Someone should talk to Ron Dellums about honesty

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums made a rare appearance, urging the Council to place his parcel tax on the ballot, which they, of course, did. His remarks were mostly about how this is a decision that should be made by the people:

More importantly, let’s have an honest conversation in the City of Oakland. Let residents make that determination, Mr. President, but let them make it on the facts. Let them make it on a proposal that was reasonable, that was responsible, and ultimately, affordable. Let’s have an open conversation. If the residents of Oakland decide they want to reject it, so be it. This is democracy.

I agree with the Mayor, we should have an honest conversation and the voters do deserve the facts. Of course, I’m not entirely certain we have the same idea of what that means. In my world, for example, an honest conversation would mean that you tell people the truth about the tax and let them make an informed decision for themselves. I think most people would agree with my interpretation. Dellums doesn’t appear to, though. He’s running around telling reporters that residents will only have to pay for a few years:

Dellums said the measure would only be in place for four years.

So…the parcel tax (PDF) the Mayor proposed and the Council approved does not, in fact, last only four years. The ordinance has no sunset clause and multiple references to “each subsequent Fiscal Year” after year 3, when the tax reaches $267/parcel. Not only does the tax have no sunset clause, but last week, when Rules Committee was discussing the tax, a representative from the League of Women Voters spoke specifically to urge that the measure include a sunset, and her request, naturally, was ignored. Now we have a permanent tax on the ballot, and the Mayor is running around saying that it will only last four years!

Is Ron Dellums lying about the length of time residents will have to pay this tax in order to improve chances of it passing? Or, more likely, does he himself not even know what it is he’s asking of Oakland residents? Neither option inspires confidence in his leadership. Despite all the ginormous red flags surrounding this issue, I have to confess that I’m currently undecided on whether or not I will support this tax. But the more people try to lie to me about it, the more I’m inclined to oppose it. One can only hope that the conversation gets an awful lot more honest as the campaign heats up this fall.

26 thoughts on “Someone should talk to Ron Dellums about honesty

  1. Donald

    Smoothie,

    Your note about the lack of termination is a good one.

    Another thing that gives pause to my support is the fact that in claiming the only funds for extra police can come from additional tax, the Mayor and the Council are in effect saying that all other expenditures are at least as critical. Does that pass muster?

    I think this tax might have broader appeal if the Council and the Mayor had had the nerve to pay for part of the cost from existing funds. It would be hard. It would be difficult. It would be a challenge. But it would show that their priorities had changed. Instead it seems that the Mayor and others would like to give the impression that people want more police services only if there is no cost to them when in fact, apparently the mayor and council want more police only if there is no struggle for them.

    For my money I would like to see a competing proposal that has a smaller tax on property owners and renters, and a requirement that the city make up the difference by adjusting its spending priorities. Both proposals could run on the same ballot and the second could be worded to the effect that if Oakland voters wanted a parcel tax for police with no other change in funding priorities that proposal would prevail. I think, however, that there might be substantial support for the notion that the Council and the Mayor should adjust their priorities in the direction of greater public safety and fiscal responsibility.

  2. oaklandhappenings

    V, the sunset clause is imperative! I was also thinking, that there should be a set number of police on the staff after each year. For example, after year 1, the staff total count should be increased by 1/3rd of the proposed; the next 1/3rd after year 2, and the final one 3rd after year 3. If after each year, these numbers are not met, the tax is shot down, and a new proposal better be in the works, for more police.
    Anyway, I hope I made that clear, even if it is 100% realistic(?).

  3. oakie

    Was Dellums lying? I think not. He’s just slow. Not a “detail guy’,” not the sharpest tool in the shed. Listen to him. Watch him carefully.

    Why do we need more taxes to pay for the most fundamental service the city provides: public safety? Dellums didn’t seem to find any problem spending our tax money for limosine service (when the lip service provided to us citizens is that WE should be taking public transportation). Or the fact that he takes about 50% more salary than Jerry Brown did, and a huge $50,000 expense account on top of that (compared to $120 from Jerry Brown, mostly for subscriptions to publications like the New York Times; Somehow I don’t think Dellums is much of a reader).

    Or the $300,000 we give to the Mandela Food Co-op for NOT opening a grocery store in West Oakland. Or $50,000 for a Food Policy Council.

    Or the $25 Million each year given to the Raiders (without our vote).

    No, it’s clear there’s plenty of tax money already collected. ALL spent on things that are lower priority than public safety.

    It would be a beautiful day if the city spent our involuntary tax money on public safety, public libraries and safe roads, and Dellums had bake sales for voluntary contributions for all the crap we do not need.

  4. justin

    How can we exactly sunset a revenue source that pays for cops without sunsetting the cops themselves? I oppose the tax, but the lack of a sunset won’t be the reason. I guess I should be given the choice of whether I want to continue paying for the extra cops–understanding that I’ll lose them if I reject an extension–but one shouldn’t expect to sunset the tax and keep the extra cops. That’s something for nothing, and, well….

  5. VivekB

    Oakie hit it dead on; no new money for taxes, cut the expense accounts and everything else first. Let us vote on parcel taxes for that crap, not on cops.

  6. Robert

    Of all the council I was most annoyed with Larry Reid for suggesting that if the ballot measure is defeated it would show that Oakland residents did not want more police. I think he is wrong, defeat of the measure would only show that Oaklanders did not believe that they should have to be taxed more for a basic city service.

    I would suggest that the Safe Streets Committee put a companion – not competing – measure on the ballot. The companion measure to increase the force by 105 to be paid for out of existing general funds. It can be worded so that if both pass, then there woudl be a total increase of 210 officers spread out over 4 or 5 years, while if either one alone passes there would be an increase of 105 over three years. The 105 officers will represent somewhat less than 10% of the general fund budget, but spread out over 3 to 5 years. While I am sure it would be painful, a 10% inprovement in efficiency over several years is something that is easily obtained by major companies all the time, and I really don’t believe it would require gutting all the nonessential services as has been suggested.

    P.S. The way the council measure is written, there will actually not be an increase in the force next year. This is in spite of somebody (Quan?) saying that approval will allow Oakland to keep the ramped up hiring process in place. The tax will not start to be collected until November 2009, So there will only be replacement hires until then. The companion measure might help to bridge that gap.

  7. Surfways

    I love this site and the people that comment upon it. However, I can’t help feel that we are preaching to the choir.
    My observation is that most of us share the same perspectives on issues. I sure hope the Safe Streets Committee and Ignacio’s campaign against the parcel tax will have serious clout on this particular issue and make City Hall more honest.
    I was told that I am wasting my time for trying to reason with the council, especially Jean Quan. I really need ideas on how to get through to the air, not matter, that is contained in the skulls of nearly all council members. Am I hopeless and naive to think of such a feat?

  8. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    Surfways, if you figure it out, let me know. A good friend of mine that voted for NN even admitted he was wrong last week after also getting yelled at by Marisa Arona. What have we come to when Council won’t listen to us and their aides scream at us? And to be asked why I care? Is there something so wrong about caring about where you live and wanting to make it a better place? For getting involved instead of digging your head in the sand and pretending that everything will all work out? I said I was giving up after NN won her election, but I think I’m just slinking in the background trying to figure out what the game plan should be.

    On a positive note about Ms. Quan, a friend of mine and his wife went to speak to her about an issue in their (your) district. They got no where and logical thinking/discussion was non existant. The son barfed all over Ms. Quan and became quite the hero in their neighborhood. (on some note that’s just sick, isn’t it? – in more ways than one)

  9. justin

    Clearly, it is possible that more than half of all Oaklanders want police yet a measure that requires 2/3 voter approval could still fail.

    The key to send the political message without passing the tax is to have more than 50%, but fewer than 2/3 of voters to approve the tax. This is what I predict will happen. You would then have to be lying to make the claim that Oaklanders don’t want more police.

  10. Rebecca Kaplan

    I agree with Justin that it is likely that a majority of Oakland voters would say that they do want more police — even if there is not 2/3 support for a new tax to pay for it. In fact, this result was what happened in the November 2002 election, when Jerry Brown put a package on the ballot called “100 cops.” The package of ballot measures included one statement that the public wanted “100 cops” — and this part passed with 52.9% of the vote. (Measure FF)

    Then, there were seperate measures, on the same ballot, to provide new taxes to pay for “100 cops” — and that part of the package failed. (Measures GG, HH & II, all of which got well under 50%).

    So, arguably, voters sent the message many years ago — yes, the voters said, more cops, but no to the taxes to pay for them. (Though they *might* feel differently now — this remains to be seen). At that time, (in 2002), after the “tax” part failed, the cops were not added. (In fact, a police hiring freeze was enacted, shrinking the force).

    So, no matter what happens with the current Measure, there are many good reasons to work toward at least 100 more positions for the police force, and to seek a range of different methods to find the money.

  11. VivekB

    What’s the process to put that on the ballot? I’d help get the word out about that, and harass strangers for signatures.

  12. Marleen Sacks

    In 2004, the police force was at 739. Four years later, it has added only 10 additional officers, and this is after four years of paying Measure Y taxes. The issue about hiring more cops is not just about money. If money was the only issue, we would have gotten to 803 years ago. Moreover, my issues with this measure are as follows: (1) they lied to us about Measure Y then; they’re lying to us now; (2) the tax is excessive; (3) the tax has no guarantees for an actual increase in the number of officers; (3) the tax has no sunset clause; (4) providing of police services is a basic service the City should provide out of the general fund. We should not have to pay extra.

    Both Larry Reid and Dellums appeared to imply that if the Measure was voted down, this meant the citizens didn’t really want more cops. These people are just delusional. Yes, we want more cops. No, we don’t want more taxes. Yes, we want the City to clean up its act and not pay $700 for flights to LA and lunches at Baywolf. How hard is all of that to understand???

  13. ConcernedOakFF

    Does anyone realize how many officers leave OPD EVERY MONTH? The AVERAGE is 6 officers leaving. How the heck will we ever get up to 800+ officers when for every Officer they hire, 3 leave?

    We have hired over 300 Officers in the last 3-4 years, how many of them are left. A Senior officer in the OPD now has about 6 years on…..Scary and unfortunate.

    What HAS to happen to keep them is housing help, tax breaks, lifetime medical benefits etc, or we will NEVER get to the full strength we all want.

  14. jif

    There is no question in my mind, I will not vote for this tax. Everytime I turn around I hear another mind-boggling story about how my Measure Y (MY) dollars are being spend (hiring rapists to teach dance at Youth Uprising, hiring the criminal otherwise known as Too Short to “inspire” the youth at Youth Uprising, etc.) Then there is the hide-the-salami game that OPD is playing with the use of MY funds to pay for things that were not intended to be paid for out of those funds. But the clincher for me is that after all the taxes I have paid, my beat does not have a MY officer. No, you can’t have another dime until you account for the money I have already paid for this farce. Ultimately, MY has forced the PD to create positions that can not be touched because they are MY. The city could be burning and the patrol officers could be drowning in the human waste of Oakland and the MY officers will only show up to make sure that no one gets hurt but then they are required to go back to their MY projects. Insanity!

    Joanna, I loved that story about your friend’s son – he is my hero! I attended a meeting (I think it was Melrose High Hopes) where Quan was being asked to have the police do more about the prostitues at High & International. Quan shunned the notion of increased enforcement and said she would prefer to create a soft ball league for the girls to improve their self esteem! OMG, and perhaps the pimps could form a league and they could compete giving both sides an opportunity to vent their frustrations with one another! If only I had a weaker stomach I too would have liked to puke on Ms. Quan!

  15. J. Given

    I agree with Marleen’s comment above. I’d like to add one more thing about the language of the proposal as I read it: “additional officers” is not defined. It appears that receipts from the new parcel tax may be used to fund positions already fully funded by the budget and by Measure Y. If Measure Y is such a failure that it can’t fulfill its purpose a supplemental tax, the city should quit collecting it.

    Anyway, I’m still waiting for my Prop 8 reassessment request to go through. My support for any new taxes will hinge upon how accurate the assessor’s valuation of my home is.

  16. avis

    I remember Danny Wan (Pat Kernighan’s predecessor) calling me the night before we all voted on Measure Y, he pleaded with my husband and I to vote for Measure Y. We said we would not vote for Measure Y because we did not trust the City Council to use the money effectively and didn’t think we would get more cops out of the deal. I don’t see how anything has changed, City Hall continues to show us how diligently they can waste, squander and steal our tax dollars.

    Do you really believe if this passes that we will get what they promise us? Jean Quan is already screaming that Oakland non-profits need more money (It’s for the Children) and its really not too far of a stretch to see where this money (no Sunset clause) will end up.
    There may be people in Oakland who still believe the folks downtown, but no one in my house belongs to that group.

  17. Born in Oakland

    I have distrust and disgust for City policy but I want more police. I do not think we can gamble on this in order to send a message/make a point. We were burned on Measure Y but cannot afford to “send a message.” Paraphrasing a city council person, the tax will cost me four (tanks) of gas the last year. I will vote for everything that gets us more police on the force.

  18. len raphael

    born oakland,

    for the +200/year cost it would still take several years to get to a mediocre policing level that’s unlikely to make a substantial difference in the quality of life in any neighborhood unless all those additional cops and investigators are dedicated to a few sections of east oakland.

    by voting for that you would be giving up the best chance in years to force our elected officials pay for adequate levels of basic city services of policing and infrastructure out of existing revenues before they subsidized the array of porkbarrel “programs” and non-profit organizations that thrive in Oakland as tax paying businesses depart or stagnate.

    if we don’t restrain our officials ineffective spending now, the Measure Y parcel tax , $200 police parcel tax, the LLAD tax increase, the kidsfirst parcel, will only be the foundation for a bigger muni finance ponzi scheme that eventually will collapse with very painful consequences for city residents.

    vote no and send the $200 to marlene sacks to defray her costs suing Oakland over Measure Y and possibly the recent LLAD (i have no connection to sacks, and don’t even know if she’ll accept our money. but if she would post an address here, i’ll contribute.)

    -len raphael
    temescal

  19. VivekB

    Yep, zero confidence here that the police property tax will actually go to police, and not to subsidize a new car for the City Council folks.

  20. Surfways

    And talk to Jean Quan about basic mathematics.

    In today’s SF chronicle article, (Oakland deficit at 50 million), Jean claimed to have warned others that Edgerly’s estimates were inflated and Quan knew that it would be short.
    Knowing that, why did she pout for a bigger general fund slice for the non-profits? Although she did say they may have to cut some support positions for the police force. They better not compromise the police force again.

  21. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    Born in Oakland – on some level I would agree with you EXCEPT that we can’t even meet the desired number now because of retirement & attrition, so how does adding even more money solve the problem? I think there’s a more inherrant (sp?) problem that needs to be solved in terms of figuring out what we can do to make our City more appealing so that cops want to stay here after graduating from the academy.

    City Hall is still saying that we’re going to meet the magic 803 number by the end of the year and I just don’t see it.

    At some point the City needs to take a step back and figure out their accounting nightmare. I don’t have faith in any of the numbers – budgeted or actual – at this point. Show me the money going in and the money going out and show me that policies are in place just like any other public company.

  22. Marleen Sacks

    Hey Len – thanks for your offer, but I actually don’t need anybody’s money. I’m a lawyer myself and am suing the City on my own time. I decided to sue after a year of researching the abuses with Measure Y, and after my attempts to persuade the council to vote against the $7.7 million “recruitment program” were ignored. I’m sorry, but general police recruiting absolutely has to be paid for out of the General Fund. The City simply grabbed the Measure Y money because the City was broke, and Measure Y was flush. Why was it flush? Because it was accumulating funds for the police officers it was supposed to hire, but never did.

    So to “Born in Oakland” – just because you give the City the money, that doesn’t mean they’ll spend it on police officers. You should be aware that 40% of the police academy training costs for Deborah Edgerly’s daughter, who flunked the academy four times(!) were likely paid for by Measure Y. I don’t think that’s what the voters had in mind when they voted for the measure….

  23. J. Given

    I just read about the ruling in Marleen’s suit. It’s definitely buyer beware when it comes to voting for city measures. When Measure Y passed, we got the measure we voted for, but it wasn’t the same one that was described to us.

    What gets me is that when some voters pointed out obvious deficiencies in the plain language of Measure Y *before* its enactment, they were shouted down the council.

    There are only two explanations for this hostility to questions about Measure Y: either our council members lack even the most rudimentary skills in legislative construction, or they intentionally mislead the voters. I suspect it’s a little from column A, and a little from column B.

  24. VivekB

    Someone just posted the summary of the Judge ruling about Marleen’s suit about Measure Y on another forum i’m on, i won’t paste it all, but here’s the salient bit. It sounds positively awful.

    ” … Roesch said he is bound by the language in the measure itself, which he said “is not ambiguous” in allowing the city to collect Measure Y taxes as long as the money is appropriated for more officers…
    The measure doesn’t explicitly require that that the additional officers authorized by the measure be hired, Roesch said….
    Roesch said, “I may say it’s unjust and I don’t like it” but he doesn’t know of any legal authority that would allow him to him to rule against the city, based on a ruling by the state Court of Appeals in a similar case.”

    And this, ladies & gentleman, is exactly why the new tax is an awful idea.

    If y’all want to read the full text, it’s here. Marleen – was that summary accurate? http://rockridgeresidents.org/forums/showthread.php?t=160

  25. Marleen Sacks

    Vivek – pretty much, yes. In a nutshell, what I was arguing was that the language of Measure Y was ambiguous, and therefore, the court should be permitted to consider “extrinsic” documents, such as the FAQ published on the City’s website. The language was ambiguous, because the titles/headings in the measure (written in all capital letters) referred to “minimum staffing” not minimum “appropriation,” whatever that means. Therefore, the average voter (who does not parce the language like a lawyer might) and just glances at the language, with the all capped portion leaping out at him/her, would believe that the City was promising not to collect the tax unless the minimum staffing was at 739. The FAQ published by the City specifically told people that the tax would not be collected unless the force was staffed at 739. A TOTAL LIE!!! But the judge said chapter headings/titles could not create ambiguity, and it was the actual text of the measure that mattered. He basically said that voters need to examine each and every word of the ballot measure like they were scrutinizing an escrow contract, and that they have to assume that government officials are all lying to them. So voters beware – read “Son of Measure Y” in its entirety, and you will see it promises us NO INCREASE in police officers AT ALL! It is just about taking our money.