88 thoughts on “
Open Thread

  1. oaklandhappenings

    Taking a breather and my mind off this weekend’s tragedies, as relief, I thought that I would post this from the Tribune, from Dave Newhouse: it is regarding a possible–likely or unlikely–Oakland stadium spot for the A’s. it is where the former Malibu [Grand Prix] was, and a place where I wondered was never considered before. From the images, it is hard to argue against, with the exception of Lew Wolff or Bud Selig. Thoughts? Is this beating a dead horse further?

  2. John Klein

    Thought you’d all like to know about a Measure DD project that started today. Work started today at the El Embarcadero area of Lake Merritt. The two roadways between Grand Ave. and Lakeshore Ave. will be changed during the next couple of months. The section of road nearest the Lake will be removed and reclaimed as park land and reconnected to the Lake. The section nearest the library will be widened to accommodate two-way traffic. You can see pictures of today’s action on Flickr here:


  3. Almer Mabalot

    Nice, I’ve been wondering for a long time about this project. Glad to see the construction crew finally start. By the way, are you keeping up to date (day to day) until the construction is finish? I wonder how long will it take to reclaim that road as a pedestrian walkway. I’m guessing a month or month, and a half.

  4. hella bike

    I’ve also been keeping track of the work going on Lakeside and the boathouse as I ride by on my way to work. They just poured the concrete for the sidewalk. It’s exhilarating to see the formation of the walkways and the space that’s going to be reclaimed from the street on that side of the lake.

  5. John Klein

    hella bike and AM,
    Yeah, I was at the Boat House this morning too and took more pictures; you can see them in the last half of the slideshow at the link below. I have a few video clips also but haven’t posted them yet.

    I’ve got time right now to take pictures but I won’t be able to next week. They will pour more sidewalks at the Boat House tomorrow, Wednesday. I’ll take more pics then, especially since I promised the workers today that I would come back on Wednesday and bring doughnuts, so I’m committed now…..


  6. Almer Mabalot

    That’s very neat. Hopefully once it’s finish I can finally jog Lake Merritt completely. When are the construction crew going to reconfiguring the street, and make two new bridges (road bridge/ped. bridge) near the Kaiser Convention Center, and Alameda County Courthouse? Anyways in general, glad to see Lake Merritt get it’s long overdue projects going.

  7. Ralph

    I must admit when I first moved to Oakland in oh six I really thought those Measure DD signs were some sort of cruel joke. Look at the pictures, look at the lake the two two did not mesh. Years later, I was convinced nothing would be done. Now, with each passing day, I am giddy like a schoolgirl as I know the vision is coming together and my days of knocking over pedestrians is coming to an end.

  8. Chris Kidd

    I think those bashers and naysayers of Measure DD and Joel Peter really need to eat some humble pie on this one. I eagerly await a new and improved Lake Merritt and Laney Canal when this is all done.

  9. Joanna/ShopGirl

    John, thanks for posting the link to your photos. I’m so excited to see it nearing completion… I wonder how work is coming along inside the restaurant – does anyone know?

  10. len raphael

    reading the description of the vigil for the murdered cops, how various civic leaders spoke etc. i kept thinking of what (was it V?) said here that Oakland doesn’t have any leaders. most of the non public office leaders are self designated professional leaders because of their employment. eg. ministers, rabbis, head of an ngo. as far as elected leaders, i think even their biggest fans consider them more to be public servants than leaders. (ok, except for a few die hard dellums believers).

  11. Confused

    Hey everyone!

    Be sure to check out the Stub club at the Grand Lake Theater! Watch a movie and use your ticket stub to take advantage of special promotions and discounts at 25 participating businesses along Grand Ave, Lake Park, and Lakeshore avenues. Support local businesses!

    Ticket Stubs are good for seven days after your purchase.

  12. John Klein

    Hi Joanna,

    I peeked through the windows at the Boat House today and snapped a few photos. As you can see, there is nothing going on inside. I didn’t ask anyone about this and I imagine the restaurant operation can’t start setting up in earnest until there is unimpeded vehicle access to the building. It’s really busy all over the outside there right now and bringing in restaurant equipment would really get in the way of the backhoes, cement trucks, workers, etc.


  13. Joanna/ShopGirl

    Thanks, John! I am betting that it will be another year before we see the restaurant open… are the same people that originally signed on, still planning on opening? Or did that change along the way?

  14. Ken O

    I can’t wait until BAKESALE BETTY’S opens in downtown Oakland. I heard summer 2009, now I hear fall 2009. When is it? Michael/Allison please post :)

  15. Ralph

    I see daily progress on BB. Given that Ozumo, Pican were late, I would guess BB will be late. But isn’t someone in ownership pregnant. I heard this was holding up progress.

  16. Joanna/ShopGirl

    On a completely different topic, I just wanted to say that as I listened to the memorial today, I was struck several times when I heard people talk of wanting “A BETTER OAKLAND”. I know there’s one out there, and thanks to V for helping to push things in the right direction.

    Creating this dialog and the comments (for better or worse) is communication – something this city needs more and more of.


  17. Ralph

    MJ Tax…Oakland and California residents have spoken. Voters have elected to ignore the black market for prescriptions and the way MJ establishments effectively choke off capital to neighborhoods where they set up shop. Given what me must go forego and endure as a result of these establishment, city council proposal to raise tax to 12 or 24 / $1K from $1.20 is insufficient. City council should propose $97.50/$1K.

  18. Mike Spencer

    Good things happen in Oakland! Jose Pena of Oakland Charter/American Indian accepted to Cal for spring of 2010. Hard-working kid, first player from Oakland Warthog Rugby Club bound for college. Give it up for Jose Pena and the kids at Oakland Charter!!! The rugby club is still seeking boys from all Oakland high schools.

  19. Ralph

    Just read Chip’s column, looks like old do-nothing is going to do what he does best when it comes to Measure OO. If the responsibility is too much for him, then he should step aside. Better yet, for the shame he has brought to himself, his family, and the city, he should do the only honorable thing he can do.

  20. Ken O

    Ralph- why haven’t we already started a petition to dethrone the Mayor for neglecting his duties and really trying to do something? Can you type of a list of grievances?

  21. Crimson

    I was reading Chip Johnson’s column too. I really don’t want either Ron Dellums or Don Perata as mayor. (Or, to put it another way, I don’t want an ineffectual idealist or a ruthlessly effective but corrupt politician as mayor.) Can the blogoaksphere and other circles start working together early to “draft” a candidate for mayor? I don’t want to end up in the voting booth trying again to pick the lesser of two evils. The AC Transit endorsement thing was pretty impressive, maybe we/you could do another thing like that.

  22. Chris Kidd

    I voted for IDLF the last time around. I still think he’d do a good job (or at least better than Dellums), but he’s probably too polarizing to the electorate of Oakland. I’d certainly back John Russo. I think he’d be a knockout candidate.

  23. m32

    How unsafe is downtown Oakland? I’m thinking of moving to a converted storefront there. Downtown has few homicides but a fair amount of muggings is my sense. any thoughts?


  24. gem s

    m32, which block? It can really vary. I live downtown, but I moved from West Oakland so it feels comparatively safe to me. That said, I keep an I on my surroundings anywhere in Oakland.

  25. I Hella Bike Oak

    The City allow residences on commercial property? I didn’t know that.

    I don’t live in DTO, but on the other side of the lake. Except for Chinatown most of downtown feels like a ghost town on the weekends. Personally, I feel safer in Oakland’s downtown than on Market St in SF.

  26. Almer Mabalot

    Downtown Oakland really needs some retail stores to make it more lively, especially in Broadway/City Center.

  27. dto510

    m32, I find that downtown is very safe. Considering that the daytime population is around 100k, the residential population is about 20k, nightlife can bring as many as 10k people, and several thousand people transfer between BART and AC Transit daily, a few muggings is actually a very low crime rate. Of course, some areas are safer than others, as gem s notes. In five years of living downtown I was mugged once, in the middle of City Center, which is well-lit all night but has minimal security. IMHO, Old Oakland and Uptown are the safest areas, the Lake Merritt Apartment District is pretty safe (that surface parking lot on 14th/Madison is a mugging magnet), and the West DTO (the area between West O, Uptown, and Old O) feels sketchy and hosts prostitutes at night. Chinatown I’ve heard is actually fairly unsafe at night. But it’s all relative. Downtown may not be Rockridge, but it’s certainly not Ghost Town.

  28. gem s

    I agree with pretty much everything dto510 says. I live in the Lakeside, and though it’s generally very safe around here, the word from the local street people is that there are more shady characters hanging out around Snow Park, and there have been a few muggings in that area at night. Another neighbor said that a cop told him that proximity to BART can be an issue: people can mug a few people, than easily jump on a train. All hearsay from people I see around, so take it with a grain of salt. I use both Lake Merritt and 19th st BART quite a bit and haven’t noticed a particular problem myself, though Crimespotting often shows activity around 12th st BART.

  29. Ralph

    m32, i, too, find downtown Oakland safe. In a past life I did the commute from LM Bart and 20th & Harrison to JL residential without issue. Now I do 19th St to Uptown w/o issue. The only area which feels a bit uncomfortable is b/w 12th & 15th along B-way. Except for Radio, there isn’t much foot traffic there at night. When I left the city late, because of the timing b/w trains I would sometimes take a Pittsburg train and walk back to JL via C-town w/o incident.

  30. Patrick

    But did it have to include the horrible thought of IDLF and Brooks doing the nasty? I’m scarred for life!

  31. Ken

    Almer: you could petition gap to bring back their store, but nobody has money now for clothes.

    I think a night market could be hot.

    Mayor Candidates:

    A bunch of people besides PERATA have said in the past they wanted to run, or actually tried to run.

    * Patrick MC
    * Arnie Fields
    * Ron Oz
    * Hector Reyna
    * De La Fuente (city councilman)
    * Nadel (city councilwoman)

    I know I’m missing a few others. So who are the best possible candidates?
    People suggested the City Atty run, above.

    I would rate someone on: experience, drive/energy, proven leadership/ management/star power; and, a large vision that’s “ambitious but achievable”

    Source of past candidates:

  32. Ken

    Does anyone else think it’s a good idea for our Mayor to step down and DLF to take over temporarily until the next election? We need a “Decider.” Or at least someone who can form consensus around a pro-active short and long-term vision. That isn’t too much to ask.

  33. Patrick

    V: If Dellums did step down, an IDLF became Mayor, how would the newly open City Council seat be filled? Special election – or would it just sit open?

    The advantage to Dellums staying is that he has abdicated power to the City Council. The disadvantage of Dellums staying is that he has abdicated power to the City Council.

  34. Max Allstadt

    A lot of hypotheticals that are never coming to pass. The only way Dellums will leave office before 2011 would have to involve some sort of catastrophe: accident, illness, scandal. The rumors of a federal appointment are over, and he’s not gonna resign just cause he’s unpopular.

  35. Robert

    If the mayor resigns, the council position of vice mayor assumes the role of mayor. If there is more than 1 year left in the mayor’s term, a special election is held to fill out the remainder of the term. It is not clear if the vice mayor needs to resign from the council when they become mayor. DLF is currently the vice mayor.

  36. Max Allstadt

    Ken that is an amazing site. Ancient. One of the photo pages has Chang with:

    A healthy Fidel Castro.
    An incumbent Gray Davis.
    And the late Ron Brown, DNC chair who died in a plane crash in Yugoslavia in 1996.

  37. Danny Wan

    A 10.25% SALES TAX!
    Now that the Council has wisely scrapped the idea of raising Oakland’s average property tax rate to the highest in the State, Jean Quan has raised the spectre of the highest sales tax in the state.

    In the meanwhile, Oakland maintains one of the highest per capita staffing ratio in the state for the a city.

    I agree with DLF, why not try to cut down on staffing and finding ways of doing things efficiently. With the economic downturn, plenty of opportunties for cost savings exist.

    A sales tax rise would drive what little retail business Oakland out to Emeryville even further.

  38. Danny Wan

    In the debate over whether Oakland residents deserve more taxes or less city employees, the following statistics might be revealing. Albeit, its a little old, but I thinks still illustrates the porportions:

    Oakland population: 399,484 FTE: 5,265
    Fresno population: 427,652 FTE: 3,466
    Sacramento population: 407,108 FTE: 4,268
    Long Beach population: 461,522 FTE: 5,986

    Source: http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/gc023x1.pdf

    My conclusion: Oakland could do work much more efficiently. To anticipate an argument, I don’t think that any of the other comparable cities face any less problems than Oakland does.

  39. das88

    @Danny Wan those are truly scary numbers. Especially when combined with the fact that Oakland had the highest salaries of any city.

    While there is no data on this, I would also guess that Oakland has a far lower percentage of city employees living in the city that they work in.

  40. Ralph

    at almost $1K / head more expensive than San Francisco, the problem would seem to be we have too many queen bees

  41. Ralph

    ken, huh? all i am saying is we have too many chiefs and not enough indians, are you thinking all the indians are overpaid. chiefs making $88K or whatever it works out to seems reasonable

  42. livegreen

    How did salaries get to be so high in the first place? Did it happen only under City Administrator Edgerley, or also under Bobb? I assume that both the City Counsel and two Mayor’s had to approve these raises, etc.

    Assuming some negotiations happened with the union, and in the budget process, this must have been known to both the Administrators and the Politicos.

    In which case, how can we vote for ANY of them?

  43. Patrick

    So, Oakland’s average pay rate among the country’s largest cities (at least in 2006) was the highest? And based on these figures, it appears that our city workers received, on average, an increase in pay of 31.8% in the six year period covered in that .pdf?

    We need a Measure on an upcoming ballot dealing with THIS problem. I wonder if it would be legal to set upper limits on pay rates and staffing numbers, say by using other cities in California with income distributions similar to ours? I haven’t heard anyone on the City Council even suggesting that we talk to the unions – even San Francisco just got pay and benefit concessions from their largest union. It is even worse when you consider the value of their retirement packages. What is the current amount budgeted for payroll? $50 million? $60 million? If 4200 city employees was sufficient for 400k citizens in 2000, why did we have 5800 in 2006? That’s an increase of 1 city employee per 250 residents. What are all of those people doing? They’ve certainly not made the city a better place to live. Or cleaner, safer, more-attractive-to-business… Increased city staffing and decreasing levels of services?

    I live on a street that I guarantee has not seen a road crew since the 1960′s, no sidewalk repair since 1925 (at least 30% is crumbling and about 10% is just plain gone), we have ONE street tree that is “the city’s responsibility”, and it’s DEAD. The local library is only open when everyone is at work, our local park has all the charm of a construction site, the only time I have ever seen a police officer on my street was when an 80 year old woman was bludgeoned to within an inch of her life by thugs two doors down and it took 23 calls to the “abandoned auto line” to get a stolen car (which was partially blocking my driveway) removed. The tax burden for this house last year was $5746 – not to mention the $4800 I paid for permits after buying this house. Marleen? I need an attorney – an attorney who can tell me who I can sue for services non-rendered and the theft and subsequent squandering of my tax dollars.

    Sorry for the rant – but I am sick of paying for surly, unresponsive city workers, a $65000 a year meter related-to-the-former-City-Administrator repairman, our Mayor’s limousine, chauffeur, private security, floral budget, travel expenses, Personal Administrative Assistant and Assistant to the Personal Administrative Assistant when I don’t even turn my heat on unless it goes below 50 degrees to save money. People always mention “crime” when I tell them I live in Oakland – what they don’t know is the most egregious criminals of all are in our City government.

  44. Patrick

    Let’s return to the staffing levels of the year 2000 and hire 800 police officers at $7700 a month. $7700 x 12 = $92400 x 800 =$73,920,000. We wouldn’t have to worry about a budget deficit – we’d have a police department sized properly for our city and a surplus! Maybe we could even spend that surplus on schools or something – call me crazy.

  45. Robert

    The staffing numbers in V’s link are not correct, or at least they do not agree with the budget numbers. 2006 had an approved staffing of 4248 FTEs, not the 5800 in the census report. Of course that would mean that over half of Oakland’s employees are only part time workers.

  46. V Smoothe

    The numbers in the census bureau report are all self-reported from the City. As I noted the last time I wrote about this, the City could, of course, be wrong about how many people it employs, but then, there’s not much we can do about that when it comes to trying to make comparisons.

  47. Patrick

    Is it possible to obtain a current and historical (2000) list of all employees, their employment status and position? I’d love to do a comparo between now and the year 2000.

  48. CitizenE

    Patrick, check the City Atty’s page on the City website for info on how to request info under the California Public Records Act. Just be specific on what data you’d like and what time periods (as of X date).

    Comparing head counts between cities is tricky as no two cities are alike — each performs a different variety of services. The census site info helps break things down a bit finer. The 5800 employee figure is too high. That may or may not be an issue of City reporting — perhaps related (Port) or not so related (Housing Authority) entities are showing in one year or another. Just a guess.

  49. V Smoothe Post author

    The Port or Housing Authority wouldn’t factor into it. The discrepancy doesn’t seem like much of a mystery to me. Whoever was filling out the form stuck the total number of positions in the space that was supposed to be for total FTEs. If you read the data collection notes, they explain in detail how they go to great lengths to make the reporting idiot-proof, but I suppose somebody will always slip through the cracks.

  50. Patrick

    Although I can understand how someone could make the mistake of PTE + FTE vs. FTE only (especially in this city), how can we explain the discrepancy between average rate of pay vs. total pay, if there are not more employees? If the average pay was $7726 per month in 2006, that represents an almost 32% increase over 2000. However, total payroll was listed as $24.8 million dollars in 2000 vs. 2006 total payroll of $44.4 million, and increase of over 79%. Furthermore, 4200 employees each making $5861/month on average = $295,394,400 a year (24.6 million a month) whearas 5800 employees at $7726/month = $537,729,600 (44.8 million a month). The numbers only work out if there is an increase in employees from 4200 to 5800.

    From 2000 to 2006, the amount of money the City of Oakland spent on payroll alone went from $738.48 per year to $1344.32 per year per resident. And look what we’ve got to show for it!

  51. Robert

    Patrick, I suggest you look at the budget documents, they are likely to be more reliable than a voluntary survey. I think V is correct that somebody filled out the survey wrong, although how they could manage to do that I don’t understand. The three numbers you are referring to (# of emps, total payroll, and pay per employee) are not independent. The pay per employee is derived in the census data from the other two reported numbers. So your argument, unbeknownst to you, is circular.

    The budget documents are available online back to 2001, and the 2001 budget has the historical data from 2000. These will have the number of FTEs for each department.

    Assuming that the difference between the 4200 and the 5800 numbers for 2006 are due to counting part time employees instead of FTEs, it does indicate that over half of the total number of employees in Oakland are part timers. This seems extrodinarily high. Since part timers are likely to be less efficient, and certainly more expensive due to benefits, this might be part of the cause for high labor costs in Oakland.

  52. V Smoothe Post author

    The large percentage of part-time employees doesn’t seem implausible to me, although I’m not sure that necessarily translates into more expensive labor costs. While there are benefited part-time positions, many of the City’s part-time employees are classified as “temporary,” which doesn’t necessarily mean short-term – there are “temporary” employees who have worked for the City for 20+ years, but it does mean they receive no benefits.

    Page 17 of the current budget (PDF) has a chart showing the number of budgeted FTEs going back 12 years.

  53. Patrick

    OK, where do I find that info online?

    If the City FTE figure was inaccurately reported as 5800, but was really only 4200, and the total compensation reported was $44.8 million per month, that works out to $10,666,67 average monthly compensation. There is no way that figure represents the average monthly compensation of City of Oakland FTEs – can it? So by your reasoning, if the City of Oakland reported the combinedFTEs AND PTEs as 5800, then they must also have reported the $44.8 million as monthly compensation earned by both groups combined. And frankly, that makes the $7726 figure that much worse.

    As City workers do not work a 40 hour work week, I consider them all PTEs.

  54. eichenbaum

    Too Many Workers in Oakland?
    I’d like to respond to Danny Wan, who posted numbers from the 2004 census from 4 cities. Wan apparently thinks the numbers suggest that Oakland has more city employees, relative to the other cities.

    I’d like to point out that the 2004 census lists Oakland with 5265 full time employees (FTE), but at today’s Finance & Management Committee it was reported that the number in 2009, after severe cuts over the past several years, is now only 4,286.

    Even using the 2004 numbers, after subtracting out for the high number of police and fire in Oakland relative to the other 3 other cities Wan cites, Oakland had a ratio of 1 city worker to 76 citizens, as compared to 1:73 (Fresno), 1:72 (Sacramento) and 1:77 (Long Beach). So using the 2004 numbers (subtracting out police and fire for each city), Oakland is certainly similar to the other cities cited, as far as the ratio of non-public safety staff to citizens. With the 2009 numbers, oakland may have a much worse ratio, given that the number of employees now is almost 1,000 less than reported in the 2004 census.

    Danny, I agree with you MOST of the time, but not THIS time. Oakland does not appear to be more heavily staffed than the cities you’ve cited, based on my calculations, and drastic cuts to expected services, the closing of parks and libraries and deferred maintenance of already ancient city infrastructure, may NOT be what residents want.

    Danny stated:

    In the debate over whether Oakland residents deserve more taxes or less city employees, the following statistics might be revealing. Albeit, its a little old, but I thinks still illustrates the porportions:

    Oakland population: 399,484 FTE: 5,265
    Fresno population: 427,652 FTE: 3,466
    Sacramento population: 407,108 FTE: 4,268
    Long Beach population: 461,522 FTE: 5,986

    Source: http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/gc023×1.pdf

    My conclusion: Oakland could do work much more efficiently. To anticipate an argument, I don’t think that any of the other comparable cities face any less problems than Oakland does.

  55. V Smoothe Post author

    I think people are confused. FTE does not mean “full-time employee.” It means “full time equivalent.” It means the number of full-time employees that would be employed if only full-time employees worked the total number of hours worked. So if I work, say, 15 hours per week at my job, that makes me 0.4 FTE.

  56. Robert

    Since Oakland misreported the number of FTEs, I really wouldn’t put much faith in any other number they reported. We don’t know how they calculated the average salary, and I don’t believe it is a number that can be found in the budget itself. And the census number itself purports to be only for “full time employees”, not FTEs.

  57. V Smoothe

    More on this tomorrow (hopefully), but I’m pretty sure, looking at the raw data, that the problem with the FTE figure is that part-time employees were reported as full-time. The reported pay figures represent gross monthly payroll, and the average pay per employee comes from dividing the gross payroll by the number of employees.

  58. californio

    Can someone explain the differences between the NYC and LA numbers on this chart? The 2006 census shows NYC at 8,214,426, and at 416,000 FTE that works out to one FTE per 19.74 people. Can this be right?

    In contrast, LA shows a 2006 population of 3,849,378, and with 52,000 FTE, that works out to one FTE per 74 people. Either I’m not doing the math right, or there’s some kind of a problem in tabulation or data collection here.

    There also may be a problem in doing an apples-to-apples comparison because of the fact that LA city is surrounded by the real LA, the county, which had almost 10M people in 2006. Some services may overlap, or who knows what. For example, is the LA school district part of the county or the city, or neither? Or is it counted at all?

    Is is possible that some cities include, say, school departments among their FTE’s, while others do not? Also, some cities outsource a lot of their services (Naomi Klein describes one near Atlanta which outsources EVERYTHING–there are no public employees, not even a mayor.) These factors would skew the data to the point where it’s hard to rely on. What if, as in the suburbs of Atlanta, the entire police/fire departments are subbed out to contractors? That would make it look as if certain cities had a comparatively low number of FTE’s. And so on.

    However you want to look at it, NYC sure seems to have a lot of employees.

    Forgive my ignorance but I’m wondering, if there are really discrepancies of this size in the numbers, how we can make decisions based on them without knowing the back story.

  59. das88

    There has been a lot of discussion that the Oakland data is not very reliable. I would guess that also means that other cities may have problems with their data.

    Another issue I was wondering about in doing city to city comparison of FTE’s is the amount of contracting various cities do. I do not have facts, but I am under the impression that some cities contract out services much more frequently than others.

  60. V Smoothe Post author

    Different cities provide different services. Consolidated city-county governments will have more employees than just a city government, for example, because they’re providing more services. Some cities operate their own school district, transit agency, housing authority, and so on. The City of Oakland is responsible for none of these functions.

  61. V Smoothe Post author

    I don’t really think there is a reliability problem with the data here. The issue with Oakland’s FTE number is that part-time employees were listed as full-time, but I see no reason to question the total employment or payroll numbers. They’re consistent with everything I’ve seen from other sources.

  62. californio

    In other words, if Oakland is not providing such and such services while other cities are, and if our FTE’s are higher or commensurate with theirs, then in fact in an apples-to-apples our FTE’s would be even higher.

    Anybody have an explanation for why NYC’s numbers are almost four times LA’s? It’s a bit off topic, but it does show the importance of knowing just what is being counted and what isn’t.

    The intricacies of city government might make an apples-to-apples difficult. For example, do we count the police department? If we count the police department, do we count the school district? What about the OUSD’s own police department (yes, it exists)?

    Regardless, though, we can all agree that the services here are pretty shoddy across the board, except when it comes to ticketing your car for street cleaning day, even when the street cleaners don’t show up.

    Maybe instead of Oakland dollars what we need is a barter system. You know, we fix them a nice meal and they fill a pothole. There was a time when Russian employees were being paid in cabbages, if I recall. Who knows.

  63. Robert

    V, what other sources are you referring to for the number of employees and the payroll? Because I can’t seem to find that in the budget itself.

  64. V Smoothe Post author

    I apologize if my responses aren’t particularly illuminating or helpful. I am working on a blog about this, and I think once I post it a lot of questions will be answered, but getting the raw data into a readable form is quite the time-consuming project. I had hoped to finish last night, but I realized rather late yesterday that I was being rather unrealistic. Soon…

  65. Robert

    “The budget will not be helpful.”

    That would be sort of a fundamental problem with the budget, wouldn’t it?

  66. Patrick

    That’s my point, Robert. The budget is now “Program Based” as opposed to “Line-Item Based”. In other words, a program called (made up) “Oakland for Kids Progress and World Peace and Keeping the A’s” could have a “program-based” budget of $200,000, with 10% of the funds committed for payroll this year, and 90% the next, with no easy way to tell the difference. And the only way you would know is if you asked for that information.

  67. Dave C.

    “Anybody have an explanation for why NYC’s numbers are almost four times LA’s? It’s a bit off topic, but it does show the importance of knowing just what is being counted and what isn’t.”

    I would guess that LA Unified School District employees aren’t employed by the city of LA. That makes a huge difference. About 25% of NYC’s municipal employees are schoolteachers (almost 1 teacher per 100 residents). NY’s police force is also larger than LA’s as a percentage of the population. Even if you only counted cops and teachers, NYC would have about 1 employee per 70 residents, which is already more than LA’s total. Once you add in all the other NYC employees (12,000 in the housing authority, 10,000 in the dept of sanitation, parks and rec workers, librarians, etc.), it doesn’t surprise me that NYC would be at 1 per 19 residents while LA would be at 1 per 74, since LA County probably handles a lot of services that fall under the jurisdiction of the City of New York.

  68. californio

    Might be the school district, might be the county, all true. The numbers alone, though, clearly don’t tell us much. If you saw statistics showing, say, 19 cancer patients per 100,000 in NYC but 74 in LA, you’d be right to question the consistency of data collection and tabulation.

    As it stands, I don’t see a way to do an apples-to-apples comparison among cities regarding number of FTE’s.

    Is there more consistency regarding salary levels?

  69. V Smoothe

    californio, I think you’re trying to make things a lot more complicated than they actually are. The comparison is pretty simple – how many people each city employs. What is it, exactly, that’s such a mystery to you about that?

  70. californio

    The problem I see is that similarly-sized cities might be able to provide exactly the same services with vastly different numbers of FTE’s. It would be possible to run a city the size of Oakland with 100 employees, if you were to contract out the police and fire services, library, parks and rec, etc., etc. (That’s the reality in some cities, as I mentioned in a previous post.) Such a scenario would make it appear that the city is being run with a very small number of employees, but that is only because most of the work is being Blackwatered and Bechteled. The numbers alone don’t tell the story. That’s why the discrepancy between NYC and LA seems so revelatory. In cases where private contractors are being used, to take only that one example, an apples-to-apples would necessitate factoring back in all the employees of the contractor. I don’t think those employees show up in the chart as is. “How many people each city employs” can be unrealistically high or low depending on, among other things, the degree to which contractors provide services.

  71. V Smoothe Post author

    Californio, that’s completely ridiculous. Can you provide a single example of any city that has contracted out police, fire, libraries, and parks and rec? How absurd!

  72. californio

    Quoting Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine, Page 533. “In September, 2005…the residents of Sandy Springs (Georgia) were approached by the construction and consulting giant CH2M Hill with a unique pitch: let us do it for you. For the starting price of $27 million a year, the contractor pledged to build a complete city from the ground up. A few months later, Sandy Springs became the first “contract city.” Only four people worked directly for the new municipality–everyone else was a contractor. Rick Hirsehorn, heading up the project for CH2M Hill, described Sandy Springs as “a clean sheet of paper with no governmental processes in place.” He told another journalist that “no one in our industry has done a complete city of this size before.”

    The back story here is that the wealthier, whiter citizens of Atlanta suburbs got fed up with paying property taxes to Fulton County to subsidize inner city schools and the like, so they incorporated and contracted out all services.

    “Cities on a Hill” has similar information on a planned community in Florida going back to the mid-1980s. Privatized school systems have been tried in various municipalities as well.

    There is no state or federal law requiring municipalities to provide anything at all “publicly,” and cities across the country, generally in more conservative areas, see no reason not to privatize everything from schools and libraries to police and fire services.

    Oakland could easily be managed with 100 municipal employees. Probably a quarter of that. I’m sure CH2M Hill would be happy to help. Maybe with the assistance of Blackwater.

    Admittedly, so far the totally-privatized municipalities are smaller and more suburban than Oakland. It may very well be that large cities like Fort Worth or Dallas contract out much more than we do, however, given their conservative bent, and this would have an effect on numbers of FTE’s, artificially decreasing them for the same level of service. How can you tell without doing the research? I sure don’t know.

    As civic problems in places like Oakland and Richmond become increasingly difficult to manage, the citizens may warm up to the idea of privatization. Who cares whether the police are private or “public” as long as they do the job? That’s the mentality. If by privatizing police and fire you could put twice as many people on the job for the same gross pay, would you do it? A lot of folks would, especially Republican-types like you see in Fulton County, Georgia. Why pay union salaries and benefits for people to wax red trucks all day? Why have Deborah Edgerly on board? Is she worth $275K yearly to CH2M Hill? Do we need Nancy Nadel? Dan Lindheim? How do they contribute? That’s the line of thinking.

    Not that I endorse it. It’s pretty scary, actually, to imagine an entire city run for profit. The point is that it’s being done, and that every place it is done, and to whatever degree, privatization effectively skews the numbers on charts like the one in question.

  73. Max Allstadt

    Um… re: private Fire Departments:

    In the 1800s they had those in some cities. Sometimes two different fire departments would show up at the same fire, and instead of fighting the fire, they’d get into a brawl with each other over who got to fight the fire. Seen “Gangs of New York”?… that incident was based on historical fact.

  74. V Smoothe Post author

    That’s simply not true. For 2007, Sandy Springs, GA had 233 city employees. Like most suburbs, they don’t operate their own library or school system – they have county libraries and schools. They have their own police and fire department. Perhaps Sandy Springs contracted with CH2M Hill to assist in incorporation, but it isn’t a privatized city at all.

  75. californio

    It may be that the ratios change, year after year–who knows? Maybe CH2M Hill is gone. I don’t know.

    The idea is far from absurd, in any event.

    A recent edition of the Chicago Tribune reports that privatizing the police for minor functions is being considered in that major city: “As the city and its police union near the two-year mark in contract negotiations, Mayor Richard Daley on Saturday said a proposal to allow private security guards to write tickets is worth exploring.

    Only Chicago police officers can issue citations, but two far South Side aldermen want armed security guards who patrol business districts in their wards to have that authority as well.”

    Would these “armed security guards” be municipal employees and show up as FTE’s? I think not.

    Here’s a link to an article in the Portland Mercury describing the same thing: http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/Content?oid=288453&category=22101

    It’s all over the place.

    Privatization, the commingling or separation of county and city functions, etc., skews numbers by making some services invisible on the chart. Bit of a dead horse, though.

  76. livegreen

    It would be nice if we can stick to Oakland. We have enough complications figuring out what’s going on here…

    BTW, I understand the City will be asking employees to take a pay cut, something like San Francisco & it’s employees union had agreed to (someone here asked about this before).