More budget cuts coming on Tuesday

This Tuesday, less than a month after we passed our 2009-11 budget, the Oakland City Council will be back in Chambers (except for Nancy Nadel, who will be teleconferencing in from Jamaica) doing it all over again , looking to make nearly $19 million in new cuts. Fun!

So how did the hole get so big so fast? Well, first, the budget passed last June assumed a stimulus grant that would fund 140 police officers. We knew at the time we probably wouldn’t get the entire grant, and would have to open up the budget at some point and make up the difference. At this point, we’re expecting to receive funding for only 40.7 of those 140 officers, which leaves us $11.3 million short of where we were hoping to be.

This leaves us with some very unpleasant choices. One, we could go ahead and lay off 100 police officers, but then we’d have to stop collecting Measure Y taxes, which would mean laying off an additional 63 officers, for a total of 163 officers lost, plus giving up significant funding for the Fire Department and violence prevention programs. Since nobody wants to do that, we’re stuck with finding another $11.3 million in cuts elsewhere in the budget.

On top of that, the budget the Council passed assumed $11.92 million in reductions to the Police Department budget, but didn’t say how we were going to do it. Now we have to figure that out, leaving us with $23.22 million to cut. Then, it turns out we may have to repay Measure Y $2.14 million (fallout from Marleen Sacks’s lawsuit), bringing the total amount we need to find to $25.36 million. Fortunately (sort-of), the budget we passed included a $6.62 million surplus, so if use all that money to cover the shortfall, we’re left with $18.74 million to cut. Ouch.

So how are we going to get there? You can read the whole proposal that will come before the Council here (PDF), but here are some of the highlights:

  • Savings due to changes in police contract: $8.5 million
  • Reduce police overtime: $3.98 million
  • Eliminate 4 Neighborhood Service Coordinators: $0.3 million
  • Eliminate 7 other non-sworn police department positions: $0.46 million
  • Eliminate Rangers (who patrol the parks): $0.21 million
  • Ground OPD helicopter: $0.25 million
  • Raise police department special event permit fees: $0.09 million
  • Close San Antonio Recreation Center: $0.09 million
  • Close Main Library 2 days/week: $0.12 million
  • Reduce arts grants by 20%: $0.23 million
  • Reduce other non-departmental subsidies (Chabot, Zoo, etc.) an additional 10%: $0.3 million
  • Begin peak hour parking pilot program: $0.64 million
  • Raise expired meter parking fee $10: $0.53 million

There’s also a bunch of other layoffs and elimination or freezing of vacancies scattered across departments in there, for a total of 49.04 FTEs being eliminated, 36.04 of which are currently filled. The proposed layoffs include 12 Public Works positions that had been eliminated in the Mayor’s budget, but were restored by the Council.

Some of these measures are new – closing the San Antonio recreation center and reducing the Main Library to 5 day per week service weren’t on the table before. But a lot of it was proposed in June and rejected by the Council.

The peak hour parking program, which would raise meter fees to $3/hour downtown (which the exception of Chinatown and Jack London Square) from 10am-2pm, would generate a lot of money, as would the increase of the expired meter parking fee to $65. But the Council wasn’t willing to do either of those things before, for fear of hurting businesses with the meter fees and angering residents with the high ticket prices. Given the widespread outrage over the ticket and meter increases they already adopted, it’s hard to imagine anyone on the Council having the stomach to raise them even higher so quickly.

Likewise, the Police Department offers up the Rangers and Neighborhood Service Coordinators (NSCs) for cuts pretty much every time we come back to the budget, but so far, the Council has been pretty adamant about keeping them. Both the Rangers and the NSCs have large numbers of extremely devoted advocates who are quick to raise hell every single time these positions are threatened.

But there simply isn’t enough money to pay for everything, and many services have already been sliced so drastically, it’s tough to imagine where the funds avoid such cuts are going to come from. There was talk in the last budget discussions of sending police back to the airport to save some money, but at least back then, a number of Councilmembers seemed strongly resistant to the idea. Most depressing of all, it’s pretty much certain that this won’t be the worst of it, and we’re going to have to be back at this again several times over the year.

The meeting starts at 5 PM on Tuesday.

159 thoughts on “More budget cuts coming on Tuesday

  1. oakie

    $20 million short, eh? Don’t we pay $20-25 million per year to subsidize the Raiders deal? A deal, I might add, was never voted on by the voters of Oakland. Why aren’t we collecting every penny of that through a levy on tickets–or out of the salaries of the council members who were there then and still on the council?

    How much have they cut mayoral and city council salaries? Couldn’t we cut them way way more? Mayor Sleepy makes almost twice what Jerry Brown made. Why should he even make that much? He certainly hasn’t earned it.

    Do the council members still have quarter million slush funds? Have they been eliminated? If not, why not?

    Jerry Brown had an annual expense measured in hundreds of dollars. Mayor Sleepy spends like a drunken sailor. Why isn’t that account zeroed out?

    Why shouldn’t Mayor Sleepy lose his luxury (gas guzzling and polluting) limousine? He should be on AC Transit and BART. So should most city employees instead of a fleet of vehicles.

    I am eternally grateful that Measure Y was written in such a way to lock up the base count of officers or they must stop collecting Measure Y monies. Nice trick.

    Oh, and when do we get back the $300,000 that Nadel allocated to Mandela Food Coop that never opened?

  2. oakie

    Oh, and as to “fixing” the property tax law (Prop 13), as an exercise, take the pre-Prop 13 year of 1978, take the city’s budget at that time (including pension contributions, whether paid or “deferred”), adjust for inflation and population changes, and compare that number to today’s budget (AFTER all the cuts imposed by the current conditions) and then tell us with a straight face that the cause of our fiscal dilemmas are attributable to Prop 13.

  3. Karen Smulevitz

    We are drowning in debt because voters allowed the politicians to drill holes in the bottom of our lifeboat. Now we must suffer drastic cuts in services that just a few years ago we couldn’t imagine doing without. At least local governments are working hard to plug the leaks, but the governor won’t even throw a lifeline to us by collecting some corporate taxes to buoy us up.
    Count me among those who wish to preserve the NSCs. And the rangers! We need more, on more shifts, to keep the parks safe from crime and vandalism.
    Thanks for the highlights, V. If I read them correctly, we’ve been spending more than five times as much on art grants as on two rangers! What hard choices, for we need culture production as much as we need to keep our extraordinary parklands intact.

  4. Max Allstadt

    Eliminate Rangers?

    Aren’t there like two of them left? And why do we need rangers to patrol parks? Can’t regular cops do it?

    I know a lot of people who’ve been mugged around Lake Merritt. Some at gun point. Some at knife point. One was beaten up pretty bad. There are apparently no walking patrols by the lake. This is insane and unacceptable.

  5. Jennifer

    Oakie -
    The Mandelo Co-Op is open. There have been articles in the Chronicle and blog posts on it.

  6. Ralph

    Council can call it peak hour pricing but the reality is it more like airline pricing. I haven’t walked the downtown area between 10 – 2 but my overall sense is most of the people are there for business purposes and will be forced to pay the increased fee. Not sure how many of the businesses have vehicle patrons coming specifically to shop but you definitely put those businesses at a disadvantage relative to College Ave, Grand Lake or Piedmont Ave. Further, to really make it work, given the excess supply of parking, council would probably need to attach the higher rate east to the Lake and Uptown. D.O.A.

  7. len

    5Mill reduction in police OT “because there will be no police academies”. deja vue circa 2001 whene many of the current cc members shut down the academy and then years later took measure Y money for a lame recruiting effort. would assume we’re about to hit the baby boomer retirement bulge in opd, so it is time to buy a shotgun if you live in the wrong parts of town or are unlucky enough to get mugged while pushing your baby stroller in lower rockridge during the day.

    talk to most anyone who has worked closely with the city and you’ll get an earful of entire layers of supervisors and managers who mostly take up oxygen and starbucks, but the best we can come up with is to cut library hours, tree trimmers. definitely cut those liasons for ncpc’s because they are the only organized extremely mild “loyal” opposition to the pols and limited to police stuff. but hey, this oakland and nothing ever changes.

    -len raphael

  8. len

    thought there was a city statute prohibiting outsourcing city functions to independent contractors? what’s the diff between that and closing down San Antonio Rec Center to “partner with” non-profit organizations?

  9. len

    oakie, i’ve seen that analysis for the state budget deficit, and i think Grey Davis said something to the effect that there still would be a deficit, but much smaller if expenditures had increased at rate of inflation plus population increase.

    Have you or didn’t someone else on this site do a similar analysis for oakland?

    Karen, i assume by “drilled holes” you believe that Oakland’s budget problems are mostly the result of prop 13 or state revenue sharing decreases?

    -len raphael

  10. Chuck

    @Ralph “but you definitely put those businesses at a disadvantage relative to College Ave, Grand Lake or Piedmont Ave.”

    I live just off College and, with a qualification, I’d love to see the higher meter fares in this neighborhood as well. There’s almost no damn reason, for as transit-connected as we are, to have people driving here. $3 / hour seems just fine if you’re prepared to drop 20 times that on a haircut or dinner. Sadly, though, I know the suburban outrage would strike us down and instead of having people drive here and paying to park on College, they’d simply find a non-permit street space near my house and make on-street parking here a living hell — we’d have to go exclusively permitted on the side streets off College for several blocks, tho as long as each living space (house, apt. / condo unit, etc) has at least one guest permit, I’d even welcome that change. (FWIW, yes, I have a car, so I’m not insensitive to the concerns of the auto-mobile. It’s triple-parked into the driveway by both my roommates, and I drive it a few times a month at most.)

  11. James Robinson


    You basically just asked people to shop and go to the movies in San Leandro instead of your neighborhood and to take their sales taxes with them. Oakland’s new parking rules might just boost Bayfair Mall. I, for one, no longer see a need to go to Grand Lake movie theater. Thanks.

  12. len

    Chuck, don’t know if there college ave merchants have done any surveys, but i’ve talked to middle aged patrons of garibaldi’s happy hour randomly over the last several weeks, and found all of them drove from outside the immediate area. they had heard about the local parking changes and it didn’t discourage them from coming, they were just parking off college. so, yup, get ready for parking hell, unless of course the muggings discourage parking off college.

  13. Naomi Schiff

    Prop. 13 unfairly taxes residential prop. owners more heavily than commercial property owners. It has starved many jurisdictions and thrown us into a situation where state steals from cities and counties. And has hurt school revenues too. It has created a lot of crazy disproportion in taxation. For example, my young neighbors with small child pay several times the prop. tax that I do, for virtually the identical house on the same sized lot. They are penalized for having been young children when I bought this house. If you like, exempt the elderly from steep taxation increases, but reconfigure the whole thing so it is equitable. Charge property tax in a fair way on commercial property. Put a ceiling on the rates or rate of increase–fine, if you don’t want them to go through the roof I sympathize. But the situation now is untenable. People are suffering, basic city services are failing, and counties can’t perform the services they are mandated to perform. This business of closing down parks and killing off the arts and closing libraries and cutting basic health services will backfire and will take years to recover from. We are willing ourselves to be ignorant, unhealthy, uncultured. We are hurting our own state economy.

  14. Ralph

    i am not convinced the $2 rate is bad for business. between the cost of gas and the value of my time, I am willing to pay the additional fare. i am also okay with longer hours as i used to be a park squatter. the $3/hr could be the death knell in today’s environment.

    on a different note, bart’s fare increase now makes it more economical for me to drive to SF on sunday versus taking the BART, so i will be doing my part to supply Oakland with gas tax revenue.

  15. Ralph

    Naomi, are young people being directly penalized or are long time owners reaping a huge benefit.

  16. MarleenLee

    I don’t know where the City’s $2.14 million figure comes from with respect to paying back Measure Y. My estimate from the beginning has been that the City owes the Mesaure Y fund approximately $15 million. Given the City’s loss of the lawsuit, my position is that the City needs to pay back that money this year – all $15 million of it – unless the parties reach some sort of settlement to the contrary. Apparently, from what I understand (I’ve been out of town and out of the loop) the City is now contemplating some sort of “payment plan” that would extend the time to pay back the money over a period of several years. Because of the nature of the lawsuit I filed, and the nature of the legal violation, this is completely not allowed, unless the parties (and presumably the Court as well) agree to this. Therefore, I think the City’s new numbers for the deficit are off by about $13 million.

  17. len

    Naomi, plenty of other states and cities outside of California which don’t have caps on property taxes are going thru fiscal meltdowns. probably the only states that aren’t in deep fiscal doodoo are the ones with high oil/gas tax revenues.

    eg. property taxes NYS on say a 300k residence would be 5 or 6k/year in addition to high income taxes in NYS. Yes, they have still had to make huge cutbacks in many public services. (but maybe not in local public education).

    That’s why people like Grey Davis don’t blame prop 13 for California’s fiscal problems.

  18. len

    MarleenLee, do you give details of your calculation on your blog? looked like the city mothers and fathers were just counting the now forgotten opd recruiting campaign.

    most likely, they’re saving you to be the scapegoat for the next round of cuts.

  19. len

    correction: change “saving you” to “setting you up to be the scapegoat for the next round of cuts. “

  20. V Smoothe Post author

    Wow! Lots of comments for a Saturday. Responding to some people’s specific questions:

    oakie –

    The bond debt on the Coliseum costs the City roughly $11 million annually. The City is trying to increase revenue from the Coliseum in a variety of ways, but has been meeting opposition from the County, who pay an equal share of the debt.

    The adopted budget includes a voluntary salary cut for elected officials of 10%, the same amount the City employees are taking.

    I assume when you say “slush fund,” you’re talking about pay-go. That isn’t really an accurate way to characterize pay-go. Nevertheless, it has already been eliminated from the budget.

    Mandela Foods Co-Op opened earlier this summer.

    Karen Smulevitz –

    Yes, you read that correctly. We spend significantly more on arts grants as on the Rangers.

    Max Allstadt -

    Regular parks, as in, the small parks throughout the city, are generally the responsibility of regular police. But Oakland also has many, many acres of forest parkland, which is the responsibility of the Rangers. Their intimate knowledge of these areas is a resource not easily replicated by a beat officer who has many other responsibilities.

    Ralph (and others) –

    It remains to be seen what the City Council will decide on Tuesday. The proposal described above comes from City Administration, not the City Council. As I noted in the post, the Council has previously rejected many of these cuts as unacceptable. It is possible they will change their minds given the ever increasing crisis, of course. If you object to any of the proposals specifically, it would be a good idea to contact your Councilmember or attend the meeting to speak about your concerns. (*This goes for everyone leaving comments here. Ralph speaks at meeting a lot.*)

    len –

    The raid of Measure Y funds for police recruitment was the Mayor’s proposal, not the Council’s. When the Council questioned it, they were excoriated by the media for doing so. I wrote many posts about what a bad idea it was at the time, and I did not agree with the Council’s decision, but I think that the blame lies more with newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle and the East Bay Express than the City Council in this particular case.

    James Robinson –

    It is worth remembering that, despite Allen Michaan’s loud complaints about the meter increases and how they will destroy his business, we already provide free parking for the Grand Lake Theater in the evenings. So I’m not sure what the benefit would be of going to the movies in San Leandro.

  21. James Robinson

    Ralph, I think extending parking hours is going to hurt dinner business at many Oakland restaurants. I guess we’ll have to see what affect this new parking situation will have. I just wish they had cut down on overtime pay instead.

  22. Patrick

    If people can afford to go out to eat, they can certainly afford an extra 2 bucks to park their cars. I’m all for the parking meter increase – if for no other reason than it’s a source of revenue the state can’t steal. I’ve seen the arguments that increased meter rates will result in parking pressure in the surrounding neighborhoods, and I agree that will happen. Furthermore, I’ve seen the arguments that neighborhood parking should be by permit only, and I agree with that too. But those parking permits should not be free – we all own all of our city streets, so we all have the right to park there – or at least pay for the privelege.

    To correct what Naomi states above . Prop 13 unfairly taxes SOME property owners more heavily the commercial property owners… Prop 13 was, among other things, meant to help low income owners and fixed income senior citizens stay in their homes. Of course the Health and Human Services they rely upon will be dismantled so it’s really kind of a poor trade off.

  23. James Robinson

    If given a choice between paying $2 and paying nothing, they will choose the latter. If you make it inconvenient for customers to spend their money, they will take their money elsewhere.

    I think some residential parking should require paid permits, though, especially in high-traffic areas.

    And as long as California has some of the highest income and sales taxes in the nation, I think Prop 13 should be left alone.

  24. Patrick

    So you’re suggesting that people will spend $4 in gas money to drive to and from Berkeley/Emeryville/San Leandro/El Cerrito to avoid paying a $2 parking fee here?

    FYI, the reason California has some of the highest sales and income taxes in the nation is BECAUSE of Prop 13.

  25. Max Allstadt


    Thanks for the clarification about Park Rangers. Here are two questions for everybody:

    1. How many people do you know who’ve been mugged or attacked by Lake Merritt after dark?

    2. How many times have you seen an OPD officer on a foot patrol by Lake Merritt after dark?

    My answers:

    1: more than 5.
    2: Zero

  26. Ralph

    Patrick, I would tend to agree with you with one exception the border people. That trade-off would never work for me. I suspect most of us would only make pay the freight if the burb offered a greater shopping alternative.

    Can the city borrow from those meddling kids – not the whole amount but the amount in excess of what they would have received over the council approved 2008 funding (i.e. the measure k re-authorization).

    will try to get to council, i think nn has stopped taking my emails :)

  27. Ralph

    Max, what do you classify as after dark. I see plenty of people walking around the lake when it is dark out.

  28. dave o

    The parking meter increases are devastating to low-paid working-class people and others living on the margin. Many of the people I know run out of money about half way through the month. These blog discussions are usually framed by people with plenty of money who are not really affected by these increases. But the poor constitute a large proportion of the population and increasing. A burrito downtown costs about $5. A $2 meter-fee is a lot of money relative to that, especially if you only have $20 to your name. No doubt with the deteriorating housing, job, safety-net, and stock market situations, more former middle-class people are going to have to think in these economically marginal terms.

  29. V Smoothe Post author

    If $2 for an hour of parking is beyond your means, then you should use alternative modes of transportation. The City should not be subsidizing cars.

  30. len

    dave o’s point is that a parking meter increase is about as regressive a tax as you can imagine. a lower middle class or working class person parking during the day probably lives in a section of town where public transportation is even worse than average. qu’ils mangent de la brioche

  31. gem s

    Either no one is reporting all these crimes around Lake Merritt, or Lake Merritt isn’t a hotbed of crime compared to 12th st. BART or 18th and Park. Anecdote does not equal data. Since Jan 1, there’s been about 22 robberies and assaults reported around Lake Merritt (I say “about” because I counted anything that looked like it was on Grand ave as the Lake). By way of comparison, the three block stretch of Broadway between 11th and 14th has had that many assaults and robberies since the beginning of April. Considering the three mile stretch around Lake Merritt is 15 times longer than that bit of Broadway, I know where I would be likely to put more of my ever-diminishing police force.

  32. V Smoothe Post author

    It is incorrect to refer to parking meter fees as a tax. It is a user fee, designed to ensure an adequate supply of parking. Properly priced parking benefits commercial districts through increased business and eased congestion. What is regressive is the suggestion that the City should be subsidizing driving and the enormous amount of public space sacrificed to street parking. Furthermore, taxes are only regressive when the taxee has no choice about whether or not to be subject to it. Despite what the car addicted like to think, driving everywhere actually is a choice.

    In any case, car ownership and use is very strongly correlated with income. In wealthy areas, the percentage of households without a car is nearly 0. But in many of the City’s poorer neighborhoods, it is significantly higher, ranging from 26% to over 40%.

  33. MarleenLee

    By the way, the raid on Measure Y funds was much larger than just the 2008 $7.7 recruitment program. In fact, that accounts for only approximately $3 million of the funds (out of about $15 million) that the City must now pay back. This is because the Council pulled a similar stunt a year and a half before that (the $2.4 million program) and also because the City was subsidizing generalized police recruiting with 40% Measure Y funds since 2005. I’m not sure the City Council ever actually knew about the 40% formula deal, but they should have, since they are the ones to appoint the Measure Y Oversight Committee, and that committee definitely should have known about it. Also, while the recruitment program was originally the Mayor’s idea, the Council approved it unanimously, after having been put on notice that it was illegal, and after the Oversight Committee voted against it, so they share fully in the blame.

  34. Chuck

    @dave o “These blog discussions are usually framed by people with plenty of money who are not really affected by these increases.”

    If by “plenty of money” you mean “digging myself out of debt and able to live comfortably as long as I don’t get fired”, then I guess I’m guilty as charged.

    But as to “not being affected by these increases”, well, I’m a sneaky bastard: I’m not affected by these increases because I take transit to these places, rather than drive my car.

    @len Haven’t seen any studies about the use of College Ave, but I’m thinking an extremely high percentage of the people who drive to College aren’t considering San Leandro as an alternative destination. Good to know they are migrating to the side streets though (anecdotally at least). My area seems pretty relaxed and lacking entitlement issues about on-street parking, but I’m gonna guess permits are coming soon, esp if the meter rates go up further.

  35. James Robinson

    Oakland shouldn’t subsidize cars, but it shouldn’t penalize businesses that rely on customers who tend to drive cars. Why make it hard for customers to spend money?

    Also, people who frequent College Avenue are not considering San Leandro as an alternative, but people who frequent Grand Lake-area businesses (including the movie theater) are considering other locations such as San Leandro to spend their retail dollars. Why is a city that is short on retail making it even more difficult for retail to flourish?

  36. V Smoothe

    Charging appropriately parking does not make it harder for customers to shop, it makes it easier. It ensures an adequate supply of available parking in commercial districts and by doing so, relieves the district of the congestion created by cars circling around forever waiting for a space to open up. This is not some crazy thing that Oakland just came up with randomly, it is a nationwide best practice. Merchants in general tend to be very poor judges of what parking policy will benefit their business the most, since their thoughts on the matter are based on intuition and anecdote, not facts.

    And once again, the Grand Lake Theater has free parking. It is therefore a very poor example of a reason to go to San Leandro versus Oakland.

  37. Patrick

    Seriously dave o, someone with $20 to their name is going to jump in their car (insurance, gasoline, oil changes) to squander 1/4 of their net worth on a $5 burrito? If true, a $2 parking fee is the least of their worries. And as the cost of a car is obviously not an issue to them, why not just drive to the Fruitvale – where parking is free and there are about 2000 outlets that will sell them a burrito for less than $5? Or if they’re up for a change of pace, I highly recommend the Mi Pueblo supermarket on High Street where they can get a tamale, a chile relleno, rice, beans and guacamole for $4.95. Free parking!

    The arguments that I see here are more appropriate for a “drop meters all together” stance. As that isn’t going to happen, please suggest an alternative source of revenue rather than whining about some unproven and imminent demise of businesses, especially when all evidence form other cities who have implemented such a plan show a benefit to business!

    I love shopping in Chinatown. I like the atmosphere, the jostling crowds and the little, weird shops that sell everything from backscratchers to fresh roasted pork. However, I only go about once every 6 weeks because it is IMPOSSIBLE to find a parking space. Yes, I could use public transit – but the round-trip cost for me is $4.50 and takes one hour and 37 minutes each way (I live about 3 miles away). By car, currently, I figure it takes me about 10 minutes to drive there. On average, about 20-30 minutes of searching for a parking spot. I would gladly pay $2 to benefit the businesses in Chinatown by giving them better access to my cash.

  38. Robert

    V, I don’t know where you are getting the idea that the Grand Lake Theater has free parking. All of the street parking in the immediate vicinity is metered, and those meters have been increased to $2/hr and run until 8 PM.

    You might have a point about parking being a fee to ensure the availability of parking, except that is not what the council did. They went with a uniform fee rather than setting up the program to use demand based parking rates. Council went with the $2 rate until 8 PM throughout the city regardless of whether street parking at a given location was fully utilized or almost empty. Your theory is fine, but it is not based on the facts of what the city did. The fee was set to raise money for the city and had nothing to do with parking availability.

  39. Patrick

    Correction: $2 more.

    From the Grand Lake Theater’s website:


    The City of Oakland provides free parking spaces in the lot under the 580 freeway. Portions of the lot are reserved for permit parking until 6pm Monday – Friday. Please read signs carefully and park accordingly.

    We can always keep the old meter rate on that portion of Grand and start charging for all of the parking under 580. Would that be a better solution for the Grand Lake Theater?

  40. dto510

    Robert, increasing the meter fees will ensure increased availability of parking even without a complex demand-management scheme (ie peak-hour pricing). Extending meter times past 6, to better match usage, also has the same effect. Private parking lots charge more than $2/hr, and any city-set price below market is effectively encouraging people to circle the block (and discouraging the creation of private for-profit parking).

    The Grand Lake Theater advertises “4 HRS FREE PARKING IN LOT UNDER 580 FWY” on their website. That lot is publicly-owned land. Surely we are past the point in Oakland where the city is giving away public land for free car parking.

  41. Robert

    Patrick and others. People do not always make rational choices. For many people the $2 meter charge is going to be larger factor to them than the extra money they spend on gas and the lost time in commuting to a destination further away. All you can really do is to look and see if parking utilization has gone down. Ancedotally, in the Lakeshore and Grand Lake areas it has. Also ancedotally, parking a few block away where street parking is still free appears to have increased. So maybe it is a wash for businesses, but that is only going to come from sales numbers from the local businesses.

  42. Ralph

    I really have a hard time understanding how increased turnover hurts businesses. I shop Grand Lake, get my haircut every 3 scratch that every 4 weeks, I am not about to switch to San Leandro because of higher parking fees. It just don’t make no kind of economic sense. I am not sure merchants know how to do a study separating the effects of the high unemployment from the increased parking fee. What may make me stop shopping Grand Lake is a lack of any stores of interest.

    That said, I encourage people to move to neighborhoods with a high walkability index.

  43. len

    wish that oakland’s shopping districts had a parking congestion/shortage problem. other than chinatown and occassionally montclair and lakeshore. in what other urban downtown can you park on the street within a block of city hall?

  44. dto510

    Robert, it seems too soon to judge if increased meter fees are hurting businesses when it’s only been two weeks and it’s prime vacation time. There really is no conceivable way increased meter fees could hurt businesses, anyway – it’s just impossible that people would drive an extra half-hour or more to another city to shop because of an increase of fifty cents an hour for parking.

  45. Robert

    dto, It does ensure empty parking, but does nothing to optimize revenue for the city, or customers for business. With your theory the city shoud raise rates to $10 and hour as it will guarantee parking availibilty on the streets. If this is supposed to be a fee as V suggests, it needs to be adjusted for location and time to ensure some parking availibility while still providing optimum income to the city.

    It is true that there is some free parking under the freeway, probably around 50 spots. This is usually almost completely full up until 6 PM. I haven’t had occasion to go ther after 6 PM after the city raise meter rates, so I don’t knwo what is happening at that hour.

  46. Patrick

    Robert, I need a little clarification.

    “Ancedotally, in the Lakeshore and Grand Lake areas it has. Also ancedotally, parking a few block away where street parking is still free appears to have increased. So maybe it is a wash for businesses, but that is only going to come from sales numbers from the local businesses.”

    I presume what you are saying is that some people that used to park in metered parking have moved to free parking that is farther away. How can it be both a “wash” for businesses and “(taking away) from sales numbers? That makes no sense at all.

    Furthermore, the people most likely to be parking in the neighborhoods are the workers along the street who need to be there for 8 hours at a pop. Voilà! More parking spaces for shoppers.

  47. dto510

    No, by my theory (actually, Schoup’s theory which has been successful implemented in many municipalities) parking should be set to the same rate privately-owned structures charge, to ensure the city is not subsidizing driving. That would be, what, $3/hr? And no free parking anywhere, ever. That is a huge distortion in favor of driving, and a waste of public resources to boot.

  48. Robert

    dto, it is too soon to make a final decision about the impacts on business, but it is not too soon to start paying attention to see if there is a problem. Most business will have a pretty good idea about how business varies between May, June and July from historical data. The fact that we are in a recession right now means that we can’t compare to last year, but we can compare to the seasonnaly weighted numbers for last month. Also, the city should already have data on the meter take, and should be able to determine if that is tracking according to expectations, which I bet were done on the basis of total inflexibility in demand.

    dto, you are making ajudgement about how you would respond to a change, and assuming that everyone else will respond the same. Not everyone is going to be like you.

    And just so that we are clear, I usually walk to Lakeshore.

  49. Robert

    Patrick, try reading again. I don’t have the sales numbers. So I don’t know whether it is a wash or whether sales have decreased. Also, since the metered parking was a 2 hour limit, all the workers already parked in the neighborhoods.

  50. dto510

    On a slightly different tip – I find it interesting that the shopping district in Oakland with the most city-provided free parking is making the most noise about having to pay a reasonable parking meter fee. It shows the futility of the city giving away a valuable and limited resource for free – Grand Lake merchants have been spoiled by free parking. The city should immediately meter the under-580 and Lakeshore lots – it’s unfair that our tax dollars go to subsidizing that parking when downtown receives no parking subsidies (although not for the Redevelopment Agency’s lack of trying).

  51. Robert

    and dto, there are no private parking lots around Grand Lake/Lakeshore. So should street parking be free? Or cost an infinite amount?

  52. Ralph

    I don’t see metered parking coming to the Lakeshore lot anytime soon, but those merchants should be grateful that the 2-hr limit is now being enforced. I could drive other there and squat all day under the old system and buy nothing more than a cuppa joe.

    and Robert please…you and I both know the answers to your questions is no on both counts…

  53. dto510

    Clarification: there are several city-owned or formerly-subsidized parking lots downtown, but all charge market rates.

  54. dto510

    Robert, I think that parking rates are pretty similar in most of Oakland, but it certainly wouldn’t be difficult for a city analyst to extrapolate a market parking price for Grand Lake (and there are surely a fair number of people paying for private parking in the area). There’s also the opportunity cost of foregone rent from using the land for, say, retail.

  55. Robert

    Naomi, let’s quit blaming Prop13 for our current budget problem. Property taxes, income taxes and sales taxes are all down this year. The city and the state would both be having a problem regardless of Prop13. Unless you are suggesting that in the absence of Prop13 the city could just raise property taxes as much as they felt like to make up any shortfall in the budget.

    Please also be aware that combined state and local government spending in CA, after adjusting for inflation and population, has gone up 33% from 1992 to 2005, and the Oakland city budget has gone up, after adjusting for population and inflation, 24% from 1991 to 2007. Prop 13 has caused huge distortions in where tax money comes from. with the shift from commercial to residential property being only the smallest problem. A far larger problem is the increasing reliance on sales and income taxes, and on ‘user fees’. But the bottom line is that government spending has continued to increase since Prop13. It is really time for the city to start looking at where it spends it’s money, and quit complaining about the lack of revenue.

  56. Robert

    dto, I don’t know that there are very many private parking lots outside of the CBD. And the CBD is going to have very different demand characteristics than outlying areas. The city could just start trying to vary the meter rates in the various business districts to see what the optimal pricing is. Not an efficient strategy, but the classic meters don’t really allow for true demand pricing anyway.

    Personally, I don’t see a problem with charging higher rates or longer hours in an area like Uptown, which is focused on entertainment, and street parking is pretty full late into the evening. Even higher than $2 and longer 8 PM. Although a longer than 2 hour limit in the evening would probably be helpful for the venues in the area. But in areas like Grand Lake/Lakeshore even the current rates may be counterproductive, at least to the businesses. I don’t see a problem with adjusting parking rates to meet parking availability goals. But the current setup is arbitrary, and does not serve to facilitate meeting those goals.

  57. Jennifer

    There is free parking downtown on the weekends in the city hall parking garage. If only there were places to shop . . .

  58. dto510

    I agree that the current setup is arbitrary, but my informed estimate is that $2/hr is below market rate. There are countless private parking lots in Oakland outside of downtown, proving that parking is a valuable and market-driven commodity. Streetside parking has costs to the public, as V pointed out above – congestion for cars and danger for cyclists (the “door zone”), and the public right-of-way opportunity cost (ie, bus, streetcar, and bicycle lanes, and wider sidewalks, are precluded by curbside parking). Streetside parking is also generally more desirable than off-street parking, because of convenience. The city should move forward in the direction of charging appropriate prices for its tremendously valuable public resources, but perform a comprehensive parking analysis to determine need, appropriate hours, and price in our largest commercial districts. And all residents near commercial districts should have access to a residential parking permit.

    Increasing meter fees and extending hours is good public policy, but it would have more support if it were part of an overall parking policy, which would have more explicit benefits for drivers.

  59. Dave C.


    “and dto, there are no private parking lots around Grand Lake/Lakeshore. So should street parking be free? Or cost an infinite amount?”

    Isn’t the lot around the closed Kwik-way now being operated as a private lot, with metered spaces? Since I don’t drive, I’ve never checked the price of those meters, but my impression is that a private company operates the lot, not the city. I could be wrong about that. I’ll probably be in the area later this afternoon, so I can check the price of the parking meters in that lot.

    Dave O.,

    Are you the same Dave O who frequently chastises people for ignoring the coming effects of petrocollapse? If so, I’m a bit surprised that you seem so eager to treat the “happy motoring” lifestyle (Jim Kunstler’s phrase, as far as I know) as if it’s a basic constitutional right. It’s a shame that the poor and middle class always — always! — get screwed the most, but as V. points out, driving is usually a choice, and many people opt not to have cars because cars are extremely expensive to own, regardless of how much parking costs. As for your comment that “These blog discussions are usually framed by people with plenty of money who are not really affected by these increases,” I take that slightly personally, since I happen to have written a blog post on the subject which (I hope) has helped to “frame” the discussion, and I am an example of a person who would like to own a car, but who chooses to remain carless because the costs of car ownership are too high for my present circumstances. V. Smoothe has also stated previously on this blog that she couldn’t afford a car even if she wanted one, so I think you’re pretty off base to accuse defenders of the higher meter fees of “usually” being people who have “plenty of money” (whatever that even means: by global standards, 99% of Americans have “plenty of money”) and therefore aren’t affected by the higher prices. At least in my case, the reason that I’m not directly affected by the meter increases is precisely because I don’t have enough disposable income to afford the high costs of owning a car.

    I suspect that most of us here would agree that it’s a real problem that so many poor and working class people live in neighborhoods where public transit access is lousy and distances are not easily walkable, but I would prefer to remedy that by improving transit access in those neighborhoods and encouraging smart growth, instead of continuing policies which encourage people to keep getting in the car every time they go anywhere.

  60. dto510

    @Jennifer – I forgot about that. There are some things to do on the weekends downtown, but they’re not near City Hall.

  61. Dave C.

    Forgive the lazy question, since I could presumably dig around and find this information myself, but what exactly are the more than $1 miliion “arts grants” that the city hands out? I’m very skeptical of handing out public money to artists, with some exceptions in the case of public art museums or (some) public art projects.

    Are these grants just money that is given to local artists in order to help them to keep living and producing art in Oakland? I’m glad we have a large artist community here, and I think the presence of artists enriches the city in all sorts of ways, but I’m not sure that giving out arts grants should be one of the core, essential functions of a municipal government in a time when things like police, libraries, and park maintenance are having to suffer through severe cuts.

    Thoughts? This is just my first gut reaction — I’m open to persuasion.

  62. David

    Thank you Robert for taking up the role of pointing out the massive, unjustifiable increase in gov’t spending locally and statewide.

    There are certainly areas to cut, all we have to do is go back to the levels of spending the state should be at if you go back to the ’90′s and extrapolate out by inflation + population.

    Again, tell me what city and state services are so much better we should be spending 20, 30% + more for them.

  63. David

    PS. never mind that school spending has increased in Oakland, yet student population has dropped.

  64. V Smoothe Post author

    Dave C. –

    The Cultural Arts grants are given annually to a mix of individual artists and arts organizations for a variety of purposes – individual art projects, art programs in schools, art programs outside of schools, etc. For 2008-09, grants were awarded in the amount of $1.14 million.

    Last November, the City Council was considering suspending this program for the year in order to preserve money for city services, but the proposal drew widespread opposition and hundreds of people turned out to City Hall to speak against it, and the Council agreed to retain the funding.

    Personally, I do not think it is a good use of scarce resources, but I appear to be in the minority on that one.

  65. len

    cutting the nsc’s does deserve serious consideration.
    a repost from opd and rockridge yahoo from bob lamartin and hanah james:

    “….there is a heated controversy about whether the city should lay off the NSCs or 25% of the Oakland Police Force. Before reading any further, please ask yourself 2 questions:

    1) Do you know what NSC, NCPC or PSO stands for?
    2) Who is the NSC, what is the NCPC, and who is the PSO assigned to your neighborhood?

    These are rhetorical questions, no need to answer them on the group, I just want you to ask yourself if you know the answers, so you can make an informed choice.

    Bob LaMartin

    Ms. J,

    An excellent analysis, with a great cut to the chase. Now for a few relevant questions for NSCs, their supervisors, NCPC leaders and members, and an updated version of the boring statistics.

    I have updated the posting I made last month when I received the answers to the questions I posted to this group. I have also rechecked and corrected some of the original sub-totals which did not change the overall totals or conclusions, and added more information for the UNCO group of NCPC leaders.

    I am also hoping that those of you who support your NSCs so fervently will read this analysis and compare it to the Master NCPC Meeting List which you should have received from your NSC (it is posted on most groups in files), and help me to understand why 3 NSCs are worth the same as 2 sworn officers, especially when we are facing the loss of 25% of the sworn officers in OPD. Keep in mind that the average NSC serves NSC, so ideally they could devote 1/3 of their available time to each NCPC, and each PSO serves one NCPC, so ideally they should be devoting all of their available time to their NCPC.

    Now compare the cost of an NSC to the cost of a sworn officer. NSCs cost the city $95,899/year with benefits (assuming the average of the salary range–4,959.08 supplied by Ms. Reed and Ms. Albano), and sworn officers cost the city $129,936/year with benefits (supplied by the city council and staff and using the budget numbers in the FY 09-10 budget $18.19M/140).

    My fundamental question is whether you would choose 3 NSCs (serving the average of 11 NCPCs–14 NSCs/52 NCPCs) instead of 2 sworn officers serving one NCPC each full time.

    While I understand that there are “good” NSCs that many leaders feel are an asset, there is a growing belief that the majority of NSCs are poorly trained, poorly supervised, uncreative, ignorant, and experts in only one thing: preserving their own jobs.

    Keep in mind that having your PSO attend your meetings (as they should be doing now) would also reduce the critical need for the NSC to “communicate your concerns” to the PSOs. You could communicate those needs and concerns directly to your PSO at the meeting, and you or your committees, or a citizen liaison could work with your PSO all month long between meetings.

    Another question is do you think you’re getting a full report every month on how your PSO has spent his or her time in your NCPC? Your PSO should have devoted approximately 1000 hours so far this year to problems in your community policing beat (or beats, for those combined NCPCs lucky enough to have two PSOs). Thanks to Measure Y, each NCPC has a PSO whose sole job is to address the concerns of your NCPC. There are also few extra officers floating around for NCPCs that only exist on paper.

    Ms. Reed and Ms. Albano have addressed my previous basic questions about what the NSCs are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it (thanks to those of you on this group who made helpful suggestions about phrasing my questions). I believe those responsibilities are also broadly covered by CMS 79235, but I also know that there is little to no supervision, especially in the field, and there is very little accountability, but lot’s of union protection for unqualified NSCs. I also know that the acting city manager is proposing to eliminate NSCs because, as he said at the 6/16/09 council meeting, when OPD is asked what they would suggest cutting out of their budget, the NSCs have been at the top of OPDs list for the last three years.

    For those of you who argue that to have credibility, they must be part of the police department, I would argue that the fact that the police department doesn’t want them, and that they are only part of OPDs budget, they already lack that credibility. They are only part of OPD on paper in OPDs budget, they are functionally under the office of the Mayor and the City Manager.

    I also know that the NSCs are able to turn out their members, including the leaders participating on this group, for city council meetings with dire predictions that without the NSCs, there would be no community policing, no NCPCs, no neighborhood groups, that the NSCs have the power and the expertise to get things done that citizens on their own can’t, and that the sky would fall if not for the NSCs. I have asked the NCPC leaders in the UNCO group if that is the prevailing view among most NCPC leaders, or whether there is any support for the idea of eliminating the NSCs in order to keep the PSOs, now I would like to ask the average NCPC member what they get from their NSCs. Keep in mind that there are many leaders in Oakland who have turned their back on the NCPCs because they have been frustrated by incompetent NSCs.

    I just don’t see much evidence of what it is the NSCs actually do. We don’t see them posting much to the neighborhood groups boards set up specifically for NCPCs. They come to meetings, they set up chairs, they pass out leaflets, they make sure the officers get credit for attending, but I haven’t heard a lot of success stories where the NSC was a critical part of that success. What I have heard is a lot of stories about how neighbors solved their own problem and then gave credit to their inept NSC to protect their jobs.

    On most groups I monitor, I see little evidence of anything more than forwarding announcements that I could easily get on my own. I’m not seeing much in the way of coordinating neighborhood services, even when there is a direct question about services that needs coordinating. This is not entirely the fault of the NSCs, who seem poorly trained at best, and untrainable at worst (this includes some who have been there the longest). The job of bringing neighborhood services to citizens still falls on the council members, and their constituent service people, and those members of the community who have become experts at solving their own problems because the NSCs were an embarrassing impediment to those efforts.”

  66. Karen Smulevitz

    len, when I used the metaphor of drilling holes in the lifeboat, I wasn’t thinking of Prop 13 in particular, just about how politicans play fast and loose with our money and instead of being caretakers of our cities and counties, they have created their own secure entitlement fund, by which they live very well, the public be damned. My gripe with the voters is we keep reelecting the same miscreants again and again, or vote the lesser evil. Kinda like the MTC board, drooling ala Pavlov’s dogs while barking yes, after admitting it was wrong. The City of Oakland has been particularly remiss in managing its affairs in the open, and when a voter or the auditor protests, the wagons are circled around council, mayor, and admin offices. The sun may shine on 14th Street, but the back rooms in City Hall are dark. That sounds awfully grim; not all councilmembers are corrupt all of the time – some have accomplished good things. But it irks me that when we had a surplus (Surplus!} a few years ago, there was a mad feeding frenzy to spend it all on everyone’s pet projects, even though the largess was the result of an inflated- housing -values spurred increase in transfer taxes, properties being flipped and flipped again. Nobody had a dream of seven fat cows being eaten up by seven skinny cows. Nothing was saved for a rainy day, or in this case, for a drought.
    Oakland’s problems started a long time ago, when we lost major retailers downtown. Capwell’s/Emporium, J.C. Penney’s, Liberty House, I. Magnum’s and others just a memory. Time was the city sponsored a free shuttle bus up and down Broadway to attract shoppers, and not too long ago offered free parking during Christmas for shoppers. Didn’t help. There’s an exciting renaissance going on now in the arts and entertainment, along with good dining, but we definitely need a good retail tax base to sustain the trend.
    I wish my neighborhood had a parking problem. Well, we do, but it’s mainly abandoned or stolen cars in East Oakland. I don’t know of any meters East of High Street; there sure aren’t any on MacArthur in Districts 6 or 7. So come on out here to get a spot – oh, wait – there’s no stores here you’d set foot in. But I can recommend one new restaurant that’s doing well – Soul’s – on Foothill near 65th. And you can park free!
    Maybe 25-40% of low income residents here don’t have cars, but those that do sure are diverse. Lots of muscle and Hummers and Escalades, even one Rolls Royce, BMWs, Jags, along with lots of old paint-faded Volvos and Datsuns and hoopties with those big shiny wheels that cost more than the car. Families that need transportation can’t afford to take advantage of the government rebate to upgrade to a fuel efficient car. There’s a need to have a program to help poor people get rid of their clunkers, and maybe start a co-op carshare that would be affordable.
    May I suggest the city crack down on fraudulent use of handicap plaques? Or at least, allow holders to park close to entrances but still pay the meter. After all, the plaque is based on medical need, not income.
    Back to Prop 13. Doesn’t it have some sort of built-in sunset, as I don’t believe the heirs of the original owners inherit the same tax breaks. How many of the group intended to benefit are still in their homes? Not as many individuals, I would assume, as those who purchased later, and pay more. Corporations aren’t limited to a lifespan of three score and ten, and commercial discounts could go on for generations, in human terms. As Naomi said in her post, Prop 13 created a grim situation and hurt schools and human services. This is not an equitable way of assessing property taxes.
    One more irony: as Oakland Parks and Rec celebrates its 100th anniversary, the city is making plans to shut down the oldest rec center in Oakland, San Antonio.
    The city giveth, the city taketh away…

  67. Daniel Schulman (das88)

    Perhaps, the city should explore sending out RFP’s to have private contractors operate city parking facilities such as in the Grand Lake area. I think businesses with experience in the area would be better able to determine hours of operation, pricing, etc. If the Grand Lake Merchants think free parking is crucial, they can submit a bid to maintain it without charges.

    At the end of the day, though, the city is going to need to find a lot more revenue or reduce the police budget.

  68. Karen Smulevitz

    Also, len, I just read your post about NSCs. Wow. You have given me a lot to think about, because I have been troubled for some time with problems in our NCPC, but I’ve maintained that this is our only avenue to the OPD that affords us a chance to speak out and ask questions. I believe our NSC is very involved and cares about our beat, and she is well liked by the neighbors. I sense a lot of friction within the structure, causing stress and uncertainty. NSCs have been moved out of their Eastmont desks to Downtown, and we get a lot of rumors, but few facts. Whatever happens, neighbors must have some direct contact to work with OPD.

  69. Dave C.

    Thanks, V, for the arts info. I’m inclined to support arts programs in schools, but otherwise I agree with you. It’s hard to know if we’re actually in the minority — it could just be one of those cases very the minority opinion happens to be very passionate and actively engaged, and therefore wins the day.

    Regarding private parking in the Grand Lake area, I walked past the parking lot at the old Kwikway today, and as far as I can tell it’s a private enterprise, with parking meters that cost $2 per hour and require payment from 6 am until 10 pm (it looks like one is not supposed to park there at all after 10 pm).

  70. Ralph

    Robert, the current supply of parking in Uptown far outstrips the evening demand.

    Oakland’s problems did not start when major retailers left downtown. At some point during the last 50 years this happened in just about every major urban center. Oakland’s problems started when council assumed that they could live off of rising home prices. It was compounded when well meaning bleeding heart liberals thought they could raid the coffers to set aside money for non-government services – like those meddling kids. It seemed like a good idea until the pie started shrinking and the city needed to eliminate core functions.

    In general I don’t think BHLs are in any position to criticize the govt for squandering excess as they are generally at the top of the list of people demanding that more money be set aside for the indigent.

  71. livegreen

    Len, I have to disagree with your forwarded post by Bob Lamartin (+ I don’t understand his post about UNCO, it makes no sense). Just because Bob doesn’t know what NSC’s do doesn’t mean they do nothing.

    Since Bob hasn’t posted any negative interactions he’s had with NSC’s my guess is he’s had NO interaction with them. Furthermore even if he has posted an experience (positive OR negative) that does make that experience universal and automatic to all NSC’s.

    Regarding the communication issues from the NSC’s, it is not there sole job (if at all) to solely post on the list-serves. Maybe it should be, but anyway most of the time they’re working on specific projects, and block-by-block with NW issues (not just the NCPC’s). So if not much negative is happening in a nice area, most people will not encounter them except at the NCPC meetings (which again in nice areas, many people don’t need to or bother going to).

    In the busier areas where there’s more crime that’s a whole different story. And addressing block-by-block issues also takes time but isn’t communicated to a broader neighborhood which won’t necessarily know about it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean nothing is going on.

  72. Patrick

    Good god, we’ve been talking about the same thing forever. Over the last 20+ years, it is wages and benefits that have outstripped the increases in revenue. Add to that the non-profit social engineering projects (that cities were never meant to fund), stir in a depression and PRESTO! $100+ million budget deficit. The city continues to shirk their retirement funding obligations because they have absolutely no intention of ever doing so. Why? Because they CAN’T. The fire dept. is smart. If the police would put down their Maserati brochures for a moment they would realize that it is in their best interest to contribute much more to their retirement accounts. There is no way that a citizenry who cannot afford to pony up $2 for parking can fund 1000′s of people’s 25+ years of retirement.

  73. len

    Karen S, no prop 13 sunset for transfers to/from parent/child or between spouses. so just as corporations can keep their prop 13 base values (as adjusted annually for everyone), so too can individuals transferring it to their kids but only for principle residence plus 1million of base value of other real estate. ”

    If you’re over 55, Alameda county gives you a one time transfer of your existing base value to another residence. some ca counties have reciprocity.

    i’m thinking all of the above applies to registered domestic partners also.

    So now one doesn’t just have to resent just old people but their offspring. maybe best to focus resentment on corporations.

  74. len

    LiveG, Bob L and Hannah J’s would say that if you are in a titanic situation, you throw the NSC’s overboard before you lay off front line cops. We’d all prefer keeping the good ones but that isn’t how civil service works.

    even if you disagree with that conclusion, looking at nsc supporters as one more interest group puts another perspective on what will be increasing divisive budget fights. and yes, different groups who share similar goals have taken different political approaches to improve oakland govt services. sometimes the difference was between “working within the system” vs “changing the system”.

  75. V Smoothe Post author

    It’s extremely difficult to take any of Mr. LaMartin’s comments seriously when they all begin with some version of the line “the City is planning on eliminating 25% of its police force.” This is patently untrue – it has never been anyone’s intention to do so. Despite having multiple people explain over and over again that what he’s saying is simply wrong, he keeps saying the same thing. The only interest represented by the reposted e-mail is that of obscurantists, something I have absolutely no patience for. If you can’t argue your case without lying, then you shouldn’t be arguing it at all.

  76. livegreen

    Len, V is dead-on about this one. Mr. LaMartin repeats & repeats this same argument, which is just patently untrue. Since the premise of his logic is fundamentally flawed, why do you accept his conclusion?

    Please explain how the NSC supporters equal an “interest group”?

  77. Naomi Schiff

    I find it anthropologically interesting that people can get so exercised about parking fees, perhaps disproportionately so when compared with all the other parts of the budget. It is easier to grasp, perhaps, and comes in small increments. But as I think Daniel mentioned, even with increased parking income, the budget still is in trouble.

    It is all about the police budget. Tinkering with part-time librarians and a couple of rangers just doesn’t have that much impact on the big picture.

    The reason to revisit Prop 13 is that the relationship with the State is one reason that all these cities and counties are having a hard time; right now the state is trying to grab money the local govts. had counted on. So while we worry about parking fees I think we also have to think about the larger, statewide structural budget problems. Oakland is not alone in budgetary trouble. The ubiquity of these dilemmas is an indication that there are systemic problems.

    It worries me that I have heard too many people talk about when the condo market comes back, as though the solution will lie in going right back into bubble mode, when we can see that dependence upon transfer tax has just masked some basic budgetary shakiness.

    Thank you V, for trying to stick to facts and doing research into the real situation.

  78. Ralph

    Naomi, a rebound in the condo market does not mean living on the bubble economy. The situation will be different. Most notably the credit will not flow like water to those who should not have it. Oakland does need to increase the stock of housing for middle income folk because the reality is Oakland’s poor can not afford the services they receive and you can only tax the current group of suckers so much before they say no. We need to expand the retail base and we need to expand the corporations setting up shop in Oakland. We also need to cut spending, eliminate non-essential functions and ballot box budgeting, and ask users of city services to pay more of the freight. Sadly, this being Oakland asking council to cut spending and asking users to pay full freight is about as likely to happen as getting 51% of the electorate to vote republican. (they are doing it now, but it ain’t sop)

    Users paying full freight, it has always seemed to me that Oakland’s fee structure is based on council’s perception of what they feel people could afford (for both fees and fines). Some fees such as those for street fairs should recoup a significant chunk of the city costs. The fair should then charge the appropriate fee to meet their expenses. If the fair recoups its costs then cool we know it something that the city values. But when the city subsidizes just about all of the costs it is easy to think that we value the fair.

    Fines, I like what council has done with fines and enforcement. The increased fines were for behaviors I and probably many others want to discourage.

    Prop 13, I support an income test, maybe a phase out on basis transfer based on income and sales price, correction of the corporate problem. But as that needs to happen at the state level, I will concentrate on what we can do locally.

  79. Max Allstadt

    Here’s a thought on how to raise a little money, as opposed to cutting existing programs: Up building code violation fines against absentee landlords.

    There are many people in Oakland who own tens or scores of properties, and who never get permits for work done on those properties.

    So. If there’s a code violation or unpermitted work caught on one property owned by an absentee landlord, keep the current fine and fee structure. If it happens on a second property owned by the same absentee landlord, double the fines. On a third property within the same two year period? Double them again. And again, etc.

    Slumlording is a problem in this town, as is substandard housing. We can raise revenue while discouraging bad landlords.

  80. V Smoothe Post author

    We actually have pretty hefty fines in place already. The problem is, they aren’t actually a very good source of revenue because it’s so difficult to collect them because property owners simply don’t pay. The only recourse the City has at that point is to place liens on the property, which sometimes get collected eventually, sometimes never at all. Racking up fines on paper is all well and good, but when there’s no way to turn it into cash, it doesn’t help the budget situation at all.

  81. Patrick

    Furthermore, you can’t expect people who are artificially limited (via rent control) to pay permit fees and fines with money they don’t have. Rent control breeds slums. Even wealthy San Francisco is full of rent-controlled housing that wouldn’t be considered acceptable in 99% of the country.

    Maybe we should fine people riding their bikes on the sidewalk $500. I got hit by two bicyclists yesterday on Grand Avenue. A man about 20 feet in front of me kicked one of the bicyclists (who nicked his child’s baby carriage), sending the bicyclist sideways into oncoming traffic. No safety advantage there.

  82. Naomi Schiff

    Max, some version of your idea has merit. I believe that we need to find a way to make it more expensive to maintain vacant commercial space, too. A lot of downtown vacancies carry lease rates that are unrealistically high. If landlords had a little incentive to phase in rates through gradual escalation, making some aggressive offers of low-cost initial rents, maybe we could make some progress in leasing them up. Maybe this could be joined with the planned business tax phase-in that council is working on, so that relocating and start-up businesses get some real incentive to be in Oakland.

    I don’t believe that overall, fines are a good way to structure a budget, although I do deplore bikes on sidewalks. We just aren’t going to be able to derive enough income from punitive measures, given the cost of collection and the cost of enforcement and litigation. I think we are going to have to look at the incentive side of things, and work toward a more cooperation-based approach to financial stability. It’s better for community-building and a sense of a common purpose, anyhow.

    The rent control rant above does not seem to address the situation in Oakland, which has relatively weak rent controls. Looking at rental rates and talking to landlords that I know, I think this is not the real problem.

  83. Naomi Schiff

    Oh and about 51% voting Republican: the Republic party is what got us into our national budgetary fix. No reason to give them further opportunity to pursue their profligate policies. They blew it. Big time.

  84. Max Allstadt

    We should look at ways to more easily seize and auction slumlords’ properties. We should look at a ballot measure that increases the tax rate on vacant land.

    We put a “Sin Tax” on medical marijuana. What’s a bigger sin, smoking weed to ease cancer pain, or preying on poor renters, refusing to pay permit fees, or landbanking and stagnating the growth of our city?

    The city council should look good and hard at ways to tax the big sins of the monied classes. Who’s a more appropriate target for revenue generation? A poor guy in the flatlands who parks in the wrong place on streetsweeping day, or an absentee landlord who owns a dozen properties and increases their profit margin by ignoring building code and permit requirements?

    Here’s a thought: right now, the burden of enforcing rent control rules is on the tenant. Put it on the landlord. If a tenant can prove that they’ve paid a full years worth of an illegal rent increase, provide a law that lets them recoup the illegal portion of the increase. Let this recouping be possible as much as five years back. Create a $10,000 fine for illegally increasing rent by more than .5% over the satutory legal rate increase.

  85. Barry K

    Regarding Len’s post of NSCs pay:
    “Now compare the cost of an NSC to the cost of a sworn officer. NSCs cost the city $95,899/year with benefits (assuming the average of the salary range–4,959.08 supplied by Ms. Reed and Ms. Albano),
    and sworn officers cost the city $129,936/year with benefits (supplied by the city council and staff and using the budget numbers in the FY 09-10 budget $18.19M/140).

    In the 2007 calendar year, the City of Oakland had more than 1,300 employees with total pay over $100,000.

    Citywide rank (total pay) 897 of 1300 employees (earing over $100,000)
    Name: Albano, Claudia Louise
    Job title Department: Assist to the City Administrator City Administrators
    Total pay: $121,321 (not including benefits)

    In the 2008 calendar year, the City of Oakland had 1,418 employees with total pay over $100,000.

    Claudia Albano’s salaray in 2008:
    Citywide rank (total pay) 1050 of 1408 employees
    Name: Albano, Claudia Louise
    Job title Department: Assist to the City Administrator City Administrators
    Total pay: $122,269 (not including benefits)

    Did Claudia Albano take a pay cut? What is the basis of self-reporting her pay and benefits at $95,899?

    (Note: This data was provided by the City of Oakland.)

  86. V Smoothe

    Barry, I have no idea where you’re getting those numbers, but they’re wrong. A single police officer, fully loaded, costs roughly $250,000 per year.

  87. Max Allstadt


    Everybody knows that streetsweeping isn’t about cleaning the streets as much as it is about generating ticket revenue.

    My street gets swept every week, as do many streets in West Oakland. In most of Temescal, it’s every other week. Up in the hills above Montclair, some streets miraculously require no streetsweeping at all, despite the fact that they have eucalyptus leaves falling all over them all the time.

    Parking in the path of a streetsweeper is less of an abuse than a regime which creates more opportunities to fine the poor than the rich. We also fine the poor the same amount as we fine the rich, which is regressive. Perhaps the fines for parking in the path of a streetsweeper in Montclair village should be adjusted to account for how much higher the average income is in that area. $150 should be about right.

    Hey, if it’s so important to sweep streets, I have an idea: How about my block opts out of municipal street sweeping services and we form a block association that agrees to sweep the street ourselves. We could save the city the cost of sweeping our street twice a week! They could stop ticketing our block too. Everybody wins!

    Of course this would never fly, because in reality, sweeping my street once a week on each side is not about keeping the street clean, it’s about generating ticket revenue in an area where fewer residents have off street parking, and are thus easier targets.

    The city also threatens to tow anybody who doesn’t move their car for three days straight. If you don’t have off street parking, you have to either pay to park long term when you go out of town, or have a friend move your car. Of course I hear about three-day tickets in West Oakland, but do they ever do that if you park your car for three days straight in the same spot on Elwood Ave, or Monte Vista, or Mandana? I highly doubt it. Another way of elevating the cost of being poor. Thanks Oakland!

  88. Patrick

    “Relatively weak rent controls”? What does that mean? Either you have rent control, or you don’t. Our rent control is no different from that across the Bay and the results are the same.

    Artificially controlling potential profits means, by extension, that you are forcing property values down and giving landlords every possible excuse to minimize costs. Rather than accusing me of a rant, I’d prefer it if you would share with us what you have gleaned by “Looking at rental rates and talking to landlords that (you) know…” I’m sure it would enlighten those of us who depend on well-documented rent-control studies (such as what happened when New York City gave landlords the incentive to raise the desirablity of their buildings as a means to ending rent control in individual units) as opposed to vague opinions formed by talking to undocumentable sources.

    Furthermore New York’s rent control is different in that allows for a minimum profit after maintenance and repair to be included in rent increases. Compare this to Oakland (and San Francisco), which sets an abitrary rate of increase which doesn’t account for anything but the CPI. It has the same disastrous effect on the “landlord economy” that Prop. 13 has placed on California’s economy. You can’t restrict revenues on an abitrary figure and expect that expenses won’t be curtailed as a result.

  89. Barry K

    V, it’s more than $250,000 a year; especially after you add benefits!

    Citywide rank Employee name Job title Overtime pay Total pay
    In the 2008 calendar year, the City of Oakland had 1,418 employees with total pay over $100,000. Here are the top 20 as reported by the City of Oakland:

    1 Nguyen, Huy T Police Officer (PERS)
    Overtime pay $159,435 Total pay $285,619

    2 Jones, Trevelyon M. Sergeant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $138,118 Total pay $273,175

    3 Joyner III, Ersie M Lieutenant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $121,612 Total pay $272,134

    4 Andreotti, Richard W Sergeant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $127,067 Total pay $269,126

    5 Green, Lawrence Lieutenant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $92,665 Total pay $264,992

    6 Dunakin, Mark T Sergeant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $114,577 Total pay $262,315

    7 Harvey, Carlos Lieutenant of Fire Department
    Overtime pay $116,109 Total pay $258,059

    8 Muhammad, Rahman Captain of Fire Department
    Overtime pay $122,769 Total pay $257,973

    9 Kozicki, David A Deputy Chief of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $49,540 Total pay $257,789

    10 Rullamas, James A. Sergeant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $117,914 Total pay $256,490

    11 Gonzales, Patrick M. Sergeant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $111,737 Total pay $254,406

    12 McNab, Kent E Ranger
    Overtime pay $144,135 Total pay $252,708

    13 Valladon, Robert F Police Officer (PERS)
    Overtime pay $106,175 Total pay $252,113

    14 Mork, Todd H. Sergeant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $110,679 Total pay $249,171

    15 Miller, Earl L Lieutenant of Fire Department
    Overtime pay $113,075 Total pay $248,510

    16 Kilmartin IV, Edward J Battalion Chief
    Overtime pay $85,418 Total pay $246,571

    17 Basa Jr., Caesar O Sergeant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $106,451 Total pay $244,687

    18 Morse, Michael Police Officer (PERS)
    Overtime pay $124,254 Total pay $243,295

    19 Lau, Kenny H Engineer, Civil (Office)
    Overtime pay $141,908 Total pay $243,136

    20 Yoell, Michael G Lieutenant of Police (PERS)
    Overtime pay $76,468 Total pay $242,390

  90. Patrick

    Max, based on the number of used needles in the photograph you posted, I’d say street sweeping in your area (and in mine) has EVERYTHING to do with keeping the streets clean. Seriously, street cleaning is designed to remove trash – a very common problem here in the flats. The scourge of fallen eucalyptus leaves in Montclair is very different (and a ridiculous comparison).

  91. Max Allstadt


    Those needles weren’t on my block. And I see needles in Temescal all the time.
    We should seriously investigate indexing fines to the insurance valuation of a vehicle.

    Barry K,

    I realize that you just copy pasted a bunch of stats, but do you realize that number 6 on that list has already paid Oakland back with more than we could possibly pay him?

    On the other hand, why are we paying a civil engineer (Mr. Lau) any overtime? In the private sector, that would be a salaried position. If you work extra hours to get the job done, it’s covered by salary. It’s normal for engineers and architects to work 50-60 hour weeks.

  92. Patrick

    Also, it is odd to me that you, a carpenter, have never posted regarding the egregious expense of or difficulty getting Oakland building permits. Why is that?

    I trust it is not another “I can ride my bike on the sidewalk/double park my van while V. and I go to the liquor store/ walk my dog in the park because the City’s law is stupid/the City doesn’t care and therefore I can do what I want” situations.

  93. Patrick

    The caption with the picture you posted (was it on Twitter?) was about having to chase drug addicts from in front of your house. I assumed the photo provided illustrated such; I did not realize it was a stock photo. My bad.

  94. Barry K

    Hi Max,

    The City Auditor did a report last year on City pay and overtime. Few if any standards are kept and enforced. It’s a good read.
    Also, the Alameda Grand Jury did a scathing report on OPD overtime.

    Even Ranger Kent McNab stands out. That is, until it was disclosed that Jean Quan worked out a backroom deal with OPD that there wouldn’t be additional Rangers and open positions wouldn’t be filled, however, they would earn overtime in place of filling positions.
    Don’t forget, Jean Quan is a “champion of saving the Rangers” per Richard Cowan, one of her office staff.

  95. Patrick

    Indexing fines to the insurance valuation of a vehicle? I have called weekly about an abandoned van on our street that was first ticketed in June of 2008. If the City can’t figure that out, good luck with indexing.

  96. Max Allstadt


    1. Not a stock photo. Just a few blocks a way. The caption on twitter, or facebook, I believe just said “9am in West Oakland”. My comment about chasing junkies off my block was separate. On my block they throw the needles in our yards and on the sidewalk. No street sweeping required to fix that. The only thing that will fix that is calling OPD to tow their unregistered jalopies, and running Nancy Nadel out of office in 2012. Apathy toward rampant crime is not a housing affordability strategy, Nancy.

    2. My parking rant is more about people on my block getting slammed than it is about me. If I got fined for parking my van like Starsky that night, it would clearly have been my own dumb fault.

    3. I don’t rant about building permits and fees because they’re reasonable and easy to get. People who have trouble getting building permits don’t know how to draw construction documents. People who think the fees are too high are wrong.

    The only alteration I’d like to see is some sort of sliding scale which makes it cheaper to build get permits for small projects in poor areas. Vacant single or duplex lots in East and West Oakland should have some sort of incentive for building or disincentive for sitting bare. Maybe both.

  97. Jim M

    The building permit thing is interesting. On my block there was a house that had drug issues. When the residents did an addition the local NCPC and neighbors made sure they pulled permits. The work is shoddy, I don’t see how it passed inspection. They also used a licensed contractor. Meanwhile down the street another neighbor replaced siding on his house. I told him about the house and how they were made to get permits. His response was “glad somebody is around here is getting them.”
    I would argue the permit thing is also another way to get money. Doing anything around your house requires a permit. Seating a toilet, replacing a water heater, even replacing electrical sockets I believe. I doubt this has to do with the work more than it does for revenue. By the way, much of the bad work can be traced to contractors. I tried to hire some to do some tiling. One told me he needed all of the money upfront; his tools had been stolen, he need replacements! Another told me he does not do permits, I am responsible for any problems. Don’t get me started on handymen. The first guy I tried to hire years ago where I grew up billed himself as an “able bodied handyman.” He was neither able or handy! It was downhill from there. Slum lords probably hire cheap labor where possible.
    I also think the rise of home centers and the DIY thing finishes off permits as well. Who has time to go to the city when you can be in and out of the store in under an hour.
    As far as the cars parking for days goes, those people know how to game the system. To make a long story short a neighbor had a tow truck drop a car backwards on the street. I told him it will be tagged and towed. He went through the story that basically it takes a least a week after tagging to get towed. The case back log and no weekend work pushes out the schedule. I hear it takes weeks now. I guess there is a huge backlog.
    The best thing we could do is do what Ireland and England do. Every couple of years your car must pass an exstensive test. Like a 160 point safety test. It is not easy to pass. This would probably get the clunkers off the street. Though many poor people would suffer.

  98. Max Allstadt


    You’re right that almost everything requires a permit. I believe that the planning department understands that many people won’t get a permit for minor interior renovations, but that the richest and most risk-averse homeowners will, at least some of them. Little interior things usually get done without a permit because it’s impossible to catch somebody doing that. In many cases, exterior work on the rear of a house is done without permits, but I always tell clients they should get permits because of the cost of getting caught.

    As for the hassle of getting a permit, I’ve gotten permits from Oakland with some ugly hand-drawn sketches. They showed that I knew what I was going to do, and that what I was doing was to code, and that’s all they needed to do. I’ve also had some very lenient inspectors and some very strict ones. But I’ve never been given leniency on anything that was unsafe.

    When I’ve seen people have trouble with inspectors in Oakland, it has always been because they deviated from the drawings they filed, or because they got caught doing unpermited work.

  99. Ralph

    Naomi, national republicans did not get Oakland into all of its problems. I feel safe in saying that some of the socialist that Oakland has elected to office has caused their fair share of damage. And please don’t forget the problem CA seems to have with ballot box budgeting.

    I do agree fines are no way to build a budget. You know some people still aren’t going to pay; you also know that others will pay because it is actually cheaper than doing the work, so you hope to eliminate the economic incentive for those who do nothing.

    Street cleaning is not about collecting revenue. It is important for the city to clean the streets it demonstrates that they care and they are not going to let the neighborhood go to pot.

  100. len

    Max, a neighbor on the next block over, told me his block opted out of street sweeping via a unanimous signed request to the city.

    btw, re various permits, that even though new construction is at a crawl, oakland is more frequently requiring “overtime” fees if you don’t want to wait a month or more, then they did three years ago?

    Maybe we should keep all the NSC’s but transfer most of them to IA to replace cops.

    -len raphael

  101. livegreen

    Re. permits, it’s about getting the money, not getting the job done properly. We had our foundation replaced a few years ago. The City Inspector approved all the work. On closer inspection we found the contractor didn’t put a proper T in part of it. ??

    Now HOW did that get approved? I still don’t know, but the Inspector had to walk away with his tails between his legs. If the Contractor hadn’t replaced the work we made it clear that they’d both pay.

    Now as a separate matter, where is there ANY enforcement for homes (as opposed to commercial) who DON’T get permits. There is NONE! It’s the same as for the Business Licenses, contractor’s dumping, hiring workers under the table, or any other city enforcement.

    Those who show up willingly get all the costs thrown at them, and have to pay the City’s artificially inflated permit fees. Those who don’t show up pay nothing and suffer NO consequences.

    It’s an incentive to do things illegally, and it’s slowly starving and drowning the City financially…

  102. David

    Naomi, you’re joking right? When was the last Republican mayor of Oakland?
    What’s the party of the guy currently in the White House who’s running the deficit up to FOUR times any deficit under GW?

    You can dislike Republican policies all you want, but to blame them for budgets in Oakland displays a serious disconnect with reality. Take off the tinfoil hat.

  103. len

    LiveG, when the city bldg inspectors drive around, they report sites to check for permits. Usually it’s neighbors ratting on neighbors etc. of course, these are relatively small, but a construction neighbor added an entire story without a permit. i thought the penalty was to double the permit fees. but in other cases the site is “red tagged” so it can’t be occupied.

    so you actually got the concrete contractor to demolish the new foundation?


  104. Max Allstadt


    code enforcement is complaint based, or based on prior red-tags. I’ve worked on a job that got shut down for having no permit. I’ve worked on multiple jobs where an inspector forced the GC to redo something that deviated from the drawings. I’ve also had an inspector catch a part of a drawing that was stamped by the Building Dept. as approved, but was actually below the new code.

    In the current climate, I expect that CEDA is doing extra checks of red tagged properties. There isn’t the manpower for citywide spot checking and enforcement, but a little hunch-based mining for fines is probably already happening.

  105. livegreen

    Len, Do you mean these are based on call-in complaints, or inspectors checking in as they drive around, or both? My impression is they don’t do much driving around and checking. So if somebody hasn’t received a complaint, they usually don’t get caught.

    Same with business licenses for contractors, contractors actively dumping, service providers, moving companies, internet car delivery, sidewalk vendors & small to medium businesses with EITHER mobile or fixed addresses. I’ve run into small business owners who have no idea they’re supposed to have a business license to operate in Oakland, yet they’ve been actively in business for years. Then there are others who know and decide not to for the reasons I’ve mentioned. There’s nobody out there looking for them in any meaningful way (and if the City says they are, that’s just crock).

    Re. the contractor, essentially yes. They were forced to pay a 3rd party engineer to design a correction, and then do it. We had our Realtor come by while they were there looking at it (who they receive referrals from) & we made sure they overheard us asking for names of lawyers. That two-for-one did the trick.

    We asked the Inspector point-blank how he could approve the thing. We had pictures, there wasn’t a T there, so what could he say? My guess, and it’s only that, is that he and the contractor had a separate conversation.

    There MIGHT have been even more there there, but since we had no proof and enough to deal with as it was, we didn’t go any further. Does make one wonder though…

  106. Robert

    Inspectors miss things, they are only human. Also, they very seldom check every inch of a construction project. They check for common problems and spot check for code compliance. How thoroughly they spot check depends on their experience with the contractor and owner. And occasionally they flat out make mistakes. It used to be that the city had inspectors that specialized in specific fields, such as electrical, but a few years back they made them all generalists I believe.

    Fundamentally, permit fees are intended to ensure safety of the project, not to raise money. The building inspection department certainly doesn’t make money. At best it breaks even. I insist that my contractors pull permits whenever they are doing something that I don’t feel confident about my ability to inspect. They may not catch everything, but it is better than not doing anything at all to ensure quality. Permits can be the responsibility of either the owner or the contractor, just depends on the contract. And personally, I find going to the city yourself has some advantages, because it seems that the city and the inspectors are inclined to help the homeowner, in ways that they don’t seem to help the professional contractor.

    Nobody from the city is driving around looking for sites without permits, at least not in the residential areas. So don’t piss your neighbors off, because they do respond to complaints. But on the other hand, if your neighbor is doing a big project with a permit, it might not be the best time to do an unpermitted project. The inspector just might wonder if they see work going on and know that nobody in the department has been by to inspect it.

  107. len

    LG, mostly complaint driven. But yes i had a sewer inspector just stop while on his way to a site. My hunch is that with construction way down, inspectors look for violators but no proof of that.

    all the city has to do to increase small job compliance is to run a few ads reminding people that no permit can = problem on refi or sale appraisal.

    People in building dept are convinced that they are a profit center overall.

    Makes sense for medium inspection and approval jobs.

    Is that incorrect?


  108. masb

    I rarely say anything on this blog. I read it often and generally find it to be enlightening, interesting and intelligent. I agree with some commenters and disagree with some. The one thing I want to say, though, is I HATE the way people are throwing the word “socialist” around like it is some terrible evil. It’s amazing to me how people take a word and use it in inaccurate and sometimes dishonest ways.

  109. Ralph

    Under Oakland’s brand of government it appears that capitalism is a terrible evil. Some in government and some in the electorate have absolutely no problem using my tax dollars for a myriad of unproven and dubious welfare programs. And there are still others who think that people in BMR housing should not have their gains capped. That there is just crazy talk. I am going to subsidize the cost of your house and then you are going to keep the total gain when you did not put up the full amount – hold me back.

  110. Max Allstadt

    Yeesh. As long as you guys are having an ism-fight can I throw in how much I’m peeved by absolutism?

  111. Patrick

    Max, I must apologize. About a year ago, I accused you of being the 2nd incarnation of George W. Bush. I still stand behind that comparison (at least as far as adherence to law is concerned). After careful review of your economics, I must admit my failure: you’re not GWB, you’re Eva Perón.

  112. len

    V, re cutting NSC’s deserves attention, i don’t see that LaMartin’s position (and certainly not the original post from Hannah J) questioning of the need for keeping all the NSC, depends on the correctness of his statement about pending cop layoffs.

    I just read a posting by Nick Vigilante who is high up in the pecking order of community police volunteers (and an endorser of D :) ) where his wording suggests that even he isn’t quite sure what the NSC’s spend their time doing. (i can repost his entire piece if anyone wants to understand the pro NSC position).

    LG, i have read posting from another anti crime activist in a tough section of east o whose main point is that they need more cops on the street not coordinators. if laying off some NSC’s could help forestall closing down the police academy or at least keep the opd helicopter in the air, then we need the info to make those decisions.

    Part of this are budget games, where opd gets stuck with the NSC expenditures but has no supervision of them. Which means that neither OPD nor the Mayor’s office wants them, but council members do.

    -len raphael

  113. Patrick

    Eh, fine. Due to the arts and “madman” angle, I’ll toss in Ludwig II for good measure. I mean, what the hell. You’re too polarizing to be Papa Smurf, though your Twitter picture does make you look somewhat bluish.

  114. V Smoothe Post author

    Len –

    Please do not post Mr. Vigilante’s e-mail here – if people want to follow the debates on the listservs, they can subscribe to them. That said, I disagree with your characterization of what he wrote – I don’t see any evidence there that he does not know what the NSCs do.

    Honestly, I am not invested in this NSC debate one way or the other. As far as I’m concerned, the most outrageous and intolerable proposal before the Council tomorrow is the reduction of the Main Library to 5 day per week service. (Disclosure: I have a job with the library, but my comments represent only my personal opinion.) I am also invested in the truth. And my patience with Mr. LaMartin’s frequent posts full out outright falsehoods has grown thin. (See his most recent tirade, for example, in which he lists seven “FACTS” about the City’s budget and police funding, every single one of which is wrong.)

    As far as nobody wanting the NSCs, I don’t think that’s accurate at all. It’s clear that the police department doesn’t want them, since they get offered up for cuts every single time the budget opens up. It is not clear that the Mayor’s office doesn’t want them – the proposal earlier this summer to move them out of the police department was rejected because community policing activists very vocally insisted that the NSCs could not be effective outside of OPD. Whether that’s the actually case or not, I don’t have enough experience with them to say. But the Council concurred.

  115. livegreen

    Len, I would like to see both these posts. Nick wants the NSC’s preserved.

    They are the face of Community Policing. One of the reasons they can’t do communication effectively is because they’re give 5 neighborhoods EACH.
    So ours has, I think, Adams Point, Glenview, Grandlake (residents & merchants),
    Eastlake/Lower Park, and one or two more. Do you know how many people that is? How many block groups? That’s just crazy.

    Besides the NCPC’s that includes all the NW block groups in EVERY ONE OF THESE NEIGHBORHOODS. And then you & Bob say they’re not doing a good job? Talk about a set-up. By the time Bob gets finished harassing them nobody’s going to want that job…

    Are they ineffective or over-stretched? I vote the latter (though in some cases it might be both). Some other NCPC’s have pointed out that they’ve often had new NSC’s each year for the past several years.

    Finally, as Marlene has pointed out, communication from the PSO’s is not always great. (I believe this is because they also have way too much to do, and because they haven’t been trained to do that as part of their CP priorities). The NSC’s are in large part responsible for that too.

    Cut that and do you really think communication is going to get better with the PSO’s? (As Bob LaMartin says). Give me a break.

    Instead the NSC foundations needs to be INCREASED, but only with a budget that also increases OPD. We need both NSC’s AND more Officers. Not one or the other. Until that is possible we need to preserve the base of Community Policing that are the NSC’s, PSO’s, and CRT’s.

    In the first round of cuts Lindheim proposed moving them to deal with ex-offenders and PV’s, if my memory serves me well. How do we now that’s not still the motive? After all the proposal is still coming from Lindheim.

  116. len

    re the NSC’s, I don’t have anything near a complete picture, but in reading posts from people who are knowledgeable but disagree they come across as the blind men describing an elephant.

    maybe part of the picture is that as the opd declined in quality over the past decade, local civilian groups formed to fill the gaps in service. would assume that the groups in the affluent areas are much more effective at getting resources such as effective NSC’s than the poor areas, but how could we even find that out?

    It would be expected that the group members made alliances with various politicians as part of getting the resources they needed. In turn, politicians used them too.

    Calling them “interest groups” is only pejorative in that they are narrowly focused on their own needs, which is ok.

    (LG, email me thru my website or thru v and i’ll send you the full texts.)

    Patrick, would a Don Perata supporter be a Peratist ?

    -len raphael

  117. Naomi Schiff

    David, my tinfoil hat is prettier than your tinfoil hat. Don’t be jealous.

    Regarding the immediate budgetary matter before the council Tuesday, it would be helpful to quickly email the city councilmembers and urge that they not make the proposed further cuts to libraries and parks&rec, because this would a) not substantially help the budget, b) further devastate already-much cut, fairly efficient and quite inexpensive public services, and c) very negatively affect the recently unemployed.

    We get great bang for the buck from our library employees, much better service for many more people than in a lot of other departments. Parks & Rec and libraries represent a much much smaller percentage of general budget than life safety services, and we can’t save our budget by cutting them.

  118. livegreen

    Len, re. “It would be expected that the group members made alliances with various politicians as part of getting the resources they needed. In turn, politicians used them too.” Could you get more speculative or general? Oh, that’s what Bob is doing. This is not fact based at all.

    The NSC’s are the part of Community Policing that communicates between OPD & the Community. That is why they are so important. They also interact between other parts of the government to help solve crime, which the PSO’s don’t necessarily have time for. That might include regarding Blight, the Nuisance Dept., the D.A.’s offices, and Public Works esp. regarding speed & traffic issues, or safety around schools. They do this with NCPC’s and also block NW’s.

    My experience is they are not allied on a political mission with City Counsel offices, but on a case-by-case needs based cooperation to get things done for the public. That they are not “used” beyond the purpose of their employment, which is to address safety issues throughout the city. They are far too short-staffed, spread to thin, and have to much crime prevention work to form what could be called an “interest group”.

    If there’s anything they suffer from it’s being spread to thin helping citizens navigate the bureaucracy. The best thing to make the NSC’s more effective is to narrow their focus to safety (as originally intended), including both organization and communication, and to get more of them.

  119. Max Allstadt

    Patrick, I don’t understand why your being so unsmurfy!

    On the serious stuff, Naomi makes a good point that the tiny chip we can put in the budget with more library cuts isn’t worth the damage it’ll do.

    What I want to see out of tomorrow’s meeting is this:

    1. Give Phil the Army Base contract already and stop accusing everybody who supports him of being political. Nadel and De La Fuente are in agreement with the Mayor, the Planning Department, and the Port Commission on this. It’s the other side that’s playing politics in an attempt to get some sort of concession prize.

    Unfortunately, no matter how you rationalize it, a retail development won’t work downwind of the EBMUD sewage plant. It just won’t. And if you hadn’t noticed, a little town called Emeryville already built tons of retail – upwind of the sewage plant. They’ll hand us our asses if we try to compete with them.

    2. Cut public safety only as much as needed to dig us out of the hole, and insist on more walking patrols in vulnerable places. The council is renegotiating with OPD and they have a valid bogie tactic to present to them (A bogie is when you say “all I have to pay you with is X, and there’s nothing I can do about it even if I tried”). Strangely, the validity of the cash crunch puts the council in a stronger position. They need to remember that and get all they can out of OPD.

    3. Save the NSCs and any budget items that deal directly with using civilian volunteers to magnify the power of the police force. These are small items with high returns. If we are about to lose scores of sworn officers due to failing to get a complete COPS grant, we need all the volunteer coordination we can get.

    4. I am not going to protest about the arts cuts, despite my history of pro-arts activism in Oakland. The shit has hit the fan. It would be disingenuous of me to argue that individual artist grants are more important than NSCs or any number of vital services.

  120. Naomi Schiff

    Max, very clear and good remarks. People should email the city council and relevant neighborhood groups early today, because the meeting is earlier than usual: 5 pm.

    They will adjust the proposed cuts; the question is how!

  121. VivekB

    Having been involved with our NCPC for years now, i’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t notice it if our NSC disappeared tomorrow. I’ve not noticed any difference in communication when the NSC is there vs not there.

    Well, last meeting the NSC did add 1 bit of value, which was to highlight that property crimes are way up in rockridge. But given that I do statistical analysis and present graphs at every meeting, and i’m up first, all he said was “We’re seeing the same thing that Vivek just showed you”.

    Would I like to have NSCs? Sure. But in this budget situation, I would rather have sworn-in officers walking patrol instead, and just use the PSO’s for communication to OPD. They’re sworn-in officers, and can do much more than just communication.

  122. livegreen

    Vivek, There’s another reason your NSC might not be doing much in Rockridge is…there’s less to do in Rockridge. Less crime & esp. violent crime.

    And if your NSC is also involved with 5 or 6 other neighborhoods, do you think they should and will be spending as much time in Rockridge as in a neighborhood with Multiples more amount of crime?

    The answer is not to externalize and generalize, and say that based on the Rockridge experience there shouldn’t be any NSC’s in Oakland. That’s myopic and self-serving.

    Since you’re the center of the Rockridge NCPC, if you’re willing to make the decision for the Rockridge NCPC and all it’s NW block groups & captains, why not just declare you don’t need an NSC, and release them to go to a neighborhood that wants and needs their attention?

    BTW, there’s nothing in the budget that they’re hiring more officers after they eliminate the NSC’s. So why you & Bob state that is beyond me. It’s at least a false argument, and, at most, a lie.

  123. Barry K

    Most of our council members support the de-policing of Oakland.
    It was DeLaFuente and Quan that proposed the grounding of the Police helicopters.

    Why all this blog fighting over NSCs when we have only one OPD Detective for robberies? There is no crime lab in Oakland. No jail. Increases for funding for the Prosecutors office have been denied. We have Measure Y PSOs instead of a fully functioning officers.

    We have a Council that funds and advocates KidsFirst (I and II) that allocates hundres of thousands of dollars to groups like PUEBLO that are anti-police, which are in turn embezzled by their management. Or, the funding priorities to YouthUprising, or YouthRadio, or the Green Collar Youth program come well ahead of public safety.

    In the last budget that was passed (with Brooks voting “NO”), there were no cuts to the City Car Allowance Program, City issued Credit Cards, or Pay-Go for the Council Staff ($1,350,000 FY09-10). Only Dellums’ Pay-Go was cut.
    As a matter of fact, the Pay-Go funds balance for the Council staff had banked over $9,000,000 in unspent funds per a 10/2008 report from the Administrators office. Each Council member had an average of $1M in their Council account. Where are those funds today?

    The Alameda Grand Jury slammed Oakland officials (elected and management) again (twice in three years!) over the abuse of business travel. The AGJ stated that most of the travel was for “social networking.”
    Yet, millions of dollars continue to be spent on travel.

    The list of proposed cuts (see top of blog .pdf) really demonstrate the cuts (bottom-up), and make a great distraction to funding priorities.
    Regardless, Oakland will still have the highest paid work force for any large city in America.

    Next year, Oakland must pay $37M-$40 M+ a year for the next 15 years to a closed retirement plan for OPD and OFD for 1300 members.

    And there’s the open $10M lawsuit from the OPD union over overtime.

    With OPD/OFS allready accounting for nearly 68% of the City Budget, what new taxes and fees will be proposed next?

    We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. (Aesop)

  124. LoveOakland

    Oakland employees are far from the highest paid in the nation or the Bay Area. This is even more true with the 10% cut they have taken. Check out SF salaries. OPD, however, pays more overtime than anywhere else in the country.

    Want cuts? How about starting with civilianizing certain functions at OPD. Do we really need an officer spending full time on PAL? Do we really need an officer in charge of billing for false fire alarms? Do we really need two 911 call centers – one for cops, one for fire?

    Bottom line, Oakland has had more than its share of mismanagement but the real culprit here is the economy.

  125. Barry K


    As reported by the US Census Bureau (May 2007) Oakland has the highest paid municipal employees of any large City in America. The highest!

    Oakland 1995: $4483 avg monthly earnings
    Oakland 2005: $7397 avg monthly earnings
    San Fran: 1995: $3711 avg monthly earnings
    San Fran: 2005: $6541 avg monthly earnings

    This was previously reported on this very blog.

    In the 2008 calendar year, the City of Oakland had 1,418 employees with total pay over $100,000. In the 2007 calendar year, the City of Oakland had 1,333 employees with total pay over $100,000.

    2007: Pay between $150,000 and $199,000: 355 employees
    2008: Pay between $150,000 and $199,000: 460 employees
    2007: Pay over $200,000: 73 employees
    2008: Pay over $200,000: 114 employees

    Overtime was largely paid to Police and Fire. However, many agencies had many employees that earned overtime too.
    Did you read the City Auditors’ report on payroll and compensation from last year?

    Yes, I want cuts. Cut: Pay-Go; Credit cards; travel; mayor and council staffs; priority project funding. That would be a great start!

    LoveOakland, please let us know the source of your claims regarding pay.

    The “bottom line” is impacted by a few key factors: Excessive debt obligations (Coliseum, Housing Authority and Employee retirement plans), plus the downturn in the economy and a city that has endemic corruption.

  126. V Smoothe Post author

    In case anyone is curious about what’s going on and not following the meeting on Twitter, four Councilmembers have presented a proposal that would not cut the NSCs and would not close the Main Library. You can peruse it here (PDF).

  127. len

    what’s the 5.6mill opd mgmnt cuts?

    mystery service fund 2415

    cc just loves to cut the auditor’s budget. this sounds like laying off a junior auditor?

    what is the rationale for grounding the opd helicopter when you want to do more policing without hiring more cops?

    for 2nd year, what’s up with putting in a 3Mill plug figure “revenue and savings to be determined” at the bottom to “balance” the budget? that’s saying the budget would be mostly balanced.

  128. V Smoothe Post author

    The Auditor’s office has been asked to take a far smaller budget cut than every other City Department, including the City Council. I personally don’t think it’s been cut enough.

  129. len

    v, if the city auditor is not doing a good job, cutting her budget isn’t the best way to improve her performance. city auditor work is more important when there’s less money to spend; but no easier to perform effectively.

  130. Naomi Schiff

    I want a strong auditor’s office. I think it was cut a lot under Jerry Brown (previous auditor) and don’t know that it was ever restored to full staffing.

  131. V Smoothe Post author

    WEV. The Oakland City Auditor has hired new staff this year, while every other Department has been losing staff. And it wasn’t an extra auditor she hired, it was a press secretary – I’m sorry, but if your choice of new staff when you get it is to add is an executive assistant who sends out endless press releases about how great you are, then it’s going to take a lot to convince me you can’t afford to lose staff.

    I want a strong Auditor, too. I want an Auditor who examines large purchases and who scrutinizes City contracts, and who studies other, more large-scale issues. I think the entire City would be better off under such conditions. Unfortunately, our current Auditor’s office noes none of those things. So why should they be spared a cut that is lower than what every other City department has to go through? What have they done that makes them exempt?

  132. Carlos Plazola

    For the auditor to be effective, she needs to have the backing of the residents of Oakland. It’s important she communicates effectively with the citizens, or she will lose her ability to influence reform from within. She operates in a very political machine that does not take well to strong reform. I think it was a good move by the auditor. The more we know about what she does, the more she can do to make reforms.

  133. Ralph

    You need a strong auditor and an executive assistant is not necessariy a bad hire. But it is somewhat sad that no one could remember a payroll practices audit prior to 2007. Some of the finding were items that other major municipalities discovered over 20 years ago.

  134. V Smoothe Post author

    Carlos –

    If I had seen a shred of evidence in the past two and a half years that Ruby had any interest in any kind of reform, I might be sympathetic. But I haven’t. The work product out of her office has been basically non-existent, she spends a fortune contracting out what few audits she does produce to other firms, she has not done any single one of the things she promised she’d do while campaigning, and she has not managed to perform a single one of her mandated duties under the City Charter. In fact, as far as I can see, the only thing Courtney Ruby is interested in or good at is self-promotion. She is excellent at convincing people who don’t know any better that she’s doing a good job.

    Ralph -

    What is sadder about the payroll practices audit is that many of the incendiary claims it made turned out to be inaccurate. It is also worth noting that the payroll practices audit was, just like pretty much everything else that has come out of the Auditor’s office since Ruby entered it, conducted by an outside firm, at considerable expense to the City.

    In any case, whether the current auditor is completely worthless or not is really beside the point. Every single other department in the City has taken a larger cut that she is being asked to. We have basically stopped maintaining our parks. We have drastically reduced library schedules. We have laid off hundreds of people. The suggestion that there is any department in the City that should be untouched by cuts is offensive.

  135. Naomi Schiff

    One wonders how auditors are evaluated and–dare I say–audited? Is there a custom of peer review? In making the auditor an elected position, one is hoping for independence, but how do we judge performance?

  136. Ralph

    i don’t know how common out-sourcing audit is in municipalities but it is obviously not uncommon in the corp world. I think there are benefits that can be accrued from outsourcing – specifically every time the electorate requires an audit of some new function/process/fund etc it requires a start from scratch audit. A firm specializing in muni govt audit may be able to hit the ground running.

    i wish the city had a better way of making cuts. i don’t think all cuts are equal. and whereas most corp what make cuts to prepare for the future, it appears that oakland makes cuts to stay alive without considerations to what their core responsibilities. (not that i am against cuts made and concessions obtained). i think it would be more palatable if we could relate the cuts to the mission.

    Naomi, peer review would happen for audit firms. i am not aware of any process to review IA functions. But there must be a best practices in IA manaul that can be referenced to determine value.

  137. Carlos Plazola

    V, I have sat with Courtney Ruby and have personally seen the earnest commitment in her eyes to improve Oakland through reforms. I believe I am a relatively good judge of character and my assessment of her commitment comes from my own personal observations of:

    1. her demeanor and passion she expressed for bringing necessary reforms.
    2. a personal knowledge of the internal workings of city hall and the challenge that exists to make institutional change in a bureaucracy that does not want to change
    3. her willingness to take on significant battles head-on including taking on Deborah Edgerly 2 years ago, and implementation of the nepotism ordinance months ago.
    4. Her recognition that to be successful, she must be highly effective at communicating with the public.

    I don’t think your assessment of her effort, or her priorities, is accurate. She has perhaps the hardest elected job in Oakland, and I am pleased with what she has done to date, whether or not she responds to my every request.


  138. Max Allstadt


    Can you elaborate on your statement that Courtney Ruby “has not managed to perform a single one of her mandated duties under the City Charter”? What are her specific duties, and which of them has she shirked? Do you mean that she completely avoided those duties, or that she underperformed? Maybe this is one of those “save for a full post” issues, but I really am curious to see this opinion laid out in detail.

  139. V Smoothe Post author

    It’s pretty simple, Max. Under the City Charter, the Auditor is supposed to review large expenditures like big purchases and contracts before the Council approves them so the City knows whether we should be spending this money or not. Courtney Ruby has never once done anything like that. The Auditor is also supposed to report quarterly to the Council about the implementation status of recommendations from previous reports. Courtney Ruby has never done that.

    No matter how earnest she may be about her passion for reform when you gaze into her eyes, it is undeniable that in two and a half years, she simply has not done the job she was elected to do. She hasn’t done anything even close.

  140. V Smoothe Post author

    Max –

    If you want to get a sense of what the City Auditor is supposed to be doing, browse through some of the work performed by the previous Auditor: Financial Audits, Performance Audits, Special Studies, Comparative Surveys, and Quarterly Reports.

    Compare this to every single thing Ruby has produced in two and a half years, much of which was contracted out to other companies. She’s got more news clips about herself on her website than audits. And the archive of old audits has mysteriously disappeared. It’s a total joke.

  141. Carlos Plazola

    V, try to behave yourself. I did not say I “gazed” into her eyes. You’ve met my wife. Those are the eyes I “gaze” into. Sarcasm and being dismissive are not good blog etiquette, in my opinion.

    I offered you my counter-opinion. That’s all.

  142. Ralph

    Naomi, I stand corrected. Audit has changed a lot since my days. Municipal auditing was not a widespread practice when I was in the trenches. They do have a best practices manual and Muni IAs do cinductt peer review audits, which it appears our city auditor office has failed.

  143. Naomi Schiff

    Thank you, Ralph. I read the report. I see it is dated 2007. Now the question is, how is the auditor’s office doing on the suggested improvements, which she committed to undertaking? If there is no subsequent report, perhaps a simple polite query would elicit the response?
    She seemed willing to accept constructive suggestions; how is the follow-through coming along? Is there a planned update of some kind, or a further peer review at some date?

  144. len

    The period covered by the report stops just before Ruby took office. The report deals with quality but does not address productivity and efficiency of the auditor’s office: ie. how many audits of what scope should be expected to be completed with the office as staffed vs how many of what scope were completed?

  145. Ralph

    Typically, I would expect a follow-up (not a full audit) to determine how well the organization has done in making the improvements. I believe the Inst of Internal Auditors recommends a peer review every 5 years. Not sure if this a membership society – i.e. the std applies to just those who are members.

    i don’t know if productivity and efficiency are areas which are addressed in standards. From my perspective, I would hope that the auditor’s office addresses areas of high risk as well as those mandated by law/voter initiative.

  146. len

    Is there a complete list of mandated audits and their completion status.

    It sounds like that other than a grand jury, an infrequent and a mostly non-performance based peer audit, the unlikely scenario where the Mayor’s office or CC demands more/deeper/better audits, or a complaint by an agency, dept, or city employee no one is required to evaluate the City Auditor.

    Sounds like we need maximum transparency, without jeopardizing privacy or tipping off the audit target, so normal residents can evaluate the City Auditor office. We’ll need similar info at least for her predecesor’s term(s) to give use a baseline.

    We really really need an aggressive productive city audit dept and keep it properly funded.

    -len raphael

  147. Ralph

    len, I don’t understand the comment about not tipping off the audit target. Generally, the auditee has knowledge of the impending audit.

    I think you establish the baseline now. You do not need prior history. The IA Peer Review stated in no uncertain terms the staff lacked sufficient training to be effective (strike me down where i sit if I paraphrased incorrectly).

    From a financial standpoint, if the city has not already done so hire external auditors to audit the books. let them also perform a test of internal controls. Identify high risk areas and develop controls to address them. Implement and test.

    Conduct various mandated audits in accordance with law.

  148. Naomi Schiff

    Before jumping to conclusions, perhaps inquire politely of auditor’s office whether there is updated info on procedures, training, and accomplishments? In the interests of not expending useless energy, take the most direct first, and simply ask the question of the department in question, as a first step. What is it we want to know?

  149. len

    Naomi, wait a bit before we reach consensus on your question. And then yes your straightforward approach is good starting point.

    Ralph, i’m pretty sure the city got a clean opinion letter in the last two annual audits. Which is funny considering the interfund borrowing stuff.

    I was never a full time auditor and certainly not government audits. But wouldn’t you think that the outside financial auditors only look at internal controls including internal audit dept, to the extent it affects the accuracy of the classifications and presentation in the financial statements (and legality of the fund restrictions and grants).

    ie. the performance audit function of the City Auditor wouldn’t be examined by the outside financial audit firm.


  150. Ralph

    I am guessing that the easiest way to obtain the answer to these and many of questions is just inquire. The City Auditor website is not what I call helpful.

    It is possible to have an unqualified opinion as long as the control deficiencies do not have a material effect on the financial statements.

    I did a quick read through of Measure K audit and it seemed like the city lacked basic control procedures, i.e not specific to Measure K. Long story short, IC weaknesses identified in the CAFR could apply in some of these other audits.