFCY (sorry, I spaced, I was trying to hard to think of overlapping board members, I didn’t think of the bigger picture…). David Kakishiba doesn’t sit on the OFCY board, but he is it’s author…

  127. len raphael

    on the Measure OO ballot, DK was listed first on the endorsements with the job title
    “President, Oakland Board of Education”.

    A board of ed that ignores the advice of its own attorneys about a major conflict of interest, is either corrupt or just to lazy to find a replacement for the tainted member. the latter appears to be the situation here.