Ignacio De La Fuente: Join me in demanding real solutions to Oakland’s financial crisis

Since the outset of the current financial crisis, I have encouraged the residents in District 5 and my supporters throughout the city to participate in the Budget process to advocate for the preservation of what I believe should be the focus of our City budget, CORE SERVICES. These core services are: Police; Fire; Parks; Libraries; Streets; Sewers; Sidewalks; and the most essential services for our Seniors and Youth. I have been pleading with my colleagues on the council to realize the urgency of this crisis, and I am again urging you to join me as I push them to stop delaying critical decisions that impact Oakland’s immediate and long-term fiscal health.

On Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council convened a Budget Workshop to discuss the Budget shortfall of $15.26 million dollars for Fiscal Year 2009-10 and $32.72 million dollars for next Fiscal Year, 2010-2011.

The balancing measures taken Tuesday night included staff layoffs in Information Technology, Finance and Management, the Fire Department and Human Services and sale of City owned properties.

Unfortunately, most of these decisions made during the Tuesday meeting are only temporary band-aids and not real solutions to the crisis at hand. The City budget doesn’t have the “luxury” of carrying debt into the next fiscal year. As I repeatedly stated Tuesday, delaying critical long-term decisions until later is completely irresponsible.

Simply put, these budget cuts are not easy but they are necessary. Tuesday night I proposed eliminating six legislative analysts to the council office, five positions in the city attorney’s office, and six positions in the mayor’s office. In addition, we need to mandate that City agencies operate within their budgets. This includes the Police Department, Department of Information Technology, and the Mayor’s office which is currently over budget by $260,000.

I was frustrated that the majority of my colleagues decided that we will wait until May to make the challenging decisions that could help stop the bleeding right now. The fact is that we are not efficient, and the impact of this crisis is not going away. Putting off these cuts now means there will be more people laid off from key departments in the city. A combination of substantial waste being ignored throughout various City agencies along with a drop in revenues means we need to cut many of the non-Core Service that are currently in our budget, its that simple.

Other pending decisions that I will not support include placing special taxes on the ballot for public safety, utility consumption and a temporary, quarter-cent sales tax increase.

One of the least talked about issues we are facing during this crisis is the impact that our debt will continue to have on our city’s credit rating. Oakland, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, is not immune to the looming reality that our credit worthiness will likely continue to fall unless we make immediate spending cuts and address the hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded liabilities from our PFRS and CalPERS pension plans.

We have a responsibility to structure our budget in such a way that will ensure we do not have our bond rating downgraded. But if we take only temporary measures, rather than making fundamental changes that will produce ongoing savings in the years ahead, our credit rating could face a steep downgrade. If our credit rating is lowered, the city will have to pay a higher interest rate on money it borrows, making the financial situation even more troubling.

I appreciate the many of you who have written and called council members or attended meetings to voice your priorities publicly. I am urging residents to continue demanding that a priority be placed on Core Services from your city officials. And I urge my colleagues on the Council to act now on the budget, putting off these important decisions will not make the problem go away.

This guest blog is cross posted from District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente’s e-mail newsletter. To receive these updates regularly, you can sign up for the newsletter here.

68 thoughts on “Ignacio De La Fuente: Join me in demanding real solutions to Oakland’s financial crisis

  1. Ken O

    Thank you Ignacio for having a SPINE unlike the rest of the council, besides Rebecka Kaplan and (sometimes) Pat K.

    I expect Council President Brunner and the rest of the City Council to shape up and start making REAL CUTS NOW, just like the rest of your fellow Oakland citizens and business owners have been doing for years.

    No more supporting whiny city union workers with their obscenely exorbitant pension contributions paid for by our tax money. You union workers are NOT the ONLY ones with mortgages, other debts or financial difficulties. Stop taking from the rest of us.


  2. Ken O

    Solutions for getting city expenses in line with falling revenues:

    #1 Eliminate pensions for ALL new hires effective IMMEDIATELY. And reduce pension contributions to 2% for EXISTING WORKERS. Nobody in the corporate or small business world gets more than 2-3% “201k” match. “Pensions” and “retirements” didn’t exist before industrialization, which wouldn’t itself exist without cheap/easily accessed fossil fuels. As we run down our ancient fossil fuels, industrial civilization is taking hits and facing collapse. Admitting this will let us all re-focus on what we CAN do, instead of trying to sustain the unsustainable. Instead of a pension, start growing more of your own food!

    #2 Cut ALL active pension payouts by 2/3s, gradually over a ten year time-frame. Come out and say “yes, we are breaking our historical promise of paying pensions, it was a ponzi scheme, and it can’t work anymore now that people are cashing in, sorry but this is the best we can do.” Otherwise you city retirees and future city retirees will get ALL your 90% salaries for doing NOTHING for a FEW YEARS and then POOF! The house of cards will implode and you’ll get nothing afterwards.

    #3 Require that City of Oakland employees who retire and want to be “made whole” (up to 60% salary in retirement for perpetuity) receive 60% pension payments ONLY IF THEY LIVE IN/MOVE TO OAKLAND. If they are enjoying OUR money to have a lavish lifestyle out of state or out in Danville and don’t support our local economy, they don’t deserve rich retirements! Okay, maybe that’s extreme. If they live out of city more than half of the year, they should get maybe “at least” 40% of their pension. If they live here, city worker retirees will help city tax base, spend more in the local economy…

    #4 Make EVERYONE in Oakland city government, from top to bottom, take a 20% pay cut between now and 2012. This includes police and fire. “If everyone sacrifices, fewer folks will lose their jobs.” Do in phases over two years so people have time to adjust.

    Unions are being stupid and bull-headed here… they keep asking for raises while in the rest of America, half a million people are being laid off every month!! Insanity. So instead of keeping their people employed, the unions get more layoffs, reducing their union ranks. Yes, I know OPD took 15% pay cut last year… but they and the rest of the city’s workers STILL make way more than everyone else in the Bay Area, New York City and the US for that matter!

    #5 Privatize OHA! Sell it to China, Veolia or Warren Buffet. That potentially frees up $130MM one-time, which the city should use to install rail, pay for the most necessary infrastructure maintenance/public safety issues (Detroit is installing rail this year, backed by $150MM chipped in by PRIVATE DONORS! Can’t we do the same?) Or, most likely, the city would give most of that money to its politico’s crony friends and to the pension fund. Either way, it’s more cash to pay bills with — a HUGE bandaid. Not a small one.

    #6 Support any CA constitutional convention, initiatives or ANY other efforts to amend PROP 13. Commercial property owners such as McDonald’s and Burger King among others are NOT paying their fair share of property taxes for all the damage they help inflict on people’s health. (Is it kids’ fault that both parents have to work and there are no more Home Economics cooking classes?) Change residential rules too, but over a 15 year period to allow for easier adjustment.

    #7 EASY solution for you as a politico: raise fees, taxes (delay the Day of Reckoning for a few more months.) You know, $500 dog licenses, parking permit, bike licenses. (okay, maybe not $500)

    #8 OPD Savings: Renegotiate insane $70,000/month rent of the Eastmont Substation down to $10k/mo. How many officers can you buy for $60k/month in FREE money for salary and benefits? At $8k/mo, at least seven more guys and gals. (or put it into the OK mentoring program shown on KTVU: .) Seems more than reasonable given current CRE valuations. Maybe John Russo can help here. ALSO, have OPD oil changes done for FREE under warranty at the local dealer instead of by Public Works, this will save money and time!

  3. Ken O

    Actually, for OPD taking a second pay cut, I wouldn’t ask them for 20% over the next two years. I’d ask for a 10% cut. Too low of a salary, and we won’t get the performance and morale we need. Too low and you also open it up to more potential drug-related corruption.

    This is why Singapore pays their government execs insanely high salaries, in the millions. To avoid high level corruption. In China, they execute people for high level corruption.

    A little bit of corruption at the margins and for small fry is okay, but not at the top like we have in this country. (/rant)

  4. Max Allstadt

    Wow. There’s a lot of unfeasible stuff on this thread.

    Negotiating with OPOA is certainly a worthy goal, but it would require some very serious buy in from the Mayor and other councilmembers who would have to use their bully pulpit to get it to go anywhere. OPOA already has the city in a double-bind: They signed a contract recently which fixes their pay. In order to really get their attention, council would have to cut OPD staffing, and then negotiate a pay cut as an alternative. That’s an extremely contentious proposition.

    I think Councilmembers De La Fuente and Kaplan’s ideas for revenue generation need serious consideration for next year’s budget.

  5. livegreen

    I can’t recall where we left off with the contracts for other City Employees. Were those renewed last year too, or some other time recently, and when do they come up for renewal again?

    The City really really should have put in clauses allowing further cuts should the budget worsen. Including Ignacio…

  6. Robert

    lg, I believe that contracts with all the city unions were renegotiated last summer. Although there were some givebacks, the generally poor job of negotiation on the part of the city is now contributing to our continued budget problems.

    I also have a problem with statements made by many that we can’t solve the budget problem by cutting programs. (Well, CC has put things off so long this year that that may actually be true.) What these people really mean is that they consider it politically unacceptable to cut programs, not that it is impossible. There is certainly room in next years budget to cut programmatic spending to balance the budget – it is just going to hurt like h***. IDLF is correct, that we need to evaluate what the core services of the city are, and make sure we fund those adequately. But that means cuts to programs, rather than trying to ‘spread the pain’. And whoever said that the cc has done pretty well because it hasn’t had to lay off many people totally misunderstands how to deal with the long term structural problem. Oakland has to cut its spending, and that will either be through layoffs or serious reductions in salary and benefits.

    The concept of putting another ballot measure forward to pay for police is disgusting. We already pay a parcel tax for police. Some on cc want this because they think it is more likely to pass than a parcel tax to pay for all the other services that they don’t want to cut. If they really believe that it is unacceptable to cut those programs, then put the ballot measure forward to support those, rather than a police parcel tax to free up general fund money to support their favorite city give away.

    As a long time cc member, IDLF bears his share of responsibility for the situation the city finds itself in now, but at least he now realizes that we need to do something now to solve the long term problem, and not wait for a miracle to happen.

  7. Mary Hollis


    What are IDLF’s and Kaplan’s ideas for “revenue generation”?

    That phrase always sounds to me like a euphemism for tax hikes. And I’d oppose those because it is simply indulging those who have the biggest snouts in the trough, rather than tackle the systemic excess of public service pay, benefits and costs.

    I’d like to see an external study done of Oakland’s finances by an independent body that will not pull their punches, take into account all liabilities including unfunded pensions, and who will identify where to wield the axe. And a mayor and council who are willing to do what is necessary and not what is popular.

    The meeting the other night was just an endless litany of self-serving people trying to save themselves.

    Sure there are union, contracts and the rest. But this can be done and must be done. We can’t kick the can any further down the street. It’s time to pay the piper. We need tough love. And with that, I’ve run out of cliches.

    IDLF sees the problem better than the others. I’m not sure he sees the solution as clearly though. Still, he may be the best we’ve got. I wouldn’t trust Kwan with change from a quarter.

  8. MarleenLee

    Negotiating pay cuts and benefit cuts with unions is hard, but it is not impossible. In times of fiscal crisis it is foolish to negotiate anything other than a one year contract with a union. Any experienced management labor negotiator knows that. So hopefully these contracts are up for negotiation soon, and pay cuts should be on the table.

    I love Mary’s idea of an external study. We’ve had so many friggin studies done, and what happens? Nada. The grand jury made recommendations. The City didn’t follow them. Robert Bobb did a study and made recommendations. The City didn’t follow them. Courtney Ruby’s done audits and made recommendations, which the City doesn’t follow. The Harnett report made recommendations. The City didn’t follow them. And now comes my favorite. In 2003 the City paid $113,000 for a salary survey of management positions (on a contract that wasn’t supposed to exceed $100,000). Then what happened? Apparently, it never even got presented to the Council! And now what? The City claims they can’t even find it! Read all the details at http://defendingmeasurey.blogspot.com/2010/02/mysterious-case-of-missing-salary.html

  9. Ralph

    I have often thought IDLF is the only council member with any sense of fiscal responsibility. A year ago, he was at the forefront in trying to save $4MM when the rest of the council gave it away. Time and time again, you can be assured that IDLF will think with his head and not his heart. I hate that he has elected to ignore my repeated request to run for mayor but maybe it is good to have the voice of sanity on council.

    Mary, if you click on over to Living in the O, you can hear clips of IDLF and Kaplan revenue generating ideas. Kaplan wants to get more cannabis tax and billboard revenue. The bb revenue is, i hope, doa. it is very annoying when the the great white liberals want to kill OAC because it is “discriminatory” but they have no problem bending over the black folk when they need to get revenue. bb blight is only in the black and brown ‘hoods never in the hills.

  10. oakie

    This city does not need new “revenue generation.” Go back to 1990, or to pre-Prop 13 1978, adjust for inflation and population growth and you will see that the problem is not a shortage of revenue. It is an issue of spending money (largely during the boom Clinton years of the 1990′s and the dotcom and then real estate bubble after that. Money was spent, as much as they could get, and to boot didn’t even bother to set aside funding for pension liability, now exceeding $100 million (far more than the common wisdom figure of $60 million usually used).

    Charter Amendment: Make it unlawful for the city to sign employment contracts for compensation to include “defined benefits” pensions. The point is that there is no way to depend on the negotiators for the city to be on the citizenry’s side if they are elected largely with the money and leg work of unions.

    Stop defined benefits pensions NOW (with the next contract to be negotiated).

  11. len raphael

    When Qwan and Brunner talk about revenue raising we know they mean huge increases to parcel taxes, even higher sales taxes, utility taxes etc. All bad policy that I’ll work to defeat, but at least they’re in the ballpark with the magnitude of the current deficit, without unfunded retirement obligations.

    When Kaplan comes up with revenue raisers, she proposes hippy dippy stuff that is not even close. She’s much more credible when focused on service quality improvemnt/maintenance as she did opposing IT cuts.

    At the slomo rate at which the cc as a group and the mayor are operating, we’ll have to do a sale leaseback of most of the city real estate to the hard money guys to get thru the next few years until Batts runs for mayor. Meanwhile, I’d volunteer for IDLF if he ran again this time.

    -len raphael

  12. livegreen

    I don’t agree with IDLF on all issues (I especially want to make sure he has a balance between Residential Development, Retail AND light industrial businesses & employment), but I agree he would be our best candidate for Mayor. I wish he weren’t sacrificing himself for Perata. & I hope he’s able to convince Perata to not be only Union & Developer focussed (again, strike a balance).

    I also hope we’re able to continue nudging Kaplan and PK towards the center.

    Where does Larry Reid fit into the budget? I wish more CCmembers agreed with him on the Curfews/Gang Prevention…

  13. livegreen

    Max pointed out something I’ve been thinking about recently: The only way to get in-contract concessions from OPOA or SEIU is to threaten substantial layoffs.

    The problem is either Union is going to refuse unless the others are included. & OPOA is hard to do that with because it risks Measure Y (though they could get around this by budgeting the officers, as they have before) & COP funding. So the SEIU is where it has to begin, and in a meaningful way. Then the threat will be more realistic to OPOA.

    The other way to handle it is a la SF: either mass firing & immediate rehiring at a lower pay OR have OPD start a lateral training academy so new officers can be brought on much more quickly…

  14. len raphael

    LG, any way you do this short of threatening bankruptcy, (no, i don’t think we can jawbone retirees), or mother of all parcel taxes, i don’t see how we are going to avoid devoting our entire general fund to public security and retirees unless we quickly grow oakland to a couple of times it current size sans more non profits.

    Not sure what you mean by moving PK and RK toward the middle? As far as i can, PK seems to play the role of centrist hand wringer. I suppose you could say RK is left of center, but I just see most of her suggestions as being impractical or playing to a particular consituency possibly for getting the heck out of oakland cc. (can’t blame her if that’s the plan. oakland govt will get very ugly in coming years).

  15. livegreen

    Len, Yeah but PatK could be more assertive in her stances. She seems uncertain and easily deterred, so in turn isn’t effective at bringing others along with her. If she felt more assured she could be more effective.

    Like any elected official in the Bay Area, she’s afraid of her left flank. She can be assured in pointing out why her centrist positions are actually better for both the City, her constituents, and Oakland citizens of all economic backgrounds.

    Re. IDLF, he needs to show up more in his communities and continue to moderate his gruff appearance (he already has, but can improve further).

    By doing so they’ll keep bringing the Council more to the middle, including the practical side of Ms. Kaplan.

    Larry Reid’s opposition to IDLF & others seems to be more personal. I’m not sure if he can be centered or not. In some instances I’m very impressed with him (like on Safety) but then I don’t hear enough from him on Education or Economic Developement (other than from Developers, like all the CC).

    Economic Development is the big weakness of our entire CC…

  16. len raphael

    if PK was worried about her left flank, why did she take the lead on rolling back some of the parking meter changes? How close was her election last time?

  17. Barry K

    IDLF: “I was frustrated that the majority of my colleagues decided that we will wait until May to make the challenging decisions that could help stop the bleeding right now.”

    The obvious ones are JQ and LR. Who were the others?

    Maybe IDLF needs to rent the marquee at Grand Lake Theater to get his message out. That would go over well with PK.

  18. livegreen

    PK & the parking meter changes was neither left nor right. It was practical.

    I think the question is more why somebody would be outraged over $0.50/hour, threaten to drive to Walnut Creek for free parking, get stuck in a traffic jam along the way, when there’s free parking right by the Splash Pad.

    & get outraged by that when there’s so many other things in Oakland that need real fixing. Like the budget, safety, job retention & creation, education… But some people care more about their $0.50/hour.

    That reflects more on some of her constituents (probably a loud minority) than her. But it also reflects on how over-aggressively and poorly thought out the policy was. And perhaps how the CC sometimes accepts Staff suggestions without adequately reviewing/changing them…

  19. Mary Hollis


    Criticizing people who oppose hiking parking fees because it is “only 50 cents” misses the point. Or rather, points.

    Every tax or fee hike can be expressed like that. The proposed $90 parcel tax is “only 25 cents a day”.

    A .25% increase in sales tax is “only 5 cents on a coffee”

    It’s a cheap trick. If the amounts were truly that small, then they wouldn’t be worth raising at all.

    And every nickle and dime thus raised is a transfer of wealth from the people and the private sector to the public sector. In aggregate they drive businesses and middle-class people out of the city, and the downward spiral continues.

    What irks me even more if that these fee and tax hikes are always dressed up as “helping the moist vulnerable” or “protecting the public”. Who doesn’t love sick kids or peaceful streets?

    But the truth is those services have to be provided anyway, and these revenue initiatives free up the General Fund for more porky pet projects and bureaucratic fat.

    People oppose these “small” tax and fee hikes on the “broken window” and “slippery slope” principles. No money is ever enough and you just know the City will be back next year with their cap out again.

  20. livegreen

    Mary, I agree with your overall take on taxes. However regarding the Parking Meters, I was just pointing out that many of it’s critics didn’t express any concern for Oakland’s other problems AND they threatened to shop elsewhere where there was free parking WHEN there was free parking right there in Oakland across the street!

    How does this make any sense? It was simple and pure revenge to spite the City when the person parking had the choice of where to park & put money in the meter. They made the choice, they got a ticket, and they want to blame somebody else. Personal responsibility is a real challenge for some people.

    Again, and to be clear, there is Free Parking IN Oakland, without having to threaten going to free parking in Walnut Creek.

  21. Mary Hollis


    Yeah, I get that point.

    I wouldn’t drive to WC to shop either. But I might do even more of my shopping in Emeryville if it becomes harder to find free parking because of the increased demand created by new parking meters and rates.

    Tangentially, Oakland’s shopping is dire. It must be the only major city without a decent mall. The amount that Oakland loses in sales taxes and property taxes because of the dearth of good shopping must be a major factor.

    And the irony is that the shopping Mecca that is Emeryville was built on a site that was near identical to the western reaches of Oakland. They did it and we did not.

    And therein lies the real problem. Decades of under-investment and a failure to think big. Emeryville has no parcel taxes – just the base Prop 13 rate. It’s buildings are better and newer, it attracts major employers and major investment, the streets are safer, hell even their cops are nicer.

    But I digress.

  22. Jenn

    I’m glad to pay taxes, but cuts need to be made in these tough times, and the Council is unwilling to make touch decisions. I’ve cut my personal budget due to my decrease in income, and I don’t go out and have as much fun as I used to, but it’s what I had to do. I think Alameda County has the highest sales tax rate in the state, and I would not be in favor of raising it.

  23. Max Allstadt

    I support:

    Billboards. Ralph is wrong about negative impact on minority neighborhoods from new billboards. Rebecca Kaplan is well aware of the disproportionate number of old billboards in minority neighborhoods. That’s why the billboard she arranged to sell to Clear Channel is in the middle of a highway maze, visible only from the highway and from the East Bay Mud sewage treatment plant. It’s a no-impact location, and there are many others.

    We could also mandate that if any new billboard faces a highway, but that has a rear side facing a neighborhood, that rear side would be reserved for public art.

    I also support IDLF’s idea about selling golf courses. He and I appear to have come up with that idea at the same time, independently. I support selling one to a developer, and mandating that the developer operate it while waiting to build when the economy comes back. We’d get an initial sum from the sale, business tax from the operation (smallish, but revenue), and we’d have large amount of transfer tax and new unit real-estate tax to expect in the future.

    That future pile of money could be set aside as a rainy-day fund so that we don’t end up in the same mess again. Interesting thought: pre-assigning ad-valorem tax from a new development to a particular account. In this case, It’s kinda like an insurance policy.

    Weed: We could make millions by opening 8 new dispensaries, for a total of 12. Oakland’s model of medical marijuana is the lowest impact and the most responsible in the nation. We can totally manage tripling the number of dispensaries.

    Sin Tax: We should find a way to legalize strip clubs, but only unionized, worker owned ones like SF’s lusty lady. Worker owned strip clubs are essentially a way to make sure that the people who get rich and get taxes are the strippers themselves. Most other models of ownership are highly exploitive, but worker-owned is well proven to be otherwise. Licenses and taxes on a few such clubs would bring in a bunch of money.

  24. livegreen

    I agree that Oakland has not done a good enough job at providing Retail like Emeryville. I too believe in shopping locally, but that must be balanced by at least some Big Box (unfortunately) otherwise some people go elsewhere and we lose the tax base, as you, Mary and Brad, mention.

    However it is important to distinguish between Emeryville & Oakland:
    –Emeryville has preserved some portion of it’s light industrial spaces behind the retail. This provides space for small business & blue collar jobs. The latter are less numerous than in retail, but pay better;
    –Emeryville has been able to do redevelopment by displacing other businesses and the poor. They can do this partially because the poor move to…Oakland.
    –Oakland has a much larger poverty base. Where in the Bay Area do they move to if there jobs are displaced? & their low-income housing isn’t being displaced and is quite well protected here.

    So Oakland needs both retail and heavy/light industrial businesses & jobs.
    It has been neglecting BOTH. And as it proceeds to address retail, it is also mixing in housing, both displacing more and more industrial. Where is that leading? Less of a blue collar employment base, more permanently unemployed, and even when crime is reduced it will be a real challenge to reduce crime to a level that makes a majority of the middle class (organic or immigrant) feel safe. So the middle class housing can’t happen only at the expense of industrial, like the City has mostly been counting on…

    Oakland needs more retail, more middle class housing AND industrial. & that’s a real challenge.

  25. len raphael

    lg, emeryvile displaced very few residents with it’s development. most of it’s residents before development were living in the triangle above San Pablo. Most of the office buildings and retail areas were former industrial sites.

    But mostly Emeryville always had extremely few residents for its size.

  26. livegreen

    To add to Max & Ralph about billboards, specifically digital billboards, I was thinking about the one on Port land right after the Bay Bridge. As Max says it’s not in a poor area. Also it’s blinding and you can’t miss it. So along these lines here are some proposals to increase Digital Billboard placement and revenue:

    –The cost of adds can be matched with the brightness of the sign. This cost/brightness ratio would be parabolic: Costs for dimly lit adds would be low, costs would increase for medium but still highly visible intensity, and then decrease again for very bright adds that blind the driver.

    Or be very quick & intense thereby putting a semi-permanent imprint on the viewers memory (esp when they close their eyes);

    –New locations for the signs would be at highly visible locations on the highway but in places which will have less impact on Oakland residents, rich or poor. For example facing the drivers right at the 580/24 split, at the other side of the same ramp as it merges with 24, at the ext of Oakland on 880, or right above the Caldecott tunnel.

    –Other billboards could be concentrated on above ground BART stations but squeezed in between BART & Cal-Trans/Interstate property so Oakland will receive the revenue;

    –The closer a billboard is to exiting Oakland the brighter and more visible the sign would be. That will deter drivers from wanting to drive past it, and encourage more of them to stay and live here in Oakland.

    –Between adds the signs could flash (subliminally or not) “If you lived in Oakland, you’d already be Home!”, followed by a :) to further encourage good feelings about Oakland.

    Along these lines I’m sure there are some valuable opportunities I’ve not yet thought of…

  27. Izzy Ort

    “I was thinking about the one on Port land right after the Bay Bridge”

    I just drove past it last night, eastbound, and there was some big pink advertisement on it. I don’t know what it was trying to sell, maybe HELLO KITTY.

    But right behind it, about 100 yards later, was ANOTHER one, same size, same big pink advertisment on it. I thought I was seeing double.

    So there are two now. I never noticed the second one until last night, but I don’t drive by there every day.

  28. Ralph

    Tell ya what, when you start putting up billboards with public art in white neighborhoods come talk to me. Thankfully a good number of NN constiuents feel the way I do and she fights tooth and nail against this blight.

    Weed: if you can get them to open a few dispensaries in Rockridge or in white neighborhoods, I could give a listen….

    finally beginning to understand why there are race issues in Oakland…

  29. Mary Hollis

    Oakland CC would rather endlessly debate whether the location of a billboard is politically correct than tackle the budget problem. So would some here, it seems.

    You put billboards where they can be seen i.e. near busy roads. Wealthier (i.e. white) people prefer to live away from freeways, up in the hills etc. So what do we do? Not erect billboards where people can actually see them and spitefully put more up in the hills?

    This is a tempest in a teacup. And I suspect only white liberals even care about this issue. While the 2/3 of Oakland’s population that is not white just carry on going about their business not caring about billboards.

    But yeah, let’s sell those golf courses. Sell every non-core asset and focus on the sore assets and services.

  30. Andy K

    IDLF list of core services seems a little long. As bad as our budget is, it might have to be reduced to public safety and preventative maintenance. By preventative maintenance I mean stuff that if we don’t fix now, it will cost more to fix latter.

    Labor costs for the City are out of whack. The City of Dublin (Alameda County) largely contracts out city services, like public works maintenance, landscape maintenance, etc. If done right, this could save money, as the bidding is competitive, and then you would only have to pay for employees when they are needed.

  31. Ralph

    Mary, billboards are hideous and the peeps in West Oakland who have written to NN to complain about bbs care (i have no idea about anyone else). They appear every few blocks and degrade a neighborhood. I do agree we are spending a lot of time looking for a few peanuts when we have bigger structural issues to resolve. We get a few incremental dollars from bb but we continue spending on programs with little value and when the day comes that our expenses outpace our revenue we go back to the bb crack.

    Andy K, i think your preventative maintenance argument is the same used by the kids first coalition. But I do hope the city looks at public/private p-ships especially as it relates to park services.

  32. dto510

    Ralph, Rebecca Kaplan’s proposal includes REMOVING dozens of billboards from West Oakland neighborhoods in exchange for one new billboard on Port land far from residents. You’re totally off-base here. Freeway-facing billboards are not worth peanuts. In any event, since the freeways pose a problem that’s more than aesthetic, trying to get some money from the freeway drivers’ eyeballs makes a lot of sense.

  33. Max Allstadt

    That particular billboard was pretty much free money. I think that we got like half a million in cash and we also got a bunch of neighborhood billboards taken down forever.

    There are other places we can do this, and it doesn’t cost the city a thing, they just sign a contract and cash a check.

  34. Mary Hollis


    I’ll take a wild guess here, that the people in West Oakland who wrote to NN to complain about the billboards were not the minority families in West Oakland, most of whom have far more to worry about.

    But the white yuppies who paid half a million for those ticky-tack lofts and town houses that were thrown up over the last 15 years in 94607 and 94608.

    Half a million is worth having. If I lived in WO, I’d worry far more about the crime, the blight and the air pollution.

  35. Naomi Schiff

    Maybe it’s just old eyes, but I loathe the bright digital billboards. There is at least one sign down 880 in Hayward or Fremont someplace that is really blinding. And that one isn’t even that huge. For me it’s: traffic safety. I don’t want the distraction level increased, when way too many people already are looking at their iphones and their huge digital dashboard displays instead of watching the traffic around them.

    In the long run I’m not sure it helps Oakland’s development to uglify it more than necessary, understanding that we already must live with the billboards we have. I do think there is a cost; it is just hard to measure it. I agree that we certainly should continue to remove billboards in exchange for any new ones installed. But I really hate to be adding more of the darned things, and do believe it penalizes those of us who live in the flatlands areas.

  36. livegreen

    Naomi, That’s why I advocate placing them right at the exit of Oakland. Nice & bright. People will wish they never have to pass them and set up roots here…

  37. Ralph

    Mary, I am not sure what your point is. Don’t non-white people worry about crime, blight, and air pollution.

    And are we talking about a bb proposal that died in committee, that resulted in1BB up and 16 removed 4 of which were WO, or some new deal entirely. RK throws up bb every time she looks for revenue so some clarity would be nice.

    and dto, for clarity it was the last deal i saw that was relative peanuts to close revenue gap, not the value of the billboards to those who have the space to rent and those who rent the space

    not all of my frustration is with the city…according to a recent chk, i think the city is prohibited by law from erecting new bb on city property. more frustrated by non CCO and private property bb – but the mere mention brings me to a boil.

    And LG, I would hope that CALTRANS would weigh in on blinding lights and traffic safety. there should be an endpoint for brightness.

  38. livegreen

    Until Cal Trans says anything, crank-up the lights and let’s get suburbia to move back to the mother-ship! & if they don’t, well they just get the ads as planned & we get the dough.

    Sounds like the City is thinking practically, and this is a revenue stream that doesn’t tax Oakland. Just the eyes of out-of-towners.

    BTW, I guess the Port doesn’t own the land on the other side of 880? Or there’d probably be a sign there too…

  39. len raphael

    fyi, bb advertisers would love to put their signs up in the highest income highest traffic areas they could. my buddy on E14th St near High only gets $100/month from Clear Channel for a single site, for what (approximately) the owners of the billboards at the 51st and Bway intersection get about 10,000/month.

    Naomi, I’m with you on the potential risks of snazzy billboards. Unlike cell phones, more like slot machines, they are specifically designed to take your eyes off the road.

    -len raphael

  40. Max Allstadt

    I’d bet that there’s land owned by the Port, BART, East Bay Mud, CalTrans, and the East Bay Regional Parks district that is all ripe for billboards.

    I don’t know which of that land Oakland can profit from. Could we exploit the railroad’s land too? Who can we exploit?

  41. livegreen

    Anywhere next to the highway where there are already street lamps, we could stick in really tall poles. That way they wouldn’t look out of place on the ground.

    Then we could lease space for cell phone towers on top.

  42. Robert

    Max, I think Oakland already exploits everybody who lives here.

    Maybe the could string advertising banners over the streets in DTO, or everywhere for that manner. You know those big banners they have a street fairs and such?

    Cell companies are looking for locations to add more towers, closer together to handle the 3G and 4G traffic, so that might not be a bad idea.

  43. len raphael

    Max, careful what you wish for. Much of what is sold via bb’s are for entertainment, services, and places to consume/live outside of Oakland, or products bought over the internet. Hecka lot of liquor and casino ads.

    Clear Channel wouldn’t be paying big bucks for sign sites if they weren’t effective advertising.
    Any data on the bb advertising by product by location here?

    -len raphael

  44. Mary Hollis


    My point was that the argument against bb’s is that they are in predominantly minority neighborhoods and yet it is only ever the whites who bought “cheap” housing in those neighborhoods who complain about it.

    NN lives on Helen St., Dogtown, almost under 580. I’m sure she lends a sympathetic ear. Then again, she’s white too.

    If you dont like bb’s, then fine. but don’t make it a race issue when it isn’t. Only non-whites get to play the race card.

  45. Livegreen

    Mary, Ralph isn’t white, and liquor ads are predominently minority areas.

    But beyond that Max has already confirmed that Kaplan has it on her radar screen to take down the inner city BBs. So between her & NN & concerned citizens I think Raloh has valid points and we can make sure they can be addressed.

    Now maybe we should move on to Cel Phone towers. Now there’s a revenue stream that can rile up a bunch of irrational white people…

  46. len raphael

    a million years ago, i met a guy at cocktail party whose job was getting approvals from local authorities for cell phone sites. extolling their safety etc. he had had several too many to drink. i asked him if he would live near a cell phone site. hell no was his response.

    now years later, i think a bunch of studies have failed to find any health risks, but ….

    -len raphael

  47. len raphael

    lg, why does bway and 51st get so many Indian Casino bb’s? are rockridgeans and temescalians closet gamblers? drives a neighbor of mine nuts because he’s a member of gambler’s anonymous.

  48. Ralph

    LG, i believe that the city has a strict prohibition on alcohol and smoke ads on billboards. i just hate excessive billboards. back when sullivan was running for office there was a street level billboard at the 980 27th st exit (probably caltrans property) promoting sullivan that drove me nuts. (i have no idea who bought the space)

    most of the bb i see are for casinos, homes/communities, movies, CVS, and a bunch of other useless crap (not that sullivan is useless). the ads aren’t for devil products; i think the structures and ads are hideous. (len, i do hope that the same tactics that eliminated smoke and alcohol ads can be used to eliminate casino ads)

    i like to keep RK honest; in my exchange w/her last fall she agreed that bb s/b removed from communities where new ones are placed. but every time she brings up bb revenue i am going to be on her like white on rice.

    a bigger problem as alluded to above are the lands the city does not own. nothing stops caltrans or private property owners from making a buck for renting bb space. take a walk down b-way some time and you will notice just how many bb sit on private property. private property owners are also moving quickly for cell towers. since they aren’t as blighty, they are cool.

  49. Livegreen

    A neighbor who’s in tech did some research and, accoring to him, when a cell boosts it’s power is when it emits more radiation. And it boosts it’s power more the further away it is from a tower.

    Meanwhile JQ & IDLF have been going around saying how great it is they’re helping constituents by preventing cel tower, when they’re causing people to receive more radiation by preventing them…

  50. Max Allstadt

    Just to clarify about the Billboard deal: Kaplan initiated it, and the other 7 agreed to it. The deal included removal of billboards from all 7 council districts.

  51. Ralph

    this is really more a question for becks, but why title a blog entry, “where good ideas go to die” when in fact the council signed-off on the good idea.

    perhaps with the next deal they can use the money towards a downpymt on a rainy day fund

  52. Cohen

    Why not combine the police and fire depts. Why have a police dept backed up with emergency calls while the fire dept sleeps and waits for a fire to break out. Why should a citizen need help and have to wait for the police when 4-5 firemen are asleep next door ..I think many lives could be saved if the fire dept could be incorporated into the police dept.Oakland has very few fires but, does have a crime problem…There are not nearly as many fires now as in the past .Many of Oaklands fires are set and, isnt this a crime problem? So these 2 depts are somewhat combined already..I have also noticed that the OFD arson inspector has a POST certificate so , These arson inspectors are law enforcement officers along with being firefighters..Why not have all firefighters become POST certified and they could help out with Oaklands crime problem….The fire dept doesnt like this because they think of themselves as the “good guys” while the police are disliked by many Oaklanders ..The fire dept likes to identify as, not enforcing the law but as helping the public, if they have a fire……When Oakland had horses to patrol streets they had blacksmiths to shoe the horses..There are no more horses and Oakland has no blacksmiths employed….I submit that fires are not a problem that they once were so why not have the fire dept help out with a real problem crime and protecting citizens froim crime?????

  53. Al

    55 comments. That’s a lot. I remember when I processed business tax declarations on the then 5th floor at City Hall, there was one little item that seemed ominous, a reminder, a token of things to come. It was a little booklet or report detailing how/what they did to get out of the then 1 or 2 million dollar budget shortfall. They simply moved the money around between the pension fund for FD and the general fund. I don’t know what this means but it was dated 1977(roughly). I could be precisely on target there.

    End of story. Then comes prop 13 and the city comes up with a new plan, to shift tax-dollars back into the general fund, and thus, the new program(s), mandatory garbage and the steep increases in the then M and N type business taxes.

    For those who don’t know, anyone renting property,say a house, has to file an M type declaration while the N accounts are for multiple properties.

    Years later, I come on board, and the tangled web of accounts, duplicates, items up for audit, and other problems having to do with who owns what and when, necessitated going outside of the “normal” procedures. You cannot imagine the look on their faces when they realized someone had figured out how to approach the problem correctly.

    I know from similar experience, in the military and the private sector, that change is necessary and required to maintain a level of secrecy, to avoid anyone gaming the system, criminal enterprises, etc. So the inability of anyone to actually develop a real balance sheet that accurately reflects everything is part of the way the system works.

    We are ostensibly safe from being taken advantage of but we are always being protected by the same wolves.

    The system must be redesigned, all the dirty little secrets need to be exposed, and the new deal has to be one everybody can understand and participate in. It’s not and has never been rocket science.

  54. len raphael

    Al, what was the background of making Waste Management/formerly Oakland Scavenger the sole mandatory garbage provider? that’s only for residential, single or multi? commercial can chose any garbage company they want?

    (my understanding is that garbage companies make their bucks on commercial, and break even or lose on residential).

    must be some money the city is leaving on the table w Waste Management, Comcast, towing companies etc. judging by how badly our city handles its contracts in general.

  55. Al

    i wonder about things like the franchise fees paid to cities up front, yearly I believe, as well as the small teeny-tiny percentage we all pay for everything like PG & E, etc…all the utilities. No wonder they don’t want everyone on the same page. Imagine the millions not in the budget if 20,000 oakland residents are not paying the little bit of difference in addition to what they get right off the top. The truth is, we, the individual consumers, are at least TWICE subsidizing these large corporations.

    We are blessed though, in spite of the seemingly ruthlessness of our captors. In Texas, they have no PUC, to even speak of. It’s all the Railroad Authority. In 1976, hundreds of poor people all over San Antonio Texas, a military hub and destination for retirees, all froze to death. To most of my peers and mentors, San Antonio was a quote: “dirty Mexican town.”

    Wake up Oakland; what do you think they say about us folks in Cali?, the land of fruits and nuts? Enron is just the tip of it.

    It’s time. We got a real bad one out of the White House, a real, real bad one. Now we have a President who has to play a high stakes poker game with these guys, everywhere. Nuclear power? WTheck? We are not throwing more money at Space programs for a minute, We are not throwing money at more Airport mobs. Yet this new administration is giving the nod to something as scarey as a nuclear power upsurge. It’s a gamble, one that could pay off in perpetuity iff the High Energy ignition device can prove its worth, ultimately by reprocessing the tons of exisiting Plutonium. Yucca Mountain has been taken off the table.

    We have to be in lock step at the local level, but with the understanding that Federal policy will not catch up to us beneficially, in this instance-nuclear, for a good while…if ever.

    And doesn’t everyone know now? Tesla’s vehicles were already fast becoming obsolete. Battery techonology using nano-tubes can and will change how we use all of our electronic devices, from cars to trains. All the present techonology is fast becoming obsolete, with the exception of today’s generations of computers. We ARE THERE, the golden age of technology. It’s us, the people, who have to catch up…locally. We don’t need so many workers anymore to do anything, except, yes…except policing and controlling unruly mobs, and of course, eliminating terrorists of all ilks.

  56. Al

    little note for len.

    I don’t quite remember all the details but it was explained to me, prior to the actual award of city recycling contracts that there would be three companies getting the business.(And what a business it is).

    Everyone in Montclair, Piedmont and North Oakland knew about Karl. Rumor was in many circles he couldn’t even pay for the gas to go and get everything people would leave. It was so lucrative that even after all the dust settled and Nor-Cal and Karl became “Pacific Rim” there were still problems with getting figures established to determine how the financial schemes would be worked-out.

    This was happening in lock-step with other processes. The recycling initiative was on the same ballot as Prop 13, or came a year later. I know about this because the glass company I worked at folded not long after the nickel tax was added after the first go round.

    Bottom Line. All those nickels, collected at the point of sale, state-wide, comprised a market share, of which those contracted entities in Oakland were expected to recover. So, with so many people recycling(a good thing) and so many companies popping up out of wood-work, the pie got ever larger.

    Still, there were problems with CWS’s not reaching their expected “target” requiring more negoitiations, etc…ad infinitum.

    So what happened to Karl? We might as well ask what happened to Hector Reyna?

  57. Robert


    A ballot measure to a) consolidate all the current Oakland parcel taxes into a single tax, decreasing to 50% of the current level in 5 years and total elimination in 10 and b) remove all the current mandates from the budget such as police, parks kids, etc. This will remove the current council complaint about no flexibility, and will allow the voters to hold them accountable for managing the budget properly. The 5/10 year sunset will give the council time to get its current house of cards in order.

    A possible exception might be made for minimum staffing in police, but for total employees and not sworn, so that Batts can put his employees where they are needed, and not have it dictated by non-expert citizens. This minimum staffing should also have a 5 year sunset.

    A ballot measure to remove the charter provisions that effectively prohibit outsourcing. This will allow the city to put many services out for competitive bidding.

    Whether this could actually all work would depend on whether the cc would do its job, and whether the voters would hold them accountable if they fail.

    Finally, elect an actual strong mayor who will make some hard decisions, rather than the current occupant who has the title but not the will.

  58. Al

    Robert, I like where you’re going with this. I also think the “sunrise” period is principally the empirical formula for success in anything, review, self-examine, and revise. It should be fundamental to our city-charter, among other things.

    Remember the Vietnam War? I don’t, too young, but barely. Yet, in 1966-67 I was meeting guys everyday who were being drafted, or being given military duty as an deferment from jail. The voting age was then 21.

    You could be drafted but you couldn’t vote. Obviously, that’s an injustice and we corrrected it, nationally, but not without a lot of grass-roots organizing.

    Local politics is a lot like that war’s inequities. By the time children graduating from Elementary School get to their first year of High School for example, they have been the subject/justification for the disbursement of billions of dollars into a system that consistently fails them in the long run.

    No doubt, they have also contributed vastly to the city and state coffers with their purchasing power or in terms of numbers alone, to the ramped up levels of police, parole and prison budgets.

    Our children, and so many of us ourselves, need to see our leaders espousing new models, the sunrise principle included, and their participation in every aspect of city business should be elicited, encouraged and made permanent.

    At last check, Oakland has about 10,000 volunteers to perform a variety of functions related to litter, sewers and parks, etc, yet it is not enough to curtail the blight. Why? Because even in this day and age, seperate districts within Oakland, have an ‘over there” mentality when it comes to city-wide issues.

    If there is a homeless person anywhere, a person being assaulted or a child being bullied…anywhere, it’s everybodies problem. we can’t police ourselves out of this from the outside. The solution is in really, really educating the populace, especially the kids, about All the issues, no nebulous or grandoise chatter w/o real metrics that everyone can relate to.

    We have to reinvent ourselves again and again or we will be doing nothing more than evaluating a dog, chasing his own tail, generations in and generations out.

  59. Robert

    I do remember Vietnam.

    You are correct, Oakland in particular and governments in general need to reinvent themselves. My personal opinion is that Oakland needs a new leader, somebody who is not part of any of the political machines here. IMHO we need a leader who asks questions, and not one who has the answers.

    In my years of managing Quality groups, the one thing that I learned is the importance of asking “why?”. And not settling for the answer of “That’s the way we have always done it.”. Asking why is how you start getting to the root cause of a problem.

    Regarding sunsets, I agree. Oakland needs to go a zero based budgeting paradigm. Which does not mean we ignore what we spent last year, but what it does mean is that every year all programs need to be justified, and budgets for every program are adjusted to match current priorities. Just because you did it last year is not reason to do it again this year. Compounding the problem for the average citizen, is that there both too little and too much information in the current public policy budgets. It is not important for very many people to know how many people the library employs and at what grade level, but that information is there. On the other hand, it should be important to know that there is a program for a Tool Lending Library in Oakland and the budget for it, but that information is not in the budget.

  60. Mary Hollis

    Al, I agree it was inexcusable that the voting age was above the drafting age back then.

    But then why is the voting age currently BELOW the drinking age when, back then, it was ABOVE the drinking age, in many States anyway?

    The drinking age should be 18 too, if we’re really claiming consistency.

    Not really relevant to Oakland, I know. So I’ll say that I also like Robert’s ideas and indeed anything that imposes some structure and restraint on a CC more content with themselves and short-termism than serving others in the long term.

  61. Al

    I must mention this one additional item, for reflection. We do have a concensus about many things in this forum although many might differ on the root causes or solutions to a myriad of issues.

    Right now, we have witnessed one stunning example of how the system itself has put one of it’s own on trial.

    Briefly, the statements made at the eulogy of the (4) officers is a glaring indictment of our police state of affairs but shouldn’t we all be asking why one man, one man, a young man with his whole life ahead of him, is now paying the price not just for one young man-like himself, but for the system that brought them together briefly, and tragically.

    It is about the money and about justice, but it should really be about what we are creating and recreating.

    There should never have been an Oscar Grant to wind up in a situation with an equally unconditioned mob of police.

    There is no trimming around the edges of this fiasco or redefining it in any other terms that what it is, a runaway system. It is tragic for All concerned but for the living, there is little justice for J.M. himself.

    On the one hand, they will exhaust every possible means to get him out from under a murder charge, but either way he is ruined, his family will suffer enormously as well.

    Mesherly should not be on trial and a copy cat police force for BART is ridiculous in the first instance, just like OHA policing was just another tapping into of public money and copy cat bureacracy.

    I am in complete agreement, we have to roll it all back, all the way back.

  62. Jeffrey Lim

    We keep repeating Oakland’s problems with little resolution.
    The Problem
    1. Over bloated pernsions…earning 90% of your salary upon retiring at 50-55 is criminal.
    2. Over bloated bureaucracy and OPD.
    The SEIU and OPD unions need a reality check.
    You need strong aggressive leadership to stop this insanity of unions just taking and taking.

    The solutions (billboards and cannabis) provided are bandaids. No one has a VISION of what FUTURE Oakland CAN be.

    Go back to economic development basics and ask yourself where and how can you generate revenues? You either get it from your own residents OR you get it from non-residents.

    So why do non-residents want to spend money in your city? You give them what they cant get in their own city.

    1. 150+ factory outlet mall: Oakland has enough land to build a major Simon-Chelsea factory outlet mall that will steal the shopping fire out of San Francisco.
    2. Casino theme park: before you start saying gambling’s a sin just calm down and see what Singapore is doing. Gaming and theme park entertainment is big money. And gambling is only a part of it. Imagine factory outlet and gaming/entertainment?
    3. Education hub: Education is a big industry in Asia. Many want to go to the US to study or complete their education. Create an education hub for foreign students.
    4. The Bay Area my second home: Provide an easy process for non-US residents to own property. Asians love owning property and that’s where they want to put their spare cash.
    5. Oakland airport…gateway to America: Pretty soon there will be budget airlines crossing the Pacific from Asia. Pretty soon there will be millions of Chinese coming to spend money. What do you have for them? You dont have the GG bridge. You dont have the glamour of SF. So start building what they cannot get in SF….factory outlet, gaming, education for their kids, and proud ownership of a second home in the Bay Area.

    I stand ready to join or form an economic development team to bring dollars to Oakland. This team needs the support of the city. This team should stand ready to travel to Asia to convince investors and developers “WHY OAKLAND?”

    Incidentally the Doing Biz in Oakland center is a joke!

    So those who want to make Oakland the billboard and cannabis capital of the world I urge you to seriously consider what I have proposed.

    Fifteen to Twenty years ago I had visions of this economic development masterplan…imagine if it was executed?

    I met IDLF once walking his precinct and he seems reasonable unlike the other doozzies in the CC. Do you call a lawyer when your roof’s leaking? So get some serious biz people and economists to revitalize this city and NOT politicize it! As for the ultra leftists…take a hike to France if you dont favor economic development.

  63. Ralph

    len, that is by far the most depressing news i have read in quite some time.

    clearly safeway is not hiring the best and the brightest when it comes to janitors/custodians (assuming more $ is preferred to less). here is a novel get money for college idea. apprentice at safeway while in high school. get a gig with the city upon graduation, live at home, save up $20K a yr and go to college 4 yrs later.

    i really feel bad for the first year ousd teachers who earn a few pennies more than an oakland custodian.

    i feel extremely paid for oakland residents who pay for this.