Oakland municipal ID cards back at Council

When we last visited the issue of municipal ID cards, the City Council agreed to endorse the idea, but asked staff to come back with a report explaining our options for creating a municipal ID card program that wouldn’t cost the City any money before they actually started issuing them.

I know what you’re thinking. Good luck with that, right? Well, the report came back to the Finance & Management Committee last week, and, unsurprisingly, it found (PDF) that we can’t issue secure cards with existing equipment owned by the City after all, and that the equipment we’d need to issue them would cost somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 to buy the technology, or $75,000-$133,000 a year to rent it. And then, of course, there’s staffing costs for the program.

The report suggests a few different options for paying for and staffing the program, ranging from a first-year cost of $713,000 and annual costs thereafter of $156,000 if we were to buy expensive equipment and staff the program with permanent, benefitted employees, to a first year cost of $162,000 and annual costs of $143,000 if we were going to lease cheaper equipment and staff the program with temporary, non-benefitted employees.

On the revenue side of things, the report estimates that a municipal ID card program could generate between $30,000 and $140,000 annually, depending on how many cards get issued (they’re guessing 2,000-4,000) and how much the City charges for the card (estimates are between $15 and $35).

The unpromising figures were not really discussed much at last week’s Committee. Instead, the Committee basically agreed that we should issue an RFP to provide the services, and that the time to discuss costs will be when the RFP responses come back. Fair enough, I suppose, but it does make you wonder why they didn’t just issue the RFP in the first place instead of wasting four months preparing a report that doesn’t seem, to me anyway, particularly optimistic about this ever being a cost-covered program.

The biggest issue during public comment was that the report did not specify that the cards would offer a debit function, a feature that municipal ID card advocates deem essential to a successful program. Their concerns are three-fold. One, that without a debit function, the ID cards will not appeal to anyone other than undocumented immigrants or people who have no other valid forms of identification, which will stigmatize the card and therefore limit its utility to the undocumented immigrants who need it. Two, undocumented immigrants have limited or no access to banking, and therefore often end up wasting a lot of money on check-cashing. They see the inclusion of a debit function on the card as a way to avoid that problem. Three, they think that if the card offered a debit function, the City could take a small charge for each transaction, which would yield enough revenue to pay for the entire program, plus enough revenue to subsidize other city services.

On the first point, I’m moderately sympathetic. Obviously, if you’re going to create this whole new card to help undocumented immigrants, then you want the card to be useful to them. However, it seems like people aren’t really thinking this whole thing through. Under any scenario, Oakland will have limited capacity to issue the cards. It seems, therefore, logical, that if we were to move forward with this, we would want to prioritize getting cards out to those the program was created to serve – people without other valid forms of ID. But then only people without other ID have the cards, and the card is stigmatized, and you’re kind of back right where you started. But if you let just anyone sign up for the cards right away, then the people who need them most may not be able to get them in a reasonable time frame. (This is, of course, assuming that anyone who has normal ID will event want this damn card, which seems unlikely to me.)

Any way I try to look at it, I just can’t see how a municipal ID card program can get around this dilemma. There is, very simply, a serious scalability issue. 425,000 people live in Oakland. Let’s assume an absolute rosiest case scenario and say that we had the capacity to issue the same number of cards as San Francisco, roughly 8,000 a year (SF’s program, like ours will be, is currently limited by card issuance capacity, not interest). There is just no way we can issue enough cards to have widespread enough use that we escape the stigmatization problem. It just can’t happen.

I am less sympathetic to the second concern, about banking. Isn’t part of the point of making the ID cards that people without ID will then be able to use their IDs to get accounts at banks? I mean, seriously. Just find some local banks that will agree to accept the cards as ID to open an account and call it a freaking day. One of the girls from the Oakland City ID Card Coalition spoke at Committee about how the debit component was essential, and described the New Haven card’s debit function as a model, which she said allows people to load up to $150, and is accepted at “over 40 stores.”

Even if I had previously thought we should include a debit component, then that right there would have been the end of it for me. If the best the card advocates can come up with as an example is a limit of $150 and 40 stores in New Haven allowing people to use the card, then it’s just clearly not worth it. I mean, how many retail outlets are there in New Haven? They have 124,000 people. I am quite sure that there are a lot more than 40. And of course, if the debit function is maxed out at $150, then again, we’re not doing anything to solve the problem of people without bank accounts having to carry with them enormous sums of cash all the time.

And on the third point, about the City making money off the debit function, all I have to say is hahahahahahaha. Seriously, get real.

There’s also this whole issue of local currency tied into this debate, which is just so far divorced from reality that it isn’t really worth getting into that much, except to say that former City Councilmember Wilson Riles, a strong advocate of the ID cards, wants us to pay City employees in something called ACORNs:

Um. So, I work for the City. I am also a member of SEIU 1021. Let me say right now that I do not want to be paid in ACORNS ever, for a furlough day or any other day. My landlord does not accept ACORNS, Sallie Mae does not accept ACORNS, and I’m pretty damn sure that Verizon Wireless is not going to accept ACORNs.

Anyway, the Committee ended up directing staff to issue an RFP that solicited requests for issuing cards that include a debit component, but also allowed for responses without a debit component, a basically agreed that they’d figure out which they wanted to do once the responses came in.

The Committee’s recommendation will come to the City Council for approval tonight, accompanied by a fun letter from the City Attorney’s office. As you might imagine, they does not seem particularly thrilled (PDF) about the idea of the City getting into the debit card business:

We are writing to advise that this Office will retain a banking law expert to provide advice and recommendations regarding the legal issues and ramifications of the debit component if the Council approves the Committee’s recommendation. Adding a debit feature on the municipal identification card raises a number of legal issues under complex and dynamic state and federal banking laws and regulations, including but not limited to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Bank Secrecy Act, money service licensing regulations and anti-money laundering laws. Neither this Office nor any other municipal law office or practice has expertise in-house to address banking law issues as they are not typically at issue in municipal law practice.

The memo goes on to say that the City can expect to spend between $25,000 and $60,000 on outside legal advice if they decide to go this route.

Sigh. I am not at all unsympathetic to the problem immigrant communities face with respect to the unavailability of identification. There are problems with respect to access to social services. There are problems with respect to driving. There are problems with respect to interaction with the police. There are problems with respect to banking. If the City could do something about these problems, then I think they should. But we simply do not have the capacity, financial or even just functional, to solve these problems. This program does not solve these problems. It just costs money. And money is something that the City just doesn’t have right now.

30 thoughts on “Oakland municipal ID cards back at Council

  1. Patrick

    Why not just hike the ad valorem rate to 4 or 6%? Then, everyone left in Oakland will need an ID card because there will be no taxable citizens left.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Patrick, I thought this was explained pretty clearly in the Open Thread. You can’t just raise the Ad Valorem tax rate because you want more money. The tax rate above 1% is entirely determined by the amount needed to pay voter-approved debt service. The taxes are certainly unpleasant, but they were also all approved by Oakland voters by a 2/3 margin. If people don’t like paying such high taxes, then they should stop voting for bonds.

  3. MarleenLee

    It is absurd to think that the City is even entertaining this proposal. Continuing to discuss it and sending it through the RFP process is a waste of time and money that the City just does not have. This is a City that cannot even manage the most basic programs and provide the most basic services to its citizens, and it is contemplating this pipe dream project that is (a) not likely to provide any tangible benefits to anybody, except the manufacturers of the cards; and (b) likely to run the City more into debt and potential legal problems. Should citizens who can’t even feed their families subscribe to cable TV? Hello!? It reminds me of that ordinance passed a few years back that required public servants who have contact with the public to be bilingual, or something like that. I can’t remember the details, but basically, the City admits it is totally not complying with its own law, and the City is, again, lucky that it hasn’t been sued. Oakland needs to focus its priorities on its current obligations, which it is not even close to meeting.

  4. Barry K.

    Prior to the municipal ID card program, the Mayor and select council members (namely Quan, again, and DLF) thought it best to encrease the merits of the Sanctuary City status of Oakland. Lest we forget:

    May 15, 2007 Oakland City Council condemns federal immigration raids
    Oakland joined the list of cities opposing federal crackdowns on illegal immigrants Tuesday night when the City Council unanimously declared Oakland a “City of Refuge” and condemned recent federal immigration raids.

    The measure by Dellums and De La Fuente, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Jean Quan and Jane Brunner, would instruct city officials not to cooperate with any federal investigation, detention or arrest procedures for civil immigration violations, except where local cooperation is mandated

    October 12, 2008 Oakland considers controversial municipal ID cards
    The proposed municipal ID card plan, recently submitted to Oakland City Councilmember Jean Quan (District 4) by a group called the Oakland City ID Card Coalition, envisions the cards being used by a wide variety of people who might have trouble obtaining traditional forms of ID.

    However, Thomason pointed out that Oakland is a sanctuary city, where police officers are not supposed to report an individual’s legal status to federal authorities. “If people are victims of crime, if they call the police, we are going to investigate that crime whether you’re a legal resident or not a legal resident,” he said. “We don’t questions people’s legal status in Oakland. I’ve been here 10 years and we’ve never done that.”

    While there is no official estimate for an Oakland ID card program, estimates for the cost of implementing San Francisco’s program range from $500,000 to $3 million. “The costs would be significantly lower than San Francisco,” said Michael Johnson, policy advisor to Councilmember Quan. “San Francisco has a law on the books that says they can’t destroy records under any circumstances, so they had to buy a very expensive machine to make the cards.”

    June 7, 2009 ¡Felicidades! Oakland City Council Approves the Oakland Municipal ID Card program!

    Under the leadership of Council Member Jean Quan and Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente, the Council heard the testimony of dozens of community members on how the ID card program could improve the lives of homeless, immigrant and transgender people, and despite concerns about the program’s possible upfront and ongoing costs, a majority of the Council voted to take this small but significant step in building unity and increasing public safety for all Oakland residents.

  5. livegreen

    I’m surprised everyone’s ignored another group that could potentially be interested in this ID Card, and who has access to a lot more capital to help pay for it: ICE.

    An ID card for IA’s would help identifying them much much easier. When conducting a raid at a workplace ICE could simply ask for ID’s. Anybody showing a Municipal illegal alien ID could be detained quickly and simply (& subject of course to due process).

    For people who don’t have any ID card during a raid, ICE could offer Oakland a referral program to get people signed up.

    As an aside, if the users of these IDs are exclusively or even mostly illegal aliens, I wonder if they’ll perceive a negative in having one?

  6. Robert

    I am not sure why any legal resident would want one of these, except possibly for the debit card feature. Since CA issues a non-driving ID card, wouldn’t that cover pretty much anyone who could prove their legal resident status?

  7. len raphael

    doesn’t it just gall you when the cc devotes a bunch of their time and staff’s hours to half baked poiltically correct projects like the id cards, but relatively little to seriously documented projects like the oac opposition, or Measure OO etc.

    there-oughta-be an oakland charter amendment that would forbid any social program approval unless Berkeley has already approved the equivalent for their town.

  8. oakie

    I like the idea of paying all city employees in ACORNs. It would have use…..you can burn it and get some heat out of it. As for our loyal current employee, Mr. Lovan, with the ACORNs and the gun he carries, I’m sure he will make a living out of it.

  9. Patrick

    I was not being “somewhat” cynical, I was being EXTREMELY cynical. That I will now have $740 less to do – well, anything – is bad enough. But when you add in the fact that $740 represents only slightly more than 50% of my yearly contribution to the police and fire department pension fund bonds alone, in addition to the amount being paid out that weren’t covered by bonds, it is easy to be a bit cynical. Actually, it is easy to be a bit livid. When I lived in San Francisco, I left my bedroom window and patio door open 24/7. Now, every time my cellphone rings my heart skips a beat for fear it is Bay Alarm calling. I want value.

    And THAT is my point. Our City Council is supposed to balance what is necessary and practical with what we can afford. Every single one of them has shown they are not equal to that task. In fact, they have all shown they don’t even understand what that means! They just wax poetic about the need to help the underserved. Guess what! I’m underserved! Every time my teeth rattle on a pothole or one of my neighbors reports what was stolen out of their back yard or I watch trash swirling through the streets or I look at a weed-choked median or trip on a cracked sidewalk or get accosted by the smell of urine downtown, I am reminded that all of this is what I get in return for the highest property taxes in the Bay Area. That they are even entertaining this ridiculous proposal makes my blood boil.

    Besides, who in hell would go through the hassle of having to deal with yet another government bureaucracy to get an ID card if they didn’t have to? I would imagine nobody in that category. Which, as mentioned above, stigmatizes the card and makes it useless.

    Furthermore, how does this debit card feature benefit anyone who may find the card otherwise useful? So, what…they get to go to the check cashing place anyway (government entities are not allowed to act as banks) losing 10% in the process. They take their wad of cash home (as before) exposing themselves to the dangers of carrying money. And then, instead of taking, say, $40 to go to Mi Pueblo, they would have to carry $150 to some government office, putting there funds at risk yet again? And then 5 days later again? Who would be stupid enough to do that?

    On the other hand, I am in complete agreement that we should pay our public employees with ACORNs. Because then they will all quit and we can start again, shortly after outlawing public employee unions.

    Seriously, this council puts forth some harebrained schemes but this one takes the prize. Well, this month’s prize anyway.

  10. Barry K

    To the Comrades on Abetteroakland.com:

    “Oakland’s wealth is her people, and to flourish, the people need official recognition of our valuable presence.
    With love, in solidarity,
    Oakland City ID Card Coalition c/s”
    Nineteen Eighty-Four (also 1984) is a dystopian novel, by George Orwell, published in 1949 about the totalitarian régime of the Party, an oligarchical collectivist society where life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, public mind control, and the voiding of citizens’ rights.

    “Party” = Oakland City Council.

  11. Ralph

    len, the amendment should read no spending on social programs. i don’t care what berkeley does. cc is kidding themselves if they think people who are legally here want or even need this id. there is no way that this program can pay for itself and it certainly is going to stop the undocumented beatdown.

  12. Patrick

    @ Chris Kidd…so, are you a property owner in Oakland? Or just one of the 60%who can vote to raise our taxes without any negative financial ramifications to yourself? Real question, not being totally snarky. Which is unusual.

  13. Patrick

    And for anyone of like mind, I’d like to ask a favor of you. Picture yourself in Uptown. You’re going out on the town with a bunch of your friends. You have $740 in your pocket (because a $150 debit card is insufficient) and you’ve promised yourself and your friends an evening to end all evenings. You walk into Van Kleefs, reach for your cash, and it’s gone. Unexpectedly. Gone forever. Then attempt to remind yourself of all of the benefits of having $740 less than you did one moment ago. The benefits given to others even though your life is no better, and will not be better, and will in fact be worse, than it was moments ago. Mine’s more of a greyhound-party but it all works out the same.

  14. Patrick

    $740 is 185 Bay Bridge tolls. $740 is 740 cans of StarKist tuna. $740 is 21.1428753 months of electricity/gas bills (for me). $740 is more than I spent on clothing, haircuts and travel last year. I take solace that lieutenants in our police department can peacefully drive to their homes in CoCoCo in their new Maseratis because of the spectacular performance of our city council. Wake up, people.

    What was that woman’s name? The one who caused an uproar because she moved to Marin and wrote about it in the Chron? A year ago, I thought she was a chump. But now I look in the mirror and realize the chump was me all along.

  15. len raphael

    P, my hunch is that my fellow 40% of oakland petty bourgeoisie vote in much high higher numbers than renters. judging by the way they vote for incumbents, i am confident most of them voted for the bond measures that now give them sticker shock.

    -len raphael

  16. ken o.

    I’m pissed that my friend got a fix it ticket from OPD for not having her front license plate on the front bumper. for $90!

    it’s because some ghetto kids stole her original plate and mounting bracket, and so the new one was in the trunk (for the front bumper)

    opd wouldn’t fix the fixit ticket now because the plate is on the dashboard behind the windshield. it “has to” be mounted. LAME

  17. Born in Oakland

    Confused are we? Welcome to the Bay Area bubble where wedge issues keep our eye off the ball and our dysfunctional political establishment grinds on and on.

  18. Kipper

    Ken.o, If it’s a “fix-it” ticket then it is only a $10 fee once deemed corrected. Not certain why you chose to place blame and anger in this thread, but seems disproportionate just the same.

  19. Russell Spitzer

    I like social programs but this one seems to step into far too much liability without any real gain. There doesn’t seem to be any reasonable chance that the plan will work and there is a reasonable chance that the whole mess will get us into legal trouble which the city cannot afford.

    If we want to help out the citizens of Oakland how about we focus on fixing our public transit? That will have real benefits for all citizens and the legal liabilities are well covered by our current lawyers, not to mention it won’t cause us to walk into federal territory.

  20. Patrick

    I agree, len.

    As I have always stated, I think it is unfair that people (renters) who are protected from the costs of the things they vote for, are allowed to vote on those issues. Seriously, it’s like letting everyone vote on marriage rights for lesbians and gays – and with the same results.

    Second, and just as importantly, why in hell are we floating bonds to pay for pension funding shortages? That takes an already fiscally damaging situation and compounds (pardon the pun) the problem with interest payments. If we have to float bonds for personnel costs, you would think that would suggest to someone that the personnel costs are way too high. When politicians covet the backing of the police and fire unions to get re-elected, it is no wonder that we’re in the situation we find ourselves.

    The City Council awarded those pensions and now we’re saddled with the costs because of their complete fiscal irresponsibility. It’s as sickening as the OO “compromise”. A compromise wouldn’t have been necessary if they had shown some spine and worked to defeat OO in the first place. Instead, like always, they worry about things that are not central to a functioning city, then wring their hands at the dire situation their inaction (or inappropriate actions) have caused, and in the process we all go deeper into debt.

    And now this ridiculous piece of costly, useless nonsense.

  21. Patrick

    ken o. really? I knew the state increased the costs of those tickets at the same time they jacked up moving violation fines. But, Oakland typically did not issue fix-it tickets before, because it wasn’t worth it. If Oakland police ticketed everyone who drives through Oakland in a fix-it ticket-able car, we’d probably be able to afford their pension.

  22. ken o.

    hey patrick. the ticket turned out to cost $220. a far cry from a $90 (and potentially only $10) ticket. life gets in the way of things sometimes, and for anyone without a paying job in order to get to job interviews, etc, this would land them with a boot on the car and eventually tax garnishments and jail time.

    City Hall greed = unions + bureaucrats unwilling to cut a decade of fat rolls =


    for us mere citizens. Reminds one of the Parisian situation circa 18th Century

  23. Patrick

    $220 = Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa??? Fix-it tickets were $10 because it was society’s way of saying “sorry, this is unsafe”. The forced repair (that you perhaps could not afford) was the punishment. This is just theft.

    Maybe David is right. Maybe it is time to leave California. I’ve lived in seven other cities in seven other states – and Oakland is my favorite of all of them – but is it really worth the premium? Is it really worth supporting the priveleged class (i.e. government workers)? Sure, I’d pine for the Banh Mi, but I could probably employ a personal Vietnamese chef for these prices.

    Maybe they made the sidewalk around Lake Merritt that wide to accommodate a guillotine and screaming, peasant spectators. And the goose shit is there so they have something to fling.

  24. David

    Patrick, if you have a job that can be done somewhere else, you really should head out. Seriously. If you want to have a chance to enjoy life, and have some financial benefits.

    Or save up a lot and move to Alameda. Or less and move to San Leandro.

  25. Patrick

    Gee, thanks David! When I decide to follow the advice of some blog-commenter freakshow that I referenced sardonically, I’ll do that!