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.