This Tuesday! City Hall! One night only! Budget magic show! Tricks galore! Smoke! Mirrors! Don’t miss!

Since I had like half a dozen people ask me yesterday, including people I don’t even know in the comments here – yes, I am okay! Nothing terrible happened, I’m just really busy. I apologize for abandoning the blog without warning. I am working on a number of different exciting projects at the moment (some related to creating a better Oakland, some not at all), and in all my excitement to do all sorts of cool things, I seem to have gotten myself way overcommitted. I’m confident that if I can ever catch up on all the things I’m behind on, I’ll be able to juggle the ongoing work okay. But if I am ever going to get caught up, something had to go temporarily, and unfortunately for you guys, that was writing new blogs and reading the news (I haven’t even opened my RSS reader in over a week, hence the lack of updates in the news feed. I’m terrified of what it’s going to look like when I finally do!)

Anyway, I’m optimistic that the long weekend will give me a chance to sort things out again and I hope I can return to writing regularly next week. But I won’t say no to guest posts if you guys want to send them to me.

But just really quickly, for now. The City Council will be holding a special budget meeting (PDF) on Tuesday at 5 PM. I know I should write more about the budget, and I definitely have plenty to say, but never seem to get around to it because 1) it’s depressing to write about, and 2) even though it should be, it really is not a time sensitive issue, since the Council seems like 100% determined to just not do anything about the problem, ever. Like they think that if they just keep refusing to deal with it, eventually it will go away on it’s own or something.

Anyway, the staff recommendations for budget balancing (PDF) are out now. Click here (PDF) to read the report in its entirety. The short version is that the year-end budget deficit projection has now ballooned to $15.3 million.

So what is the Council going to do about it? Well, we’ll see on Tuesday. It probably won’t end up being identical to what’s in this report, but I doubt it will be different in any meaningful way. Here’s the rundown:

  • Raise $12.3 million by selling City assets
    • Lease Scotlan Convention Center (the one in the Marriott) to the Redevelopment Agency
    • Sale of Alta Bates Garage to Redevelopment Agency
    • Sale of other City properties to the Redevelopment Agency (“Coliseum tract,” “Grandview Lots”)
    • Sale of unspecified other City property to the Redevelopment Agency
  • Cover $1.9 million with the use of one-time funds
  • Save $0.64 million through staff reductions and $0.08 million through transfers. The proposed reductions are as follows:
    • 5.0 FTE from the City Attorney’s office, saving $0.22 million
    • 3.0 FTE from Information Technology, saving $0.1 million
    • 1.0 FTE from Finance and Management, saving $0.02 million
    • 1.0 FTE from Personnel, saving $0.03 million
    • 19.0 FTE from the non-sworn Police Department positions, saving $0.35 million (Eliminate vacant personnel position, eliminate 7.0 FTE from Abandoned Auto Detail, eliminate 2.0 FTE Rangers, transfer Cadet
  • Use $0.5 million in one-time revenue from the new parking citation contract

As you can see, it’s mostly tricks. The FY09-10 proposals in there are also mostly tricks. Let’s solve our problems by selling property…to ourselves! That’s a super long term solution! Wev, what’s there even to say? I mean, the IT cuts are completely unacceptable. But as far as I can tell, the Council is happy to just run the City completely into the ground as long as they can do it without telling the public that they’re cutting services (see the ridiculous discussion about their totally brain-dead hiring freeze at the last two Council meetings and yesterday’s Finance & Management Committee meeting – I hope to write about this soon, but until then…)

Anyway, if you want more information, read the report (PDF), and have fun sharing your disgust in the comments below.

And remember, guest posts are more than welcome to help fill the void until I can climb out from underneath my huge pile of work.

61 thoughts on “This Tuesday! City Hall! One night only! Budget magic show! Tricks galore! Smoke! Mirrors! Don’t miss!

  1. Ken O

    Very nice quick analysis, thanks. Politicians IGNORE dilemmas.

    See, a problem has a solution.

    A dilemma only has intelligent responses. No silver bullets “solution.”

    Well in city council’s minds, the solution to city’s red ink budget are unacceptable politically (huge layoffs or salary reductions, pension cuts) so there is “no” solution.

    Thus, we have the horns of dilemma.

    Is our city a political and economic zombie yet?

    They are delaying… because a bigger crisis will make their jobs easier. “We had no choice.”

    Who’s bringing popcorn to the meeting? I don’t know if Sanjiv shares his pie or not.

  2. Ken O

    How about let’s suggest more ideas on big placards at city council meeting so KTOPers can see?

    Here’s some more chair re-arrangement:

    – Renegotiate OPD’s Eastmont Substation lease from $70k/month to $10k/month.
    That’s probably still more than anyone else pays there. Seems fair to me. What do you all think?

    – Change union rules. Let OPD get their NEW squad cars fixed for FREE (oil changes, etc) since they’re still under warranty at the LOCAL DEALER. Instead of by public works. Let public works work on “OAC” instead.

    – Set up pot grow operation on city hall lawn. Yes, they’ll need to hire a 24×7 guard, but they’ll still be revenue POSITIVE after the harvest! Let the Oaksterdamers run it.

    – Charge admission to city hall meetings: $5 per month unlimited pass. Or not? haha. Uh, serve wine at city hall meetings.

    – DON’T pay for ginormous “Chiodo creature” metal sculpture, which the oakland chamber of commerce was going to pay itself. CLAW BACK the funds to pay for FIRED City Administrator Deborah Edgerly’s pension for the next three years!

    – Charge admission to people for walking around Lake Merritt. (j/k)

  3. Ken O

    More non-solution solutions:

    – raise parking ticket fees to $500

    – raise dog license fees to $500

    – raise property tax on grandfathered commercial spaces like McDonald’s by 500%

    – find some unused commercial space in Oakland. (there is plenty.) Set up a local jail there so cops don’t have to waste time driving all the way to DUBLIN (santa rita jail)

    – Cut 5% of city hall staff budget every year for the next ten years. let departments decide by cutting hours or positions.

  4. Ken O

    – raise bike license fees from the current $3 (hardly worth a firefighter’s ten minutes with us the cyclists) to $60

    This might make it profitable for OPD to go buy more bike license stickers since they seem to have run out recently, so nobody can get licensed anymore (on the other hand, this is simpler too. only require a bike license for bikes used for business purposes.)

    – Better yet: PRIVATIZE OPD, OFD, City Hall. Wouldn’t that be something. (couldn’t make things too much worse could it?)

  5. Bruce Nye

    I learn the most interesting things from ABO readers. Like there’s a bicycle licensing requirement in this town! I’ve been here for 30 years, own two bikes, ride regularly, and it turns out I’m a scofflaw. And apparently subject to a $10 fine per bike. How can the city miss a revenue opportunity like this? Thanks Ken O.

    Part of me thinks CC should just go ahead and do all this, hurry up and get to the point that there’s nothing left to sell and then have to finally face the music. But more seriously, if they really proceed this way, it’s as outrageous an abdication of responsibility and leadership as we could ever see. This is the ultimate baling wire and duct tape solution, and will send us hurtling toward the moment where the city loses all control of its destiny.

    This would seem to be an awfully good time to step away from the computer, get down to City Hall on Tuesday at 5:00 and tell them they have to act like grownups and balance their budget.

  6. Christopher

    I think the city should kill the residential parking permit program. A recent audit showed:

    * The administration of the program costs more than its revenue (~$250K)
    * The program does not use computers to store or process permits.
    * Every permit is processed by hand at an average of 45 minutes/permit!?

  7. Al

    this is all so very true, and in end, maybe just a few decades, whatever is left of Oakland’s youth will inherit a city with absolutely no heart and soul, another generation divided, disgusted and outraged by a feeling of utter captivity. What we have today is the result of what our parents erringly bought into.

    in order for government to not be commandeered by special interests, it has to constantly transform itself to accomodate a changing reality. Do seven(7) individuals actually have more power than the 300,000+ people who share the burdens all over this city?

    Can anyone point me to a web-site that shows voter data which will show just how many votes it takes to actually hold sway in each district?

    I am very curious, very concerned that selling off of city property has always been on the drawing board; it’s just a matter of timing for the benefit of profiteers.

    A whole new model, inclusive of youth, something guaranteeing, insuring that no vested self-interests can every usurp, monopolize or arrogantly and presumptously gratify themselves. There will always be excuses and statistics and panels of experts to testify to the need to maintain the status quo.

    Right now, I’d just like to begin with the pertinent data. Who is voting and who are they voting for and does this become a slam dunk because,,…nobody really knows how simple it has become for them to do it. can a simple majority of a mere fraction of the total voting population actually be the deciding vote to sell off public assets…forever?

    God forbid. I want all those names.

  8. DD

    Just had a couple of brainstorm ideas. Not fully thought through yet, but I am sure a few of the smart people who read/post here will chime in and correct me if I’m wrong:

    1.) Do we gain anything by reviewing which jobs at OPD can be shifted from sworn officers to civilian staff? The sworn officer rolls could not be reduced due to Measure O, right? But it seems like it would help keep officers on the street instead of behind a desk, which I understand is sorely needed. And, perhaps there would be an opportunity to look for other civilian-side efficiencies, both within OPD and potentially btwn OPD & City staff. Is this just wishful thinking?

    2.) I like where Ken is going with getting the dealer to service police vehicles that are still under warranty. I do not know where the vehicles are physically serviced now–would there be some pushback if the officers have to take the car to the actual dealer rather than the main parking area by HQ?

    3.) What about other routine maintenance service expenses, e.g. car washes for police and/or city vehicles? SFPD pays an outside firm $12 per wash or something like that. Less than market rate, perhaps, but hard to believe that it’s anywhere close to “cost + 10%” that I get on my government contracts, unless they are doing hand wax and trim detailing on every wash. The trouble with this one is that it reduces the revenues of the outside firm (assuming they are Oakland-based), and may cut down on local employment, which puts a further squeeze on tax revenues down the line.

    4.) This one might not help much with the current year-end gap, but for future years, what about switching to car-sharing programs like using Zipcar for some/all of the city car fleet? Berkeley does it, with vehicles located near city hall that are reserved exclusively for city use during the day, but available to regular members on evenings and weekends. I think Zipcar may even have a custom online reservation interface that can provide utilization reports and expense tracking by department, which could have impacts to other city staffing requirements (apologies to the workers whose jobs I am slashing here…). I do not know if Berkeley has found the costs to be lower than if they had incurred the expenses of fully owned vehicles, but it seems likely that the cross-subsidization from the non-government use during off hours would help keep expenses low.

  9. Ken O

    Bruce, OPD officially is not ticketing bicyclists now because they have run out of the license stickers. You are free and clear for now. There is only one OPD guy running the whole show, ask him. 777-8714

    Chris, it’s tempting to think that privatizing Oakland’s city governance would greatly reduce wasted time. Do you get better service from unionized bart and city workers or non-unionized mcdonald’s and trader joe’s workers? May be a toss up but we know which is cheaper.

    Al, do you know how many active lobbyists there are regularly circulating at oakland city hall?

    Dystopian worst case budget scenario:

    After “city of oakland” defaults 15 years from now and all services go poof, gangs and drug cartels will take over as de-facto local government. According to a 2007 city of oakland report there were already over 1,000 active gang members in Oakland. I’d be most worried about MS-13. (Other agencies, cities, counties, states and the country would likely default around the same time frame, likely leading to massive chaos and anarchy as well as stranding our military in 1,000 bases overseas where they’ll have to “go native,” wait for care packages, etc.)

    Does this sound too crazy to happen? I’d like to hear what others think.

    Gangs and drug dealers already have their management structure and supply chains in place.

    Of course richer people or people with actual assets on their hands can start to hire former OPD or military or gangs as the case may be. This city will depopulate steadily a couple decades from now at the most since it cannot feed, water, fuel and secure itself sustainably with local resources. (2030) The only people left would all be good at shooting guns, self defense, growing food and raising animals, repairing and scavenging everything they use.

    Probably no truly “rich” people live in Oakland and very few live in the US for that matter. (So if you see people flaunting themselves in Oakland pretending to be rich or somehow “upper crust” they are only a pathetic pretenders)

  10. Ken O

    DD #2 The city’s Public Works department does oil changes and maintenance on opd squad cars as far as I know… and they take TWO WEEKS to turn around any one car.

    whatever you say about a dealer, maybe they’d be a bit faster.

    my apologies also to whoever gets laid off from the city, but you can’t say you were not warned.

  11. Al

    Used to be a guy named Monathey, took over after another long-time Oakland Dealer/Icon Cakebread’s Garage. Yup, same neighbor as Bob Dron, Home of the original Sportster(Harley’s for anobody who might guess otherwise). He was offered one of those contracts and absolutely decided against it.

    There must be something more to the succession of business interests besides just the procurement and maintenance of all the Police toys. We should also be griping about the ongoing destruction of the mat even as they plan the next redo. How about long term planning to minimize the impact of large vehicles?

  12. Al

    There is no wiggling out of this now. I want a sign to protect us at 8th st and 9th ave. I want a sign. Sorry folks, but I leave it there, somewhere in District 2. What I don’t want in reply to my calls for service is another couch on the sidewalk or a car fire.

    This city is imploding from the inside out, top to bottom. Hang it there.(Note to self)…

  13. Livegreen

    What is the purpose of Redevelopment Funds but for the City to pilfer it? I mean seriously, is there anybody that cares enough to hold the City accountable? It only would have been used for ugly statues and giving loans to owners of rental units to do repairs to low income properties, owners who then pocket the money instead of doing the repairs they promissed. (Is PAC money the same or different from the broader Redevelopment Fund? I have some reading up to do..)

    It’s just free money for the taking. The only thing they’ll hurt is their argument against Schwartzenegger doing the same…

  14. len raphael

    Al, curious about your concern for inclusion of youth in muni power sharing? my impression is that youth representation exists on quite a few boards, and on some big dollar ones they hold the decisive swing votes.

    I would like to see that voting info but I think it has to be inferred from things like exit interviews and polls that don’t exist in the public domain, if at all. But heck, most incumbents win handily, no need for fine tuning the demographics is there?

    Ken, not sure what you call wealthy, but isn’t Steve Jobs at least a part time resident here. Not Woodside/Los Altos Hills etc., but we have our share of wealthy.

    I have to return the call of the Vallejo bankruptcy attorney who writes about the city’s bankruptcy proceeding. Maybe he’ll write a post for us.

    Bruce, the cc members are not dumb, and by now they’ve given up on an Obamba tooth fairy. I assume they’re just manipulating the voters and interest groups into a corner where they’ll have to chose higher parcel taxes plus cuts or go the expensive bankruptcy route.

    -len raphael

  15. livegreen

    I note the Staff Recommendation is to cut FTE’s in Planning & Zoning (p.9) and Building Services (p.10). How much will this delay and obstruct building permits, etc.?

    On the negative side this will decrease enforcement & tax revenue, on the positive side that in turn might help spur additions & minor construction…

    Even if they’re not in the right areas, they’re still cuts, which we always complain the City isn’t doing enough of…

  16. Naomi Schiff

    It’s not so good about the planning cuts. The department is supposed to operate revenue-neutral, not in the general budget. They run on permit fees. When the permit apps dry up, they run out of money. They had banked quite a bit of surplus, but a previous city manager took the surplus away, so now they are coming up short even though they had done some reasonable hedging against a downturn in the economy. In this instance they should be allowed to do a mixture of cuts and carry some of the deficit balance over, working it down in stages. We may be hurting ourselves here if project delays are the result.

    They are proposing to cut the only fulltime staff for the Cultural Heritage Survey office. However, that’s the staffperson that can get people through the hurdles to working on old structures, and assists with getting tax credits to make projects more feasible. And it is the main reference and assistance source for people who have to do an EIR, so it developers may end up paying more for EIRs to get the cultural resources sections done. AND, the feds do require historic review for every stimulus project that involves old structures. Seems like we’d want to speed up these Section 106 reviews, not slow them down!

    Then there is this huge effort to bring the citywide zoning into conformance with general plan, to give developers and neighborhoods some certainty and avoid some of the wrangling at city hall that is caused by vagueness and depending on conditional use permits. Not such a good thing to slow down an effort that was started ten years late!

  17. livegreen

    I also note on p.A-2 Staff is proposing cutting Grants & Subsidies to OACC and some of the other Cultural programs that had been a subject of much discussion earlier on ABO. Could it be the City is finally moving towards funding core programs? I wonder if some of these will make the City Counsels final list…

    I’m also for Cell phone towers on City Buildings as a revenue generator.

    Now if we could only get them away from their ideas about pulling a Govenator with Redevelopment Funds, moving away from this idea of additional Property Taxes (Now for ’10-’11), and darn it, cut some salaries 5-10%…

  18. Al

    K. len. Here’s my proposal in a nutshell. It’s not so much about decision making by youth in a limited but sometimes critical decision, such as Board members of non-profits elected by youth. This is mentoring for sure. What I am hoping to see set in motion somewhere is an integrated system that covers the essentials of urban living with the full, yet only part-time participation of everyone, except one caviat. Nobody stays anywhere longer than a certain time and everyone can do everyone else’s job, eventually, ideally. That’s the basic stuff. Wipe out 1000′s of man–hours of over-priced labor and subsequent legacy costs, with a symbiotic system. We begin with the children, marrying them to community gardens, visual policing of their surroundings in general, and the implementation of protocols that let them know that what they do does matter. You have to get the compartmentalization out of the system. We have the money to do it, we have the people; secondary to that proposal but not the whole idea is that pools of needed man-hours to perform the most basic services need to be established and that pool can be filled, believe me.

    That is threatening, but the writing was on the wall long before 911. Copycat scenarios at the local level should be expected. We see it already. Add a little random homicide here and there and people will be so afraid to go outside they won’t even see who is fiddling with power-lines, or staging fires.

    It’s always an inside job. We can’t keep relying on outside enforcement to resolve a local phenomenon. Oakland is a microcosm of places in the middle-east, south american and i dunno, Poizner wants us all to know. Just follow the money.

  19. len raphael

    Gotta wonder whom the council members go to for counsel. Is it mostly their own staff, family, “big” supporters? or do they mostly talk to each other?

    surprising how little substantive difference there seems to be among the council members on the timing of dealing with the deficit. they all say it’s urgent but none of them act that way.

    -len raphael

  20. Christopher

    I have the strong suspicion that the council members do not talk to each (and don’t want to). None of them seem to want to address the city’s root problems.

    Just yesterday, I received Jane Brunner’s newsletter. The entire thing was about global warming and recycling. Important stuff, sure, but nothing new or specific to Oakland. And no word about any problems facing OAKLAND.

  21. LoveOakland

    Did anyone catch the Finance Committee meeting Tuesday? The unions were there OPPOSING the city’s proposal to hire as many as 100 MORE people. The union woman told the council that hiring when the city has a budget deficit was not a good idea. She said the only hires should be for those required by state, fed, local law (ie Measure Y and Q Police and Libraries) and revenue related (ie delinquent collections, park and rec use fees). Sadly, the committee disagreed and recommended a bunch of hires to the full council. Ironically, the proposal to hire more people may be on the same agenda as a proposal to lay off people.

  22. CitizenX

    This is thoroughly depressing. The City is a junkie selling off spare body parts in a dark alley to support its habit for another few days. With a couple minor exceptions, ALL of these “fixes” are one-time sale of assets, switching costs to funds with cash balances and completely inappropriate use of Redevelopment Funds. One-time “fixes” to on-going funding needs = delaying the (inevitable and more devestating) train wreck.

    (Very) simply put, redevelopment funds are to be used to make improvements to blighted areas. The improvements result in increased property values, which result in increased property taxes. This tax (increase) increment goes to repay the redevelopment area debt, which funded the original improvements. This is the redevelopment “engine” — borrow to improve, improvements yield higher property values and tax increment and the increment repays the borrowing. What is proposed here is to siphon gas off the redevelopment “engine” to use to cover the City’s immediate operating needs. The redevelopment area ends up with the same tax exempt piece of property and several million less in “fuel” for the redevelopment “engine”.

    One of my favorite measure is shifting debt service on the Museum to the Museum. One can only assume that they are talking about debt from the sale-leaseback of the Museum facility. (The City did such transactions on the Museum and Convention Center.) The Museum is primarily funded by the General Fund, so how does this save money? Perhaps they are talking about shifting the cost to donation/dues-funded Museum Foundation? The sale leaseback of the Museum had nothing to do with the Museum, other than the City borrowed against the equity in the building to fund a myriad of expenditures (some questionable), which had absolutely nothing to do with the Oakland Museum. The City staff who proposed this obviously have no understanding of City finances and this is very scary.

    I could go on, but enough ranting for now.

  23. Livegreen

    LoveO- So the Finance Committee made the judgement call that the new hires are in areas more important than the areas where jobs will b cut? (assuming they’d also reviewed the Staff recommendations for budget balancing). Do u recall what those areas are?

    Whether or not the new hires are in the Staff recommendations too, I’m curious about the $ & their impact on the budget.

  24. V Smoothe

    The unions are totally in the wrong. Their position is that the City’s main priority should be to preserve existing jobs. It shouldn’t. The City is not a jobs program, it exists to provide services to the public. To do that, you have to have people.

    Livegreen – every position that would be hired is already in the budget.

  25. David

    Cities have always been jobs programs, since the Irish started running NY, Boston and Chicago and infected city governments with their corrupt, Papist, potato-eating ways.

    Just half-joking. Seriously though, cities have always had their patronage problems, and they’ve always had their ups and downs economically. The difference is now with the public-sector unions (thanks to JFK, in his worst policy decision besides the Bay of Pigs, allowing by executive order, the unionization of public workers), it’s much more difficult to fire/cut back the patronage positions. Chicago was/is famous for its patronage, but in times past, King Daley the First would simply fire them if there was a recession or whatever.

    Now all these make-work jobs are sacred, incompetence is rigorously protected, and there’s only a one-way ratchet in terms of wages & benefits, and it’s to taxpayers’ and the city’s detriment.

  26. Mary Hollis

    I don’t object to one-time sales of assets to pay current expenses, even if it is clearly not a sustainable thing, because I don’t believe that the city government should be in the business of running car parks, sports stadia and whatever other ragbag of assets they have. Get rid of them not just for the one-time cash boost but because it enables the city to focus on a narrower range of assets and services.

    As for the rest, I am reminded of Obama’s recent declaration to bring down the Federal deficit EXCEPT for the fact that he won’t touch defense, entitlement programs and bond interest, which of course is 80% of the budget.

    Similarly, Oakland’s budget problem will not go away no matter how much you take the axe to libraries and parks. You need to attack the big spending issue. and that is public sector pay, benefits and costs.

    Since almost everyone agrees that sworn officers will be slashed over all of our collective dead bodies, that leaves the rest. If it were up to me, I’d fire them all and rehire at lower rates.

    That won’t happen but, absent that, this problem will never leave us, even when the economy “rebounds”.

  27. David

    Not to quibble too much, Mary, but Barry couldn’t “cut bond interest” if he tried. we’re already at 0%-3%

  28. Al

    yes, Mary has made the point.

    I might expound on one very broad sweeping reality and that is the shear mass of bureacracy, actually quite redundant, that on someone’s map totally disappear in an emergency and contracts to some central location, the capital of course.

    But as we are seeing, cities are reincorporatiing into larger units. It’s a dance of sorts but when you start to compare San Francisco City & County, with Alameda County and its dazzling array of overlapping structures that Administer every facet of public safety, the question has to be asked: what’s fundamentally different?

    Imagine the savings if you accelerated the process, before or after a big one.

    So why wait? we should rethinking the whole infrastructure seriously, Smaller administrative sectors and a more operational approach is the long-term necessity.

    What is the math?

    San Francisco: One county, one city.

    Alameda County: One county, ????cities?

    is there a breakdown somewhere?

  29. Al

    There is a common collective consciousness. This stuff is so awesome, Did Patrick say “Emeryville-lite”????

    That is so inspiring. I just caught up on that.

  30. LoveOakland

    Actually, the unions are not saying that the city’s priority should be to maintain current jobs.

    They are telling the Council that hiring 40-170 new people (whose positions are in the budget) is not fiscally smart when (a) some of the current year revenue proposals like selling city property may fall thru and (b) the city is facing a $30 million shortfall for next year.

    Labor suggested hiring criteria to the Finance Committee for hiring. As I recall from the meeting they included only hiring for positions that are required by state, fed or local law (such as Measure Y police and Measure Q libraries), positions funded by non-general fund money and positions related to revenue. These criteria were accepted but a loophole allowing hiring for ‘critical’ jobs rendered hiring limits meaningless.

    Even if positions are in the budget, when the money isnt coming in, the prudent thing to do is cut the deficit via layoffs and not expand the deficit by lots of new hires.

  31. concernedoakff

    The city council as usual, does not understand that filling every position in manditory staffing departments such as OFD and OPD to reduce overtime is nothing more than a political ploy to day “Look, I brought down the overtime budget”.

    Unfortunately, there is a tipping point where have 100% of the positions filled actually costs the city more than paying overtime due to benefit, training, equipping, future injury payments etc… It evens out to about a 25-30% savings to fill open positions with overtime.

    Instead, the council wants to rehire some of the FF recruits that were fired before graduation last year. This is the same class that was hired with all of the nepotism, crookedness, and cronyism a few years back, and shouldn’t have been the academy to begin with.

  32. V Smoothe

    The stance against hiring new employees only makes sense from a staff perspective. If you understand that the City exists to provide service to the public, then it is totally obvious that you should keep hiring the staff needed to provide those services as positions open up. Labor’s criteria were ridiculous. This discussion over the last few weeks has been an incredibly clear illustration about how just little the City Council and the unions care about serving the public. Watching it has been, frankly, stomach-turning.

  33. Ken O

    80/20 rule is good insight. Someone points out above that 80% of our budget (public pensions, high pay) is the problem, not the parks/libraries/etc that are part of the easy 20% that politicians always cut first.

    COO selling assets one-time to itself is just like the US Treasury’s auctions. No foreigners are massively buying anymore (and China is threatening to dump our bonds/dollars) so the Federal Reserve is secretly buying Treasuries. SAME SHELL GAME. This reeks of desperation at city hall to not fire anyone or cut down unions to size.

    At least in LA and NY they are facing the music. This Monday LA City put forth a list of 1,000 positions to cut. In NYC they’ve said they are cutting 3,125 sworn police this year. (to 1985 levels)

    I blogged last year saying COO needs to cut expenses by 10% for FY10-11 and 11-12. Will they?


    The US economy will NEVER “bounce back” to the 60s, 70s or 2006 — not in our lifetimes. It will soon be plain to anyone with a brain that the US is on a banana republic makeover. July 2008 was our zenith in consumer credit. (same month as peak crude oil/ gasoline price.)

    We’ve had our century, just like the British, Spanish/Portuguese and Romans before us. Everyone gets a turn. We’ve had ours. We’ll probably reach BR status by 2030.

    As i’ve said here before, we’re the new Cambodia/ Somalia/ Zimbabwe.

    Take away our expensive military and extremely large energy usage by Americans (correlated by the way–how else would we enjoy the latter without the former?) and that’s who we are becoming. The US with 5% of world pop has enjoyed 20% or more of the world’s fruits — funneled to us by our fully armed imperial empire. And now China with 20% of the world’s pop wants to enjoy 20% of its fruits. Hm…

    “Third World” defined:
    Very few goods manufactured locally. Import almost all manufactured goods. In debt to many foreign countries. Lots of poor people. Many people living in tents or general squalor. Mostly exporting Raw Materials. (think of all the scrap metal recyclers in oakland.) High levels of corruption and violence. Does that sound like our trajectory?

    If the US economy did “bounce back” we’d still be bouncing to rather skeletal music. More political hokey-pokey. More decades of debt binges, outright fraud in housing and finance “industries”, “defense” and highway construction industry pork the whole nasty political/financial mess that this country is today PLUS be facing additional issues from impending energy and resource shortages.

    Shit is going to end BADLY, and any honest politician local or national would simply tell us this is so, so we can all move on and PREPARE.

    Social Security won’t be there for people my age. (30)
    Medicare won’t be there for people my age. (30)
    Most people my age are now, or will be, worse off than their parents.
    States and cities WILL default or BK this decade.
    The US WILL default/downsize this decade or the next at the latest.
    We are going back to naked feudalism.

    As Chris observes, city councilmembers like Brunner send out newsletters talking up global environmental issues and have NOTHING to say about what really matters–LOCAL JOBS, the city budget and public safety and economic/eco sustainability. They have no solutions to what are largely national problems that deeply affect everyone locally, so they deny reality (lie by omission) and whistle past the graveyard.

    V Smoothe:

    I like your stance on city’s mission: provide services, not just jobs. Regarding your clear view of what happens in this city — yes, it’s union elites taking care of themselves and their own, and politicians taking care of their images.

    It’s all about INSIDERS TAKING from the rest of us and giving nothing back.

    Maybe less so for the councilmembers. They can’t be earning that much in kickbacks or sweet deals. They know reality, too. They just can’t really do a whole lot about it. Nancy Nadel has acknowledged so before. She replied to someone complaining about west oakland homelessness and poverty saying “grow me a money tree.” At least that’s honest.

    Unions know the end is near, so they want to maximize their “take” while there’s time left. Just like every corporation, BIG BANK and politician out there is doing day and night. The US has turned into screw-everyone-else-harder-than-they-screw-you.

    Exhibit A: Japan-style zombie banks — effectively insolvent, staggering around, pretending they don’t have much commercial and residential real estate exposure, hiding shadow inventory, extending and pretending, repeated bailouts from us peon taxpayers.

    As soon as the US military is stranded planet-wide, sharks (regional hegemon nations) will go in for the kill. US will stop getting its daily oil shipments. We will see gas and diesel shortages. Think of what that will do for all grocery stores’ nightly 18-wheeler deliveries.

    I doubt China will treat us nice as an insider the way we took UK under our wing in the early 1900s. They own a lot of this country, too, and not just paper treasury bonds. Are there unions, pensions in China? Doubtful. Corruption? Most likely. It’s part of our human condition. But over there, it gets punished.

  34. Mary Hollis

    I would never expect a Union to think about the needs of anyone except their own members. That is their charter and, in a very real sense, they’d be letting their members down if they acted in the interests of, say, the city, the public or anyone else, at their own expense. They are a single-issue advocacy group, more like a lobbyist. It’s like asking Goldman Sachs how we should bail out Wall Street.

    Given that, I wouldn’t even invite them to the table of any meeting to discuss the city, services, the budget, taxes or any other topic that requires some degree of objectivity and neutrality. We already know what they think anyway.

    The unions don’t care but I don’t expect them to. The City Council doesn’t care but they should, so that makes them even worse to my eyes.

    A hiring freeze is a fairly standard response to a (perceived) temporary fiscal problem. Corporations routinely do it. Since we are only dealing here with the remainder of this fiscal year, i.e. a few months, I’d support the freeze pending a more thought-out approach to the next years budget (I’d like to hope anyway).

    In this case, I think the Unions are right but for all the wrong reasons.

  35. Frank Castro

    I completely agree with V Smoothe’s perspective: the whole point of City government is to provide services to the people. To the extent a City employee does not provide a service to Oakland’s citizens – see ya! (See, e.g., limo for mayor, trips to China for God’s sake so you can talk about global warming in your insipid monthly newsletter – you know who you are!) Government does not exist to provide jobs to those who can’t find work in the private sector.

  36. concernedoakff

    As a UNION member – I agree that there SHOULD be a hiring freeze. Unless not hiring someone reduces the levels to below minimum safety standards for Emergency Personnel.

  37. Al


    An interesting read for background: Franz Schurrman, “The Logic of World Power,”…somewhere within its bowels is the statement that “Oakland was the de facto ‘fiefdom’ of J.R. Knowland, of renown.

    Long, boring read but a priceless insight. Today, we are living with the remnants of that psudeo-empire. The question is now, Who’s fief-dom are we now living in?

    One possible clue is in the local news, again District 2, where right in the heart of a mixed-usage zone, formerly a nexus of contracted city services, is the ongoing marraige of blight, petty crime, and pot-farming….and all the associated hazards.

    The irony in this is that in Berkeley the issue is up-front and on the table so everyone can have some input.

    We have a shadow government, protected by layers of incompetence and self-interests…working in tandem.

    If not for the extended unemployment checks, people would be outraged. you see how they pulled out the heavy-weights, Lockyear and co, to quell the unrest at Nummi.

    There has to be a way…I leave this post with an idea about how this situation here is identical to what is taking place in another urban environment, however primitive, Afghanistan.

    When our children are going to foreign countries to clean up our act overseas, we owe it to them to get the warlords out of our own economy.

    Why is Oakland still mired in the politics and paradigms of the 1960′s and its aftermath? Statues, baby-boomer status symbols. We’ve had enough of the small talk and petty pandering to the illiterate and uninformed, and hiding behind social issues.

    We need a real leader with a stick to break this s*** up, once and for all.

    I can’t join these meetings…yet, but I urge everyone to band together to maximize your input. Big changes are anticipated…why wait?

  38. Al

    I’m leaking like crazy here and should have used some other handle but here’s some info someone here can dig into:

    Alvingroom Ct. Gatewood Apartments. It could have been the source of a movie like “Training Day.” Everybody in Oakland felt it, i’m sure. What is amazing about that real life notorious Hub of crime and festering addictions is not only its proximity to Castlemont High School, but what most people would never know.

    The real owner of the complex was/is a little old man, who resumed/assumed control of the old subsidized money-machine with a handful of former residents.

    Who really managed the property during the expansive days of Oakland’s Mandatory Garbage program?

    Similarly, another well-known hub of violence and drug-based crime was the towers of the Old Acorn Housing Project(s), leased at that time by a concern out of Troy, N.Y., cute too. It was named Apollo.

    Added to this hodge-podge of a paper-trail is the almost predictable inability of city-hall staff to really put together a picture of who is responsible for what at any given time.

    It is a financeer’s dream, and an auditor’s nightmare. all one need do is look in the desk of anyone who has a real space and it will probably have something like a union handbook, the Bible. And somewhere in the basket of a disheveled, overworked and harried clerical employee is some notice of participation in an annuity he/she will never be eligible for.

    Anyone who has survived at any level of city administration can relate to the pressures all workers are under, and the looming threat of lay-offs. It never ends and good people cannot endure under such circumstances.

    Who do you think is left? That’s right…the ones who are “safe.”

    Nobody should have the right to feel one way or the other. Is it possible that Hollywood is also telling us right now who is benefitting from both wars, the domestic one and the foreign one?

    Maybe, The movie “Boondock Saints” hints at the name of one particular corporation, an investment portfolio of sorts, Veritas.

    They’re just one tendril of the monster. We should be very carefully examining the portfolios of the very persons controlling Oakland’s financial destiny. It’s not only the right thing to do; it may be exactly what we need to do….for starters. Clean house, right now.

  39. LoveOakland

    In part, the city unions are involved because most people who work for the city live here too. Just because someone works for the city as a librarian or recreation program leader doesn’t mean that don’t care about the city as a whole too.

    The unions asked for a hiring freeze with limited exemptions because the city was hiring like crazy. Instead of stepping back and thinking about new ways to deliver services, it was was hiring more to rebuild the bureaucracy exactly as it was.

    Right now the city generl fund is about $400 million, 77% of which goes to Police and Fire. After you subtract that out along with legally required ballot set asides for libraries and Kids First, plus the cost of repaying bonds for capital improvements approved by the voters – like the Lake Merritt bond, there is less than $50 million left to pay for streets, traffic lights, disaster preparedness, lighting, janitorial, trash pick up, parks, rec centers and programs, libraries, business development, the museum, zoo and so on.

    The city has a projected $30 million budget shortfall next year and about $13 million this year. Cutting $30 million from the general fund budget leaves only bad options to choose from, all of which end up impacting services.

    The economic impact of the recession is hitting every urban area hard.

    Oakland’s budget situation is not that different from other large cities coping with the recession except in one way. During the boom years, like the seven year payment holiday the city had from making payments to CalPERS, they didn’t put much money in reserves. Having strong reserves is the best way to get through economic fluctuations without draconian cuts.

    The best thing we can do for Oakland is to DEMAND that when the economy picks up, Oakland sets money aside in reserves becase we know that rainy day is coming again.

  40. MarleenLee

    LoveOakland – I disagree that Oakland’s situation is similar to that of other cities. It is worse. How many other cities in the area (or anywhere?) count on a $90 parcel tax for below basic police services? None! And Oakland salaries are way higher than neighboring jurisdictions. For the details, check out my most recent post at

  41. David

    Oakland pays 19-27% of payroll for pensions. $31M in 2008

    NINETEEN to TWENTY-SEVEN PERCENT. Is there ANY private sector employer who contributes anywhere close to this level for its employees?

    $11M goes to retirement health care. Again, Medicare is good enough for us private sector folks, why not public sector?

    $42M right there for gold-plated retiree benefits. Hmm. What’s the deficit again?

  42. Barry K

    Council members acknowledged that these were temporary decisions. Most, particularly Jean Quan, urged delaying long-term decisions until later, when the public has had more time to digest and discuss staff proposals that were unveiled Friday.

    Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, however, strongly disagreed, calling any delay “totally irresponsible.”

    Proposals for the next fiscal year include cutting all city grants to the Chabot Space & Science Center, Cypress-Mandela Training Center, Oakland Asian Cultural Center and Vietnamese Senior Services.

    Quan for Mayor?? Guess who that benefits?

  43. Al

    Please elaborate Barry; given the latest news and other behind-the-scenes developments we’re not privy to, it would be good to see what comes to light over the course of all these open-proceedings. Thanx

  44. Al

    BTW, Marleen, very good resource for everyone to become familiar with. Thank You. The entire country should be analyzing that kind of data. It quickly becomes a no-brainer.

  45. MarleenLee

    Would you believe that the 2008 salary survey showing non-fire/police positions are all overpaid relative to neighboring cities has suddenly GONE MISSING? After I did my last post it was unceremoniously removed from the web! Have these people no shame?

  46. Barry K

    With all the cuts to journalists (media), City Halls get little coverage. This was all I could find about the meeting last night, and, DLF’s quotes about JQ (above).
    (My apologies- I usually include my sources.)

    Oakland pares down its growing deficit:

    JQ is chair of the Board of Directors at Chabot Space. This is one reason why Oaklanders paid $1.2M for the last “special election” for a higher hotel (transient tax) to go to Chabot, Musuem, Arts Fund.
    That was her second try at getting them more $$$.
    Look up her Pay-Go. Look at the tens of thousdands of dollars Pay-Go Dist#4 funds have gone to Chabot. For: Furniture! Last year got $25k from JQ to study plant restoration around Chaobt Space.

    She’s also given thousands of Pay-GO to the Asian Cultural Center too.

    Folks over a year ago, the Council sat (banked) nearly $9M in their personal accounts to spend; it’s pork!
    Within the previous FY, they spent nearly $5M on projects.

    This happened while they voted to increase parking hours and fines and fees!
    Cuts to basic services continue.

    Where was Lindheim proposing a freeze on Pay-Go spending, and, return the money to the General Fund? Did anyone read the Alameda Co. Grand Jury Report on Pay-Go?
    Bottom line: Oakland is only one of two cities in the US that has this. AGJ said it should be eliminated and control of these funds should be taken away from the CC and they saw it as stictly a way for CC to influence others (= get votes and endorsements).

  47. Barry K

    The Council agreed not to get additional funding for Pay-Go last FY..
    That was okay since they banked over $9,000,000 (about $1M each) from the previous FY. Some Pay-Go requests are put before the CC.
    Here’s the FY 2008-2009 (June 2009) reports:

    What do you have that says their accounts were frozen? Where are the funds and what’s left?

    Gotta love JQ spending $15K on the “Budget Challenge” software game!
    That could fill a lot of potholes, fix sidewalks, reduce lawsuits….

  48. MarleenLee

    LoveOakland – who said it had inaccuracies? What data exists to show that it was inaccurate? How can the City compile data for 70 positions and then claim it is inaccurate? If it was inaccurate, then why was it ever published in the first place? And don’t you just love how these rumors of “inaccuracy” surfaced after I had reposted it? And at the same time when people are clamoring about how inflated salaries are the real cause of the budget problems?

  49. LoveOakland

    Interesting factoid about Oakland employees who earn more than $100K.

    85-90% are Police Officers or Firefighters

    Of the non-sworn, they appear to be mostly Department Heads. A handfull are in technical positions like engineering.

  50. LoveOakland

    I just tried to compare two job positions in ‘real time’.

    Oakland is hiring an Assistant Engineer II. Salary range is $71,076–$87,294
    San Francisco is also hiring an Assistant Engineer II. Salary range is $7,7558 — $94,276

    However, I have no comparison of benefits, training and advancement opportunities, or working environment to factor in. I think this makes the comparison incomplete. I do not know what and how Oakland compared as well as what education and experienced was required for each job.

  51. livegreen

    LoveOakland, We know OPD and OFF makes most of the $100k. We’ve discussed that repeatedly here. They were paid more at the time because of market forces, and they will always get paid more on average because they’re putting their lives on the line.

    I think they should give back like everybody else. But that shouldn’t preclude other City Employees from also giving back. Bringing it up as a way to say they should be the only ones to accept cuts, or to prevent any City employee cuts, is obviously a red herring.

  52. LoveOakland

    LG – My intent is not to raise it as a red herring and I’m sorry I didn’t realize it has been a topic of discussion before.

    Last year most employees gave back 10% and a pay freeze. I believe Police deferred a 4% raise. Not sure what else or what Fire did.

    RE market forces – this drives not only Police Fire but all hard to fill positions like nurses, social workers, engineers and IT.

  53. livegreen

    LO, City employees did not give back 10%. I’m amazed by how often this is falsely repeated. 5% is temporary furloughs, when they don’t have to work anyway. The other 5% is benefits, and that was the portion of Employee Contributions the City was paying for them (50% of Employee Contributions). Only in Oakland.

    So the 5% of benefits they gave back they should have been paying anyway.

    So tell me when City Employees will actually give back on their wages, and the full cost of the City’s portion of their benefits?

    As for the freeze, does this freeze COLA’s, or the automatic step increases in factored into the Salary Schedule? If not the latter then there’s only a partial freeze for Employees who’ve been employed <5 years.

  54. Barry K

    What about the “Ghost” employees pay and benefits? These on-the-books employees ID’d by the Auditors report? Are they still working without working?

    See page 44/130:
    some highlights:
    • Fictitious or real individuals receive a paycheck but do not work for the City (“Ghost employees”);
    • Individuals are inappropriately appointed to positions and added to the City’s payroll;
    • Inappropriate changes are made to employee pay rates; and,
    • Former employees are not removed from the system and kept on payroll.

    How many of them are there? And, why isn’t the FBI investigating this?

  55. David

    Businesses that are run like municipalities (and the state) are run out of business and their management thrown in jail. In Oakland (and to be fair, other cities too), the management gets re-elected.