Bruce Nye is Board Chair of Make Oakland Better Now! Except where otherwise indicated, however, the opinions in this post are his, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the organization.
The Make Oakland Better Now! Measure Y Fix Proposal:
Last month, Make Oakland Better Now! proposed the following voter initiative to amend Measure Y (PDF):
- Reduce the threshold number of officers from 739 to either 700 or 690;
- Require Oakland to actually hire (not just appropriate for) either 690 or 680 of those officers before collecting the taxes;
- Allow the Chief some flexibility in assigning duties to neighborhood beat officers;
- Allow Measure Y funds to be used to civilianize some Police Department functions, freeing up ten to fifteen officers to fight crime; and
- Make a designated portion of Measure Y funds available to allow performance and financial audits of the police department.
Our full proposal is here.
The Measure Y Fix Proposal on Thursday’s City Council Agenda:
On Thursday, July 22, the City Council will consider a proposed “Measure Y Fix (PDF)” for the November ballot. It’s anybody’s guess what the Council will adopt. But the initiative on the City’s web site (PDF) has these key elements:
- Completely eliminates the threshold number of officers required as a prerequisite to the City collecting the Measure Y taxes (the proposal states this is a suspension until July 1, 2015, but Measure Y expires December 31, 2014);
- Allows Measure Y tax proceeds to be used to recruit and train either neighborhood beat officers (sometimes referred to as “problem solving officers,” although Measure Y does not use that language) or officers hired to replace neighborhood beat officers;
- Broadens the scope of permissible violence prevention programs;
- Gives the City more discretion in its use of the $4 million in Measure Y proceeds allocated to fire fighting services; and
- Makes clear that the City is not required to provide any of the Measure Y services when it doesn’t collect the Measure Y taxes.
The proposed modifications to the Measure Y provisions concerning recruitment and training, violence prevention programs and fire service funding are all pretty clearly responses to Marlene Sacks’ two Measure y related lawsuits against the City.
Administration’s Recommendation That The Threshold Be Eliminated:
he administration has apparently considered reducing the threshold, rather than eliminating it, but recommends against doing so (PDF) for the following reasons:
Some community members have suggested that rather than suspending the 739 officer requirement in Measure Y, that the “fix” should substitute a lesser number (e.g., 700 or 675). It is important to note that the resolution no. 82849 C.M.S. approved by Council on June 24 required the lay-off of 80 police officers. It also required that an additional 122 officers be laid off should none of the revenue measures be approved by the voters in November. As such, the non-Measure Y staffing level would be 601. Absent the passage of revenue measures, no number larger than 601 would allow for the implementation of the “fix” measure and even that number might be high if the budget situation were to worsen between now and November. Therefore it is recommended that simply suspending the 739 language is the appropriate action.
Why The Make Oakland Better Now! Proposal Should Be Presented To The Voters:
The MOBN! proposal involves significant risks. It won’t work if the OPOA does not eventually come to the table and contribute its share. It won’t work if the City does not spend the next one to two years engaging in real, meaningful, major budget reform to address its five year, $400 million to almost $600 million structural deficit.
But the risks of the “no threshold” proposal are even greater. In an environment where the Alameda County Grand Jury has twice told us our city needs a 50% increase in sworn police officers (see page 62), and the Chief of Police is trying to build a strategy to fight gangs, guns and drugs (PDF), annual reductions in police staffing are simply unacceptable, and the voters should not do anything to make it easier for the City to make such reductions. Crime reduction is the key to Oakland’s economic revival and increased city revenues. The “no threshold “ proposal sends a message that no crime reduction is coming any time soon.
Specifically, here’s what the Make Oakland Better Now! proposal would accomplish:
- While there will be some reduction in the number of officers, the MOBN! proposal gives the voters what they thought they were getting in 2004 when they voted for Measure Y: an assurance that the City must actually hire some specific number of officers in order to collect the Measure Y taxes.
- The MOBN! proposal might smooth negotiations with the OPOA , at least somewhat. While there is no way the City can meet OPOA’s demand for a no-layoff guarantee, the MOBN! proposal comes pretty close, since it tells the OPOA that any layoffs beyond the revised threshold will cost the City $20 million.
- The “no threshold” proposal anticipates laying off another 27 officers in January even if the Measure Y fix passes. The MOBN! proposal does not save as much in fiscal year 2011-12 as laying off 107 officers, but then, it doesn’t result in the loss of 107 officers, either. If the appropriation threshold is reduced to 690, the actual loss of officers from FY 2009-10 levels is 23 and the budget savings is about $7.8 million. Combine that with the pension concession the City has been trying to get from the OPOA, and you’ve got combined deficit reduction measures of close to $16 million. If the threshold needs to be set lower, figure another $1.9 million in savings for every threshold reduction of ten officers.
- The Make Oakland Better Now! proposal to fund civilianization would put between ten and fifteen additional officers on the street by moving them out of positions that can be filled by civilians at somewhere between 60 and 70% of the cost. We already know that ten of these positions can be filled for $1.27 million (PDF), as compared to $1.9 million for ten officers. If five more positions could be identified for civilianization and filled for, say $85,000 each, the overall savings would be 40% and 15 more officers could be on the street;
- The Make Oakland Better Now! proposal to allocate Measure Y funds for performance and financial audits of the police department will surely yield a net financial gain. Make Oakland Better Now! aggressively supports the department and its Chief. But is there anyone who doubts there is at least 1% waste in the department that could be identified and eliminated? One percent of the department’s budget is $2 million, ten times the amount we have allocated for auditing.
As discussed above, both the “no threshold” proposal and the Make Oakland Better Now! proposal involve risk. I can understand why the City Council might worry that a reduced threshold proposal might not give the City enough flexibility if budget reform doesn’t happen. But the fact is, the City has to achieve meaningful budget reform, and it has to address all expenses, and revenues, or our problems with police staffing will be only a very small part of the city’s overall crisis. So we might as well roll up our sleeves and start addressing the budget. We must continue to get the involvement and participation of every stakeholder in the city, including the OPOA. And while we do that, we need to do whatever we can to keep our citizens safe.