Making sure this never happens again

Tonight, after almost two months of discussion, the Oakland City Council will finally adopt a budget that closes our $83 million General Fund deficit. Mostly, discussion surrounding this has been all about what we’re going to lose. But in between all the devastating cuts and annoying fee increases, there are some positive things happening in the budget process too. Here’s one of them.

So, Oakland used to have a General Fund reserve, which we could use to close budget holes in the event that, oh, I don’t know, the economy collapsed and property taxes were down for the first time since like 1983 or something. So instead of having to, oh, I don’t know, lay off all your park maintenance staff and give up on repairing streets or something, we could avoid some of those cuts by using money from the reserves to pay people until revenues returned to normal. It’s sort of like how they say you should keep enough money to live off for three months in a savings account in case you lose your job.

Anyway, theoretically, we have this 7.5% General Fund reserve, except, of course, that we don’t, because we managed to spend basically the entire thing a couple years ago without anybody noticing. Not only is this bad for our budget, it’s also bad for our bonding capacity – ratings agencies like to see evidence that you’re going to keep paying your bills if times get tough.

Of course, there’s nothing we can do now about idiotic decisions that were made in the past, but happily, we can take steps to make sure we don’t even find ourselves in this situation again, and to that end, one of the pieces of legislation the Council will be adopting tonight is an amendment to our General Fund reserve policy (PDF).

Recognizing that we’re too broke right now to put anything back into the reserve, the proposal would slowly start rebuilding the reserves as the economy improves, by mandating that any revenue received from the Real Estate Transfer Tax in excess of $40 million be placed into the reserve. This has the added benefit of not allowing the City to get all bloated by relying on unsustainable revenues to cover ongoing costs, which we’ve been doing with the Real Estate Transfer Tax for the last several years.

Once we’ve been doing that for a while, and get to the point that we have a General Purpose Fund reserve of 10%, we would still only get to spend the first $40 million of Transfer Tax revenues. Anything above $40 million would then be split as follows: 50% would go to repay our negative internal service fund balances, 30% would go to fund our unfunded obligations to the Police and Fire Retirement System, 10% would go into a trust to help pay for Other Post-Employment Benefits (retiree medical), and the remaining 10% would be put into the Capital Improvements Reserve Fund.

The proposal would also prohibit the City from using one time revenues other than Real Estate Transfer Tax (from property sales and the like) to cover the costs of ongoing services. Instead, half of that revenue would have to go to paying off the negative balances in our internal service funds, and the other half would go to pay off negative balances in other funds.

These rules could be suspended only in the event of a fiscal emergency, which would have to be declared by a majority vote of the City Council.

At the budget meeting two weeks ago, staff noted that the proposal had been extremely well received by the rating agencies, whose only question was how quickly the policy could be adopted.

During the discussion, the big question among the Council was what should constitute a fiscal emergency. Under the proposal before them that night, the Council would only have the option of declaring a fiscal emergency in a situation where the General Purpose Fund was facing a deficit of at least $30 million, which seemed reasonable to me. Several Councilmembers, however, felt that the $30 million threshold was too limiting.

Council President Jane Brunner complained that the proposal tied the Council’s hands too tightly, suggesting that Real Estate Transfer Tax revenues in excess of $40 million should be allowed to bring back previously cut services, and saying that reserves should be available in the event that there’s an earthquake or riot or fire, and the Council needs something like $5 million to deal with the catastrophe.

Brunner further argued that the City’s problem “is not that we need these rules, but that we’ve been dipping into the reserve too much.” I thought that fact the Council has dipped into the reserve to the point that it basically no longer exists would indicate that they do, in fact, need rules to prevent them from doing so, but maybe that’s just me.

Well, not just me. District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan felt the same way, noting that if we had adopted this policy five years ago, we wouldn’t be in such a dire situation now, and saying that she appreciated the fact that the restrictions would prevent the City from growing staff to an unsupportable level in the future.

After further discussion, there appeared to be a general consensus that the proposal was a good idea in theory, but that the 10% reserve was too high, and the $30 million limit for a declaration of fiscal emergency was too restrictive – the Council should be able to declare a fiscal emergency by majority vote whenever they thought it was necessary. Jane Brunner kept fixating on the transfer tax limits, saying the Council should be able to use transfer tax revenues over $40 million at their discretion, because sometimes they have things they want to do but can’t afford. Which, again, the whole point of the reserve rules is that the Council will stop doing things they can’t afford, but whatever.

District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, obviously frustrated, asked what the point was of approving the proposal at all if there were no restrictions on what does or does not constitute a fiscal emergency. Sadly, nobody else agreed with him, all concerned that the restrictions would limit the Council’s ability to spend money too much, and eventually the ordinance passed, with the reserve level remaining at 10%, but without any limits on what would or would not constitute a fiscal emergency. Jane Brunner voted no and District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks abstained.

The ordinance will have its second reading at tonight’s meeting. The new rules are certainly a step in the right direction and will theoretically keep us from finding ourselves in such a crisis situation ever again. Of course, that will only happen if we don’t declare fiscal emergencies and suspend them constantly, which I’m concerned we will. I can sympathize with the Council’s concerns that requiring a $30 million deficit to declare a fiscal emergency and suspend the rules was too limiting. But it seems like they went too far in response. Why not suggest a lower deficit limit, or add language like “or also in the event of a natural disaster” in anticipation of the situation referenced by Brunner? Having zero criteria except being able to find five Councilmembers who want to spend more money seems like a recipe for…well, ending up right back in this exact same situation.

42 thoughts on “Making sure this never happens again

  1. len

    anyone have handy a list of the the past ten years of real estate transfer tax revenue ?

    while looking online for that info, came across a detailed city funded report
    http://www.oaklandnet.com/government/psg/PSGOaklandReport.pdf
    dated March 27, 2002 “Improving Performance While Living Within Our Means”

    if any fraction of the recommendations had been implemented, we’d be in much better shape. My favorite:
    “Reducing Or Eliminating Subsidies to Non-City Activities: Possible criteria for
    assessing subsidies:
    1. Extent to which city workforce (and budget) would have to increase to
    provide a service or activity if the subsidy were not provided.
    2. Extent to which subsidy makes a strong contribution to achieving city
    goals and priorities.
    3. Extent to which Oakland residents value the subsidized service/activity.
    4. Extent to which subsidy contributes to Oakland’s cultural life.
    5. Extent to which subsidy contributes to strengthening Oakland’s economy.
    6. Extent to which the subsidized service or activity has achieved promised
    results when city subsidies were provided in the past.
    Priority-Setting Models for Public Budgeting by Roland Calia provides several
    practical approaches that could be applied to evaluating city subsidies. It is
    available from the GFOA website at http://www.gfoa.org.”

  2. Deckin

    Sadly, nobody else agreed with him, all concerned that the restrictions would limit the Council’s ability to spend money too much, and eventually the ordinance passed, with the reserve level remaining at 10%, but without any limits on what would or would not constitute a fiscal emergency.

    Honestly, does it get any sadder/stupider/more inane/more want to make you laugh/cry than that? I’m just wondering, is there some IQ test you have to flunk to be sworn in at City Council? Do they seriously believe that, on balance, all of the ridiculous projects they propose and fund actually make life in Oakland better?

    Case in point. Montclair park has just undergone a year long renovation that must have cost a ton of money. Never mind that it took absurdly long to complete what is really a quite modest improvement; never mind that I’m sure non-union contractors could have done the job for a fraction of the cost; never mind that the thing that the park really could use (a hunting season on those annoying geese that shit everywhere and make walking in the park like navigating a minefield) has been untouched; never mind all of that. Is there anyone out there can honestly say that the park is a more enjoyable experience now than it was before? Absolutely nothing important has been made better and all that’s been accomplished is that Jean Quan and her coterie of suck ups have a new thing to crow about and put on their websites under fatuous headings like ‘Montclair Moving Forward’, ‘Park Beautification Pays Off’ or some such. What a joke.

    There’s not one thing or a few things wrong with Oakland city government. Everything is wrong.

  3. hedera

    I am just gobsmacked. They Do Not Get It.

    The only good thing about this is that my personal councilperson, Jane Brunner (for whom I did not vote), appears to be in the minority that actually grasps the problem. Good for her for voting no on the carve-up.

  4. len

    looking at real estate transfer taxes collected 2003 – 2008, I see why JB concerned more about reserving for earth quakes than for financial disasters: the big one will probably hit before oakland hits 40Mill of transfer taxes.

    2003-2008 real estate transfer tax collection
    from http://www.oaklandnet.com/government/fwawebsite/accounting/Pdf/FY%202008_CAFR.pdf

    per financial statements “statement of revenues, expenditures and changes in fund balances, Government Funds”

    for general fund only
    in Million’s
    2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003

    property 202.8 170 151.8 143.4 109.9 114.7
    sales 53 46.7 44.9 41.6 36.5 38.2
    bizlicense 52.5 50.3 43.8 43.9 44.2 42
    transfer tax 36.2 61.5 79.5 77.7 55.7 42.1

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    I think Jane Brunner grasps the problem less than anyone else on the Council. She basically kept saying that she didn’t want to have any restrictions placed on how she could spend transfer tax revenue, and that it shouldn’t all have to go into the reserve or for paying back debt.

  6. Barry K

    Administrator’s office reported on the “banked” balance of Pay-Go funds of the Mayor and Council Members. $9,000,000, as of Oct 2008.

    The yearly $300,000 allotment was reduced to $150,000 last Fall. Of course the Council members would support a one year freeze on this amount. They have money in the bank!

    End the slush funds! Some favorites, Henry Chang, $500,000 to Oakland Zoo for new signs. Jean Quan’s thousands to Chabot Space Center for new furniture.

    To bad we can’t freeze these the account funds and have them returned.

  7. ken

    so we have Jane Brunner on record saying that city government never needs to prioritize paying back debt?

    what planet is she from? aliens won’t pay our debts for us…letting us spend ourselves into oblivion like MJ or Citibank…

  8. navigator

    The problem with Oakland’s General Fund is that It’s too small for a city the size of Oakland. The City needs to grow its economy and expand that ” General Fund” from 500 million to about one billion dollars. Oakland is beautifully situated in the very geographic center of the 7 million resident strong Bay Area. Oakland has San Francisco ten miles across the Bay Bridge, UC Berkeley just across city limits, and Silicon Valley 30 to 40 miles south and south west. Oakland should have a dynamic economy considering its strategic location, natural beauty, and wonderful climate.

    What is holding Oakland back? Is it leadership? Is it a lack of vision? Is it an undeserved inferiority complex? Is it media bias? Is it prejudice? Is it an uninvolved citizenry? If you said all of the above, you’d be heading in the right direction.

    Considering its location and other advantages, it’s criminal to have this city of 400,000 trying to scrimp by on a 500 million general fund budget. Oakland needs to substantially increase its retail base, aggressively recruit green businesses, fight for a good chunk of the Bay Area tourist industry, build more high density housing near the waterfront and downtown and improve amenities downtown and at the waterfront in order to draw more high income residents. Oakland also needs to build on the early success of the Uptown Entertainment District by enticing more venues to come to the area along with perhaps Broadway plays.

    All this is not going to come knocking on Oakland’s front door. Oakland has to fight tooth and nail. Oakland has to compete with its neighbors for a bigger share of that Bay Area economy. No more standing in the corner feeling unworthy. Oakland needs a little confidence and a little swagger to go after all the opportunities which always seem to bypass Oakland year after year and cycle after cycle. The time to act is now and grow that General Fund into something appropriate for a city of Oakland’s size and stature.

  9. hedera

    This is what happens when I read something like this fast, late at night. You’re quite right, Jane Brunner has no clue. At least now I don’t have to feel guilty for not voting for her. The infuriating thing about the situation is that the proposal they started with was absolutely fiscally responsible, and they appear to be in the process of shredding it and scattering the pieces. Is there a final outcome on this mess yet?

  10. Robert

    nav, I agree with everything you say about what Oakalnd needs to do to grow, but on what basis do you say the general fund is too small? Is it abnormally small compared to other cities for 400,000 around the country? And why focus on the general fund alone. Capital bond repayments and voter restricted funds need to be included in any comparison. While there are some pass through grants in the restricted funds, a lot of what is restricted is due to voter decisions. Oaklands biggest budget problem is an overly generous administration, both for personnel costs and for an ever expanding range of ‘needed’ services for residents.

  11. David

    So let me get this straight yet again. According to Len, property&sales tax revenues overall are UP FORTY-FIVE (45%) PERCENT since 2003. The population of Oakland is about the same level. According to the CPI inflation number published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cumulative inflation over that time was SEVENTEEN (17%) PERCENT.

    What city service has gotten almost 30% better? More importantly, of course, if the budget only grew with inflation, we’d not be having this conversation, Oakland would be doing fine.

    Where’s the real outrage? Everything should be cut back to 2003 levels, plus inflation, at the most.

  12. V Smoothe Post author

    General Fund revenues for 03-04 were $387 million. For 09-10, we’re expecting something around $414 million, although that figure will likely go down. That is not even a 17% increase, it is certainly not a 45% increase.

  13. Deckin

    What is holding Oakland back? Is it leadership? Is it a lack of vision? Is it an undeserved inferiority complex? Is it media bias? Is it prejudice? Is it an uninvolved citizenry? If you said all of the above, you’d be heading in the right direction.

    Navigator: Actually, if you said all of the above, you’d be engaging in exactly the kind of disingenuous smoke screening that this city is famous for. The answer to your first question is one word, and it’s apparent to all who have the minimal honesty to state the obvious: Crime. That’s it. All of Oakland’s problems in attracting business, vitality, and tax revenues arise from that one fetid font. Until people in this city stop dancing around what’s in front of their noses nothing will happen. Get crime under control and all of Oakland’s natural advantages will sprout like grass after a winter’s rain; fail, and we’ll keep talking about the city’s failure to live up to its potential.

  14. livegreen

    I agree with Deckin. Get crime under control and the snowball of progress will happen in other areas (though I agree with Navigator that there is a lack of vision on the part of our City leaders).

    The two biggest contributors to solving the crime problem, in a more meaningful way than just the 10% decreases this year, are:

    –Immediately bringing more Investigators into OPD (from the outside or from Internal Affairs by petitioning for relief from the NSA);
    –Recruiting more businesses here to create more blue collar employment. (This will only happen in a meaningful way if crime continues to decrease).
    –Implement CompStat and hire more OPD Officers after we get through the current budget crisis.

  15. David

    V. Ok, still an increase. So, what’s happened to median income in that time. Taxes take ever larger portions of my income, since it’s not going up at even that low rate.

    Life’s tough. it’s time the gov’t figured that it applies to them too.

  16. livegreen

    V, Who else felt the $30 million threshold was too limiting? After all it couldn’t have been just JB.

    What I don’t get is they listen to her and then she still votes against it. My bet is that come campaign season if this gets brought up she’ll try to claim she didn’t vote for it because it wasn’t strong enough (the opposite of her reasoning).

  17. PRE

    First it was “So let me get this straight yet again. According to Len, property&sales tax revenues overall are UP FORTY-FIVE (45%) PERCENT since 2003. The population of Oakland is about the same level. According to the CPI inflation number published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cumulative inflation over that time was SEVENTEEN (17%) PERCENT.”

    Then when the facts say otherwise it’s “Ok, still an increase. So, what’s happened to median income in that time. Taxes take ever larger portions of my income, since it’s not going up at even that low rate.”

    Bottom line is Oakland’s budget is not some out of control monster eating up an ever greater share of taxpayers dollars, it’s not even keeping up with inflation.

  18. navigator

    I don’t agree that crime is what holds Oakland back. If crime held cities back how do you explain San Francisco’s crime riddled downtown prospering? There were 20 homicides last year within San Francisco’s downtown neighborhoods. I don’t think there is a city in the United States with more crime in its downtown core than SF. Oakland had two homicides within its downtown neighborhoods. People go to Broadway shows in downtown San Francisco while stepping over bums, urine and feces on the sidewalks. As long as Oakland keeps beating itself over the head because it has “crime,” Oakland will never have the gumption and self-confidence to compete economically in the Bay Area.

    What Oakland has to fight is an erroneous perception of crime being higher in downtown Oakland vs downtown San Francisco. Crime is no excuse to paralyze Oakland just like crime doesn’t paralyze Washington DC, Baltimore, Saint Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, etc. I can’t believe Oaklanders with their self-inflicted guilt trips. No wonder this city stagnates. Get off the “crime” kick and get this city moving. Start working on the outdated PERCEPTION of this city to outsiders and maybe they’ll realize that the commercial and business center of Oakland is not Elmhurst, Eastmont, Melrose, or Prescott.

  19. livegreen

    Perception IS reality. So why is there a perception that crime in Oakland is higher than in SF:

    –SF is much bigger, and our crime rate IS much higher per capita than SF.
    –By your own admission (and I’m taking your word for it) the crime in Oakland is where people live, where-as not in SF. (Of course Oakland would probably get the negative press anyway).
    –SF has a LOT more to talk about, including events, neighborhood activities, restaurants, protest marches, businesses, wealth, etc., etc. It’s crime gets lost in the clutter.
    –Our current line-up of Politicians are more clueless than SF’s (if that is possible).
    –SF is wealthier so can afford to talk about more things, and have it’s news media talk about more things.

    Bottom line Oakland DOES have more crime per capita, and as a result needs to do more to change both reality & perception.

    That said there are pockets of good publicity starting to happen. Good articles in NY Times & CNN Money about Oakland in general, and in numerous publications about our excellent restaurants, zoo, the Fox Theatre, etc.

    To keep this going we need for crime to continue going down. As it squeezes out positive news less & less, more good things will be said, more people will visit, & more people will come here to live (esp. from SF, to downtown, Uptown, & all neighborhoods).

  20. navigator

    livegreen, I would love for Oakland to have zero crime for the media to talk about. The best that I can remember is a thirty year low under Jerry Brown when Oakland had around 60 homicides. It didn’t change any PERCEPTIONS regarding Oakland.

    We can’t excuse the reality of DOWNTOWN SF having more crime by saying they have more things to do and more money. Also, the per capita argument doesn’t interest me quite as much as in what area of a city the crime occurs. Does the crime occur in areas where visitors, citizens, and business people congregate, or is it a product of interpersonal gripes in poverty stricken neighborhoods? I’ve seen the San Francisco Crime map for downtown and it looks like a horrible case of the measles. I’ve also seen an Oakland Police Crime Map for downtown Oakland. Downtown Oakland is by far much safer.

    As long as Oakland sits here paralyzed because we have crime, the game is over. With THAT mind-set Oakland mine as well head home with its tail between its legs while San Francisco and Silicon Valley continue lapping poor old “crime infested” Oakland. I’m not ready to concede anything to any city in the Bay Area.

  21. livegreen

    Nobody’s advocating sitting still. Certainly not me. And I agree with you the news media is skewed. Totally. But we do have a higher crime rate, and more poverty.

    I agree we need to change the talk and the perception. But not just the talk.
    We also need to change the reality. Both.

  22. Mike d'Ocla

    Wow! Such deep thoughts and feelings! Violent crime is all about media, publicity, perceptions as reality, offending would-be tourists, “interpersonal gripes,” per-capita rates or something that looks like the measles.

    Crime is something much more and has to do with real human suffering, community dissolution, bad public policy, tunnel vision and a slew of other difficult, contradictory problems.

  23. len

    nav, you have a point that people outside oakland wouldn’t quickly be that much more likely to visit etc. oakland if the crime rates plummeted.

    to a large extent when people from outside oakland refer to oakland’s high crime, it’s their code phrase for saying oakland is too ghetto. most of that perception keys off their profiling poor african american younger males as more likely to mug you or jack your car.

    changing that racial economic profiling by lowering crime levels and by raising the income levels of lower income residents is going to take years, without another housing bubble forcing higher income people to affordable oakland.

    SF started out with a lower percentage of poor african americans and then used urban removal followed by leveraging off the dot com bubble.

    my crystal ball shows stagnant or even falling income levels for a large section of oakland residents for indefinite future.

    so maybe city has to go backwards to the awful old way of providing excellent core services to the higher income areas and gentrifying areas, and merely adequate services other than for education to the rest of the city. if we could provide excellent schools to the poorest areas, that would be a big improvement over what those areas have now.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  24. Deckin

    just like crime doesn’t paralyze Washington DC, Baltimore, Saint Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, etc.

    Are you serious about these comparisons? If it weren’t for the federal government, and the people living there off of our tax dollars, D.C. would be as civilized as Mogadishu; the same, but more so, goes for Baltimore. Chicago manages as a complete kleptocracy to pay off thugs to keep them out of (yet still in) the Loop. Dallas doesn’t belong on your list at all. It’s much much safer per capita than Oakland.

    Oakland suffers from negative perceptions about crime because Oakland has more crime. Do you ever check CrimeStat? It wasn’t always so in Oakland you know. If you go back to check both stats and written accounts, Oakland had a reputation as a very safe place until the 60s. In fact, it was a Republican stronghold (coincidence?) and known as a very family friendly place. It was the hub of the entire East Bay and the Tribune was read from Jack London square to Merced. No one read the Chron east of Treasure Island and when you talk to real old timers, people who grew up in Oakland in the 40s and 50s you’d think they were talking about a mystical far away land. Now, not so much.

  25. Ralph

    b-more has its issues but it has a thriving business district, arts, downtown, and a number of other attractions that Oakland is working towards

  26. Chris Kidd

    I wouldn’t be so quick to idealize Oakland of the 40′s and 50′s. Redlining, racial covenants, police repression, outright racism, economic exploitation of minorities, etc. The Black Panthers didn’t form up because they thought it’d be cool to wear leather jackets and black berets(okay, that wasn’t the PRIMARY reason…).

    I’m not sure how the fall of Tribune – due to poor choices, out-of-town ownership, and the slow death of print media – fits into all of this

  27. VivekB

    FWIW, i lived in DC when it was the murder capital of the US (’90), and although it clearly had an impact on the external opinions, it had no effect on the Northern VA/southern MD crowd. if you didn’t know, you can walk from Arlington VA to Georgetown in 15 mins, and take their BART equiv from bethesda to downtown DC in 20 mins.

    Everyone knew that although there were a lot of murders, they were all in SE DC, some in NE. NW DC, which is where all the restaurants & bars & hotspots were, was absolutely thriving, and that’s where the tourists went too.

    The point about having stuff other than crime is key – that’s what NW DC had (articles about museums and charity events and Georgetown U and festivals and blah blah), that’s what the Washington Post discussed. They had a certain # of pages to print, and they were able to find lots to talk about. This in turn uplifted the image, which uplifted the economy and kept rents nice & high.

    For Oakland to uplift itself, we need to attract new businesses and fun stuff for people to do. We’ll still have crime, but it’ll be lost in the noise about fun stuff (like that fox theater or the go eat in downtown oakland or …), and folks won’t mind so much.

    then again, i’m massively hungover from stimulating the rockridge bar economy last night, so what do i know…

  28. len

    ralph, maybe instead of fighting oakland’s bad rep, we should embrace it. play up the thrills and chills of edgy urban living. :)

  29. rob

    “For Oakland to uplift itself, we need to attract new businesses and fun stuff for people to do. We’ll still have crime, but it’ll be lost in the noise about fun stuff (like that fox theater or the go eat in downtown oakland or …), and folks won’t mind so much.”

    i’ve lived in oakland for 16 years and am still kinda in shock about all the positive (imo) change that’s occured over the last few years. my friends and i talked about how much potential the town had, but were resigned to the fact that it was not in the cards for oakland to grow and thrive and become a destination, especially downtown.

    but, it’s happening. and it continues. and it’s brilliant. i feel very lucky to be here, living in the midst of it as its occurring.

    i had a lovely espresso at farley’s this morning. while there i met a guy who has bought pat’s over on franklin and 15th and plans on turning it into an art bar…does anyone remember when luka’s opened, what the area was like? think about how different almost everything is in uptown. we’ve come a LOOOONG way. the luka’s folks blazed the way, and deserve much credit.

    now, my neighbor and i are looking for someone to step up and open a big irish bar with giant screen tv’s where we can hang out all weekend drinking and watching football (soccer) matches. and i actually believe we may get it.

  30. Mike d'Ocla

    Len, thanks for the reference to American Babylon, which I want to read.

    I think it is critical to look carefully at Oakland’s own history, its problems and its strengths (which are many), rather than engage in superficial comparisons to other cities with regard to trendy bars, nightlife, and so forth. Lots of American cities, like San Francisco, have huge tourist, e.g. restaurant, entertainment, shopping, economies, but I am not so sure that this is the model for Oakland. It may not be any sort of a model for a future which many of us hope will be greener, more human-scale, more self-sufficient, than the tourist-town of maximum tinsel, service industry jobs and conspicuous consumption.

    Oakland has lots of creative and energetic people. It has intellectual resources. It has the major port in San Francisco Bay.

    It also has a political system which is notably lacking in vision and accountability. I think this is where internet activists need to continue to work.

  31. rob

    mike, i don’t think these comparisons are superficial. enjoyable public venues, or lack thereof, help to create the public perception of a town or city. since we were discussing how oakland is perceived, imo they were apt.

    i also don’t think oakland is in danger of becoming a tourist destination on the scale of s.f. or d.c.. maximum tinsel is not what is happening. more tinsel than before, no doubt. maximum, not a chance. also, i see the progress being made as creating a more livable city. greener, more human-scale, more self-sufficient.

    i agree that oakland has a minefield of a history when it comes to local govt. i love that there are people here who care and understand how all this works, and that they devote their energies to making good things happen.

  32. Naomi Schiff

    Municipal officeholders in many places tend to be lackluster. Among the reasons: a somewhat thankless job, often not particularly well paid, occasionally a stepping stone to elsewhere. It is certainly a great thing when citizens take on improving their cities and educating their leaders. I think that if the people will lead, the officeholders will quickly run up to the front and try to join in at the head of the crowd. This has happened time and time again on Oakland issues, and it is why civic activism is somewhat more satisfying on a local level than on a state or national level; you can see the results more quickly.

  33. David

    V. etc.

    Now hold on a minute. The spending outlay for Oakland was scheduled to be $486M in 2008 (back proposed in 2007, according to Jean Quan). Jerry Brown’s proposed 2003 budget was $387M.

    Now let’s think about that for a minute. The rulers of Oakland thought that increasing spending by almost 30% over 4 years was a good idea, and sustainable.

    IF they had planned to increase with inflation, we’d be talking about a “$15M” or so shortfall, not a manufactured “$80M” shortfall from inflated, unjustifiable numbers.

    This is typical government speak, where a smaller increase turns into a “spending cut.” That’s BS. If they had prudently managed the city’s finances, they’d be looking to trim about 3% of the budget, instead of 20%.

    Sorry, no tax increases until the city gets the base spending level right.

  34. len

    I thought even Berkeley and SF maintained a “rainy day fund” thus reducing/delaying the impact of their revenue shortfalls? (along with a smaller decline in real estate values)

    One more fiscal failing our officials can blame on Deborah Edgerly.

    -len raphael
    temescal