Stimulating Oakland. Or not.

Two weeks ago, the Oakland City Council deadlocked on a proposal to place a repeal of Measure OO.

Ignacio De La Fuente, Jane Brunner, Desley Brooks, and Larry Reid all wanted to place the full repeal on the ballot, which would have reverted the City’s set-aside for youth programs to the Measure K level of 2.5% of the General Fund, while Pat Kernighan, Jean Quan, Nancy Nadel, and Rebecca Kaplan preferred an alternative proposal that would have amended Measure OO so that it increased that set-aside to 3.5% of the General Fund. Back then, Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan argued that we shouldn’t put a full repeal on the ballot because there was no way it could pass, and that if we could do a compromise with the Kids First Coalition, it would do less damage to the City than being stuck with the original Measure OO. At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan especially emphasized this as her reason for not supporting the full repeal.

At the time, I was pretty irritated about it, since the “compromise” at 3.5% wouldn’t actually have helped the City’s budget at all next year, but at least I could understand and sympathize with the reasoning. So imagine my shock Tuesday night when Council President Jane Brunner announced that a poll had been conducted since then that showed a full repeal would pass after all. There goes Kaplan’s whole argument, I thought. Logically, full repeal it is.

Except, of course, it wasn’t. First, we got to listen to City Administrator Dan Lindheim convey the like lamest message in the world to the Council from the Mayor about why he wouldn’t break the tie like it’s his job to do, which basically boils down, as far as I can tell, to him not wanting to be responsible for making any decision ever with some utterly meaningless jibberish tossed in there for fun. Allow me to share it with you:

The Mayor thought it was important to not go to the voters with a completely divided Council and without the support of the Coalition. And he thought Council could come together for a compromise that could get more votes…He also wanted to make sure that everybody was very clear of the very severe budget deficit that we are facing, and that every dollar that was earmarked for one purpose would be at the expense of other kinds of spending. He thought it was very important to not have one group be pitted against another, he thought it was very important to have families first as well as Kids First, but he hoped that Council could come together with a more equitable compromise that was also fiscally prudent. And that is his expectation.

Ugh. So then, District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan modified her original motion for the 3.5% set-aside to a new compromise of a 3% set-aside. District 4 Councilmember Jean Quan gave a completely incomprehensible statement about how doing the compromise version and having everyone “on the same side” will allow us to “Together apply for some of the Obama competitive grants for green jobs, for young people, for sexually exploited minors, for jobs for young people and kick ass in terms of getting those grants. So we really need to be together to do that.”

Rebecca Kaplan echoed her nonsense about this stimulus package, saying:

The compromise that has just been moved and seconded tonight is a middle ground. What that means is there will be some people unhappy with it on all sides, but it also means we have the opportunity to go forward together, not only to pass this ballot measure, but to work together to find additional funds beyond this, this is not a ceiling, it’s a floor. And there is new Federal money coming that I am convinced that if we can build the level of unity and support this measure, that that will build the kind of mutual support we need to be able to seek other funds.

First of all, I don’t have the faintest idea how giving more of our own budget and taking money away from basic services to fund non-profits is going to help us get stimulus or any other Federal money. Is there a criteria I wasn’t aware of that awards extra points to applications from cities that are completely inept at managing their own finances? Cause I actually sat down and read the entire American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (PDF) (yes, all 407 pages of it), and I don’t remember seeing anything like that in there.

I usually give Councilmembers the benefit of the doubt when they explain the reasoning behind their decisions. Often I disagree with that reasoning and think it’s wrong, but I take them at their word that they think it’s a legitimate reason to vote this way or that. In the case of the Measure OO repeal, for example, Pat Kernighan has been pretty frank all along that she doesn’t want to reduce OFCY’s funding because kids programs are so important. Now, I think that’s a bad position, and unfair to all the residents of Oakland, kids included, because it means taking money away from departments will benefit everyone, like parks and rec or libraries, but at least it’s honest.

This suggestion that giving more money away to non-profits is going to bring Oakland more Federal money, on the other hand, is total hogwash. It sounds ridiculous just saying it out loud, and it certainly doesn’t stand up to any logical scrutiny whatsoever.

A much more plausible explanation would be that nobody wanted to say no to the hundreds of obnoxious and disruptive teenagers who keep showing up and threatening to turn to a life of crime if we don’t give them money, fearing that the decision would come back to haunt them later. Saying no would have been the right thing for the City, and giving them what the want at the expense of everyone else is, as District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente said, “the easy way out.” And that’s what six out of eight Councilmembers took on Tuesday, adding another $2 million to an expected General Fund deficit next year of as much as $70 million. Boo.

28 thoughts on “Stimulating Oakland. Or not.

  1. OP


    I wonder if you know whether any/many of the federal grants require some degree of matching local funds? The reasoning is probably that, by increasing funding, the city can now fund more projects that will then be able to pull in 1-1 or 2-1 fed $ match. Of course, this doesn’t address the objection to OO — even if OO causes Oakland to bring in more fed $ total than we would have otherwise, it is dedicated funding for youth issues, still leaving us with a sizeable hole to fill from other areas.

    How about this for an alternate compromise: put the 3% compromise AND an OO repeal on the ballot and let the voters decide their preference. This is routinely done with state props (add language clarifying that only the measure with the most votes goes into effect) and fairly allows both groups to argue their position. What do you think Kaplan?

    To be fair to the Council, the polling apaprently had the repeal passing by a close margin (I’d love to know the actual #s) and there was some fear that, once the Kids Coalition started campaigning, those numbers would shift. In exchange for the compromise, the Coalition has agreed not to campaign. I strongly favor repeal, but if it were on the ballot and local politicians campaigned for the repeal as unenthusiastically as they did in initially opposing OO… and the Kids Coalition went full force… well, the repeal would probably fail. From that perspective the compromise is unfortunately marginally better.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    This is the list of ARRA grants (PDF) the City is considering applying for:

    • Alternative Fueled Vehicles Pilot Program
    • Assistance to Firefighters Grand Program
    • Assisted Housing Stability & Energy & Green Retrofit
    • Broadband Technology
    • Brownfields Assessment
    • Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund
    • Brownfields Remediation Job Training
    • Community Impacted by Trace Sector Partnership Grant
    • Community Oriented Policing
    • Diesel Emissions Reduction Competitive Grant & Loan
    • Early Head Start
    • Economic Development Assistance
    • Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant
    • Internet Crimes Against Children
    • Edward Byrne Competitive Grant
    • Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant
    • Leaking Underground Tanks
    • National Parks Maintenance
    • National Surface Transportation Program
    • Neighborhood Stabilization Program
    • Project Gun Runner
    • State & Local Law Enforcement & Assistance: Combatting Narcotics Activity
    • State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for Education
    • Violence Against Women grant for transitional housing
    • Water Grant: Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund
    • Wildfire Management
    • Workforce Development: Dislocated worker assistance
    • Workforce Development: High growth sector
    • Workforce Development: Youth build

    Now, from what I’ve read, it isn’t quite clear how we are even eligible for some of those, although I suppose I should defer judgment to the Mayor’s office, which is (PDF) “proactively monitoring information on these grant opportunities through federal and state agency websites.” Anyway, while some of them overlap with Measure Y type programs and goals, nothing on this list has anything to do with the stuff funded by Measure K (PDF). So even if some stimulus grants required a match, the money we give to OFCY would have no impact either way.

  3. Rebecca Kaplan

    Thanks for suggesting that this issue needs more explanation. I do think that the part of the “compromise” that was most important to me in terms of my decision-making has not been fully understood, so I will take this opportunity to share.

    The “compromise” is not only about lowering the % set-aside for “kids first” programs below the number that was set in Measure OO. Even more importantly, it changes what funds are included in calculating the set-aside. Under Measure OO, Oakland would be required to set aside a percentage of ALL FUNDS — Even funds which we legally cannot give a portion to kids funding from. In other words, if OO remained unchanged, then every new grant that Oakland might obtain from the Stimulus bill, or any other new program, would then force Oakland to put even more money aside into Kid’s First.

    If we did not manage to pass a change to OO, then, for example, if we got a new Federal grant for a specific use, like energy-efficiency re-hab of buildings, then we would be obligated to also increase Kid’s First funding by a set percentage of this new grant, even though it would be illegal to give money from the new grant to kid’s first programs. So, every time we obtained a new grant, we would have to take the equivalent percentage out of the general fund, and give it to kid’s first. To me, this was the worst part of OO, and getting this changed is essential, and had to be accomplished as soon as possible. This change means we could all work together to seek new grants without fear that every new grant we land would require us to de-fund other programs to add to the “OO” obligation. The “compromise” that passed includes this change.

    So, this means, if the compromise passes, we can seek grants effectively, without having to worry that each new grant would require more money to be diverted from the general fund.

  4. V Smoothe Post author

    Rebecca, that doesn’t explain anything. Repeal would accomplish the same thing and also not take money away from vital city services on top of that. So again, I ask, what possible justification for this “compromise”?

  5. Ralph

    So essentially, every time the Kids First comes up for renewal, City Council can renew, Kids First can demand the voter give them some obnoxious amounts because – i mean we are kids, who gives a rat’s —- about the rest of Oakland, city council and everybody else will recognize that this will bankrupt the city, kid’s first will go back to council and say how about you give us x, current pct + some additional amount. Kids First is happy, cioty council is happy, and the actual taxpaying citizens in Oakland just got bent over.

    I love kids as must as the nextr person. I mentor at an after school program, but there is a little something about fiscal responsibility which seems to be lost on all but two of city council members.

    Honestly, given what council said about a complete repeal passing, if this goes before the voters, I am almost inclined to cut off my nose to spite my face. I know one thing I won’t be doing is voting for any new taxes. Council had an oppty to spare what is now $2MM from going to the takeover robbers known as Kids First and they didn’t. So please do not come to me asking to increase my RE tax, because the answer is NO.

  6. dto510

    What happened to the libraries? I thought Oakland was trying to get what would have been built by the failed Measure N bond funded by the feds.

  7. TheBoss

    Am I the only one who caught that V read the entire 407-page ARRA bill?

    I’m curious about this. What motivated you to do this, and do you feel doing so improved your life in any way? Also, was there any specific piece of information in there that enlightened you beyond what you would have gotten from reading a summary of the bill?

    I ask because I just can’t imagine ever being willing to put in that much time on such a project.

  8. Becks

    I know it may be hard to believe, but some of us enjoy reading long reports, pieces of legislation, and legal decisions. I know I do. There are just some things that you can get from actually reading legislation that you cannot get from reading about legislation.

    My question for V is, not why you read it, but how did you find time to read it? I guess I should have sent this in as a tip yesterday, but I continue to suspect that you have a superpower that your’e not telling us about.

  9. Lou Zer

    If anyone had bothered to read the financial stimulus bill we wouldn’t have been paying AIG execs million dollar bonuses.

  10. Ken O

    I’ve read the entire stimulus and FY10 proposed budget as well.

    Oakland would have to apply competitively to the State and through relevant agencies. Having a bad balance sheet isn’t a bonus.

  11. Colin

    I think Rebecca’s explanation says quite a bit.

    Politically, repealing a measure passed by a popular vote that is purportedly all about helping kids is a non-starter. Do you really think the good (if uninformed) people of Oakland would vote against kids? Really? Because the unpopular city council tells them to based on complex fiscal mechanisms that are hard to explain? If the fight can be framed as “innocent children vs cruel politicians” (and it can) then there’s not much chance of OO getting repealed. Matter of fact, there’s only one way that OO gets changed: the other side doesn’t put up a fight.

    People may not know what they voted for initially in OO, but they understand compromise. And if they see something on the ballot that’s labeled as a compromise by both sides (including the side that won last time around), they’ll more than likely vote for it.

    And if they can keep OO from taking money away from whatever federal money comes in, that makes it more palatable. I think measure OO was dumb, but I’m glad KFC was willing to come back to the table and compromise, because right now it’s the law of the land, and thanks to them it will likely become slightly less dumb soon.

    I know you like policy and not politics, V, but it’s unrealistic to expect pure rational policy to win on its merits. Especially when kids are involved.

  12. V Smoothe Post author

    At previous meetings the question was one of whether a full repeal could pass or it would be wiser to do a compromise. Councilmembers indicated they would like to see a poll seeing where voters stand on the matter. Then they get a poll that says a full repeal would, in fact, pass, and do a compromise anyway? Not only is that inconsistent with previously stated positions, it’s also bad policy and irrational.

  13. V Smoothe Post author

    I should also note that despite an incredibly active and energetic campaign on the part of OO advocates in a low-information, high-turnout election last fall, and essentially no campaign against it, Measure OO didn’t pass by much. (It got a smaller yes percentage than any of the four taxes on the ballot.) Full repeal in a low-turnout special election, where voters tend to have more information, doesn’t seem a stretch to me at all.

  14. das88

    V. just because poll indicates that a repeal might pass doesn’t mean it will. Heck, the poll showing people favoring repeal would just galvanize the “let’s give all our money to nonprofits crowd.”

    While I completely agree that these set asides of any form are anyway to run a city budget, I think Rebecca’s position is clear and prudent. The poll did not show overwhelming support for a repeal. Going for a total repeal then becomes a high-stakes gambit – even if you think you will make it, failure is an unacceptable risk.

    In addition, the slim margins one way or the other for repeal would have sucked more political capital than the compromise. With the compromise much more likely to pass, hopefully our elected officials will be able to devote more attention to solving other problems.

  15. Colin

    What were the polling questions and what were the % results yes and no? How much was explained to the respondents about OO and how much did they know initially? Was the percentage in favor of repeal big enough that Kids First wouldn’t be able to bridge it?

    To date I’m trying to think of a save our children vote that’s failed, no matter how ham-fisted. Like OO. I can’t think of any.

    If, like most people, you showed up at your polling place and read the header and maybe even the paragraph about Measure OO, you would probably vote for it. Because you like children and want to help make a brighter future.

  16. V Smoothe Post author

    Except, as I pointed out above, actual voting patterns don’t support that theory. In a high-turnout, low-information election, with a very active campaign FOR Measure OO and basically no campaign against it, it barely passed. It got a smaller percentage of the vote than any of the measures on the ballot actually asking people to pay more money. Then, afterwards, the person behind putting it on the ballot said publicly that he thought it was a mistake. When you factor in the different voter mix that comes with a mid-July special election (particularly one that doesn’t even involve any candidates! only taxes!), repeal seems pretty easily doable, even without looking at any polls.

  17. Colin

    Again, what were the polling questions and what were the % results yes and no? How much was explained to the respondents about OO and how much did they know initially? Was the percentage in favor of repeal big enough that Kids First wouldn’t be able to bridge it?

    I don’t know that a lower turn-out election by definition helps the repeal effort. Or that I’d like to see the city take that gamble. I would love to believe it could be repealed, but empirical evidence suggests it probably wouldn’t be.

  18. Charles Pine

    Leadership! The councilmembers are highly political animals. No problem with that. The problem is that they did almost nothing to oppose Measure OO last Fall. Two years earlier, councilmember Quan raised $150,000 trying to pass her measure to build a palace library downtown.

    The message is clear. The councilmembers like their political alliance with the operators of social programs.

    In fact, if Quan’s new sales tax proposal goes through, a special election will pair a tweak of Measure OO, still increasing funds for some while everyone else is taking cuts, with a sales tax hike!

  19. We Fight Blight

    Perhaps if the City Council and our honorable, yet completely absent Mayor, had made any effort to campaign against Measure OO when it was on the last ballot, we wouldn’t be in this position. However, it yet again shows how fiscally irresponsible our City Council and Mayor are to let such a measure get passed in the first place, with at best a tepid response of opposition, because they were more concerned about their images should they oppose a measure for kids. Lack of leadership got us in this mess in the first place. Lack of leadership has produced an unacceptable compromise. Why? Because City Council and our esteemed, yet completely incompetent Mayor, again don’t want to be put in a position of campaigning against children, even if it means saving the City from fiscal ruin. Selfish, incompetent leadership failing to do the right thing in the face of adversity. That’s who we elected to City Council. Welcome to the world of liberal politics. Get ready to open your wallet because the City Council and the Mayor are gonna need a hell of a lot of money to pay for this fiscal crisis and they are unlikely to do it through budget cuts. Perhaps at Jane Brunner’s community meeting this Saturday we can ask her and Jean Quan if they are willing to forego their impending salary increases and whether they are willing to take a salary cut to help balance the budget.

  20. Ken

    can we start a privately-edited, public google calendar on this blog to list all city council meetings – at council and otherwise? and ncpc meetings? there’s nothing like that for basic city meetings that i know of..

  21. Patrick

    I am in absolute agreement with OP. Let’s put the 2 alternatives on the ballot and vote. It’s all in the wording – a la Jerry Brown’s alternative language on Prop. 8 (which admittedly did not produce the desired results, at least to me, but it almost did). If the City Council, and Mr. Irrelevant, don’t want to make the choice, then why not give US the choice? In this economic climate, I have confidence that full repeal of OO is the choice the citizens of Oakland would make.

    As an aside, I am not a IDLF fan overall (and I live in his district), but I must say his position of this issue has softened me somewhat. We can’t afford 3% – let alone the current 2.5%. I’m a little ticked off at the “if we don’t get this money you will not be happy with what I do” attitude of many of the speakers at the City Council meeting Tuesday night. I’ve never been a fan of blackmail – especially when we’re talking about privileges, not absolute necessities. I don’t have any children, and gutting city services that benefit all to further fund age-specific programs with little oversight and unmeasurable benefit by non-profits is a non-starter with me.

  22. len raphael

    V, CP and WFB nailed it: Mayor and Council members who don’t want to know the difference between leading and poll taking.

    RK you’ve learned the Council ropes very quickly with the gobbledly gook about doing the wrong thing because we will get more money from the feds. Reminds me of Dellum’s Elmer Gantry riff which the voters swallowed hook line and sinker.

    if the majority of the city council campaigned seriously to repeal OO and posed the alternative in plain language to the voters, it would win hands down against special interest ngo’s.

    DLF and Brooks from districts with maybe the highest percentage of kids in the city, voted to repeal OO. They know that OO helps the ngo’s more than kids.

    I’m voting no on the ballot compromise to force the council to come back and repeal completely at the next election.

    -len raphael

  23. Ralph

    To your point, some time ago when Measure OO was in its original form, I told my parents I am about ready to open an after school program. I could line my pocket with gelt while doing absolutely nothing for kids and no one would be the wiser. If city council is going to steal $2MM from my pocket I demand that programs demonstrate results. And the majority, if not all should be directed to educational enrichment programs for students in K-4.

    Sadly, I think what council will find is the compromise solution will fail. I am betting a not insignificant number of people who voted for Measure OO voted at all for one reason and one reason only. We won’t see hide nor hair from that group for another 4 years and even that is debatable.

    Send both options to the voters and let us decide. No on the compromise.

  24. Joanna/ShopGirl

    I think V’s totally right. No one is going to vote to raise taxes, even for children. Not in this economy and not when our City government as a whole has the perception of being totally effed up. With the current situation, no one I know is interested in giving the City more money without figuring out where all the current money is hemoraging (which, again, is perception) and feeling that the people in charge are actually doing their jobs. That’s not the current perception people I speak to have.

    A change of Mayor, a positive change in the economy, an actual plan that is articulated well (vs the idea of just throwing money at NGO’s and hoping something works) might get voted in, and a November election with other major ballot choices is what it would realistically take to get approved.

  25. Ralph

    That is what I call the fallacy of Measure OO and earmarks in general. The Measure does not require a tax increase, but the city still needs to provide some basic level of service with less revenue. Bleeding heart liberal natural response -raise taxes.

  26. Michael H.

    Hello everyone,

    I am having a hard time understanding why the council has to cut whole programs and repeal full measures, when as far as I know the council has not gone through the entire budget and simply performed an analysis of the efficiency of current expenditures and cut the ones that we can afford to. For example, cutting the landscaping cost of medians and small local parks, and perhaps work with the local neighborhoods to develop clean ups instead. There seems to be a lack of creativity and instead, let’s just cut whole programs and measures because we are either too lazy, or not knowledgeable enough to make informed decisions. Just my 2 cents.

    Michael H.