Budget balancing proposal released, no new service cuts

As we saw last week, Oakland’s budget problems are ongoing. The City is currently anticipating an $18.87 million deficit in the General Purpose Fund by the end of the year (plus a $25.4 million shortfall next year) due to a combination of revenue shortfalls and overspending.

The City Council will hold a special meeting at 4 PM on Tuesday (PDF), before the regular Council meeting at 6 to figure out what to do about it.

So staff’s budget balancing recommendations are out (PDF), and the…um…good news, I guess, depending on how you look at it, is no more service cuts.

Instead, the City would use one-time revenues to deal with this year’s shortfall and figure out what to do about the future later. At this point, if we were to deal with the reductions by cutting more, it would mean basically cutting the amount of money from the General Fund going to departments other than police and fire basically in half. This being an election year, nobody of course wants to do that. As the report (PDF) says:

Additional reductions to departmental appropriations would mean drastic cuts in City services. Although fiscal prudence absolutely dictates that the City fundamentally address these recurring GPF shortfalls, doing so now within such a short timeframe would be very disruptive to the services Oakland residents and taxpayers expect from their City government. Eventually, program reductions may need to be considered by the City Council.

Okay, so we’ll just leave the giant WTF over that “may” aside for now and just look at what’s being proposed.

The City can come up with $6.62 million in one-time money by pillaging some funds that happen to have available balances, including money from an insurance settlement after the earthquake ($3.2 million), the telecommunications land use fund ($0.5 million) that can be used for park maintenance, the Parks and Recreation self-sustaining fund ($0.5 million), and Measure Q ($1.5 million), which can be used to maintain library services while reducing the Library’s General Fund appropriation to $9.06 million, the minimum permitted by Measure Q.

So that still leaves us with what, $12.5 million to come up with? Staff proposes raising another $11.6 million by selling off City property, like the Kaiser Convention Center and the Scotlan Convention Center. If, of course, they can find anyone to buy them.

The remaining deficit would be closed by forcing towing companies to start collecting our existing 18.5% parking tax on towed cars and leasing as yet unspecified City property to cell phone companies for them to put cell phone towers on.

As far as options for next year goes, we could issue bonds against the revenue from our parking garages (we’d get $15 million now and have to pay $3.2 million back for the next 20 years). Or we could give someone a 50 year lease on all the City-owned garages. They’d get to collect all the garage revenue for the lease period, and we’d get an upfront payment that we could use to prevent immediate cuts.

Then, of course, there’s taxes. The report includes a number of options for taxes that could be placed on the June ballot (not sure where the money we’re supposed to save by doing instant runoff voting comes into these calculations), including a 0.5% increase in the Utility Users Tax ($2.56 million a year), a 0.25% Sales Tax hike ($5.6 million a year), and a new $91/year public safety parcel tax $12.8 million a year).

And that’s it for now. The Council will take up the proposal on Tuesday at 4. Catch the action at City Hall, or from the comfort of your own home on KTOP.

83 thoughts on “Budget balancing proposal released, no new service cuts

  1. Gregory Arenius

    Does anyone else have a problem with parcel taxes? Someone who owns a small fixer-upper has to pay the same amount as someone who owns a mansion in the hills. It should just be a percentage increase in property taxes instead. Parcel taxes are too regressive.


  2. Brad

    I feel like, as a homeowner in Oakland, I get so little for my money already that I’m just not sure I want another parcel or utility tax. (Except for the crew that picks up dumped trash! When someone dumped a pile of trash in front of my East Oakland house, Oakland Public Works was right there the next day. Now if only Public Works would clean up all the graffiti on city property in my neighborhood. . .)

    Since I, and all the other Oaklanders I know, already shop only in Emeryville, Albany, San Francisco, heck, just about anywhere but Oakland, well, I’m just not sure a sales tax will really do anything.

    So screw taxes. But I also don’t think Oakland needs even more debt, or that Oakland should sell off the meager assets we have. So screw those ideas.

    I almost feel that if the services I get are so terrible, why not just cut services more? Maybe we could start with that Public Works crew that never seems to get around to cleaning up city property no matter how many times I call.

  3. Andy K

    I’m sure that I don’t want any more parcel taxes. Definitely sure. As I have read here before, our property taxes are already tops.

    Good luck selling Kaiser.

    Maybe now it is finally time to make some priorities, and cut some non-priorities.

  4. Ralph

    Guess I am not the only one who is anti-tax. It will be a cold day in the devil’s lair before I vote to raise my taxes. The people of Oakland need to learn to make do with less.

    Isn’t the Kaiser center an asbestos death trap? Not in favor of any of the garage options, but in the absence of either an alternative revenue stream or equal expense cut, I am certain our esteemed leaders will go with one of the above options.

  5. Daniel Schulman (das88)

    I find it somewhat ironic that council is going to take up the idea of selling city property because times are so dire when they just trashed the condo conversion proposal. Condo conversion allows private property owners to sell their property while generating revenue for the city.

  6. Robert

    If it is not land marked, the Kaiser Convention Center site should be a valuable piece of property, particularly after the reconstruction of the 12th st. dam is completed.

  7. Robert

    I might actually agree with a dedicated parcel tax to fund public safety, but only if it was matched be a reduction in the other parcel taxes we pay now. I just can’t see a parcel tax for public safety just to maintain the current (insufficient) level of service.

    Oakland needs to reduce expenses to bring them in line with revenue. And that is going to mean either lower salaries/benefits or reduced services. And while it might be true that getting 19 million this way for this year would be impossible, getting at least some of next year’s 25 million has to be one the list for balancing the budget. And doing some of that this year would help.

  8. Patrick

    1. Work (and I mean CC work, not lip service) to rescind Measure OO (and the associated Measures that preceded it);
    2. Put a measure on the ballot stating that future Oakland public employees can not be paid more than the average pay for similarly-sized California cities, adjusted for average citizen income, with mandated 20% layoffs of all current administrative positions;
    3. Force the public employees to accept a defined-benefit pension plan, with full benefits only after 30 years of service (vesting 60% at 20 years, 33% at 10 years and 0% before that (but we will pay them exactly what was paid in upon leaving), pension benefits based on average non-overtime pay over all years (as oppposed to highest annual pay as today), with benefits commencing at age 65, and the city will only match an employee contribution up to a certain percentage -again perhaps by ballot measure;
    4. Lower business taxes on businesses in which Oakland is underserved (which is, of course, everything but nail salons, evidently);
    5. Offer tax incentives for retail businesses along Broadway, Hegenberger and Mandela Parkway, industrial in areas currently zoned for industrial and other commercial city-wide;
    6. Outlaw parcel taxes unless they are parcel taxes adjusted for parcel size (which is legal, but let’s face it, Oakland couldn’t figure that out);
    7. Introduce term limits for City Councilmembers;
    8. Make City Council positions full-time;
    9. Eliminate the position of Mayor and create a City Manager form of government, with specific minimum requirements for the position, such as “must usually show up and may not be a tax cheat”;
    10. Make it illegal for public entities, public employees or their unions to endorse, support, work for, contribute to or in any way facilitate the election of any Oakland public official.

    Further increasing our debt or using tax gimmicks to address the current situation is unthinkable. The CC needs to face facts; this revenue problem isn’t going away anytime soon unless we can attract tax-paying businesses. And businesses that pay a reduced tax rate for a period of years is preferable to empty buildings. Make the reduced tax over say 10 years – but conditional upon the business remaining in Oakland for at least another 10 years after the reduced tax expires (otherwise they must pay a severance tax equal to the amount they did not pay previously).

    As I’ve stated before, my ad valorem taxes will not equal the previous owner’s for 26 YEARS – assuming a max 2% rise in value every single year, and ignoring inflation. Don’t forget – if we agree to more long term debt to pay off a one time problem, they can raise our ad valrem rate to pay for it. Just like we got screwed this year. ABSOLUTELY no more bonds to pay for past problems not future benefits.

    No more debt. No more tax increases. No more parcel taxes As others have commented, a “reduction in city services” doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I mean seriously, is 50% of nearly nonexistent really all that bad?

  9. Livegreen

    The City Council should have seen these further deficits coming. To prepare for it in salary negotiations they should have added a stipulation that there could be further reductions equal to any increase in the deficit.

    Any part of the salary cuts made with furloughs should have been made instead with outright cuts. City workers will demand those back the second the budget balances and we’ll be left with diminished services for years (remember this if we ever get through the deficit).

    I agree with Patricks points 2, 3,4,5,8,9,10. ESPECIALLY 2,3,9,10.

    #8, there’s no way the CC has time in their day to take care of work part time.. JB says half the time “wait, what’s this?” and the other half says “wait, I don’t understand this” (though maybe she does work CC full time?)

    #9 we’ve got now anyway.
    #10 duplicates rules for the federal govt. In addition I propose:

    11. Any city employee not residing in Oakland pays a special Oakland income tax OR follows a lower salary schedule. I note NY does the former.

    12. City employees, board & commission members immediately cut all travel, meal & entertainment expenses. Any Exceptions must be approved.

    13. Any new deficits or revenues must be paid for with non-tax revenue enhancemens.

    WHAT are the requirements for getting ballot measures added?

  10. Patrick

    RE: LG’s

    # 11. Absolutely. Most City employees woud be subject to that tax. As the reason for the outrageous pay has always been that it is “expensive to live in Oakland”, then they can pay the price if they choose to live somewhere “less expensive”. And I mean overall. Which at our 1.41% + shitty services is virtually anywhere.

    RE: #12. …must be approved by VOTE. Before or after the fact. Our electeds can find out all they need to know by surfing the “internets”. They could, possibly, even drive around our very own city, which could be very enlightening, obviously. Or, they may be tasked with proving the worth of all of this costly travel which, of course, would be impossible.

    RE: #13 NO NEW DEBT! It is a TRAP! They are trying to sucker us into allowing them to fuck us in the ass AGAIN by issuing bonds which allow them to raise our property taxes indiscriminately in the future. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!

    I have decided on a new money-making project. It is a line of blatant consumerism crap that states: “I was a liberal. Then I moved to Oakland, CA” Anyone interested in buying a t-shirt, bumper sticker or coffee cup? I can offer an ABO discount for the first 400,000 takers.

  11. Tab

    …as slow steady descent of the Better Oakland commentariat from good guv’mint to anti-tax to sfgate depths continues…

  12. Naomi Schiff

    The Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center is a valuable historic building. For more recent residents: a major public outcry occurred when some folks proposed selling off its parking lot to the Diocese of Oakland–not the building, just its parking lot. We should not be selling public assets. It is a short-sighted move and unlikely to solve the finance problems.

    It also seems from the above that perhaps the library is facing cuts? Interested in learning more about that.

    Parcel taxes have become common in many cities which are struggling to figure out how to finance public services and improvements in the wake of restrictions on general property taxes. If commercial properties weren’t getting such a sweet deal from the Prop 13 legislation, our state wouldn’t be in so much trouble. Of course a million individual parcel taxes is not the best way, I agree. However, a complex public enterprise such as our state or such as our county and city, is not going to run successfully on air.

    To me, some of the anti-government outrage voiced here, while anguished, and even understandable, seems way overplayed. We are going to need to work together in a far more constructive way to solve these problems.

  13. Patrick

    Agreed, Naomi. And when the 60% of Oaklanders who can vote to increase taxes – yet are largely sheltered from paying those increased taxes – “work together in a far more constructive way” with the rest of us, I’m with ya’. Until then, our city needs to learn to survive on the currently available “air”.

  14. Robert

    Naomi, the KCC may be an old building, but valuable is not the term I would use, since the city can’t even rent it out. And while I love old buildings, a vacant, empty building is just a drain on the city, a drain that the city can no longer afford.

  15. Ralph

    I am with you on 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7. I would kill the DB entirely in favor of a DC.

    I also saw a number of other good ideas.

    Somehow we need to find a balance between the old guard bleeding hearts and the young guns who are not interested in new taxes, government diets, who believe in big business, and are not terribly interested in redistribution of wealth. I believe Shakespeare said it best when he said, “First thing we must do is kill all the bleeding heart liberals.’

  16. Patrick

    We don’t need to kill them, we just need to teach them the basics of a simple checking account: you can’t spend more money than you bring in, regardless of how “core” you falsely believe the expense to be. I know, it seems implausible.

  17. Livegreen

    Patrick, No cussing please. We want our kids to get educated about things too, but the younger gen has a problem with online context online (some adults too), lack of personal expression and all. This won’t help them distinguish.

    Tab & Naomi, It is NOT for or against taxes, all or nothing, pro-gov or anti-gov, liberal or conservative. These are false choices. Patrick and I often disagree. But on this I must agree: at a time when families are struggling when many two income households have become one or none, it is NOT the time to increase taxes. You want to INCREASE forclosures?

    Some people don’t want taxes ever, others always. I’m in between depending on who, what for, how well it’s written, and other carefully considered details. But not NOW! And that makes me a conservative? Again False Choice! As Patrick said, only in Oakland and the Bay Area do liberals and moderates from out of town become conservatives.

    As GA points out in the first comment, because PTaxes are regressive, it’s the middle class and renters that pick up the tab. So using your implied logic that more Property Taxes are acceptable I ask you, why are you against the middle class?

  18. Livegreen

    Naomi, we have made specific suggestions for budget savings, and how do you respond? “Anti-Government”! Who is not being constructive?

  19. Ralph

    Naomi, why is the HJK Conv Center valuable? Last I heard it could not be used (some crazy talk about OPD and OFD testing). It is not big enough to house a modern day convention, so where is its value. I’ve learned to do without things that I had. I am sure the Oakland oldies will learn to make do without a convention that has outlived its useful life.

    Patrick, I might also add that we need to teach Council that the taxpayer is not their personal ATM. Council is like the homeowner who keeps tapping that equity thinking it is the golden goose. Guess what, this goose don’t lay eggs.

    Cut non-core service. DC instead of a DB, Internal control to prohibit expenditures. Reset wages for all positions. Some may go higher but some may go lower. No new taxes

  20. Born in Oakland

    With due respect to Tab about a descent to SF Gate posts, I think a little “salt and pepper” in our discussions helps balance the perception that only bourgeois intellectuals ambivalent to their culture visit this site. Not everyone with a stake in Oakland holds a college degree or subscribes to political correctness or can afford to pay more taxes. I don’t think they should be marginalized for expressing anger at our collective predicament, as long as it is not personal. Thanks for the post, Tab.

  21. Brad

    I don’t think we’ve sunk into meaningless anti-government screaming here. I believe in government. I even believe in taxes. But I won’t agree with more taxes when the economy is terrible. And much, much more importantly, I won’t agree with more taxes when the entity taking my money — the City of Oakland — hasn’t shown at all that it knows how to use the money wisely.

    I wonder how much of the current budget gap could be overcome, and maybe we’re talking long term here, if the City of Oakland rooted out a great deal of the corruption and mismanagement we’ve got. And I’m not just talking about hiring parking meter repairmen who have no qualifications other than a relative in high places. I’m also thinking about all the unnecessary travel expenses that get paid out. And the absenteeism. You may not agree with Ron Oz and his views, but he does point out — backed up by independent audits — that on any given day the OPD has a 40% absenteeism rate. 40%! WTF!

    What we need is some *honest* and *hardworking* leadership to straighten out all this mess AND a great deal of citizen participation. I actually disagree with others on this site who think we don’t the people of Oakland don’t have what it takes to demonstrate the latter. But when it comes to the leadership, I agree all the way that it’s just not there and hasn’t been for a long time. And neither do I see it coming down the pipeline. At all.

    I met some people who work for the City who are doing a great job, who really have their heart in it for the city. But it’s like they’re out there alone, trying to do the job themselves, and carry the weight for all their scofflaw co-workers. But in the end they can’t do it, and even though they try mightily, Oakland’s services remain “nearly nonexistent.”

  22. MarleenLee

    A lot of Patrick’s proposals sound good to me. Anybody who would even consider a parcel tax clearly has not examined the history of Measure Y. For a dose of education and reality, read my blog, starting from the bottom up. Seriously folks, we have paid approximately $100 million in Measure Y taxes, and the City has thrown most of it away. I am not kidding. Approximately $9 million a year was supposed to pay for 63 additional officers per year, and minimum staffing of 802. We still don’t have the officers. We had them for all of three or four months. The other violations are too numerous and boring for most people to wrap their heads around, but let me just say that in the year and a half I have made Measure Y my hobby and obsession I’ve seen a magnitude of ineptitude, corruption, dishonesty and waste that you cannot possibly imagine.

    Many of our problems here stem from a total lack of accountability. We pay our employees excessive salaries, and demand virtually nothing in return. Incompetent people are hired. They don’t work full days. They get an obscene number of days off. They are not held to any type of productivity or efficiency standards. When they underperform, nobody notices, or gives a damn. They don’t get disciplined. They don’t get fired. The City Council caves in to union demands for political reasons. We could be getting way more bang for our buck if anybody actually started making heads roll. Don’t come whining to the taxpayers. Force the existing employees to do their jobs and do them well, from the top on down.

  23. Max Allstadt

    OK, a few proposals:

    1. Pick the least used 5 to 10% of public library branches, close them and sell them. Maintain Measure Q mandated funding, as planned, but now we can spread it less thin.

    If council members don’t each have a library getting closed in their district, they’ll fight. So come up with other facilities that are underperforming that can be horse traded so that every council district gets some pain. I think it’s important to actually close and sell a small amount of property just so the public understands how screwed we are.

    2. The council needs to find a way, either by shame or by force of law, to get the Mayor to make the staffing cuts that the council passed in budget legislation many months ago. The budget called for the Mayor to make a 20% cut to his staff. He’s cut NOBODY.

    The council should give him till the end of this round of cuts to cut that 20%. If he doesn’t make the cuts, the council should pass legislation that says that if Dan Lindheim signs checks for mayor’s office salaries totaling more than the council-mandated amount, that act shall constitute larceny.

    3. If we’re going to have another election in June, put a complete reversal of Measure OO on the ballot. Actually, we should do that with as many unfunded mandates as we can get on the ballot.

    4. Eliminate shrink or consolidate boards and commissions. Do we need 8 people on the measure Z oversight committee? Does it need to meet every month? What boards and commissions are the most symbolic, have the least authority to do anything? Get rid of them. Even if ballot measures are required.

    5. Oversight and vetting of NGO contractors needs to be beefed up. It might cost a little in the beginning, but not getting defrauded in the long run will save money.

    6. Don’t cut staff or salaries if at all possible. Instead, use the threat of further layoffs as a negotiation tool to get concessions on civil service rules. It’s far too difficult to fire an incompetent or insubordinate city employee. If they’re going to get paid well and get good benefits, they should be easier to replace if they underperform.

    7. Find the five parks with the highest home values immediately surrounding them. Cut all funding. Sit back and listen to the rich people complain for three months. Then sit back and watch them band together and take care of their park themselves. Refund the park as soon as possible, but for now, eat the rich.

    8. We have three municipal golf courses. Sell at least one. Golf courses are environmental travesties, and as far as recreation efficiency goes, they serve about the lowest number of users per acre possible.

    9. Figure out as many ways as possible to charge more money to adjacent cities when they use our services. Emeryville and Piedmont use our libraries. Make them give us money or cut them off.

    10. Allow permits to open 8 more marijuana dispensaries.

  24. Max Allstadt

    Idea number 11:

    Oakland gives lots of money to NGOs. We should set a salary cap on the CEOs of these organizations if they want to keep getting their full allocation. For instance, if you run an NGO that gets a significant amount of city money, and you make over a certain amount a year, you should be expected to take a pay cut just like everybody working directly for the city.

    An example, the city gave the Oakland Chamber of Commerce over $350k in FY2008. The Chamber’s CEO, Joseph Haraburda, was paid just under $190k. He should take a 10% pay cut, just like all the city employees, because his primary funtion is essentially adjunct to civic business. If he doesn’t take it, the city should take it out of the Chamber’s allocation for this year.

  25. Livegreen

    –Do M-Y contracts have a cap on Administrative costs for NGOs like OFCY does?
    –Is it normal for Chambers of Commerce to be part funded by Munis? If so how does the OCC breakdown of Muni-to-Private funding compare to other Cities?
    –Does the City Attorney have a valid point that it would cost too much to go after Yussef Bey for the money he stole by not performing a contract?

    I’m not sure if Russo came to that decision because he thinks Bey doesn’t have the money or property, but how does he know unless he investigates? Equally Important it doesn’t send the right message…

  26. Robert

    Max, you weren’t doing too badly until you got to the soak the rich stand, #7. It is not the rich who have put Oakland into the situation it finds itself. That is shared by all of Oakland, and the solutions should be shared by all of Oakland.

  27. len raphael

    Howze about applying the same anti nepotism rules to ngo’s as we have for city employees?

    Some merit to Max’s idea of selling off one library in each district, but no we shouldn’t be selling off libraries at the same time we’ll have to cut spending on after school programs. We should stop the cc and mayor from more of these one shot throwing the stuff over the side to keep the city ship from sinking for another year. selling surplus real estate in a down market to pay for current operating expenses is the wrong reason and time to sell assets.

    As much as I’d like to repeal OO et al :) instead we could avoid that distracting fight by squeezing the ngo’s for more output per dollar as we cut highly paid and benefited employees. a way to bypass the prohibition on outsourcing.

    -len raphael

  28. MarleenLee

    As far as Measure Y contracts to NGOs – the municipal code specifically requires competitive bidding or an RFP process for any funds awarded from parcel tax dollars. Courtney Ruby’s report found that numerous “grants” were awarded to agencies with no RFP at all. That is patently illegal, as I have pointed out to the City. Had the City actually complied with the law with respect to the RFP process, there would be somewhat less waste than there has been. But frankly, I think most of these “grants” to NGOs are largely government subsidies for the employment of the relatively educated, middle class social worker types who run them and accomplish virtually nothing. I say dump them all.

  29. Patrick

    Regarding Max’s proposals:

    1. The city only has 18 libraries, and one of them is the Adult Learning Center. The only area with potentially overlapping service is downtown, where we have the Main Library, Asian Library and African-American Museum and Library. Guess which one of those will be closed – exactly, none of the above. Here’s the map: http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/map.htm which inexplicably shows the Adult Learning Center in West Oakland on the main map, but also in DTO on the zoom inset. But I digress. The only real place to potentially close a library is probably in East Oakland – but that isn’t going to happen either.

    I am in complete agreement with 2, 3, 4 & 5.

    6, not so much. It is the outrageous pay and benefits our public employee’s receive that are bankrupting the city. Changing work rules may give minor savings, and lay-offs just leave us with fewer overpaid employees who spend half the day complaining that they have to work all of a sudden. And both of them protect the most senior employees, which defeats the whole purpose.

    #7 is just ridiculous, of course. The rich wouldn’t complain for 3 months, they’d sue in 3 weeks. And win.

    Re: #8, close ‘em all down. They’re all in nice parts of town: why not sell them to developers, allow them to build market rate housing on all of Montclair’s 9 holes, half of Metro’s 18 holes, and 2/3 of Lake Chabot’s 27 holes, leaving 2 – 9 hole courses? In return, the city could require private maintenance with equal access and reduced rates for city citizens. Riff-raff really don’t golf, so they needn’t worry about undesirables close to their homes. At an average of about 200 acres for 18 holes of golf, that would be about 400 acres for potential development. On relatively roomy 1/5 of an acre lots, and assuming 1/4 of the land is needed for infrastructure, there is a potential for 1500 McMansions, all paying taxes and all needing to buy stuff. In this case, if Montclairions want their golf course so bad, they can buy it and make it private – and pay the taxes on it.

    Re:9, I still like the idea of charging Alameda for access to our city roads, which they require to get off the island. There are 75k people in Alameda. This is patently illegal, but it’s still fun to think about in light of Michaan’s little man tirade. Oakland is the crossroads of an area of 3 million people, it’s too bad we can’t capitalize on the externalized costs of pollution, and real financial costs of infrastructure damage and traffic we endure as a result.

    10. Hmm. Not a user myself. But I was in college. I don’t think it did any permanent damage, at least not as much as alcohol probably has. Alcohol is by far the more evil of the two drugs in my opinion anyway. Let’s face it: you can walk down many city streets and get offered mj 3 times in one block. Let’s make some cash. I wouldn’t mind a little more Amsterdam in our Oaksterdam.

  30. len raphael

    Selling golf course land for mcmansions. you couldn’t have picked a worse time to sell large lots for big homes in oakland hills. if the golf courses cover their operating costs, leave them be until the market for big homes comes back or even little expensive homes. or until well heeled people are less scared of buying in oakland.

    for an immediate measure, get the council to adopt that statewide proposal on pension reform that only an employees base salary is used to calculate retirement pay. no ot, no car allowances etc.

    even if go the B route and break all the contracts with existing employees, ngo’s, consultants, and suppliers we can’t disregard seniority rules without the prospect of losing a few years of general fund in law suits for age discrimination etc. so we’ll have to consider borrowing money long term and backing it with a parcel tax to buy out older higher paid employees. we’ll get f’d as many big companies did when some of our best and most experienced employees take the money and we’ll have to hire them back as consultants but maybe we can offer the buyouts selectively?

    forgetaboutit. oakland couldn’t pull that off without massive favoritism.

    -len raphael

  31. len raphael

    Don’t think salary caps for most oakland ngo’s are needed. eg. goto guidestar.com, register and look at the last tax return for the ella baker center. the tax return shows total wages, retirement contribution, and expense allowance for highest paid employees. Our local celebrity Van Jones was paid in the mid 80′s for that year.

    Wb interesting to follow how Green for All, a non profit spun off from EBC with 300k pays it’s top people. No tax return on guidestar.com for them yet.

    My impression is that total money disbursed to ngo’s is significant, but amount each ngo pays directly as wages per person is not high.

    Even for the relatively few ngo’s that get the big federal bucks funneled thru Oakland such as Oakland Private Industry Council, only shows annual compensation of 116k for Gaye P Cobb plus couple thou expense allowance plus modest retirement.

    How cost effective the ngo’s are, how much money is spread around thru consultants and subcontractors, doesn’t have to be disclosed on the tax returns. Related party transactions supposed to be shown on financial statetements if audited.

    OPD police sgts can make two or three times what the heads of these ngo’s are getting. How effective any of them are for the bucks, we’ll never know under the current system.

    -len raphael

  32. Robert

    Golf is played by something like 10% of the population, and municipal golf courses are the only affordable options for a great many people. It is also an activity that is maintained by seniors, unlike activities like hiking that have comparable participation rates among the young but fall off greatly as people age. Many folks of moderate income play golf. To consider selling off the courses to build mansions for the rich seems to be wrong headed.

  33. Patrick

    Eh, I disagree. This is the BEST time to be selling off desirable Oakland property to developers who cater to the wealthy – because people will be foolish enough to buy it. When has close-in real estate been so desirable to the uber-rich in recent memory? They think they’re getting a deal…heh, heh…what’s wrong with that? They can come to terms with our gov’t structure/taxes after they’ve Container Store’d their 7 car garage.

    Yeah, many people of moderate income play golf. But what percentage of Oaklanders play golf? I understand your point, Robert, but if 10% of Oaklanders play golf, why should 100% of Oaklanders support it? It’s golf. Not in the same league as libraries, schools, roads, taxpayer appoved Measure Y. Sorry, I had to go there.

  34. Ralph

    Re the parks, I think it makes sense for some type of public/private partnership. You ask any person in any city, if they think that parks and open space are important and the city should maintain them the answer will be yes. If you ask them if they want more money for either police and street maintenance or parks they will go for the former and learn to maintain the latter. People can maintain parks, but they do not having the training to be police and lack the resources to pave street.

  35. Ralph

    more amsterdam in your oaksterdam only means that you make Oakland a drug haven for all east bay cities. None of the surrounding EB cities have any plans of going all dick lee. and trust me none of these drug addicts has any intention of spending additional dollars in oakland. buy drugs and get out before they get shot. and if you think i am kidding you should have heard the 2 WC women who thought the Trauma shooting was real.

    more dick lee chokes off real investment, makes oakland dependent on drugs money, does nothing to improve the overall look of a neighborhood because you can set up shop in any shell of a bldg., and a disincentive for people to develop the property because it is too easy to get high off the easy dope rent. Why not just give a business license to the corner boy. Oh yeah, the city want you to buy their dope.

    One word: Hampsterdam

    Golf courses, people are actually spending less time playing golf. Maybe you sell the courses maybe you don’t but they need to support themselves.

  36. Max Allstadt


    Weed money and hard drug money are radically different. Weed is simply not a debilitating drug. At it’s absolute worst it exacerbates depression and laziness. Weed addiction does not make people give blowjobs for a fix. It doesn’t make people break into cars, and it doesn’t make people homeless.

    The lesson of the Hampsterdam episode of the Wire is entirely unrelated to what’s going on in Oakland. The lesson was that geographically contained anarchy is a really dumb idea, especially if all branches of government aren’t on board. It was a realistic portrayal of what would happen if a police district supervisor went rogue and set up a tolerated drug market, without assistance, buy-in, or consent from other branches of government, or even other branches of the police force.

    In short, Hampsterdam is not Oaksterdam.

    And as for our current dispensaries, they are models for the rest of the entire state of California. They even provide all sorts of holistic healthcare, from massage to yoga, and they do it for free in most cases because they need to use up their profits to comply with our laws.

    Another 8 would be good for revenue, and would not contribute to vice in the city. Legal alcohol use in this city happens in places that frequently have trouble and which aren’t really conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Legal weed in Oakland happens in places that are entirely health-oriented. It simply isn’t a threat. It’s a boon.

  37. Ralph

    What is going on in Oakland is Dick Lee is selling a bill of goods and the masses are buying into it. People love a dope dealer as long as it is not in their neighborhood. Dick Lee would like to see every empty store front from JLS to Kaiser selling weed. You can’t seel weed in any burnt out shell of a bldg. So while Dick Lee is getting rich off of Oaklanders, Walnut Creekers, Orinda, Lafayette, real opportunity is going elsewhere. When they start selling dope in the hills, setting up shop in East and West Oakland, Lafayette, Orinda, Walnut Creek et al, I may feel different about it. Let the state, or better yet let the Feds make the call, until then no more dope dealers. Your average pothead entrepreneur comes to Oakland to learn but they do not spend money at our restaurants. A number of potheads come to Oakland to buy but they leave just as quickly as they got here. Oakland can no more afford to be dope central, than it can afford to be the dumping groung for the poor of Alameda county.

  38. James Robinson

    Tell ya what, there are LOTS of empty storefronts out here on MacArthur and there are “entrepreneurs” on the corner who are going to sell drugs regardless (especially while the Oakland Police Department is so small). I would love for Dick Lee or anyone else to open a LEGAL establishment that sells marijuana in any empty storefront on MacArthur. I’d rather see that than the blight I’m seeing right now, and it might put the dope boys out of business in the process.

  39. Missy Scott

    Why do half our property taxes go to developers? Oops, I meant the Redevelopment Agency. It’s nothing more than a cess pool of corruption and graft for political cronies

  40. len raphael

    Today’s cc budget meeting several council members showed definite signs of “getting it” that this is the last time they might be able to limp by a few more months with one shot fiscal maneuvers and minor tweaks before the deficit is unpatchable.

    DLF and Brooks seemed most realistic, with DLF saying it was time to settle the Y lawsuit and face the looming unfunded pension and benefit costs that will hit just about the time hoped for sales and other tax revenues recover somewhat. and

    DB talking about core services and some cost saving method called “city staff programming”? No details given to learn what she considers core.

    PK talked about structural deficit. But also went into a defensive thing about how the city didn’t steal Measure Y money, but diverted it to a good related cause. Odd for an attorney to phrase it the way she did.

    Most of the cc members expressed skepticism or opposition to new parcel tax. But seems that most of them want to resubmit Y to increase that tax and possibly make it easier for them to spend without getting sued.

    Hard to tell w JQ whether she really believes that in two or three years all will be well with the economy fulling humming along at the old tax revenue levels, or she’s just saying that because she’s running for mayor and doesn’t want to antagonize any of the interest groups.

    NN seemed kinda out of it.

    RK delicately touched on the financial implosion with a list of revenue raisers. Big on legalizing and taxing all aspects of dope growing. Suggested laying off the entire fleet of metermaids who enforce alt side of street parking. Mentioned how in DC, the sweeper trucks handle ticketing.

    I get the impression that several of the cc members don’t get it that to make up the deficit with increased retail sales is years away.

    lindheim was surprisingly clear eyed. he flat out stated we would soon be in a disaster situation where we’ll have to drastically eliminate most services other than police and fire. he pointed out that if cc are considering adding a new parcel tax, it has to be done this june to get onto the coming property tax bills for the following fiscal year. responding to my public comment, he mentioned the B word (bankruptcy) in a neutral way.

    -len raphael

  41. Naomi Schiff

    Somebody mentioned a sales and use tax to capture some of what is being lost in internet sales, didn’t they, Len?

    This interests me because I note that my own business is incurring less sales tax than it used to, as we are exempted for internet sales tax and out-of-state sales (much of our work). The state and city MUST have taken a huge hit over the last decade due to this, but there is surprisingly little talk about it. It isn’t just less shopping; it is also all that internet ordering.

    This is one of the things that makes me wonder about all the CEDA talk about big retail on upper Broadway. Seems like my neighbors get everything via UPS!

  42. James Robinson

    Could a new sales and use tax run afoul of the Interstate Commerce laws, not to mention the U.S. Constitution?

  43. len raphael

    Naomi, the internet use tax hope falls under grasping at straws category. Maybe a couple of notches below the Wayans bros. project for the army base.

    I assume they are hoping for something like the sales/use tax on vehicles that are purchased outside of Oakland but the tax is effectively calculated and distributed to Oakland as if it were bought in Oakland by the Oakland resident.

    True, the state is now trying to collect use tax from all business on purchases made outside of California. Presumedly the local portion of that use tax will be given to Oakland from Oakland based businesses.

    If they’re counting on a big chunk of money from that, keep dreaming. Big businesses already pay the use tax on purchases. Small businesses often don’t but just don’t buy as much as big biz or as Oakland consumers.

    CA and Oakland would love to have the same mandatory use tax applied to non business consumers but even if it were legal, (might violate Federal law), it would be expensive to enforce at the state and local levels.

    Easier to enforce use tax for businesses as part of state income tax audits. But doing that for a bunch of individual income tax audits would raise hell.

    But yes, i share your skepticism about retail sales tax saving us.

    -len raphael

  44. Ralph

    Naomi, I would not be worried about big retail along upper B-way. It will survive. Union Square has survived and so will upper Broadway retail. The death of local retail due to the internet has been greatly exaggerated. The internet is attractive when either you can’t buy it locally or the cost (not just money but time) to obtain is more than when done via the net.

  45. James Robinson

    I think one of the main reasons for shopping locally is because of the EXPERIENCE of local shopping. If retailers continue to offer a unique and pleasurable experience, there will still be hope.

  46. len raphael

    Selling off unused high maintenance real estate could be appropriate if the proceeds were used to develop long term revenue sources such as sales and business tax from upper bway. eg. spent on street and parking improvements.

    only problem is our abysmal record of doing those projects. How long did/will it take for JLS retail store tax revenue to equal the investment by city/port?

    -len raphael

  47. Naomi Schiff

    HJKaiser center is a city landmark. Its parking lot will be used as staging for the huge 12th St. construction project beginning in three or four months. The reason Edgerley shut it down had to do with bad supervision (it was lumped in with the Museum, whose director had no interest in it) and bad management on the city’s part. It will likely be much more valuable after the DD project is completed, since this includes having the parking lot reconfigured and landscaped, better access, and a park created between it and Lake Merritt. This would be a crazy time to sell it. A long-term lease might make sense, or finding an operator might make sense, or better yet, making a good plan for its ongoing use to generate a decent longterm income for the city.

  48. MarleenLee

    Len: Pat Kernighan’s comments were disappointing. As a lawyer she should know better than to make statements that she can’t back up with facts. Her claim that the City owes only around $7 million is $4 million less than what the City Attorney claims is owed. (I claim it is $15 million). She also claimed all the Measure Y positions are filled, when that is not true; the CRT positions were never filled, and there’s no evidence on the child abuse, domestic violence or truancy positions. Her comments did nothing to help the CC’s credibiltiy on Measure Y or any future parcel tax, which, thankfully, most of them didn’t seem that interested in.

  49. Naomi Schiff

    Just to avoid confusion, by the way, I think Ms. Brooks misspoke and scrambled the investments we have in our convention centers. Built in 1915, Kaiser Conv Center (formerly Oakland Auditorium) surely cost less than the 149 million she cited, which I think must describe the downtown Scotlan Conv. Center. We did spend about 18 million or some number like that on the Kaiser Conv. Center in the mid-1980s, though. A relatively recent, sizable investment.

    Factoids re Kaiser Conv Center: prominent for years and years of Christmas Pageants led by Louise Jorgensen. Site of many Oakland graduations. Venue for Cal Women’s basketball while Haas Pavilion was being rebuilt. Many campaign events have been held there, including (remember this guy?) Dukakis presidential campaign rally. Many roller skating events. But I think there are more references to the Grateful Dead than to any other events there!


  50. Ralph

    in all of that i am not seeing a reason to save HJK Center. Baltimore has a bigger arena that has outlived its usefulness. i’d be glad to kill HJKC and build something of greater value in the space.

    the $18M investment is irrelevant.

  51. livegreen

    Marleen, I’m confused by the CRT issue: I recall our PSO talking to us on one occasion about a CRT action, a PSA Sgt talking about CRT actions on another occasion, and our NSC telling us on a 3rd occasion about one of the 4 Officers killed had been in charge of CRT for our area.

    So if OPD has been talking with us on a regular basis about CRT officers, then how can their not be any?

    Point of claification: At least one, if not all, of these occasions was when our NCPC didn’t have a PSO. He was “borrowed” for other duty elsewhere in the City (to cover downtown). While our PSA didn’t have a PSO (a PSO was assigned to us but he had 4 beats so it was in name only), we did have CRT’s at the time.

    You might have referred to this rotating before.
    This was all before your lawsuit and the reinstitution of the PSO’s.

  52. livegreen

    Naomi, I don’t understand: If they made an $18 million investment in HJKC, does it have asbestos & other problems or doesn’t it? If it does, then what exactly did they invest in it? If it doesn’t, why aren’t they putting it to good use?

  53. Born in Oakland

    Naomi, don’t forget the Rolling Stones first US Tour in ’64 at the Kaiser. Start of the Viet War resistance and Stop the Draft activity, hammering the Army induction center in downtown, OPD beating up Berkeley undergraduates, CORE demonstrations at Jack London Square, Black Panthers raising hell. What a great town we do live in, with a proud pedigree. But today is now, and Oakland is no longer living in an age of abundance. We are on the verge of bankruptcy and there is no relief in sight. Economic issues become primary. Plastic bag bans and weed smoking issues become secondary to jobs and primary services to our citizens. Ex-radicals and former hippies (like me) need to get off the dime and work to save this town which has been in the political doldrums for the last 30 years or more. The Kaiser building is a metaphor for some of us in our dotage. We represented an important cultural and political shift back then, but now?……..I just see a lot of “grandstanding” by pols and our Mayor while we parse, blame and rail against each other. I do it too but I am trying to be “A Better Oakland(er).”

  54. len raphael

    Clarification on which building is owned by city: is the Oakland Convention Center that’s managed by Marriot; or the Scottish Rite Temple?

    -len raphael

  55. John Klein

    I think there is an argument to be made for privatizing HJK. Look at the Fox Theater and Cox Cadillac, which is now a wildly successful Whole Foods. Not to mention all the other reuses of larger commercial buildings – I think Naomi’s business is in one. Reuse of the building is a much preferred way to proceed.

    Should discussions to demolish HJK go further than just talk, there are two very difficult “humps” to get over. The first one is history and architecture of the building, which Naomi discusses.

    The second is that the land the building sits on is, by legal definition, park land. Not just any old park land but park land purchased with park land bond funds 100 years ago. It’s the 1907 Park Bond that has been discussed before.

    California law is very specific about when cities want to change the use of park land acquired by voter-approved park bond funds. Basically, it says the City would have to hold another election to change it from park land. Here’s exactly what California law says.

    ” Government Code 38502. If the land comprising all or any part of such park has been purchased from funds realized from the sale of bonds of a bond issue authorized for the purpose of acquiring the land for park purposes, the question of abandonment of all or a part of the park and the sale or conveyance of the land shall first be submitted to, and approved by, the voters of the city at the next municipal election or at a special election called for that purpose.”

    Beyond this, I can assure you that if the site was ever cleared back down to the dirt, park land advocates would work pretty hard to keep any new structure from being built on the site.

  56. Naomi Schiff

    The Scotlan Convention Center 11th/Broadway is operated in conjunction with the Marriott, but the top of it is controlled by the Warriors. The two convention centers were involved in a bond financing scheme which I was told (but have not checked this) doesn’t end until 2013. The Scotlan was a redevelopment project, I believe. The

    The Kaiser Convention Center is not really a convention center at all: they called it that and named it after Kaiser in the 1980s, in an ill-advised bit of clumsy marketing. It was more of a convention center many years ago when there were two buildings, and a huge annual garden show took place there. What is inside: an excellent traditional theater named after Calvin Simmons, which Michael Morgan would be interested in using for the Oakland/East Bay Symphony Orchestra, as it has better acoustics than the Paramount, I am told. AND a modestly-sized sports arena which consists of a large court or activity area surrounded by seating in tiers. There are also some meeting rooms and auxiliary spaces on the theater end of the building. This building has not been out of service for all that long.

    I will enquire about asbestos but it is likely not all that bad since it was used as a venue pretty recently, and asbestos rules were in place during the last renovation there in the mid-80s. More likely, there is asbestos that would be encountered if doing a major construction project such as the library proposed, which entailed moving walls.

    This is an eminently re-usable building; it is not a wreck. For example, it is in much much better condition than was the Fox Oakland Theater when that project began.

  57. MarleenLee

    LG – there were CRTs that existed prior to implementation of MY. MY required one additional CRT. To date, the City has shown me no evidence that the CRT was ever put in place, and public records that I have requested confirm that.

  58. Livegreen

    Thanks for this Naomi. I’m still curious why HJK ws taken out of action, or if it’s just political neglect & indecision (it sounds like it could have been put to use both theatrically and for sports). But it also sounds like it’s ripe for some type of redevelopment. Given the location, at an intersection of Lake Merritt, Laney College, and Downtown, a mixed-use entertainment complex seems plausible.

    For example, a combination of theatre (for the Symphony & performances), movie theatres, ice skating (or other sports) performance and arts spaces (lord knows we need more of that). The location would reconnect that part of the
    city, especially with Lake Merritt, the people already circulating past, municiple & county workers nearby, and large apartment towers also close.

    Mixed use entertainment examples, larger than the Fox, are numerous: Yerba Buena Gardens in SF (if that’s it’s name), BAM in Brooklyn, Union Station in D.C. or KC, etc. This could be done better since it’s ready built for entertainment which many of these other projects were not.

    Any other examples of entertainment remodels people have seen from around the country?

  59. Naomi Schiff

    LG, it was in use as sports on one end, concerts and gatherings in the theater, in recent years. It lends itself to combined uses. Some visual artists were interested in using some of the spaces too, at one point. Laney College has at times expressed interest in the building, although current budget problems may make that hard.

    The main reason I heard for taking it out of action was to wiggle out of stagehands union requirements, and because city councilmembers kept asking them to give favorable rates to their pet organizations, while not back-filling the budget for resultant losses on discount leasing. It wasn’t that terrible a money-loser, actually. Good management might well have put it into the black. As the DD project comes on line over the next 18 months, its prospects are improving, I think. That project will enhance its connection with the museum and other venues around the lake. I think that end of the lake will turn out to be a terrific place to hold combined indoor-outdoor events, too, which would be a good possibility for the building’s use. It is buffered by other public buildings, so possible to hold events that don’t drive residential neighbors crazy.

    By the way, in answer to a query above, to my knowledge the Scottish Rite Temple as an event space is firmly in the hands of the Masons, not the Marriott.

  60. Robert

    The KCC was shuttered because it was losing money. Because it still requires maintenance even though closed, it continues to drain money from the city budget. Attempts in recent years to strike a deal with a promoter to use it as an entertainment venue have failed. One reason perhaps is that in order for it to be viable for commercial operations it will need significant upgrades to the facilities. Attempts to use the KCC for other purposes, e.g. a library, have also fallen by the wayside. All of this was discussed at a city council meeting a couple of years ago.

    While its nice to talk about the potential of the building, the city needs to put together a viable plan to make use of the structure. And right now, the most viable plan on the table seems to be to sell the building.

  61. Ralph

    I guess council has asked staff to come back with a viable plan for KCC. Within the next 20 years, I am sure staff will come back with a plan.

  62. Livegreen

    Selling is the easiest plan. That doesn’t mean it’s the best. Either depend on what’s done with it, and that’s the difficult question either way. Even more so with what JK says above about Laws covering Parks.

    The City has a history of both successfully selling property for designated intentions, and public-private partnerships (including leasing). As long as a plan is viable and beneficial, I don’t see why all of these options can’t be explored…

  63. Robert

    LG, selling is the only plan that is available now, so it is by default the best. Oakland has had this albatross around its neck for at least the last 5 years, and has yet to come up with with any other plan, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for a financially viable plan coming out of staff (and with no slight intended towards staff here). Although the land can’t be sold easily, that doesn’t mean the building can’t be sold, with a long term lease on the land. If Oakland is seriously interested in doing something else with the building, they need to partner with somebody like Phil Tagami, and forget all the rigmarole of studying, RFPs, etc., because that will only drag things out for years .

  64. Livegreen

    LR and Robert, Yes, partnering with someone like Tagami is exactly what I mean. Both the Fox and the Rotunda were not just a sale to him. They were public-private partnerships. Doing this or some variation of it reduces the costs for everyone, makes the project more viable, and maintains some degree of public input and public access that an outright sale does not.

  65. Naomi Schiff

    Phil doesn’t own the Fox. The City of Oakland does. It was purchased for $3 million when Elihu Harris was mayor, from Erma DeLucchi. It is operated by a partnership of some complexity, but the ownership is the city’s. Phil masterminded the deals that made it happen. It is funded by a combination of tax credits, state bond funds, investment money, grants, billboard proceeds channeled through the School of the Arts rental payments, loans through BofA, and now the Another Planet activities and other rents.

    I believe that Tagami’s company does own the Rotunda, which was renovated with the help of a large loan from the city’s redevelopment agency, I think 50 million.

  66. len raphael

    Rbt, without knowing what the carrying costs of the hjc are, or the likely selling price, why would you sell it at firesale price when its really hard for buyers to get financing, and the proceeds are only going to get us thru part of the next year?

    i”d look at this differently if i were a city employee, vendor, or ngo facing massive layoffs/cutbacks. or if i thought our revenues would bounce back to the old levels within two years, and it were just a matter of hanging on till then. but its more likely that the resale value of the hjc will go up then operating revenue rises. or if the sale would net us 100 mill.

    -len raphael


  67. len raphael

    My impression is that in past private/public deals the city put up more than the real estate. they also put in money and might have cosigned the rehab loans. anyone know the economic history of the scotlan convention center?

    or we could ask don perata what he’d do if he were mayor. he’s got plenty of experience from putting together the colliseum raider’s deal, which might be the nadir of oakland city public private partnering. (ok, maybe a tie with the bey loan)

  68. Naomi Schiff

    In my opinion the Coliseum deal is definitely the nadir, Len, as are still paying for it through 2026 and it is an enormous drag on our city budget.

  69. len raphael

    maybe perata wants to be mayor of oakland as pennance for his raiders’ deal.
    in further irony, he’d be coming into a situation where he’ll have to gut all of his union supporters and possibly their retirement benefits. now, why would anyone want to be mayor here for the next term?

    -len raphael

  70. Livegreen

    I guess the Dapper Don won’t be bringing this up will he? Then again, he probably won’t have to…

  71. len raphael

    Maybe RK is really on to something w her idea of embracing the entire medicinal pot industry. None of the uncertain demand for home green power and the need to overhaul our education system to teach the technical skills needed to manufacture and install.

    Our families and local schools already are toprate at providing the young people with the skills and experience needed for successful dope production and sales.

  72. Ralph

    Oakland screwed the pooch with parking. I really want to know why we do not collect meter revenue from street parking in the entertainment district at night.

  73. len raphael

    Re expanding reliance on tax revenue from medical marijuana. A buddy from Mendocino was telling me that the biggest worry of all the growers up there is that marijuana gets legalized: prices fall, little guys get wiped out.

    Oaksterdam going the way of the once thriving food processing industry in Oakland when frozen food ended canned food business.

  74. len raphael

    Re another offset to the cost benefits of cutting alt side of street parking maids/men and automate enforcement via the street sweeper drivers: an unknown but substantial chunk of the enforcement ticket revenue comes from vehicles that are parked before or after the street sweeping truck passes by.

    i’d love to only have to move my vehicle just before the sweeper comes by, and then move it back 3 minutes later.

  75. len raphael

    Revenue raising: hire competent independent consultants to review and negotiate franchises with cable tv providers and trash disposal as they theoretically have done for vehicle towing. my sense is that Waste Managment runs circles around Oakland on the franchise. (that was certainly true years ago, i don’t know if still true but a conversation i just had with someone who knows the industry was laughing at all the ways trash companies make money off of cities. until the crash in recyclable prices, they made really good money in some cities).