Library supporters pack Council budget meeting

The two hours of public comment at last night’s budget meeting was dominated by library supporters, testifying about the importance of libraries in Oakland and protesting the possibility of cuts.

What would the Mayor’s budget mean for the library?

Most people I run into around town lately seem to be aware that the Mayor’s proposed budget closes libraries, but very few appear to be aware of the severity of the proposed cuts. Even those who have followed the budget in some detail are often fuzzy about just what these proposed cuts would mean.

This is probably because the Mayor’s budget summaries say simply that under Scenario A, four libraries would remain open (Main, Dimond, Rockridge, and 81st Avenue) while fourteen locations would be closed. That’s horrible on its own, of course. But a lot of people, after seeing the summary, seem to be left with the impression that at least those locations would continue to operate in the same way that they do now.

This is not the case.

Under this scenario, the Library’s allotted staff would decrease from the current 215.04 FTE to a mere 22.8 FTE (PDF). That is a nearly 90% staffing cut, which clearly does not leave enough staff to operate the Library’s four largest facilities at the same level of service currently being provided.

In the video below from last night’s budget meeting, Oakland Public Library Director Carmen Martinez outlines the severe impacts to services at the library under the Mayor’s proposed budget Scenario A:

To maintain minimum library services at the four remaining libraries, we would need to really work with the City Administrator to reduce the services that we currently offer or to just eliminate many of them. We’d have to eliminate days and hours open to the public. 22.8 FTEs don’t allow us to run four buildings in the manner we run them now.

We would lose public access to community meeting rooms, we would not be able to purchase books and materials. The City would not have access to the entire system’s collection, it would only have access to those four branch collections. There would be limited access to public computers and technology, and community programming, including everything we do now from Lawyers in the Libraries to all of our wonderful children’s and teen programs would be severely reduced.

We would close the Oakland History Room, the Teen Zone, and the Children’s Room at the Main Library, and public access at the Main Library would be limited to the first floor, requiring the move of the Magazine & Newspapers, Children’s and Teen’s collection all to the first floor so we could manage one floor at a time.

The last slide is just to remind Council that library services as we have provided and enjoyed them all these years would cease to exist under Option A, but be maintained under Options B and C.

A FAQ prepared by the library (PDF) notes additional service impacts, such as the discontinuation of electronic services like databases and downloadable e-books.

Scenario A and Measure Q

The reason our libraries are facing such drastic cuts under Scenario A is because that the majority of the Library’s funding is currently provided by a parcel tax, Measure Q. This tax, which passed with a 77.2% yes vote, goes only to fund the library, and requires the City to give the library a minimum contribution of $9,059,989 from the General Fund (the same amount it got from the General Fund in 2000) in order to collect the tax.

Mayor Jean Quan’s Budget Scenario A would reduce the library’s General Fund funding (PDF) to less than four million dollars, forcing the City to give up Measure Q. That means sacrificing nearly $14 million of dedicated funding to the library, and cutting the library’s budget by almost $20 million in order to get a savings to the City of roughly $6 million.

The Mayor’s proposed Budget Scenario B, which assumes employee concessions and no parcel tax, proposes to keep library funding at the Measure Q mandated minimum, allowing us to retain library services without new taxes.

However, some Councilmembers seem to have either failed to notice this or don’t believe it. Indeed, even the Mayor herself appears to have forgotten this detail. I have seen at least two Councilmembers respond to constituent messages protesting library cuts by saying that if they want to keep the libraries open, they need to support the parcel tax. At the Library’s author talk with Isabel Wilkerson the other night at AAMLO (made possible by the wonderful Friends of the Oakland Public Library), Oakland Mayor Jean Quan told the crowd that the “only way” to protect Measure Q was to pass her parcel tax.

Public testimony in support of the Oakland Public Library

Below, I’ve highlighted some of the public comment from last night’s meeting, most of it from library staff, about the importance of libraries to Oakland, and especially to Oakland’s youth.

Here’s one from an employee at the new 81st Avenue Community Library in East Oakland, talking about how library staff serve as mentors and positive role models to the next generation of Oakland youth:

Although it’s not part of our job description, as library staff, we are mentors, we are building relationships and modeling positive social skills with our community and most importantly, young people. As a man working in East Oakland, and as a man without a gun working in East Oakland, I’m overwhelmed by the impact that myself and my colleagues have on the lives of young men who use our libraries.

I know that I speak for all my colleagues when I say that we have a passion and a commitment to bettering the lives that we serve. The fifth grade boys I work with today, the two schools next door to the 81st Avenue Branch, are the next generation of 17 to 24 year old men of color in East Oakland. We have an opportunity to shift the need of policing this next generation and giving them skills to thrive and reflect and make good decisions that make our community healthier for all of us, including them.

In this one, a Children’s Librarian from the 81st Avenue Community Library talks about how children in the neighborhood seek out the library as a place of solace and escape from tragedies in their lives:

In this video, an Oakland Children’s Librarian presents the Council with 5,511 signatures from Oakland residents on a petition expressing outrage at the proposed closure of libraries, and speaks about the economic returns of money invested in library services:

But one thing that hasn’t been discussed so far is the fact that libraries bring economic value to communities, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about that. This is something else that I’d like to show Council, this is just one of a number of studies that have been conducted throughout the United States. This latest one is from Wisconsin, there’s the bibliography that lists about forty other locations that have done studies.

What these studies have found is that for every dollar that is spent on library services between four and five dollars of returns come into the city economically. How do these benefits come? They come through salaries that are paid, and there are over four hundred part time and full time staff that are at Oakland Public Library right now.

They come with taxes that are paid, and sixty five percent of Oakland Public Library employees are City of Oakland residents. They come from vendors and contractors, many of them local, that sell items to Oakland Public Library. They come from neighboring businesses who generate income from patrons who are using the library. This is particularly critical in Oakland where we need retail businesses. Library locations such as those at Cesar Chavez, Piedmont Avenue, Rockridge, Dimond are located on Main avenues and people who use the library bring in business.

They also bring in economic business for the cost of services if the public had to buy them. We’re talking about buying books, DVDs, computer time, and programs. This is the May calendar of events for the Oakland Public Library, and I counted the number of programs we’re offering this month — two hundred twenty five. Additionally, OPL offers computer skills and resources for people searching for jobs. We offer free legal help, we offer free tax help, and free financial help.

Cutting any sort of libraries, as my mother would have said, may be penny wise, but it is pound foolish.

In this video, an East Oakland librarian discusses the importance of public libraries for Oakland’s youth in light of the lack of school libraries at Oakland public schools.

Our school’s libraries are already decimated. There are currently 7,500 OUSD students without library services this year. That number will not be smaller next year. As of last week, when almost all OUSD funded librarians were laid off, there are only two professional librarians paid for currently by OUSD. Now we are threatening to take away these students’ public libraries too. What does our city’s future look like when our children lose access to books and research help, when our job seekers lose access to computers and resources, and the number of community funded safe spaces lessens to nearly none?

Here’s a teen library patron discussing the importance of libraries for Oakland youth who wish to attend college.

We all lose if libraries are cut, but the city’s teens and children will lose the most.

This one isn’t from last night, it’s actually from the May 12th meeting. An Oakland Children’s Librarian discusses the importance of libraries for children in Oakland.

The major social problems our city faces are all predicated on kids success in school. The National Center for Education statistics shows that reading success is positively by access to public libraries, not only through materials, but through programs. Recent research shows that literacy behaviors learned in the first three years of life are the crucial building blocks to later reading success.

All of these behaviors are modeled in our libraries storytimes, which we offer twenty-six times weekly throughout the city, in addition to any scheduled on request by teachers. My office also coordinates a corps of volunteers who provide weekly storytimes in dozens of Head Starts and CDCs. If we can get to them at age zero, we can keep them for life.

This doesn’t happen by magic. It happens because the city’s voters made overwhelmingly clear in passing Measure Q that they wanted a full-time children’s librarian at every library.

You can view more videos of speakers in support of the Oakland Public Library below. This album isn’t at all exhaustive — there were many speakers who came to talk in support of the Second Start Adult Literacy program, the African American Museum and Library, the Tool Lending Library, and the library system in general. I didn’t have time record them all. Even doing these ones took a couple hours.

How you can help

If you want to get involved with the campaign to protect Oakland’s libraries, visit the Save Oakland Library website to find a toolkit for action and a list of volunteer opportunities. You can also get updates from Save Oakland Library on Facebook and SaveOPL on Twitter.

And stay updated about all the cool events going on at OPL with the Oakland Public Library on Facebook and @oaklibrary on Twitter.

114 thoughts on “Library supporters pack Council budget meeting

  1. Dave C.

    However, some Councilmembers seem to have either failed to notice this or don’t believe it. Indeed, even the Mayor herself appears to have forgotten this detail. I have seen at least two Councilmembers respond to constituent messages protesting library cuts by saying that if they want to keep the libraries open, they need to support the parcel tax.

    “Seem” and “appears” are probably the key words there. From the beginning, it looked like budget scenario A was being put out there mainly to scare people into passing a new parcel tax, and that strategy continues as Quan and others imply that the only options are passing a new parcel tax or closing most of the libraries. If they told people that there is another option (scenario B) which would preserve library funding without the new parcel tax, then people would be less likely to support the tax.

    They may have compelling reasons for supporting the parcel tax (with the city heading toward bankruptcy, I guess every few million helps!), but the silence about scenario B looks to me like a political tactic, not ignorance or forgetfulness

  2. Dave C.

    In case it’s unclear, the italicized 1st paragraph in my comment above is a quotation from the blog post. I meant to attribute the quote more clearly than that—my apologies if it is confusing.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    I agree that the threats to the libraries is being used as a scare tactic. However, I also don’t feel comfortable at this point saying that I think the libraries will be spared these cuts.

    I am still very afraid for the system, and will continue to worry about it until there are concession agreements with every union. At this point, nobody has agreed to give up anything. The civilian employees are saying that they will not make further concessions until police and fire take cuts too. I think that’s fair, but given what happened with the police union last year, it makes me very scared about the possibility of getting the concession agreements that Scenario B relies on.

  4. Dave C.

    I didn’t mean to sound complacent about the threat to the libraries, and I agree that they may not be spared (I tend toward pessimism about Oakland’s finances). My only point, and maybe it’s an obvious one, is that Quan and the councilmembers seem to have made a strategic decision to tell the public that the only way to spare the libraries is to pass a new parcel tax. They could have told the public that the only way to spare the libraries is for the public employee unions to make concessions, or for voters to repeal the Kids First set-aside, or whatever else, but instead they seem to have made a decision to put all their eggs into the parcel tax basket. I think we would be having a very different civic conversation if they had framed the choices in a less manipulative way.

  5. livegreen

    Beyond the manipulation, I don’t understand how they can finish negotiations with the Unions before we know if the Parcel Tax is going to pass. Unless the negotiations include a scenario where it doesn’t pass.

    That’s why contracts should be for 1-year: to mirror the budget. OR there should be an emergency renegotiation option.

    This would also mean all the unions would be negotiating together at the same time and we would solve the problem of some unions refusing to make concessions unless the OPOA does too. But they don’t have too. Another Stalemate.

    If the Unions won’t negotiate, impose a contract like OUSD did.

  6. Karen Smulevitz

    It’s great that the libraries have so much support. I couldn’t be at this last budget meeting to voice support for my first obligation, which is to senior services.
    In a small way, I contributed to libraries by persuading EMMA (East MacArthur Merchants Assoc) to hold its Father-Son Luncheon at the 81st Ave. Library. It’s a mutually beneficial action to promote the library and EMMA.
    In a circular way. EMMA supports better, safer neighborhoods, including libraries, and that makes walkable neighborhoods safer for seniors, which is my objective,
    This parcel tax weighs heavily on people who care about the result. I’ve heard many say they refuse to vote to tax themselves any more until the police step up and agree to concessions. As most officers don’t live and pay taxes in Oakland, their salaries are spent elsewhere and costs Oakland twice.

  7. livegreen

    What’s the stats on where other civil servants and librarians live?

    I agree with having more Officers live in Oakland, but I also realize they have safety issues doing this too, + I don’t think they’re the only ones we should be taking to task.

    But the bigger issue I have is we’ve lost a great deal of income in this recession and are barely holding on to our house. We know many people who’ve lost theirs. The Unions need to contribute more to mirror the loss in income from taxpayers, before those who’ve already lost are asked to give yet more.

  8. livegreen

    Sorry, didn’t see the interview portion where the chief librarian says 65% of library employees are Oakland residents.

    I’d still like to see this for other city employees, and also I’d like to know what concessions Librarians are willing to make. Especially if it’s true that about 75% of Measure Q went not for books and libraries, but to salaries…

  9. Robert Gammon

    “From the beginning, it looked like budget scenario A was being put out there mainly to scare people into passing a new parcel tax, and that strategy continues as Quan and others imply that the only options are passing a new parcel tax or closing most of the libraries. If they told people that there is another option (scenario B) which would preserve library funding without the new parcel tax, then people would be less likely to support the tax.

    “They may have compelling reasons for supporting the parcel tax (with the city heading toward bankruptcy, I guess every few million helps!), but the silence about scenario B looks to me like a political tactic, not ignorance or forgetfulness.”

    It doesn’t make sense that Scenario A would be a scare tactic to pass the parcel tax, because the parcel tax won’t be on the ballot until November, at the earliest, well after the Scenario A cuts have been made.

    Instead, it appears to be a pressure tactic put on the unions to get them to concede. If the mayor can show the unions how much Oaklanders care about their libraries, and how angry they’ll be if the unions let them close, it’ll put more pressure on them to do what’s right.

    Because, in the end, the mayor’s budget scenarios make it clear that the parcel tax won’t save the libraries. They’ll only be saved if the unions make concessions.

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    Except, as I noted in the post, the Mayor herself is making public statements saying the opposite. At a library event on Wednesday, she told a crowd of over 300 people that the “only way” to protect Measure Q is to pass her parcel tax. Not a word about concessions from unions.

  11. V Smoothe Post author

    Oh, also. I got an email about this post saying I should have disclosed that I have a job at the library. I apologize for not saying so. I tend to assume that my readers all already know this, but of course there are always new readers. I am sorry. It was an oversight, not meant to be intentionally deceptive. I will also note that the library is not my sole source of income.

  12. Robert Gammon

    ‘”only way” to protect Measure Q is to pass her parcel tax.”

    I think the mayor is playing a word game here that’s somewhat misleading, while still being factually correct.

    As you state in your excellent blogpost, the city can’t use Measure Q money unless it spends $9.06 million from its general fund on libraries.

    Under budget scenario B, the mayor is promising to spend $9.06 million and no more.

    But the problem, from what I understand, is that Measure Q funds haven’t been consistent. So, let’s say one year, they come in at $13 million and not $14 million. That means for the city to maintain current levels of funding, it must contribute more to libraries from the general fund. But there’s no money for that — unless voters pass the parcel tax.

    Also, what if revenues continue to drop next year, forcing the city to once again consider cuttine general fund payments to libaries below $9.06 million? The parcel tax gives the city a cushion should that happen.

    So in the end, when she says that passing a parcel tax would save Measure Q, it might actually do that — sometime in the future, but not now.

    The mayor should be making this more clear, no doubt.

  13. Marge S

    I got chills listening to the amazing articulate comments of OPL supporters! It would be criminal to close Oakland library branches, hurting children, teens, and seniors most. Public libraries are one of the only free, safe places everyone can go. Not only that, there is free access to books, movies, and internet at these public libraries.

  14. len raphael

    RG, since when would union leaders care more about the voters than about their own members? If i were a member of a muni union, I’d fire that kind of leader.

    As a union leader, you try to protect first the compensation of all your members while saving all jobs. If that’s not possible, you protect the sacred rule of senior and protect the compensation/benefits of the remaining employees. That way “when the economy recovers” you in a good negotiating position. And of course, cutting compensation, especially wage rates, is not like dimming the lights. Workers have fixed mortgages, monthly debt payments, tuition.

    From the union members’ point of view, the question is how many of them will lose their jobs and for how long.

    From my limited conversations with some of them, they’ve beginning to realize that this time the City is not crying wolf But they still don’t get it that that the problems are long term, maybe permanent.

    Without the Mayor’s leadership, this is going to divide the city iwithin itself and it’s employees.

    -len raphael, temes8cal

  15. Robert Gammon

    I don’t know whether the threat of closing libraries and the overwhelming outcry its causing will convince the unions to concede.

    But if they don’t, then they risk losing support from the very people who have supported them in the past — progressives, who also happen to love libraries and will be angry when they’re closed.

    Such a scenario will further erode the unions’ standing in the city, which, of course, isn’t a smart move over the long run.

    As for leadership, the mayor, it seems to me, has a very difficult balancing act. She’s got to get the unions to make concessions, or it will decimate city services.

    But does she come out and just say that, honestly and truthfully?

    I think she should.

    But doing so, runs the risk of alienating the unions, putting them on the public spot, and blowing up talks at the table.

    And as you note, it would publicly pit the unions versus libraries, parks, etc.

    Which is really what’s going on here.

  16. V Smoothe Post author

    Robert -

    In that case, shouldn’t the Mayor be saying publicly that the unions need to give concessions in order to keep libraries open instead of saying that her parcel tax needs to pass to keep them open? She certainly wasn’t shy about publicly criticizing the OPOA during negotiations last year. But right now, she doesn’t say anything about the unions at public appearances, only her tax.

    As for the Measure Q issue — I don’t have time right now to dig up all the links (I’ll try over the weekend), but the main thing with preserving library services is retaining the General Fund minimum so we can keep collecting Measure Q. It doesn’t really have anything to do with variable levels of funding from Measure Q. The Library used to be funded in roughly equal parts from Measure Q and the General Fund until General Fund support was reduced dramatically a few years ago. Since then, Measure Q has shouldered the majority of the budget, with any “extra” amount budgeted beyond the annual tax revenue coming from a surplus created by the many vacant positions in the system. This was explained at meetings and I think in budget documents at time the General Fund budget for the library was first cut and the majority of the budget shifted to Measure Q, but again, I don’t have time just now to dig up all the links just now.

  17. V Smoothe Post author

    livegreen –

    One year union contracts is a TERRIBLE idea. It would remove any stability whatsoever from City operations. The reason we are in the position we are right now with having to renegotiate the contracts with miscellaneous employees and are unable to assume the same concessions as they have given for the past few years is because we signed such a short contract last time. (Also, the budget is on a two year cycle, not one.)

    As for residency of Oakland employees: 65% of library employees are Oakland residents. 54% of non-sworn employees citywide are Oakland residents. These people have to pay any new taxes just as you do, they have all taken losses in income, and yes, some of them have lost their homes as well over the past few years.

    When you say the unions need to contribute more, what specifically do you have in mind? Do you think more than a 15% pay cut is a reasonable thing to ask of workers who are at the same time, shouldering vastly increased workloads? I don’t.

    Regarding Measure Q, I’m not sure what you’re getting at when you say “Especially if it’s true that about 75% of Measure Q went not for books and libraries, but to salaries.” Of course most of the money goes to salaries — the majority of the cost of running a library is staff. Money going to pay staff is money going to libraries.

  18. Robert Gammon

    “In that case, shouldn’t the Mayor be saying publicly that the unions need to give concessions in order to keep libraries open instead of saying that her parcel tax needs to pass to keep them open?”


    But, as I said above in my response to Len, it has risks. Apparently, she’s unwilling to take them.

    Also, I get what you’re saying about Measure Q and the general fund. I’m just trying to explain why I think she’s making the Measure Q connection with the parcel tax — that is, the parcel tax, down the road, will allow the city to keep up the general fund minimum or librarues so that it can keep using the Measure Q funding.

    In that way, the parcel tax at some future date likely will save Measure Q.

    But the truth today is that the only thing that will save Measure Q right now is if the unions concede. If they don’t, kiss it goodbye.

  19. V Smoothe Post author

    Maybe. But it’s not that far down the road we’re talking about, since the tax only lasts for five years if I remember correctly.

    I also get what you’re saying, but I hope that the strong support for libraries being shown by the public right now would send the message to the Council that giving up Measure Q shouldn’t even be an option on the table, parcel tax or not.

    I believe it is a false option to tell the people of Oakland that the only way to meet the Measure Q minimum is to approve a parcel tax. That is not the only way to provide relief for the General Fund. Why not offer the voters an option of repealing or amending/reducing temporarily the 2.5% set-aside mandated by Measure D (Kids First)? 2.5% is more of the General Fund than libraries get. It’s basically as much money as the parcel tax, and libraries provide essential services to youth just as OFCY does. I’m not against OFCY in general (I did not support the increase of Measure OO, but I did support the reauthorization of Measure K), but I do think that if things are so dire that we are reduced to a choice between funding services that are available to some children and services that are available to all children, the priority should be to retain services for everyone. Plus, a revision to Measure D only takes a 50% vote to pass, versus a 2/3 vote for a new tax.

    Speaking of OFCY, I actually don’t think the proposal to eliminate libraries even is allowed by the City Charter (XIII, 1306) which mandates that in addition to the OFCY set-aside, the City use 5.16% of unrestricted General Fund revenues on city services to children. With children’s services at the library virtually eliminated combined the cuts to other agencies that serve youth, I don’t see how Scenario A could meet this charter mandated minimum.

  20. Livegreen

    V, Whatever it takes to balance the budget, without cutting services.

    Why is it u have little sympathy for someone in the private sector who has lost 50% of their income, yet you expect to give back little more than the 10% you already have? Without passing another tax on the family that already lost 50%?

    As to increased workloads, fairness has little to do with it. Welcome to what the private sector has had to do for a longtime. Do you have to work longer hours without getting paid overtime? I do.

  21. V Smoothe Post author

    Livegreen, are you saying that you took a 50% pay cut at your job and continued working the same job while shouldering a drastically increased workload at said job? Please clarify what you mean so we can understand your situation. And please, do share with us what you think is a reasonable amount for city employees to give up from their paychecks.

  22. len raphael

    V, when you say that the libraries provide service for everyone, not just kids, is there a usage survey we can see.

    Or are you saying that is serves a broader spectrum of residents than Measure Y, because it serves the relatively few number of middle and upper middle income kids that live here, plus a lot of seniors across the board?

    You didn’t imply anything about quality or efficiency of service delivery, but i have no the slightest doubt that our libraries trump most Measure Y programs on that score.

    (yes, i do use the Oakland History reference service and the Tool library.)

    I’ve learned to accept what you once chided me about: Oakland voters will not repeal Kid’s First. (Unless you know something about the ngo’s that I missed at the recent CC on the GI)

    Will have to settle for amending and extending the Library parcel tax to decouple it from the general fund. if the tax sayed the same, but no general fund contrib, how many branches could stay open for how many hours a week?

    -len raphael,temescal

  23. len raphael

    correction: “it serves primarily poor kids but also
    the relatively few number of middle and upper middle income kids that live here, and a lot of seniors across the board? “

  24. V Smoothe Post author

    I’m not sure what you mean by “usage survey,” Len. The library doesn’t ask people what their income is when they sign up for a library card.

    My point was simply that the services provided by City departments such as the Library and Parks & Recreation are available to anyone who wants them, whereas these other programs are not available to everyone. Livegreen has complained here (and I have gone to Council and Committee meetings to cede him time to make the same point to the Council) about the unfairness of OFCY programs not being available at schools that are considered not disadvantaged “enough.”

    As I have said before, I am not against OFCY. But I do believe that if times are so dire that we are seriously considering virtually shutting down the library system, then we need to ask whether OFCY funded programs available to a limited number of kids or city programs available to all children are more important. I believe that programs for all children are more important, and I think that a majority of Oakland voters would agree with that.

  25. Livegreen

    V, I agree with your critique of both the Mayor’s sales job (ignoring how Option B continues paying for libraries without a tax), and also of OFCY. I also support both libraries and a reasonable amount of youth programs, in lime with what we can afford.

    A couple examples about OFCY waste:
    -The non-profits that run it take a sizeable chunk for comparatively little “management”.
    -To get an EBCF (East Bay Community Foundation) grant they alloyed a noticeable portion of every site grant to gardens. Now that’s a good nutrition & health purpose, but it’s NOT academic (unless science integration is mandated). Also the EBCF might have been able to get the money by putting it in themselves or getting a major health foundation to contribute (like Kaiser).

    These r but two examples. There’s all kinds of ways OFCY could b operated more efficiently and have the benefits spread to more kids. As V points out, a lot of kids don’t share in the benefits.

  26. Livegreen

    V, My income has been roughly flat. My wife lost her job and that wiped out over half our income. Now I am NOT advocating the same for public sector. I wouldn’t wish the extra stress on anybody. But my other points stand. Cut salaries and benefits to be equivalent to be equal to the costs of operations. Anything more is running a deficit and for the Mayor & unions that = property taxes.

  27. V Smoothe Post author

    Thank you for clarifying, Livegreen. I am not at all unsympathetic to your situation. It sounds tremendously difficult. However, I don’t think it is fair to equate it with what City workers are dealing with. There are certainly City employees who have had their spouse lose their job, and those people have had to shoulder the loss of that income plus the reduction in income from their own jobs.

    Personally, I don’t think it is fair to expect employees anywhere to take more than a 15% pay cut for years on end, especially considering the increased workloads caused by staffing cuts and high vacancy rates. You are overlooking one option besides salary cuts versus parcel tax – there is also the option of reducing services.

    As for what pay cut City workers will be willing to take? Well, if my union came back with more than 15%, I might vote for that, but only if I saw that all city unions were making an equal sacrifice. I am probably more often than not at odds with the positions of my union, but in this case, I am 100% behind them. All unions should give back their fair share.

  28. Livegreen

    V, re. the one year contracts, point made. So make them 2 years, in line with the budgeting process. Otherwise what mechanism does the City have when income falls off in between, but costs are fixed?

    I read Pat Kernighan suggested we might need to consider a Fiscal Emergency like San Jose. If that’s a Safety Valve that already exists, then I agree with her, and she’s showing real leadership. Newsom’s proposals were another option…

  29. Livegreen

    V, Thanks for the sympathy, and good basic point about city workers who might b in similar positions. And I agree, all unions their fare share. Similar amounts across the board (as I’ve said before).

    Of course there’s the challenge that the OPOA doesn’t have to give anything this year, to my point earlier about having all contracts up for renewal at the same time.

    Also, how do we increase the residency rates of all other agencies up to the 65% level of library employees?

  30. zkabir

    Hi V Smoothe,
    Thanks for the very informative article! I am interested in learning how you obtained footage of the speakers from last nights city council hearing on the budget. I have searched online…My cousin also spoke during the public comment there, and I would like to post his speech on a similar blog, just as you did! Thanks!

  31. len raphael

    What this city needs is a good political cartoonist. Picture the good ship Oakland caught in a whirpool, with Mayor Quan putting her shoulder to the rudder, and her two highly paid 2nd’s in command running around adjusting the sails. Darn, wish i could draw.

    15% if your making 100k or more gross, painful but doable for many. 15% if your getting 60k or less, the SEIU will call for general strike first. But no, they’ll say lay off people.

    Lets say we get 15% concessions from cops and fire, pension contrib increase, and a parcel tax. What’s that reduce the current year’s 58Mill deficit by? 30Mill

    Joked about doing a sale and leaseback of City Hall when the CC moved debt off of the Kaiser Auditorium, but there’s probably a lot more cash in the RD Agency and a lot more City property to sell to it at inflated prices to get us throw the rest of Mayor Quans reign.

    Marleen, is the State Attorney General (lol) supposed to scrutinize City sales to the RDA? Can citizens bring suit to challenge the sales prices as a raid on the RDA?

    -len raphael, temescal

  32. len raphael

    Do you think the voters here would prefer cuts in services and higher parcel and sales taxes, rather than agreeing to amend the charter to allow outsourcing of all services except public safety?

    That would be really dumb, but our leaders would never take the risk of the voters saying yes.


  33. J

    State employees, including those that work and live in Oakland, have taken a 15% pay cut (via furloughs) for at least the past three years. State employees make considerably less than comparable local government positions. State employees have foregone cost of living adjustments for many, many years. I have heard the City of Oakland has among the highest average salaries of all California local government employees. Oakland employees also have better pensions than State employees (thought that may not matter if the city goes bankrupt). All Oakland employees should be taking at least a 15% if not a 20% cut for at least 4 years. This is long overdue. Other state and local government employees have already bitten the bullet. In fact State employees are almost done with their furloughs. Oakland employees should not be exempt. Almost all state employees are facing reduced pay with increased workloads due to staff losses through attrition and hiring freezes. I am not sure why I or anyone else should have much sympathy for Oakland City employees. While I cannot comment on the customer service of library staff, except the tool lending library staff who are great, I can say that the vast majority of my experiences with other city employees has been absolutely atrocious. Customer service is horrendous and employees come off as entitled. I for one will not support any new taxes without some serious salary and pension reforms. Moreover, I support putting Kids First back on the table. Glad to see there is some traction on this issue.

  34. len raphael

    J, hope you saw or heard that traction on Kids First elsewhere than on ABO.

    KF, Measure Y anti violence programming, libraries, parks/rec, to some extent OFD are the sacred cows of our town.

    Schools, cops, infrastructure are considered luxuries. Not sure where city planning fits in. Probably discretionary also.

  35. Dave C.


    “It doesn’t make sense that Scenario A would be a scare tactic to pass the parcel tax, because the parcel tax won’t be on the ballot until November, at the earliest, well after the Scenario A cuts have been made.”

    Sorry I didn’t respond sooner. Maybe you’re right that my comment doesn’t make sense, but then why, as V Smoothe points out, are we currently experiencing an all-out public relations effort to sell the parcel tax, without any public push to put pressure on the unions to make concessions? Councilmember Nadel’s aide even posted something to our NCPC’s Yahoo list a few days ago promoting the “Block by Block Organizing Committee” meeting in which “Parcel tax support strategy discussions” is listed (in bold, even!) as a prominent item on the agenda. Seemed like an odd, and possibly inappropriate, use of the official Yahoo list to me, but if this sort of full court press promoting the parcel tax is actually a sneaky way of putting pressure on the unions to compromise, then Quan and the other councilmembers sure are disguising it well…

    Also, when scenario A was first proposed, I believe that Quan still hoped to have a referendum on the parcel tax in June (I certainly could have the timeline wrong, as I haven’t gone back and checked). So I think there’s actually very good reason to think that it was put out there in order to scare people into voting for a parcel tax. If it scares the unions into concessions too, then so much the better, but the entire public political effort since the three budget scenarios were released has been on building support for the parcel tax, with almost no mention of negotatiations with the unions. I can only hope and assume that the mayor and council have been pushing hard behind the scenes for concessions from the unions, but frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if Quan is just hoping that the other stuff works itself out all by itself while she spends her energy getting a parcel tax on the ballot and then building support for it among the electorate. Tough negotiations with public employee unions doesn’t strike me as something she relishes, while leading a citywide campaign in favor of a parcel tax is something she embraces with gusto.

    I wouldn’t necessarily vote against a parcel tax myself (I’ll decide if/when the time comes), but I share a lot of people’s anger about the fact that we passed a measure 7 years ago with the explicit promise that it would maintain adequate funding for libraries, only to see Quan and her colleagues squander the city’s funds during the good years and then dramatically cut library hours when the economy tanked…and now those very same people tell us that we need to pass a new parcel tax or else the library system completely decimated. I realize they are in an incredibly difficult situation which is only partially their fault, but it’s still really infuriating!

  36. GG

    J, I am a miscellaneous employee for the City of Oakland. I have also taken a 15% pay cut these last few years. I have also not received a cost of living increase in years. Same goes for all of my colleagues. So get off your high horse.

  37. Tonya

    Not all Councilmembers are saying that the libraries will be closed without the parcel tax. From the Community Budget Forum held on Monday last, I got the distinct impression that Libby Schaaf is not for the parcel tax, and she explicitly stated that with Option B, all the libraries should be able to stay open. She even stated that putting a parcel tax on the ballot would cost the city 800-900,000 dollars and would require a 2/3 vote.

    She also mentioned that union reps are currently at the table and that the Fire Department has already made some concessions (she didn’t say what), but the police have not.

    BBBON has been pushing the parcel tax as a pretty important agenda item right now. At the BBBON meeting in May, Quan mentioned that she would like to get the tax on the ballot in June instead of November and asked us to attend the Council meeting on the 17th to push for it. However, the 17th meeting was dominated by gang injunctions. ;) Is putting the tax on the ballot by summer no longer an option?

    I think (parcel tax vs union negotiation) is a good question to bring up at the next BBBON meeting in June..

  38. J


    Have you really taken a 15% pay cut. I was under the impression it was only 10%. The difficulty I have is that Oakland City employee salaries are very high to begin with compared to other state and local government employees. State salary surveys show that the state pays anywhere from 10-30% less than local government. The state environmental planner/transportation planner classification is one of those that pays 30% less than local government. A 10 or 15% cut barely brings Oakland City salaries down from the stratosphere and on par with other communities. Perhaps if the City of Oakland focused on customer service and training front line employees how to interact better with the community, this might not be so much of an issue for me. I do not feel there is value in my tax investment. One of the problems in this budget morass is that it really isn’t very clear what, if any real, concessions rank and file have taken, and I am not talking about public safety. I am talking about all of the other employees the City has on its books. Perhaps you can provide us a summary of those concessions and what year you began to provide those concessions. Also, just curious, but what is your actual position and yearly salary if you don’t mind?

  39. GG

    Well J, your impression was wrong. I am not going to post personally identifying information on a public blog. I will say that a salary survey prepared by the state of california’s department of personnel comparing state salaries to local jurisdictions showed that california state employees in the equivalent classification earn about $150/month more than oakland employees in my classification, which does require an advanced degree to perform.

  40. J


    That’s what I thought. Unwilling to validate your personal situation with actual facts. This is typical of Oakland City employees–whine about pay cuts, but don’t tell anyone how much you really make because you might not get any sympathy.

    If you are unwilling to provide your own salary, then what is the employment classification that you are in? We can then back out the minimum and maximun salary ranges and then compare them to the true state classification–there are literally thousands of classifications. Although I do not know you, I am reluctant to take your information at face value because as a City employee you have a distinct interest in protecting your current salary and benefits.

    BTW, as a public employee your salary and benefits are not exempt from the Public Records Act as personal information. With a little more information and sleuthing I could find out what your salary is (not that I want to waste my time).

    According to the following database, in the 2008 calendar year there were more than 1,300 employees at the City of Oakland that were paid more than $100,000. Maybe you can find your name on the list?


    BTW GG can you provide a concise summary of all the concessions Oakland City employees (excluding public safety) have provided in the last 4 years since there has been a budget crisis?

  41. Naomi Schiff

    J, if you yourself are remaining anonymous behind your pseudonym it seems impolite to request public posting of someone else’s personal information! Of course it’s fine to put out info on public information re: salaries etc. But for all we know you are a public employee too! Or a wealthy heiress! Or living under a bridge! We have no way of knowing. (I am advocating for a polite tone in the discussion, here, not giving an opinion on pay rates etc.)

  42. Nina

    J, nearly all those employees who make over 100,000 are police, who have not given any concessions in the past years.

    The rest of the employees, who’s contracts recently have been tied to the two year budget process, gave up 10 percent in the last contract and are ready and waiting to give more, as soon as police step up to match. This budget can’t be balanced without police concessions.

  43. Ravi

    Len R said: “Without the Mayor’s leadership, this is going to divide the city within itself and it’s employees.”

    Robert G said: “Such a scenario will further erode the unions’ standing in the city, which, of course, isn’t a smart move over the long run.

    As for leadership, the mayor, it seems to me, has a very difficult balancing act. She’s got to get the unions to make concessions, or it will decimate city services.

    But does she come out and just say that, honestly and truthfully?

    I think she should.

    But doing so, runs the risk of alienating the unions, putting them on the public spot, and blowing up talks at the table.

    And as you note, it would publicly pit the unions versus libraries, parks, etc.

    Which is really what’s going on here.”

    These observations are right to the point. Quan, with the compliance of the Council, is playing the familiar Oakland political game of divide and conquer. This is way these people get elected, stay in office and prevent this city from ever moving ahead.

    In my book this is not leadership in any reasonable sense. It is not transparent and it is essentially dishonest.

    Keep in mind that Quan is a minority mayor, with very little public support and trust. She has had a long public service career which can be tied to successive financial failures associated with her various roles, whatever they have been.

    Quan, as well as the Council, have alienated the Oakland Police Officers Association and their attempts at negotiation have failed in the recent past. Quan regularly says offensive things about police without thinking first. Various citizens have made suggestions to Quan and the Council about proceeding with OPOA negotiations in a new way (e.g. mediation), but these suggestions have been ignored.

    I fear Oakland is headed for a dismal and even-more-divisive future than ever because there’s no leadership or competent management in City Hall.

  44. Dax

    GG, please be specific about this 15% cut that Oakland employees have already taken.

    Of course the first point is that a furlough day is not a pay cut, but rather unpaid time off.

    Also, we have scant records indicating that even with the furlough days, if you call them cuts, amount to 15%.

    I went to the data base. Unfortunately, since Oakland has not yet supplied the needed data for 2010, I could only compare 2008 and 2009.

    I went to the name Smith.
    I took 5 positions.
    Gardener II
    Process Coordinator III
    Financial Analyst
    Liter/nuisance enforcement
    Traffic painter

    OK…using the same individuals, in the exact same titled positions, I came up with amount less in base pay they received in 2009 compared to 2008.

    The average of the group was 5.0%
    Ranged from 4% to 6%

    I betting this 5% cut was mostly due to furlough days, (unpaid time off) rather than actual cuts in pay.
    The economy slows…a factory needs less product… they close for a few days.
    That is really not a pay cut.
    (never mind that Oakland pays most of these folks their salary for working a 37.5 hour week, unlike the 40 hour week everyone else thinks is normal.
    That 37.5 vs 40 hour week, if you were only paid for the 37.5 hours is already 6%.)

    Toss that concept around in your head.
    It would take a 6% cut in pay to just bring the actual “normal” Oakland hours in alignment with the rest of the working world.

    Putting that point aside… and EVEN calling the furloughs a “cut”, I still only see a 5% reduction from 2008 to 2009.

    Tell me, where do you get the 15%?

    Give us the details.

    BTW, you aren’t overlooking the huge 35% boost in pensions you got in 2004, are you?
    Retroactive BTW to all prior years and decades of service.

    How much of a hidden pay “boost” was that in total compensation?
    Easily worth more than 5% and probably worth more than 15%.

    OK… Please disclose how these 15% pay cuts are calculated.

    The public simply doesn’t see them.

  45. Patrick M. Mitchell

    Isn’t the average citizen of Oakland income something like $45,000? And 25% of our employees make *at least* more than 2.5X that amount? What percentage of City of Oakland employees make *just* more than that amount? And if you include total compensation (benefits, pension, etc.) what percentage would that be? 100%?

    Furloughs are not *exactly* the same as a loss of 15% income. Do City employees lose 15% of their medical benefit? Are they paying anything into their medical benefit that would eat up a greater share of their new income (like virtually everyone in the real world)? Are City employees allowed to collect unemployment compensation for furloughed days? Are future potential pension payouts for City employees in any way affected by furloughs? I find the latter most troublesome: furloughs are a bandaid that do nothing to control future costs. If you “furlough” 15% of police, for instance, what percentage of police would you have to lay off to gain the same long term financial benefit? My guess is that it is substantially lower. Assuming 750 officers, a 15% furlough is the equivalent to losing 112 officers – but we’re still paying full benefits while they’re accruing pension points. It makes no sense.

    I think that Mayor Quan is pushing the the parcel tax proposal not to scare the unions, but to appease them. Anyone who takes a cursory glance at the City of Oakland’s financial situation knows that an $80 parcel tax won’t amount to a hill of beans in the coming years. It may lessen employee cuts now and allow the union bosses to hold up the citizen’s new contribution as a good faith effort to soften the blow, but ultimately we’ll have to make further cuts – real cuts – to our City employee base in the coming years. Unless Jean decides she can railroad a new parcel tax in next year, and the year after that , and…

    This whole Three Budget Monte/shell game is utterly embarrassing. It’s dishonest and disrespectful.

  46. Dax

    Nina, you say you gave up 10% in the last contract.

    Are you saying you got a 10% cut in total compensation in the last contract? Which includes all monies the city must pay to you in salary, medical, dental, pension contributions etc.

    Or are you saying you got a 10% cut in salary only?

    Or are you saying you got a 10% cut off of what you would have gotten if you had gotten expected raises.

    Or are you saying you got 10% less than you would have gotten in salary if you had gotten expected raises and not had furlough days?

    There are many ways to come up with a 10% figure.

    Perhaps you will spell out specifics so we can understand what you mean by 10%.

    Out here, we don’t know what people mean by 10% less.

  47. V Smoothe Post author

    Some people say 15, some say 10. They’re referring to the same concessions, which included additional pension contributions and loss of salary due to furloughs. As far as I am aware (and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong), this is how people are reaching that number. (Frankly, I don’t know why we’re going through this discussion again. The concessions made by civilian employees have been discussed ad naseum here for the past two years at least.)

    I’ll use an example salary of $100,000 for simplicity.

    Old salary: $100,000
    City contribution to employer share of pension: $5,000
    Total: $105,000

    This method of adding that employer paid pension contribution to salary has been used to calculate total salary in all the salary comparison documents I have seen, including that city salary survey that people often refer to.

    Dax, I have seen you in particular insist over and over and over again in your comments on this blog that these employer paid contributions do count as additional salary. So you, at least, have no grounds to protest them being used in calculation of concessions.

    Old salary: $100,000
    furlough: minus $5,000
    no more city contribution to pension: minus $5,000
    employee now has to make that payment to pension out of salary: minus $5,000
    New salary: $90,000

    There have been no cost of living increases for civilian employees for years, and I have never seen anyone figure the lack of COLAs into a calculation of concessions.

  48. V Smoothe Post author

    Glad you enjoyed it, zkabir. You can download a wmv file showing the whole meeting here or watch it online here. I use video editing software to get the clips — you can do it with Quicktime by using the “Trim to Selection” feature (I think you may need Quicktime Pro to do this).

  49. Livegreen

    My understanding is Oakland City employees previously accepted 5% contribution to their pension & 5% furloughs. If it’s more let us know exactly how and where…

  50. The Boss

    My opinion: close all the libraries. In this digital age they serve no purpose.

    I realize social programs are run out of the library system. Stop calling those library expenditures and b honest about it.

  51. len raphael

    Early January, Pat K. mentioned that in the last cantracts with misc. employees, the City negotiatiors inadvertently left untouched the automotaci “merit” (not the bakery) annual raises. What kind of numbers are those?

    -len raphael,

  52. V Smoothe Post author

    Merit increases are not given automatically.

    A manager can recommend an employee for a merit increase within the salary schedule parameters for their position based on the idea of rewarding the employee for doing a particularly good job or whatever. (I might be misremembering, but I thought the City had stopped allowing merit increases a few years ago. I remember Nancy Nadel bringing it up at a budget meeting in 2009.)

    Pat was probably talking about step increases. Employees earn these increases after working a certain period of time in that position. So the more senior employees doing a certain job, and presumably the ones with more responsibilities, earn more than those who just started.

    Not all employees get step increases, though. You only get them within the salary schedule for you position.

    So, for example, if you had a job that had the range of $18/hour to $22/hour, you would start at $18 and over time work your way up to $22, and then once you got there, you wouldn’t get any more step increases.

  53. Livegreen

    By “merit” raises u mean the auto “Step” increases? V’s right we’ve discussed this repeatedly, here’s one od the last ones, on OPOA:

    If I recall correctly it ended with 0 concessions and mass layoffs. Are the other Unions preparing for the same, to proetect their most Sr. employees and sacrifice the most Jr.? Because tax or no tax, there have to b concessions to balance.

    Other option: an amendment to gut Measure Q like they did Measure Y…

  54. Dax

    V, thank you for explaining the logic behind what employee groups call cuts.
    Seriously, it helps to see how these figures are arrived at, even one disagrees with the conclusions.

    I think simple use of the English language would lead the average citizen to feel that having the employee pay that 5% “Employee” contribution, is merely returning a twisted fiscal matter back to common sense.
    I mean, why do we call it the “Employee” portion if the employee isn’t paying it?
    Now they pay something that simple English suggests they were intended to pay all along before the city council started lavishing them with unsustainable fiscal excess.
    I might add, that all those who retired while that strange practice was in place, have gotten a additional 5% boost in their pensions for the rest of their lives.
    Hey, I just thought up a new angle for city employees to express a extra cut.
    They can now say, relative to a few years ago, they had a 5% cut in pensions, given that the city paid portion of their “employee” pension contribution was able to be added to their “highest years” salary, something no longer in place.

    AS to counting the furloughs as a 5% cut.
    I simply don’t agree. They work 5% less, they still get the same identical hourly wage. No cut.
    Yet another way to express a normal fiscal change as a “cut”.
    Call it a vacation without pay, although they still maintain benefits.

    I’m curious, when they reduced Oakland city employee normal hours from 40 to 37.5, did they call it a pay raise?
    IF so , it should have been labeled a 6% pay raise. So we raised them 6% and cut only 5% with furloughs. Seems like they’re still 1% ahead of the game.

    And when we make the citizens pay a extra $80 in their parcel tax, should we call it a revenue enhancement, or sharing the pain, or using the new methods, can we call it a resident “pay cut”?

    As to the lack of COLA’s… My gosh, have you been following the cost of living.
    Even Social Security increases have been essentially zero.
    Rates on CD’s about 1% minus taxes.

    If public employees want to sound really foolish, have them start complaining about not getting expected COLA’s…
    But first show them all those private companies where everyone is getting a COLA to boost their wage.

    I’m telling you, there is a whole other planet of logic being used by many public employees. It is not adding to public support when these strange concepts are put forth as reasonable.

  55. Dax

    V, sorry I included the below regarding COLA’s being under consideration.

    Clearly you stated that asking for COLA’s has not been part of the bargaining position from Oakland employees. I assume that is so.

    Thus, disregard my above segment.(shown below)
    (too bad we no longer have the edit feature , or sometimes we quickly correct our blunders.
    “As to the lack of COLA’s… My gosh, have you been following the cost of living.
    Even Social Security increases have been essentially zero.
    Rates on CD’s about 1% minus taxes.

    If public employees want to sound really foolish, have them start complaining about not getting expected COLA’s…
    But first show them all those private companies where everyone is getting a COLA to boost their wage.”

  56. Marleen

    I think a lot of this discussion about what is fair in terms of concessions misses the point. Employees in the real world have their pay and benefits based on the intersection of supply and demand. This is how public employees should be paid as well. The issue should not be, how much in concessions have been made, but rather, what is the compensation in the private sector? In the private sector, many of us have no pensions at all. We have to pay a significant portion of our own health premiums. We get no automatic step and column increases. We have to work at least 40 hours a week. So the relevant comparison for public employees is what people in the private sector are paid. I have no problem paying a public employee 150k if that is how much they are worth.
    As for fair taxes, again the comparison should be how much are we already paying total for the services we get compared to neighboring cities. I’ve done the math, and we are basically already paying $1500 more per parcel, per year, then our neighboring cities, for inferior services. That’s not fair. So if we are going to talk about fairness in contributions and cuts, we need to include these facts in the conversation.

  57. Patrick M. Mitchell

    V, the reason we bring this up ad nauseum is because total employee compensation isn’t just a pesky nuisance that we should blithely ignore: it is the entire problem.

    I wish I could amend the Charter of the company I work for to prohibit outsourcing. Effectively, that would mean that I was guaranteed a job for life, regardless of my performance. How many Oakland City employees were terminated last year for poor performance? How about in the last 10 years? Let’s see – there is Deborah Edgerly, her nephew…who else?

  58. J

    My point in raising issues with the non-public safety rank and file is this: We have a serious budget crisis. Everything, and I do mean everything, needs to be put on the table. Quan is not doing that. City Council is not collectively doing that. Non-public safety rank and file have been hiding behind the skirt of the police debate–we will take concessions when they do–instead of manning up and putting up some real concessions. Moreover, most City employees don’t want the public to really understand what type of compenation they get, how much type of compensation they get and what real concessions they have already given. Better to keep everyone in the dark and point the light on to the police.

    Rank and file are going to have to give up more or face serious staff losses. Police are going to have to give back more. Libraries and parks will have to close. Kids First and Measure Y need to be put back on the ballot and eliminated. Salary and pension reform will have to take place. Outsourcing needs to occur. Priority based budgeting needs to be implemented. We are way beyond the point of one solution. Quan’s brand of politics which is to scare residents that the libraries are gonna close and senior centers are gonna close if you don’t pass a parcel tax is not leadership. It’s simple minded and is a political gamble.

    GG–Oakland City employees are not grounded in reality. There is no more gravy on the gravy train. You prove my point about City employees feeling entitled.
    I am still waiting to hear about your salary, Naomi’s comments notwithstanding.

  59. OaklandSpaceAcademy


    That is an excellent point. A similar one is made often by one of my favorite bloggers, most recently in this post:

    His larger point is that more expensive public-sector labor negatively affects the poor, since they ‘consume’ government services in greater proportion. And that, although better public-sector wages might help offset the increasing disparities in our income levels, doing it this way doesn’t help the average Joe who cleans private offices – in fact it hurts him and his family.

    Far better to support (and work towards) higher taxes for more and better public services. Too often in this region I believe we try to do too many things with public-sector jobs other than the only goal, which should be to provide effective public services at the lowest cost possible. Working to ameliorate income disparities (a worthy goal!) and other social problems should be done via different means, and probably at different levels of government as well.

  60. OaklandSpaceAcademy

    Let me just add that this sensible way to think about public-sector compensation is made difficult by people like The Boss who have stupid ideas about government and are wildly misinformed about their fellow citymen.

    Of course ‘social programs are run out of the library system,’ libraries are a social program.

    And were all of us so privileged as The Boss as to not need the goods of a library, we’d still need the services of a librarian, ya know, to teach us what a social program is.

  61. Dax

    Agree with the points of Patrick and J.

    There is a real “other world” going on in public employee compensation.
    The difficulty in discussing it comes from two circumstances.

    1. a) The public employees really truly believe they are fairly compensated and that people in the private sector are or have been getting more than they do.
    A large percentage feel they’ve been paid less and until just the past couple years, they personally could have made more in the private sector.

    b).. They seldom have any concept of how lucrative and costly their pension plan is, or how much they get relative to the rest of society in similar jobs.

    c.) they think their scale of benefits for medical, dental, vision, vacation, holidays and the like are shared by most workers in the private sector.

    2. On the other hand, the public is almost entirely ignorant about pay, benefits and pensions of their city, county, and state public employees.

    Do simple polling for yourself when shopping. Just strike up a conversation with anyone. They know nothing about employee pay, benefits, or pension.
    Only the latest outrage of someone at the very top as it appears in the newspaper.
    They have no concept of how much a secretary or painter gets paid, or how much they get in retirement.

    Perhaps one resident in 100 might have a fair grasp (excluding those who work for the agencies or cities)

    You really need to spend some time on the Mercury News 2010 version of the Bay Area public employee compensation data base to get a feel. To date, nothing is listed for Oakland because they have not been able to supply the paper with the complete details. They are back and forth but as of this week, still no 2010 data where more fully the costs are displayed.

    So look at some place like Alameda County.

    Example.. Human Resource Services.
    Job title Secretary II, (secretary)
    Base pay $65,354
    Total Cost of compensation $105,927
    Work from age 30 to 60, retire with a $3,737 per month pension from your pension, Plus collect Social Security.
    (yes I have already deducted for the county’s $82 per month for those collecting Soc Sec)

    So $3,737 and how much from Social Security? estimate, I don’t know, but I’m guessing it will push this person over $5,000 per month.
    Remember, this person is only working until age 60.

    Had they worked, like private sector workers do, until age 65, that same secretary would have a pension of $4,885 per month PLUS their Social Security.
    Putting them probably over $6,000 per month in pension + Soc. Sec.
    Over $70,000 per year, more than they earned while working.

    Now go out on the street and ask residents what they think a secretary makes, or how much their total compensation costs? or what they think the pension will be.

    What would you have guessed?

    BTW, for Alameda Co. pensions go here and play with your own figures.

  62. Livegreen

    Remember too that in Oakland Retirement age is EARLIER than in Europe, at 50 for Safet and 55 for non-safety. Re. Compensation Comparisons, remember the last Salary Survey showed Oakland was paying similar or more than SF and Marleen found out one of the Unions asked Dellums to take it off the City website (after a post by V and discussion here on ABO).

    IMHO the Salary Surveys should not just b of compensation but also the income of taxpayers in each city surveyed. Because that ratio accounts for both proportional income and ability to pay. Oakland DOES NOT have the means to compete with SF. We will always lose that salary and compensation battle.

  63. charlie s

    It’s simply not true that police officers comprise “nearly all” the 1,300 city employees who make more than 100 k per year, as one person posted here. By my count, approximately 100 employees of the Fire Department earned that much, as well as 100-plus from other city departments.

  64. charlie s

    Sorry, my mistake. A closer count shows that on the compensation database around 85 city workers appear in the 100 k club who are not employed as Police and Fire. But then — correct me if I’m wrong — that means virtually the entire Police and Fire Department, every position, earning over 100 k. In most cases, it’s very substantially over 100 k.

  65. Dax

    Charlie, regarding the Fire Department, over half the firefighters earned over $140K in 2009 and more than 1 in 5 of them earned over $180k.
    Note, that does not include their benefits, medical, dental, vision, etc. nor their pensions.
    You need to add on another $60k to $80k to cover those items.

  66. zac

    I’ve made this point before and I’ll make it again: for the fire department, paying overtime is cheaper than hiring new employees. Overtime is time and a half. Hiring a new person is straight time plus benefits, which amount to more than half. The city chooses to run short and fill the gap with overtime, because it saves money.
    If you want to reduce overtime, increase hiring. If you want to decrease positions (and their benefits) increase overtime. Our benefits are not based on our overtime; no matter how much OT we work, our benefits don’t increase. So it’s not fair to simultaneously hammer the overtime and hammer the benefits.
    I also want to remind everyone that the fire department already pays 13% into our retirement fund–far more than any other bargaining unit. And two years ago we also increased our work from 52 to 56 hours per week without taking a penny in increased wages. Essentially we did a furlough by increasing our work week for no pay rather than decreasing our work week for a pay cut. Dax, I know that you think furlough days don’t count as pay cuts, but I don’t see how you can get around the idea that increased work for no money is increased work for no money. I happen to disagree with your sentiment that furloughs aren’t cuts. By that logic the 80 cops who were laid off just got an awesome extended vacation in exchange for the minor irritation of having their salary cut by 100%.
    All of that being said, the Fire Department will continue to work with the city to ensure solvency. These are tough times and we will continue to do our part to help out. Thanks to everyone out there who support us; it’s a pleasure working for you.
    And–if you’re techy, Local 55 has started a Twitter feed for breaking updates about working fires, rescues, community events, and other OFD-related issues. We are @oaklandfirelive

  67. The Boss

    OSA -

    I’m not misinformed. I just have no interest in the liberal causes everyone here supports – narrowing income gaps, saving the poor, etc. I might add that Oakland provides a perfect example of the fact that these programs don’t work, and the effort to implement them necessarily breeds corruption because there is no reasonable way to measure success. The greater govenment’s share of GDP, the ore the corruption, barring ethnic homogeneity.

    Libraries are NOT social programs. They are like roads, but dispensing information instead of transit. Problem is the Internet is better than any library. So, libraries have become community centers distributing social programs. This is wrong. The libraries should be shut down.

    And, to naomi’s point, I don’t care that libraries are full. Give away free stuff and people show up. The point is, the purpose of the library has ended. In 10 years people won’t even use books anymore. Barnes and Noble just sold to an investor group on the strength of the Nook platform. Soon all their stores will close.

    Seriously. Enter the 21st century already.

  68. The Boss

    OSA -

    One other thing. The following quote shows one of the most irritating common traits among liberals — an arrogant dismissiveness toward the poor.

    “And were all of us so privileged as The Boss as to not need the goods of a library, we’d still need the services of a librarian, ya know, to teach us what a social program is.”

    First off, nearly every poor person I meet has a cellphone, and the vast majority have access to a computer somewhere, and know how to use the Internet. You might want to do some research into the demographics of Twitter users before making such statements.

    Plenty of people are poor by choice. I have a friend who is a Buddhist monk. He’s not the moron you seem to think he must be; he can read a pamphlet or log on to the Internet to read about a social program.

    Most poor people don’t need that hand holding you seem to think they do. And, I happen to believe that many, many more would need less hand holding if people like you would stop trying to “help” them.

  69. len raphael

    Boss, what do figure a market rate compensation package would be to attract and hold competent fire fighters in oakland. 60k/year, retire at 55k, a 401k with a city match? Not bad for mostly sitting around.

    -len raphael, temescal

  70. Ravi

    The Len: “Boss, what do figure a market rate compensation package would be to attract and hold competent fire fighters in oakland. 60k/year, retire at 55k, a 401k with a city match? Not bad for mostly sitting around.”

    Market rate compensation is not something the Boss or even yourself can guess at. Likely the current compensation rate was something like the market rate when it was chosen. Is the Great Recession market rate the same as the “market rate?” Don’t think so.

    Sure, firefighters sit around a lot. Then there’s a fire or other emergency and they do things that people who live in front of computer screens, like us, can’t do. That’s why they’re highly paid.

    Lots of Oakland’s public servants make good salaries; some even make outrageous salaries. Oakland’s compensation schemes seem particularly bad during our Great Recession. Where were you and others (I don’t want to be unfair in saying this, but here it is) who are so wound up about these public servant pay scales when they were being established?

  71. The Boss

    Len -

    My recollection is 95% of the calls firefighters go to are actually slip-and-falls or paramedic events. My data on this is not actually from Oakland, but I assume it’s similar.

    Given this, I’m sure there are various efficiencies that could be found. But, it’s unlikely because of political clout.

    I for one don’t really care about public-employee compensation. $80 a year for a parcel tax is irrelevant to me, and it would probably help gentrify Oakland faster, providing me a positive ROI on my house.

    I just think it’s funny when people sit around trying to defend all these public employees as if they’re really accomplishing anyone and improving conditions.

    Life is better today than it was 200 years ago almost entirely because of private enterprise.

    Government is inherently corrupt and slows progress. That’s where you get people arguing to build big buildings that house paper books while anyone who is up with the times is busy getting rid of their books and replacing them with a Nook, Kindle, etc.

    Didn’t Oakland just recently announce the construction of a new library? What a laugh. I wonder how many Kindles one could have bought for that money. Such a waste.

  72. Dax

    Zac, I like the “inside the loop” logic.

    Overtime saves us money. Overtime is extremely lucrative. Fire department employees want it.
    OT helps the city save money.
    Conclusion, overtime helps and is wanted by all sides. Therefore keep overtime where it is.

    But why stop with the fire department.
    Every department in the city should ramp up the overtime and lower the number of FT employees.
    Thus, fewer and fewer City employees, with ever higher incomes is the route to a fiscally sound city.

    Sure sounds like a good plan.

    No wonder the last time there were 20 openings in the OFD, in the pre recession era, they drew over 8,000 applicants before running out of applications and causing a near riot by those still in line.
    Police were brought in to calm things down.

    Now, if normal real world logic were involved here, some bright economist, might just say there is something wrong with the supply/demand curve.
    They might go so far as to suggest the unthinkable in the conclusion of their study.

    The conclusion…. You pay your firemen in excess of what is needed to draw a adequate supply of highly qualified applicants.

    When over 50% of firefighters are earning over $140,000 gross annually and when the total cost of keeping the average firefighter totally compensated is over $180,000 —before adding in OT— then there are some reasonable people who think the rate of pay is simply too high.

    The total compensation plan for firefighters is significantly higher than it was 25 and 35 and more years ago…EVEN after making all the adjustments for inflation and cost of living.
    I grew up around OFD firefighters. My grandfather, uncles, cousins, fathers of about half my friends, and from that long history, I can assure you, they never had the type of compensation they now have, relative to other jobs in society.

    You keep mentioning that the fire department employees pay 13% into their pension. OF course, the employer portion for CalPERS in 2010/2011 is about 28%.
    That the OPD employees pay nothing is a entirely separate issue.
    We keep having one department or other cities played off against each other as though if “they” do something unsustainable, then everyone is entitled to it. A form of keeping up with the Jones that has led to the fiscal mess were are in.

    Regarding furloughs. Furloughs do not change a person’s rate of pay. They are a temporary decline in the number of hours that you are at your job.

    How the fire department in particular handled this issue is a separate matter.
    Your members were not furloughed.
    You made arrangements and agreements to change your hours. You made agreements to adjust your contributions to your pensions.
    None of these changes and deals were made in a vacuum without other considerations.

    Regarding the 56 hour week you mention.
    Readers should note that for many departments, 56 hours is the standard week. IF you look at the salary data base in the Trib or CC Times, you will find in the 2010 numbers for Hayward for instance, they actually mention workers in the firefighter job as (56 hour employees).
    Everyone knows its not like a person standing on a assembly line making widgets for 56 hours a week.

    I’m not saying firefighters are all just lying around watching football. By no means.
    As I stated, the most common job of people i grew up around was firefighter.
    I admire what they do and the dangers they confront.
    But at some point, even they can be overpaid or excessively compensated.

    I believe that is the case in Oakland, and it has now come to the fore in this fiscal dilemma.

    The members of the OFD may have to give more in their negotiations.
    It is very hard to ask citizens earning less than half your income to give themselves a pay cut via yet another parcel tax.

    Finally, the mere fact that most fire departments, police departments, and other city unions are willing to give “new hires” lower pay and lesser rates of pensions, speaks loudly about the salary and pensions in place for current workers.
    It clearly says, the current rates have gone too high, and we can find well qualified candidates at much lower compensation.
    If that is not true, then why would current employee groups agree to new lower rates for future employees?

    One question. Regarding overtime.
    Since your future pension is not based on overtime, do either the firefighters or the city have to contribute the 13% and the 28% on OT dollars earned to CalPERS?
    Or are all OT hours exempt from those contributions.
    I would assume so, since you don’t get any pension for the OT earnings.

    Thanks for your participation in the discussion. We may disagree on compensation items but I appreciate the work firefighters do daily.

  73. len raphael

    To say that firefighters are paid market rate is to accept the political deal that required firefighters to be certified EMT’s. Might as well require all cops to be certified EMT’s. Require that of street sweepers also because they’re constantly mobile.

    Firefighters having to spend hours in front of computers a la air controllers? Give me a break.

    Personal experience with our hardworking OFD.

    Just before the Grant riots, in the late morning dropped in on my local fire station on 51st near Tele with a couple of older American flags that i wanted to properly dispose of. A fine point that most residents wouldn’t give a fig about, but important to me because friends of my sons had died for the best of what that symbol represented.

    I also knew that flag disposal was the responsibility of OFD.

    The engines were all parked. No one in sight except for one guy intently peering at his pc. i stood next to him for a minute and then asked him if he could help me dispose of the flags. His response was “throw them in the dumptster and salute them”. Then he went back to staring at the screen.

    I called OFD hq that day. They confirmed that flag disposal was part of their job description. A asst fire chief, assured me he’d investigate and get back to me. Grant riots intervened.
    I called back he apologized, and said he’d investigate and get back to me. Nada.

    Do what’s needed to privatize the EMT function. Enough of this featherbedding where a fire truck goes out with ambulances.

    -len raphael, temescal

  74. The Boss

    Len -

    Do some research on “scoop and run.”

    It turns out that the value of paramedics is vastly overstated. In many cases their attempts at “livesaving” actually add risk to patients. In most cases they’re just irrelevant.

    Ask any ER doc. As soon as patients come in, they typically remove or carefully double-check any IVs done by the paramedics. Reason: Paramedics are incompetent on average and don’t have the tools to do a good job.

    If some medical problem befalls you, and if someone else is with you, do not call 911. Just drive to the hospital. Your chances are far better.

    The thing people worry most about is heart attacks. It turns out that if you have a major heart attack outside the hospital, you’re going to die. Paramedics amount to expensive pall bearers.

    I’m not saying we don’t need paramedics. I am saying they should be trained to “scoop and run,” which is what the research says. The value add of EMT training is de minimus.

  75. Ken O

    Simple. Effective. Budget. Solution. “Pay City Politician salaries out of budget surplus”.

    Haha! J/k. Humans will continue figuring out how to take advantage of other humans. Never mind.

  76. Naomi Schiff

    As someone who has rescued a near-death friend and needed 911, I beg to differ with the above description of paramedics. It is really hard to drive to the hospital when you are in a diabetic coma, for one example.

    Boss: as to this idea
    Life is better today than it was 200 years ago almost entirely because of private enterprise.

    I think that is a very arguable idea. One might as well say “Life is better today than it was 200 years ago despite private enterprise.”

  77. The Boss

    On the free enterprise topic, honestly if the Soviet experience, north Korea and the great leap forward don’t convince you the I certainly can’t.

  78. Dax

    I think all the training and skills the OFD members have are valuable.
    I am grateful for the many calls they answer in my neighborhood, almost always well in advance of the paramedics arrival.
    I think when they are on the job, they do their job in a great manner.

    Also, they are indeed more highly trained and professional than was the case 40 or 50 years ago.

    Now, having said all of the above, I still believe that OFD compensation has gotten out of control and well beyond the level needed to attract and retain competent staffing.
    Compensation could have advanced more slowly, leaving current employees at levels 15% to 20% below current salaries and still be fully staffed with qualified personnel.
    Retirement could be at rates 15% to 20% below current “rates” used for calculations.

    The combination of the above two, would yield pensions of between 64% to 72% of current pensions at age 55.
    In other words, my school mate from junior high and high school, who was a OFD engineer, not a lieutenant or captain, would now get a pension of about $70,000 at age 55 instead of his current over $100K per year. His life expectancy is age 82.4, or 27 years after retiring.

    I know a person who passed away a few years back. They were the head of a major Bay Area government agency. In other words, they had no boss and were completely in charge of over 300 employees. They retired with a pension in 1980 after 41 years of service. The “exact” same position now pays well over $200,000 per year. As stated, the above individual in that pension system worked over 40 years and retired at age 68.
    Under the current expanded salaries, and pension rates, the same person with the current salary, age, and years of service would get a pension of over $200,000.

    Instead, after making all adjustments for inflation, the pension that individual did receive, would in today’s (2011) dollars, be just over $100,000, or essentially the same as the retired OFD engineer mentioned above.
    One was in charge of 300 people and retired at age 68 after 41 years, the other retired at age 55. Both getting the same pension. Times have indeed changed.

    Now, let me be very clear. That, now retired, OFD member was a excellent firefighter, and had a distinguished career.
    Served Oakland’s residents well.
    It just that compensation for a mid level firefighter cannot continue to create incomes above $140,000 and pensions above $100,000 at age 55.
    Everything, even good things, can be taken to excess.
    The City of Oakland and its residents simply can’t afford it.

    Yes, folks, compensation and pensions in so many public agencies have grown in ways you can’t imagine. Mostly unseen and unknown by the general public.

  79. JSBA

    Yes private industry is great, as long as its regulated. Left unregulated private industry would not find the need for adequate working condition or fire escapes in their buildings. Private industry would happily hire children at $1 an hour if they could. Private industry cares only of profits therefore the government must step in to ensure the safety of the employees and community.

  80. len raphael

    Naomi, while Dax’s point captures the overall contradictions in our muni pay system, TB’s specific comment about the advantages of scoop and run instead of stabilize and run by trained emt’s has substance that won’t get a fair evaluation if fire fighter’s unions have anything to say about it.

    some similarities to the now forgotten assumption that the gold standard for policing is to have two cops in every patrol car.

    -len raphael, temescal

  81. The Boss

    Jsba -

    Couldnt agree more. Govt has its place, and that place is roughly 20% of GDP. Regulation is critical to protect capitalism from excesses.

    Oakland is clearly on the other side of the planet from that. And Naomi appears to live off in Stalinland, sadly.

  82. Naomi Schiff

    Excuse me, but I’m offended by that casual insult. You cannot know.

    I am a business owner in the U.S. with relatives who were oppressed by Stalin, actually.

  83. zac

    All right, lots of good points and issues since the last time I checked. On the overtime issues–we are constantly asking the city to hire more people at every rank. They refuse to, for the perfectly rational reason that overtime is cheaper. We work overtime because it’s there, yes, but also because without it the department would cease to operate. I am a paramedic and I simply don’t make plans on the weekend anymore because I am always worried about being “mandatoried” to work. I would love to have the city hire more medics so I wouldn’t have to worry about forced overtime. We could go to a force that had zero overtime–I’d love it, not everyone would–but it would cost the city more. You have to choose: either your firefighters make a lot of overtime or else they make very little, but the entire budget is larger. So Dax: I am completely in agreement with you. I think fewer employees making big OT checks is a terrible idea. If it was up to me I would want the department to hire the number of people that they have budgeted for, rather than saving money through attrition + overtime.
    Secondly, no PERS is paid on overtime by either us or the city. A few months ago Chip Johnson erroneously stated that our pension is based on our base salary + overtime. This is absolutely untrue. Overtime has nothing whatsoever to do with our pension.
    Next, it was suggested that we think of our salary and contributions and concession without regards to other bargaining units. Point taken. And that’s why we also come to the table with open minds. That being said, you can’t say “you guys should negotiate in a vacuum” while also saying “you guys need to consider private sector compensation”. We’re factoring in everything and it’s really not humanly possible to ignore things you already know.
    On the flag disposal issue. Whoever told you to “dump and salute” is a jerk, in my opinion. However, in 13 yrs in the dept, this is the first I’ve heard that we’re in charge of flag disposal. I wouldn’t be as rude as that guy was, but I wouldn’t know the proper procedure either. A failure at some level, probably well above mine. Nonetheless, I want to apologize to you on behalf of the department for how you (and the flag) were treated.
    As for paramedicine versus “scoop and run” I could go on about this for hours, as it’s something I believe passionately in. I could cite you medical studies and direct you towards journal articles until your eyes started to bleed (at which point, I suppose, you should just drive yourself to the ER).
    The bottom line is that you lose about ten percent of your brain function for every minute you go without oxygen due to heart attack, respiratory distress, etc. The first ten minutes of what a paramedic does and what an ER doc does is very, very similar. If you’re burning brain and you live up by the Chabot Observatory, do you really want to to wait the extra eleven minutes of transport time before your treatment begins? (I happen to be exceedingly brilliant, so I think I could tolerate losing 110% of my brain function. How about you?)
    There are certainly times when scoop and run is the correct treatment. In those instances we…scoop and run. But most laypeople don’t know when scooping is a better course of action than beginning treatment on scene.
    I’m not going to belabor this point because paramedicine is the standard of care nationwide. There are a lot of firefighting issues where I’m willing to break with the orthodoxy, but this isn’t one of them. My aging parents live in Oakland, my accident-prone children live in Oakland, and when they get into trouble I want them seen by a medic every time.

  84. ralph

    Burning, is the preferred way to dispose of a flag that is no longer fit to serve. I imagine it is best to let the Fire Department perform a control burn pursuant to disposal methods described in the US Flag Code. Other orgs also perform flag burnings.

  85. The Boss

    Naomi -

    It wasn’t an off hand remark; it was descriptive. I am very sorry for your relatives. I am perplexed that you don’t see your beliefs tread the same path.

  86. Scott Law

    While on the topic of US flag and patriotism, today I intended the Memorial Day Ceremony at Mountain View cemetery. Speeches from Coast Guard Captain and Air Force Reserve Captain (female). 21 gun salute, songs, very good turnout. I have attended this event for 12 years – Jerry Brown spoke during his first term. Other than that, there has not been one Oakland city council or public official speaking at this event. Not one.

    A quick check of USS Hornet, other sites show no scheduled appearance. Hopefully, I am mistaken

    Scott L

  87. The Boss

    Zac -

    On paramedicine we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    My opinion is paramedicine falls into a pseudo-scientific category along with lots of other treatments which run up the bill but do little to meaningfully improve conditions.

    I am impressed you’ve studied the issue so thoroughly though — I wonder why you didnt become a doctor instead.

  88. MARY

    1) Dax implies that Alameda County is rife with Secretary 2′s who make a lot of money – while in actuality there are few, and they are comparable to executive secretaries of large companies, not clerks or receptionists:

    2) Public Employees, many who contribute or have contributed to Social Security do not receive payments from SSA. There is a provision in the law that deducts SSA payments dollar to dollar against government pensions. Also, if a government employee’s spouse receives Social Security, and if the government pension earner dies, the spouse, (who may inherit the pension if the payments were set up that way – that is, if the pensioner received a lower $ amount so that the spouse could continue to receive a portion of it after his/her death) will have his/her SSA payment offset against the pension, and thereby lose it.

    This is only to say that things are more complicated than Dax is stating.

    Another issue: many of these comparisons are of apples to oranges. Comparing City Employee wages to that of the poorest in the City is as silly as comparing them to the wealthiest. Positions should be compared to others in the area doing a similar job, not just across the board.

    Finally, it has been my experience that many City employees work more hours than they are paid for. This is similar to many in the private sector who work until the job is done.

    Bashing public employees seems to be the order of the day. Everyone knows someone who didn’t do it right – are you saying that all employees in the public sector do their job perfectly? I don’t believe it after hearing the complaints of my family members and neighbors about their working places.

  89. Dax

    Zac, thanks for responding to the OT and some of the other issues.

    Now perhaps you could address some of the other issues I brought up.

    #1. The salaries have escalated over the past decades which has left them well above where simple inflation would have raised them to.

    Looking at even the two year old 2009 records where we see the following.

    Firefighters 99 to 101 K
    Engineers 110K
    FF paramedic 111K
    Lieutenant 117k
    Captain 127k

    Of course those are two years old.
    More importantly, they don’t include any of the overtime which bumps most up by another 30K to 60K…
    Then we add in the “other” category which runs about 8K per individual.

    Here is the question. Take a engineer level.
    Not a Lt or Capt. or Bat. Chief,.
    A engineer. Say he some how worked ZERO overtime, and only got his “other”…
    That mid-level engineer would still be getting $120,000 per year, without overtime.

    Can you tell me, even after adjusting for inflation, that such a level of salary isn’t well above what a comparable firefighter was earning back 30 and 40 years ago.
    (again, after adjusting for inflation)
    I’m telling you that decades ago, firefighters weren’t making that kind of money relative to others in society.

    #2. Not included in those figures is the huge other costs of benefits, including pensions.
    I know a FF in another city. His base is about 111K…. his TCOE (total cost of employement) is well over $300K. More than 100K of that 190K extra is over and above OT.
    Now, Oakland’s extras may not be that extreme, but I’d sure like to see Oakland release those figures like other departments have done.
    The Tribune, CC Times, Mercury News, is trying to get Oakland to do so.

    #3. Perhaps you could tell the readers here what the pension “service credit” rates were prior to 1999.
    Currently you get 3% for each year of service.
    What was the rate prior to 1999?
    Why should it have been raised if it was?

    Is the 3% x 30 years limited to the posted “base” salary, or is it also calculated upon enhanced pay.
    Such as from extra education, extra training, and possibly from other methods where extra pay is accumulated even though perhaps not mentioned in the 2009 “base” salary figures.

    I mention this because I know individuals in some departments who retire with a 90% limit, end up with pensions well above 100% of their stated “base” salary.
    In those cases, obviously the pension is based on more than the posted “base” salary.

    Again, every department and every contract agreement are different.
    Perhaps you could enlighten us about Oakland’s agreement.
    In other words, can a $110K engineer retire at more than 99K via other enhancements? Education, extra training, etc. etc.?

    Finally, like with all the bubbles we’ve seen in the past 12 years…, stock market, housing….
    Isn’t it possible that public sector pay, benefits, and pensions, also had their own bubble?

    Except that the public sector bubble tends to get locked into place defying real market conditions which correct other bubbles.
    Pensions in particular, once promised in bubble times, get locked in place at bubble levels.

    None of the above questions about compensation should in any way be taken as calling into question the quality of service I find the department giving.
    They did a fine job when my grandfather was in the department and from my perspective they still do a great job, and carry even better training.

  90. Ravi

    I would like to suggest another perspective on the apparent excess cost of police services in Oakland (which may also apply to fire services).

    1. Base police personnel costs in Oakland are only part of the reason for high costs here compared to other cities. My guess is that base personnel costs are responsible for about 1/3 of the excess costs.

    Blaming a class of public servants because they make a decent living seems
    perverse to me. Especially coming from people whose own employment does not reflect the same sorts of challenges.

    2. Another source of excess police service costs in Oakland is our very very high homicide rate. Homicides must be investigated and crime scenes must be dealt with quickly so that potentially useful evidence isn’t lost. This requires overtime. I estimate this at 1/3 of the excess police service cost in Oakland.

    3. Oakland’s police budget is incomprehensible generally. Our City Auditor is working on an audit which, hopefully, will show where there are inefficiencies in non-personnel police costs. This may be a signficant contribution to excess police cost here, let’s guess at 1/3.

  91. Andrew

    The complexities of compensation are over my pay grade, but I do understand Dax’s point at the end of #2: the city is stonewalling or incompetent (probably both) in not releasing its payroll data. Many people will naturally assume the worst, and meanwhile our discussions spin in a vacuum.

  92. Dax

    Regarding your comment
    “the city is stonewalling or incompetent (probably both) in not releasing its payroll data. ”

    I may have not made my point clearly.

    The city is not stonewalling, nor necessarily incompetent on this issue.
    Rather, there may be a different sense of priority and urgency about the city’s duty to give the public all the relevant information they need in order to evaluate city spending and city salaries.
    I consider that information vital.

    The city feels that since they don’t readily have it in the format or specificity that the newspapers desire, that it is up to the newspapers to fund the costs of putting that specific information in the right format so they can release it.

    In other words, Oakland is more than willing to provide the same type of more general information that they have given in 2009.
    Information which does not break down the details so we can see how much goes for categories such as MDV (medical, dental, vision) or for pension contributions, or deferred comp, etc.

    So, they have said, if the newspapers are willing to pay for staff time to extract such detail out of their data base, then they will provide it in a similar manner as have many other cities and agencies.

    There could be two points of view on this subject, however I think it should be a priority or that there should be more a sense of urgency on the part of the city to provide the public with everything they can.
    It seems, with regards to all cities, counties, agencies, and the state, they have slowly given up more and more details as the years go on.
    Seemingly only as the result of newspapers continuing to demand it, and even going to court to force it.

    Seeing how its all going to come out eventually, including individual pension information, that Oakland, and other cities should be out front and leading the way.

    This should be a city priority, not something that wanders down the road and is done in a year or so.
    We are debating these specific compensation issues right now.
    The more we learn, the wider our eyes are opened.
    Forty percent or more of all compensation can be in these undisclosed areas.
    In some other cities, I see a item of $70,000 per year for one individual’s pension contribution.

    So again, I’m not saying the city is stonewalling, nor incompetent.

    We should know if its costing the city $24,000 a year just for the medical, dental, and vision of a single custodian whose salary is only $48,000.
    I have seen some MDV costs in other cities from $20,000 to over $30,000 for some employees. Not at all uncommon.
    The public should know.

    Some act like the very act of extracting the vital information is tantamount to saying the employees are bad or incompetent.
    It is very valid and vital to question what employees are being paid in salary, overtime, benefits, and pensions when the city is in such severe fiscal condition and asking for more money.

    Finally, city newspaper staffs are disappearing much faster than city workers are.
    We need to actively support the efforts of our local newspaper reporters, many of whom are vilified for reporting details about public employee compensation and pensions. There are many who would rather this all be kept private and secret.

  93. Ken

    I’m all for these cuts because they show the continued hypocrisy of the city fathers/mothers.

    Cut tear-jerker voter favorite program, then go ask for voters to approve taxes and fees to pay for said programs, and continue not cutting the shaggy long hair…when a haircut is in dire need.

    You’re all gonna hate me for saying this, but libraries and parks are not “core” services. I would also say that Oakland Housing Authority is not a “core” service and should be shut down within 5-6 years. That’s $200MM extra money right there. (But maybe that comes from federal money not city money…)

    Of course, there is plenty of corruption, waste and unfunded pension obligations all around, in Public Works, OPD, city council, every department… so cutting one (libraries) over all the others doesn’t really help.

    To visualize any organization’s growth curve, see here: (scroll down for nice chart)

    Preventing this is a core service:

    City payroll info SHOULD be public info.

    Two more examples of Oakland Police money wasted:

    1. $70,000/MONTH for rent for their eastmont mall substation. (nobody ever comments on this.) WTH???

    2. oil changes done by union on new, warrantied cars, instead of at the dealership down the street.

    Finally: helicopter costs should be paid for by regional beneficiaries: City of Berkeley (rolling in dough), City of San Leandro, Empire of Piedmont, City of Emeryville (rolling in dough). (and the chopper should be usable by these cities too.)

  94. zac

    Dax, I can’t answer everything, but I can answer some. Two year old records should work; we haven’t gotten a raise, though our hourly wage has decreased by about 8%, so each day of overtime is also worth less.

    Honestly, I want to stop repeating this thing about overtime. Overtime saves the city money. They use it because it’s cheaper than hiring full time employees. I know it’s a lot of money, and I would prefer we had more employees and less overtime. Answer this question Dax, with a one-word answer. Is reducing overtime important enough to you that you would be willing to see an increase in overall compensation? Even if we cut salary by a huge amount, OT would still be cheaper than hiring. I’m not trying to be snide here, but it’s really a choice. Do you want to decrease overtime by raising the overall cost?

    I don’t know what the compensation was 40 yrs ago, and I don’t know if it’s outpaced salaries of other Bay Area workers. I was firmly womb-bound back then. (Good water/power/safety in there, plus low cost of living and a pretty draconian residency requirement.)

    When you look at our salaries, always remember to reduce them by 13% for our PERS contributions. You can say “man, those guys have a good salary” or “man, those guys have a good pension” but you can’t say both without considering the other side. I would submit that if just about anybody could save 13% of their salary every single year, and invest it with a manager whose returns are as good as PERS have been, they could also have a pretty solid package upon retirement.

    For retirement, the 3% is based on your base salary. Not overtime. We don’t have educational incentives, we don’t have really anything but our base salaries. About 25 people who work in Hazmat get a 6% incentive that goes into their base salary. Some people get $25 a month for being bilingual, but that’s about it. Our base salary is the basis for the retirement calculation. If you work 30 yrs you get 90% of base salary. No games.

    Is it a bubble? I dunno. Could be. Sure doesn’t feel like we’re locked in place and protected from a slide though, as you suggest.

  95. livegreen

    I want to thank Ken for some examples of potential budget cuts WITHIN the line items. Each one might not look big to our City leaders facing $50 million+ in cost reductions, but add enough of them up and they become real money.

    This is a perfect time for the City to be renegotiating any leases substantially and use the threat of moving as the alternative. I’ll add that anybody who thinks the Eastmont Substation has made that part of Oakland safer is dreaming.

    While at it, consider closing the mostly empty OPD office next to the Safeway in Dimond (where the Mayor’s purse was stolen).

  96. Dax

    Zac, thanks for the reply.

    ( a note, I made the post to you in the other topic thread, prior seeing you had posted this recent reply. So at least one of the questions I had there was fully answered here.
    Regarding any add-ons to base salary for pension calculation.)

    Regarding the OT saving the city money when all the calculations are figured in.
    I agree with you that it may save money.
    I guess right now, YES, I would go with that and choose to spend less in the short term.

    However there is something wrong about it and the way it has for years been designed into the system. It has now become almost regular firefighter pay.
    For years and years.
    Simply put the average firefighter salary is now $140,000 for a regular job that now entails more hours than planned.

    As I stated, using the same logic, we should lower the number of other city employees and have everyone work more overtime.

    Why not 50 hour work weeks for all the regular misc. 37.5 hour employees?

    Something is wrong about all this overtime in the OFD being done on the basis of saving money. It was being done the same, well before the financial situation became dire.

    I’ll have to think more about the entire picture, but there is something wrong about the idea to base a system on overtime. Fewer and fewer people making more and more money is not right for society. Far better to pay a more reasonable compensation and fully staff the department with lower wages and lower benefits. The current setup is a distorted one where crazy OT patterns make financial sense.
    Contrast that picture with the picture of a mob of 8,000 people fighting over applications years ago.

  97. Antwone

    The question is not whether Libraries are valuable institutions positive to the community. The question is do we need to have 20 of them.

    There are other outlets to helping and mentoring kids that do not involve operating a library.

  98. Ken

    Ah Dax/#98,

    “I’m telling you that decades ago, firefighters weren’t making that kind of money relative to others in society.”

    Well, I’m going to announce quietly here the reason for this quiet, in hindsight insane rise in city government worker (and emergency health worker) pay…

    They can’t be offshored!
    And unions fight to guarantee their compensation.

    Two things lost by the private sector since the 1970s. (Remember when taxi cab drivers in SF were union? ya, service was better. and the taxi unions died completely in 1980.)

    interesting history here:

  99. zac

    Dax, I totally agree with you. I want more people to have jobs, more people earning solid salaries, not fewer people making outlandish OT. However, the important point as far as I’m concerned is that the status quo is the city’s decision. Don’t attack the firefighters for earning the overtime, aim your fire at the city for creating this situation. They do it because it’s cheaper; we work the overtime because we like it, but also because we’re forced to.

  100. ralph

    I suspect another reason for the increase in salary is location. Per the Santa Clara GJ report since 1990 SC salaries were going up something like 5% per year minimum. I wonder how much was wage wars.

  101. Ken

    @ antwone/#106 –

    SF has 29 libraries + four bookmobiles Oakland has 1/6 their budget, so we should have 29/6 libraries, or 4.8 libraries. Round up or down, doesn’t make a huge difference.

    There should be at least one in each “major area” of Oakland – West, North, East. One for “central” aka downtown/ civic heart of the city. Plus 1 where it is really needed. We really don’t need more than one largish library per 80,000 people with wikipedia, schools, universities…

    @Ralph i bet it played a part… Oakland always appears to play the status game of catch up, The Rev. Mr. Green and keeping appearances…

    But not to detract from the Valley and SF and bay area standards of living… they are high.

    @Zac, agree we want “everyone” employed fat and happy, but realistically we should aim for “sufficient” / “enough” people to do the job properly.

    Are there too many firehouses in Oakland the way there are too many libraries?

    I’d suggest that if City shuts any fire or library shacks, to turn some of them into “koban” for OPD to decamp in, Japan style.

  102. George

    I forgot to thank RCV and Captain Ahab (bob gammons) for Jean Quan and the lack of scrutiny of her campaign. If only there were good local media we might have dodged this mess. Too bad the chron and trib are but echoes of their previous selves and the inestimable bloggers don’t reach the ‘masses’. Mark my word, this is only the beginning of the Quan clusterfuck– only five months in! I’ll be campaigning again in four years. If Q isn’t recalled first.

  103. George

    And let me anticipate one objection, do you really thin that a two person runoff between DP and JQ would have ended up this way, with the media (such that it is) focused on two candidates, one-to-one debates, and voters having clear choices? Over, say, three or more months? Think deeply about democratic legitimacy here. The modal voters are not blog readers, and we need voting systems that lead to proper voter outcomes.

    The currently elected mayor does not have a clear mandate to the most Oaklanders. The outcome is confusing, and that hurts Oakland no matter who you voted for. Again, this is about voting institutions translating to a democratic mandate for the winner.

  104. George

    If the mayor had a true democratic mandate, then she/he could make bold decisions, lead forcefully, etc. Instead we have this.

  105. Michael F. Sarabia

    My choice would be a Personal Tax, regardless income or home size, price or address. I would be willing to contribute.
    That Libraries are the key to promote, directly or not, a sense of the Importance of Reading and, others have written, a “love of reading and learning” without that we are little more than the ancient “nomads” from ages ago, everywhere that we think and believe we are better than our ancestors in many ways, not necessarily in all, can be attributed to the invention of the printing press and most, if not all, of us owe it to libraries that gave us access to books when they are too expensive to buy and we want to read it one time only and, sometimes, only as much as we want, or need.
    Are we so far along the path in our Civility that we cannot afford to give children a safe haven and the opportunity to, even, develop a love of learning and, of course, books?
    Our priorities need re-thinking. Do we value the cost of anything more than its purpose and benefit? What do we expect will be the consequences?
    Yes, I know, not EVERYONE goes to the libraries once a day, week or even, a month.
    But, it is like, in effect, the opposite of an infection, like a vaccine, the good it promotes is the sum of all the good a person achieves in their life for self and others and, even, nation. Compare that to the amount of the Parcel Tax!