You all know by know that Oakland voters passed Measure Y, with 69.6% of the vote in 2004. You probably also know that between the $88/year parcel tax and the commercial parking surcharge it create, that it generates about $20 million every year for the City of Oakland. Roughly, four million of this goes to the Fire Department, eight million finds its way to the Police Department, and then the remaining six million funds violence prevention programs.
Let me take a moment to share with you some choice portions of the ballot argument for Measure Y, signed by District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel, District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee:
Measure Y includes strict financial oversight and performance reviews of police and violence prevention programs. An annual, independent audit will be performed to ensure fiscal accountability.
Programs will be evaluated based on the number of people served and the rate of crime reduction achieved. If it is determined that a program is not meeting specific requirements, funding for that program will be redirected to more effective programs.
And allow me to share this section of the rebuttal to the arguments against, signed by District 4 Councilmember Jean Quan and then-Mayor, now Attorney General Jerry Brown:
Measure Y ensures accountability. A yearly audit will be performed and independent oversight committee will review all Measure Y programs. Evaluation of programs will be based on the number of people served and the rate of crime of violence reduction achieved.
- For OUSD students who had been suspended in the 2005-06 school year, 9.3% of those participating in Measure Y programs were suspended again in the 2006-07 school year, while 13.7 % of those not participating in Measure Y programs were suspended again. This difference was deemed statistically significant.
- 90% of OUSD students had fewer suspensions in 2006-07 than they did in 2005-06. 93.4% of students participating in Measure Y programs had fewer suspensions in 2006-07 than in 2005-06. This difference was not deemed statistically significant.
- 3.5% of OUSD students in the comparison group were re-suspended for violent activities. 3.0% of participants in Measure Y programs were re-suspended for violent activities. This difference was not deemed statistically significant.
- 16% of students receiving Measure Y services were absent during the 2006-07 school year. 22% of students not receiving Measure Y services were absent during the 2006-07 school year. This difference was deemed statistically significant.
- Students receiving Measure Y services averaged 4 absences from school during the 2006-07 year. Students not receiving Measure Y services average 8 absences during the same year. This difference was deemed statistically significant.
- For juvenile offenders, arrested in 2006 and participating in Measure Y programs, 90.1 recorded another offense in 2007. In the comparison group of juvenile offenders not participating in Measure Y programs (and matched by pattern of offenses, ethnicity, age, and a number of other factors) , 88.7% recorded another offense in 2007. This difference was not deemed statistically significant. There was no category of offense in which juvenile offenders in Measure Y programs were re-arrested at a statistically significant lower rate than offenders not in Measure Y programs.
- With respect to re-entry services for young adult parolees, 57% of participants in Measure Y programs who had been arrested in 2006 were re-arrested in 2007. 27% of those arrested in 2006 were arrested for violent offenses. Only 10% of the arrests in 2007 were for violent offenses. There was no comparison data to available to evaluate these results against parolees not receiving Measure Y services.
The results are, in short, unimpressive.
So last Thursday, I attended a forum on Measure Y hosted by the MGO Democratic Club. This was very depressing. First, Measure Y Oversight Committee Chair Maya Dillard-Smith presented an overview of the how Measure Y funds are spent (during which she was repeatedly rudely interrupted by City staff), and went on to tell the group that she felt much of the money had been misused, and that the Committee was being stonewalled in their attempts to exercise the promised oversight. This was followed by Jeff Baker, of the City Administrator’s office, presenting his own overview of Measure Y. Sara Bedford of the City’s Department of Human Services jumped in a few times to add information. The City representatives basically said that Measure Y is great and is working really well and so on.
Then it was time for questions. People kept asking about the conflicting accounts about Measure Y from Dillard-Smith and Baker, and the Q&A basically devolved into an angry bickering match between Dillard-Smith, Baker, and Bedford. Dillard-Smith would assert something, Baker or Bedford would say it wasn’t true, Dillard-Smith would try to point the audience to specific City information supporting her claim, they would interrupt her, and so on. I regretfully didn’t think of timing this portion of the meeting, but it felt like it went on forever. At times it felt like everyone in the room was just screaming at each other, and it was hard to make sense of any of it.
This sort of spectacle benefits no one. Watching representatives of both the City of Oakland and the Measure Y Oversight Committee fight like children in front of a body of engaged citizens leaves nobody with a clear picture of the situation, and does not inspire confidence in the City’s ability to function or deliver results to the taxpayers. I don’t think anyone left with a clear picture of the facts about Measure Y, and I imagine that whether people believe it’s working as it should really just depended on who you found more sympathetic at the meeting, Dillard-Smith or Baker. While I personally believe Dillard-Smith is correct, I felt like atmosphere in the room was hostile towards her, and that the audience was inclined to believe Baker. Another attendee I spoke with after the meeting felt otherwise, saying that he thought people were siding with Dillard-Smith. So who knows.
Either way, it’s unfortunate. Perceptions of the efficacy of Measure Y should be based on facts, not personality. And one of the most disturbing things about the meeting for me was that City staff repeatedly gave erroneous information about the Measure. Here are some of the incorrect statements that were made.
Jeff Baker said that the Oakland Police Department is currently above full staffing, with 837 officers, and that every police beat now has a problem solving officer.
It is unclear to me how many officers the Oakland Police Department currently has. After the announcement of 837 officers in November, and with a frequently reported attrition rate of five officers per month, plus the widely reported firing of a number of officers, it seems improbable that we would still have the same number in late January as we did in mid-November.
But what it definitely not true is that every police beat is currently being served by a problem solving officer. In a police department document dated January 30, 2008, four beats were listed as not having an active problem solving officer and one beat was listed as having a part-time problem solving officer. It is unconscionable for the City (because Baker is not the only person who claims this) to repeatedly assert that every beat in Oakland has its own problem solving officer when they don’t.
At one point during the meeting, Sara Bedford told the audience “We serve 10,000 individuals per year in individual contacts and average 60 hours of service for each of those individuals. Plus we reach 2,000 more in group services.”
Okay, the claim is preposterous on its face. Obviously we are not providing 600,000 hours of individual services per year with $6 million (actually it was $8 million last year, but still). What’s particularly galling about this claim is that Bedford should know perfectly well it isn’t true. Logical conclusions aside, she just, last Tuesday, presented a report about Measure Y (PDF) to the Public Safety Committee. And what does the report say? Regarding individual services, in FY 2007-2008, Measure Y served 5,148 unduplicated individual clents, with a total of 43,697 client hours of service. See the difference there? 600,000 hours versus less than 44,000 hours. That’s over 556,000 hours of service a City representative told a community group that we provided when we didn’t. Not okay.
Speaking of last week’s Public Safety Committee – At the meeting, one public speaker brought up the evaluation report, noting that the evaluators concluded “It does not appear that Measure Y violence prevention programs were making a substantial difference in the outcomes of the youth they served.” District 4 Councilmember Jean Quan responded to him by saying “That was relationship to that one program, not that the Measure Y programs weren’t showing progress at all, cause they obviously showed a lot of data, where we think that the pool was too small for us to know yet. So I just wanted to make that clear for the public.” (At this same meeting, Beford referenced the BPA evaluation report described above and concluded of it “The indications are quite positive.”)
Again, this is not true. The section of the report discussing re-arrest rates for juvenile offenders included seven programs in their data set, all the programs funded by Measure Y that provide such services. Whether Quan knew this was the case and chose to lie about it, or whether she was unaware of the details of evaluation and simply wanted to rebut criticism, it is highly irresponsible for a City Councilmember to “correct” a public speaker with inaccurate information, and especially to saying she was doing so to make things “clear for the public.
I’m not against Measure Y, or against funding violence prevention programming. But it is imperative that the City be honest with the public about how these programs are working and how money is being spent. They need to take the outcome evaluation results into account when discussing funding. And they need to work with and listen to the Oversight Committee that was established by the Measure. Otherwise, they simply further erode the public trust in government. And every time we do that, they make it less and less likely that anyone will be willing to vote to give them more money ever again. Why should we, when they can’t be trusted to use it as promised?