We’ll be keeping the park rangers after all

So, it looks like the City won’t be shutting down on Fridays after all. (Or closing parks!) You may recall that when Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums submitted his budget proposal a couple of weeks ago, he left a $10 million deficit and told the Council to figure out how to close it (offering them three options). Subsequently, Dellums explained that he actually didn’t want the Council to make their own decision, and instead expected to save the money by closing the City every Friday, cutting the pay of every non-sworn employee by 20%.

Um…that’s awful. I’m sorry, but the City is here to provide service, and Oakland residents do not pay some of the highest taxes in the Bay Area for four day a week service. Beyond that, slashing everyone’s pay by one-fifth is unconscionable. And I say that even while believing strongly that most City positions are overpaid, and, yes, we do need to do something about that. Something like freezing wages for several years until they align closer with Bay Area averages, not taking away money that people are already counting on.

Anyway, you’ll be happy to learn that we are not going to shut down the City on Fridays after all. We’re also (hopefully) going to avoid some of the worst of the direct service cuts that Dellums had incorporated into his budget. Ignacio De La Fuente and Jean Quan introduced their own proposal for filling the final gap. Write something clever here:

  • Close the City one day per month, instead of one day per week, and for the period between Christmas and New Years, saving $3.8 million. (Um…does this include libraries? I ask because it doesn’t seem like the best idea to close libraries during Winter break when the kids are out of school.)
  • Eliminate all overtime for non-sworn employees for the rest of the fiscal year, except that which is explicitly approved by the Mayor.
  • Cut pay-go in half (saving $1 million). Quan reminded the audience that since the majority of pay-go funds are paid to Public Works for capital projects, and that this will likely result in reduced funding and possible additional layoffs in that department.
  • All elected officials would take a 5% pay cut. This would save only $55,000, but the percentage would be equal to the pay cut the rest of the City’s employees will be receiving due to the closures. Seems fair.
  • Suspend the Cultural Arts grant program – there would be no grants, no grant personnel, no personnel funding for the public art program. Eliminating the General Fund contribution to the Marketing Department, which would retain funding from the Redevelopment Agency and CEDA. KTOP and the revenue-producing Film Liason would not be impacted. (I was telling a friend about this, and he got all upset. I didn’t really get it. Cutting the grants sucks, obviously, but if the choice is between grants to artists and the park…I mean, that seems like a no-brainer. BTW, I know a guy who voted for Dellums based entirely on an intractable (and I tried to tell him at the time, totally misguided) belief that Dellums would give tons and tons of free money to artists. Ha!)
  • Eliminate a bunch of administrative positions/positions earning over $100,000. OPD would have to eliminate two administrative positions that earn over $100,000, and the Fire Department would have to do three. They get to pick which.
  • No more management leave.
  • No more professional development allowances.
  • Eliminate the budget for bottled water (hooray!), food, and flowers. (KTVU will be so happy.)
  • Eliminate a funding for a variety of things that don’t get very much – AIDS prevention education funding ($100,000), the Sister City program ($20,000).
  • Save $300,000 by canceling the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau contract. (This is totally fine with me. OCVB sucks. Wait. Does this mean there’s not going to be a holiday parade?)
  • Eliminate $400,000 from the Mayor’s office budget, returning it to Jerry Brown-era level funding. It can either be all from staff, or from a combination of staff and pay-go. His choice.
  • Civilianize the taxi detail (OMG! OMG! Finally! Now that’s some taxi reform I can get excited about.), adding half a FTE under the City Administrator, letting Public Works do the inspections and putting three sworn officers back on the street. (Again, finally! This is sooo long overdue. Cops inspecting taxis. It’s preposterous.)
  • The Park Rangers would not be cut. Two of the Animal Shelter positions the Mayor wanted to cut would stay. The Museum would get to keep one of the positions the Mayor wanted to cut. Half of the Bookmobile’s budget would be restored – not back from the General Fund, but from a transfer from the Library’s books & supply fund.
  • Start a voluntary time off program, as requested by the union, as though Quan was skeptical that this would save much money, saying other cities hadn’t had much success with such efforts.

So…this is good. For now. There’s obviously no way to close a deficit like this without it hurting somewhere, but De La Fuente and Quan definitely have their priorities a whole lot more in order than Dellums.

Let’s see, Council comments. Desley Brooks said she’d like to see a prohibition on taking City vehicles home overnight. Nobody seemed to have an issue with that. Brooks said that she’d like to see the Council’s legislative committee staff eliminated (that would be four positions added a few years ago with one-time funding). Nancy Nadel said she supported that move, as did Larry Reid, who then one-upped her by giving this bizarre history lesson about how the Council used to not have staff at all and then they had like, one part-time staff, and then went on about how now there’s too much staff. It was weird – I kept thinking while he was talking that his staff probably didn’t like that very much.

Jane Brunner said she really wanted to do a golden handshake program, “even if it’s not a savings in itself.” De La Fuente and Quan asked staff to return later with a detailed analysis of the fiscal impacts of a golden handshake program, and I have to say, I think it’s a really, really bad idea. It’s one of those things that’s just going to cause more pain in the long run, and part of the reason we’re having the problems we’re having now is because we kept pushing back our responsibilities for later. We have to stop! Brunner, who appears to view the City as a job creation program, not a vehicle for providing services to the people who live here, naturally doesn’t care.

Nancy Nadel, who, I swear, gets more ridiculous by the day, wants to save money by resigning our membership in the Congestion Management Agency, which, um…are you even allowed to do that? (Larry Reid later pointed out that the paltry sum we pay for our membership brings us millions and millions of dollars for transportation improvements – how is it even possible that Nadel is so out of touch that she didn’t know this?) And then she went on about work furloughs for the City Council or something. Man, that woman really doesn’t like her job, does she?

Dellums, naturally, didn’t like the new plan very much, complaining about how much he needs his AIDS education funding. (I actually agree with him on this one, and so did a couple of the Councilmembers. The $100,000 assigned to that has been leveraged pretty well to bring in a lot more money, and like Pat Kernighan said in her comments, anything that generates money is probably not the greatest place to cut.) And he didn’t want to cut the cultural arts grants either – I guess he likes those better than park rangers. Or the food and water budgets. And, of course, he threw a total temper tantrum about being asked to cut his office budget, ranting about how they were trying to strip power from him and that the voters gave a mandate for a strong chief executive and that cutting his staff would mean that we were returning to a city manager form of government. Because it’s clearly impossible to hire and fire the City Administrator without your own Special Assistant for Boards and Commissions. Also, the Council cutting his budget violates the concept of separation of powers.

And he couldn’t help but insert a totally random dig at pay-go:

I don’t personally think pay-go is good public policy, but that’s who I am…As far as I’m concerned, you can take every dime of pay-go. I’m not interested in utilizing it.

Except…um…he does use it. So…well, consistency has never exactly been one of the Mayor’ strong suits.

Anyway, that was pretty much that. They’ll be back on Tuesday to refine and fight it out some more.

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70 thoughts on “We’ll be keeping the park rangers after all

  1. ConcernedOakFF

    “Eliminate a bunch of administrative positions/positions earning over $100,000. OPD would have to eliminate two administrative positions that earn over $100,000, and the Fire Department would have to do three. They get to pick which.”

    Umm….We in the OFD have the lowest number of staff positions of any Major Fire Department in the country. Yes. In the entire US. As it is, we need more. We are one of the only city Departments that have consistently been under budget and actually create some revenue as well.

    We gave back more than 3 million to the city in the last budget cycle.

    Please tell me where we can afford to cut any more?

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Well, as explained above, that’s something the Fire Department would have to figure out for themselves. Times are tough, and every department has to share the burden.

    Also, if the Fire Department is coming in under budget, wouldn’t that indicate that they can afford cuts?

  3. dto510

    The OCVB deserves to be eliminated. I use their map of the DTO as the base for my own maps, it’s very pretty but contains serious errors. For example, it puts the African-American Museum and Library on the wrong side of 14th, and we WISH there were a BART station at 5th and MLK (I can imagine how confusing that would be a tourist!). The Destination Oakland guide is really boring, and full of pictures of women in red overcoats, Blossom hats, and Hillary haircuts, carrying frumpy shoulderbags. The OCVB apparently hasn’t done a photo shoot since 1993!

  4. J-man's Dad

    By saying ” Also, if the Fire Department is coming in under budget, wouldn’t that indicate that they can afford cuts?” Is wrong. That punishes the department for being frugal

  5. len raphael

    1. is there a link to DLF’s and JQ’s proposal
    2. other than cutting specific >100k management positions, would the mandatory time off w/o pay in effect reduce the per annum salaries of the remaining managers, or would they be exempt from the time off w/o pay?
    3. so no attempt by any of the pols to spare departments that actually are net revenue generators such as certain CEDA depts? they go strictly “spread the pain evenly” ?
    a. effect on say building permit approvals will be that instead of taking the usual 6 to 10 weeks, it will take weeks longer. in turn, that will force everyone from a resident doing as engineered seismic retrofit, to a developler doing a much larger project to pay the “overtime surcharge” to CEDA just to get back to 6 week turnaround. That’s a disguised fee increase and a stupid idea that will just drive even more small contractors underground re permits. not to mention increasing the cost of doing biz in oakland.

    4. but the bigger problem is that the pols are acting like this is just a temporary rough patch, another early 90′s slow down.

    as Pat McCullough’s campaign treasurer, and a resident of district 1, i tend to blame JB for everything wrong w our muni govt :) , but if she’s talking about early retirement buyouts of senior employees, i’d like to know more details including where we get the money to fund the buyouts, effect on pension and benefit costs etc, before i dismiss it out of hand. maybe it takes a union labor attorney to lead us out of the same mess she lead us into.

    -len raphael

  6. ConcernedOakFF

    No, we cannot afford cuts. We came in under budget by being, as was stated above by someone else, by being frugal and running out of things like office supplies, cleaning supplies, etc, which after a certain point were no longer being supplied by the OFD, and were bought often times by individual Firefighters. Also, they have purposely left open other positions rather than fill them.

    Now we are supposed to be punished by trying to comply with budget agreements? That’s a hell of a way to reward compliance.

    Here is a brief explanation of our structure, which as I stated before is the least bloated of any city department, and the leanest of any major Fire Department in the country.

    We have a Fire Chief, a Deputy Chief of Operations, an Emergency Medical Services Division Manager, and a Fire Marshal (in charge of Fire inspections and Compliance – the section that MAKES money for the city), a budgeting and planning manager, and a Training Battalion Chief. That’s it.

    Under them, we have a Communications Officer in charge of everything from Radios to our Dispatch and is also our PIO, an Asst Fire Marshal that supervises the Fire and Vegetation Management inspectors, a Battalion Chief in charge of Special Operations (the Oakland Airport pays a majority of this), and an Asst Fire Chief that is in charge of the Alameda County/Oakland FD Urban Search and Rescue Team (this is a position FULLY funded by the Federal Government, no cost to the city at all).

    Please tell me where we should cut? I understand that there must be adjustments, it’s just that in the past the Fire Department has taken the BRUNT of the slashing. Just look to the recent past, where the city was playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives by closing fire stations on a rotating basis. No other department was making cuts like that, and other than the PD, no other department has a Life Safety mission.

  7. len raphael

    i thought golden handshakes were the public sector equivalent of golden parachutes. it’s a contractual severance package given to managers to convince them to either take a job or not to leave, even though it looks like a bad time to stick around oakland muni govt or take a job w oakland govt.

    now, i’m assuming JB meant offering to pay severance to highly paid employees to get them off the payroll etc, and she didn’t mean offering such pkgs to new hires.

    question: does pay go refer to the discretionary funds that the council voted for themeselves some years ago? Does the mayor get his own pay go fund also??

    Have heard various number for the funds as 300k, 400k, and 500k per council member. Have also heard that they weren’t fund for the most recent year?

    -len raphael

  8. Patrick

    V Smoothe…let me first say, I love your blog so much I think I am addicted.

    To all:

    I agree with one poster that all of these ideas, while fine, are simply designed to get us through next years’ budget. It really does little to address the long term nature of the problem. And there really are only two ways to do that:

    1. Increase property values. Sounds great, but considering the current economic climate, not very practical. Plus, it seems like our city government does everything in its power to lower property values: put “culture” before law, and idealism before reality.

    2. Pay city employees an appropriate wage. Let’s face it. Oakland is a great city, rich in culture, rich in history, rich in spirit…but fiscally bankrupt. It is unconscionable that in a city with an average resident income such as ours, that our elected officials have seen fit to make our public employees the best paid in the nation. In addition, their retirement perqs are peerless. Public servants were once honored with exceptional retirement benefits to recognize their sacrifice, through hard work and low pay. Oakland employees are, on average, grossly overpaid AND, they have retirement benefits that anyone would envy. Eventually, this will bankrupt our city. We are already seeing evidence of this.

    For a mayor or council member to take meaningful action towards paying our public employees realistically would most likely be political suicide. That leaves it up to the citizens via Proposition. Anyone game?

  9. SF2OAK

    Patrick is right on. I concur that the wages & benefits that OAK pays is totally out of whack for what we are getting. I do believe the only way to reform OAK gov’t is to tear each department down to the studs and rebuild. Whew that’s a lot of Work Mayor Dellums, I don’t think you are up for it. The mentality of government run as a business must prevail. If UPS, FedEx has tracking devices in all their vehicles so a manager can see where they are going so too should OAK. I see city employees doing their own personal business on my time all the time and I’m fed up. We must privatize & outsource because we’ve had such bad fiscal leadership- we will be paying for their mistakes. Patrick not only is the city fiscally bankrupt unfortunately it is morally bankrupt- How supportive was OAK of Yusef Bey? How many murders this yr. I think 109 and counting. What is the cost to us all for criminal behaviour and why do we accept it?

  10. Robert


    Looking over the last approved budget, in addition to the command structure you listed, I found 34 positions that were clearly administrative, or that I could not tell their roll from the position title. These are in addition to the sworn firefighter positions. The administration group itself has 11 positions, and there are others scatter through the department. I would think that somewhere in ther you can find a couple of positions.

  11. Allan

    Remember – this is likely just the first round of cuts. Revenues are likely to keep shrinking. We are looking at a serious recession – less sales tax – property tax – property transfer tax etc.

  12. len raphael

    Dellums cover letter for the recent budget meeting describes golden handshakes as a payment by the city into the PERS retirement system to fund an employee’s early retirement. No numbers are mentioned.

    Brunner’s attached Q&A gives a long list of employee positions that pay >100k.
    (starts on page 5 http://clerkwebsvr1.oaklandnet.com/attachments/20402.pdf)
    Reading thru that makes me think that we’ve created a really bad compensation situation where cops, firefighters, as well as many non sworn people are paid more than Oakland can afford.

    We are gonna have one hecka po’d demoralized city workforce no matter how we slice and dice undoing the problems caused by a decade of overly generous wage hikes. Probably should do what private industry does, make deep cuts right away instead of dragging it out over the next three years and have too many of the good employees find other jobs.

    -len raphael

  13. Charles Pine

    The arts cuts apparently include breaking signed contracts. From a neighborhood email list:

    Dear Members of the City Council:

    We are deeply concerned with the ethics and wording of some of the proposed cuts in the budget proposal recently submitted by Jean Quan’s office.

    While we applaud many of the proposed cuts (eliminating hospitality expenses for events, reducing hours, closing city offices for the last week of the year, unnecessary travel expenses…), the idea of taking away money from artists (thru the Cultural Arts Funding Program), many of whom already have submitted signed contracts and have begun the work for which funding was approved, seems unspeakable. These are small amounts of money for the city, yet mean basic survival for many artists who depend on the $4999.00 grant to continue their life work. The particular wording of Jean Quan’s proposal (taken from her weekly newsletter) leaves a great deal of room for doubt:

    * Suspends Cultural Arts grants and parade/festival subsidies for this year. We acknowledge that some grants, especially those in the schools, may already be underway. [Quan's newsletter, Oct. 17, 2008]

    What exactly does “acknowledge” mean here? Because you acknowledge it, is it OK to take back the grant? We question the ethics of this proposal, and strongly urge council to amend the proposal so it does not take promised money back from Oakland’s artists.

    To end on a personal note, Daniel has already signed his contract, spent the money on supplies, and begun the work of creating the historical portrayals of several of Oakland’s communities, to be displayed indefinitely in public places, such as libraries, schools and public festivals. This project was approved for funding for this year. Our family will suffer quite a financial blow if the funding is revoked at this stage.


    Robin and Daniel
    Public School Teacher and Artist

    PS–thank you councilmembers Brooks, Nadel and Brunner for your support of the arts in Oakland.

  14. ConcernedOakFF


    This may be true from looking at the budget documentation, but many of those positions are actually funded from other sources such as FEMA Grants, Homeland Security Grants, Special Tax Collection. We cannot legally eliminate many of those positions, or we would have to return the money.

    Honestly, I am speaking as someone that owns property in Oakland, pays all of the taxes and knows the bureaucracy well, we really do not have extraneous costs.

    There are many other city departments that have not been decimated over the years like the FD has, that have much more fat to cut. Cut them first, and then if there are no other options, come to us. In the past, we have been the first to be cut, maybe after the libraries…

    In addition, I would say that very few, if any of the other positions you mention are 100,000 dollar a year spots as well.

  15. Max Allstadt

    Charles, there are indeed massive arts cuts in the proposal.

    Anyone involved in the arts who wants to help stop this should come to Pro Arts gallery on Monday night at 6:30. David Huff of Pro Arts will be hosting a brainstorming session where I will be doing some tactical coaching. The following night, Tuesday, we need to show up at council chambers in serious strength.

    So come to:

    Pro Arts Gallery at 550 2nd St. in Oakland at 6:30pm Monday (today).

    Then come to the council meeting at City Hall tomorrow. Show up by 7 and expect to stay a while. This will take some doing.

  16. Max Allstadt

    As for Robin and Daniel, who’s letter Charlie was kind enough to pass along:

    Thank you for pointing out some of the problems with Ms Quan’s proposal. There are some broader issues to address here, and points worth breaking down…

    1. A lot of arts money is also youth money. Artists are particularly adept at working with minimal funding, and even more adept at making that minimal funding help kids. A blanket cut is sloppy and insulting to these efforts.

    2. Oakland has spent years investing in becoming an arts hub. Because working artists have a much easier time affording to live here, we’ve been attracting San Francisco artist emigrees for decades. And now, as it’s finally starting to pay off, we’re going to reward them with a giant middle finger? Not OK.

    3. The cultural and arts budget is tiny already. We could get the same amount of money back if we learned how to make existing operations even marginally more efficient.

  17. Charles Pine

    Councilmember Quan writes that her budget proposal “Restores Park Rangers” (her newsletter, Oct. 17) Actually, she proposes to eliminate five of the current eight budgeted positions, according to this appeal from the Rangers themselves:

    The City Council has proposed eliminating 5 sworn peace officer (Ranger) positions from the Police Department…

    The City Council will save 3 Ranger Positions. With the elimination of the 5 Ranger positions, the 3 remaining Rangers will only be able to cover one 8 hour time period, and only 5 days a week. The Rangers are currently filling all of the vacant positions with overtime in order to provide coverage for 35-40 shifts per week. The City Council intends to reduce this to 15 shifts per week.

    With the reduction of Rangers from 40 eight hour shifts per week to 15 eight hour shifts,… (more at http://www.savetherangers.org )

  18. Max Allstadt


    Councilmember Jean Quan is making an all out assault on the arts, and we don’t even get half our Rangers back as a result?

    Why aren’t we cutting wasteful spending on city staff? It seems to me like a simple reduction in city employee raises could generate enough money to keep rangers and arts funding (not pay cuts, reducing raises). Could it be that Councilmember Jean Quan is so tied up with the city employees unions and that she’s willing to obliterate the city’s arts programs to please them?

    If Ms. Quan wants to piss off thousands of artists and art lovers before her run for mayor in 2010, than she’s picked the right strategy. If these cuts go through, you better believe I’ll make a mission out of making sure everybody knows who’s idea it was.

  19. dto510

    Max, city employees are not getting a raise this year – they’re getting an effective pay cut through the city closing periodically. No word on whether they voted to strike last week (I’m guessing they didn’t). I don’t know if Ms. Quan’s proposal counts as an “all out assault on the arts,” what percentage of arts funding will be cut? It’s not all of it, it’s only the General Fund’s portion.

  20. David Huff

    As an administer for an Oakland arts organization, I see first hand how arts funding helps better our city.

    Most local arts organizations operate on shoe-string budgets. We manage to accomplish as much as we do by asking staff and volunteers to donate a huge portion of their time and resources. We do this because we believe in giving a voice to the under-represented and providing vital interaction with our city’s youth.

    Cutting funding to these programs would cause many organizations, including Pro Arts, to shut their doors.

    The artists and organizations supported by the Cultural Arts Program have learned how do work with the tiny amount of funding available to us to provide first rate exhibitions and youth programs across the city. Taking away that support sends a frightening message to the thousands of volunteers that keep these programs running.

    I know that in this political climate everyone will have to tighten their belt, but by eliminating ALL of the cultural funding, the council risks doing irreparable harm to Oakland’s essential arts network.

    I urge anyone who is willing to try and save Oakland’s art funding to come to Pro Arts gallery (550 2nd street, Oakland) tonight at 6:00 for an organizational meeting.

  21. dto510

    David, could you please answer the question I posed to Max? It doesn’t seem that “ALL of the cultural funding” is being eliminated, just the portion paid by the General Fund. Is that true? What percentage of cultural funding is being cut?

    I wonder why so few outlets reported that 1021 voted to authorize a strike? That’s why I guessed they didn’t, because they would make a big deal of it.

  22. Max Allstadt


    A large amount of this money is going to important cultural benefits, not to mention youth programs and community programs that do their good through the arts.

    The Crucible, possibly the best craft school in the East Bay. Covenant House records, which gets kids out of crime and behind a mic. Rock Paper Scissors, a hub of Art Murmur. The Symphony. Pro Arts Gallery, which facilitates open studios for over 400 artists. This is a small sampling of who gets hit if this proposal passes.

    Some of these grants being cut are in the 50k range. In the arts field, that could be two full time salaries for a year, or at least one and a half. And there are multiple cuts like this. This proposal will put people out of work. People who are underpaid to begin with.

    What’s more, when artists get individual grants, they often throw in their own money out of pocket to complete their projects. Artists also often begin work when they get notice that they’ve been granted, before they get the check. If the city backs out of grants to independent artists, the artists will likely be out of pocket substantial sums, as well as having projects that can’t be competed.

    The reason I call Jean Quan’s measure an “assault” is because she’s using a sledgehammer where she needs a scalpel. A little nuance and effort could have made this a lot less controversial.

    It’s easy to discount cultural and arts funding as frivolous if you don’t know that most of it ends up actually being education and community funding.

  23. len raphael

    y’all make a pretty good argument for protecting art funding; never thought of muni art funding as low cost high value social programming before.

    there will be many many gored oxen with this financial mess, and your excellent points will get drowned out by the crowds roped in and delivered by the high cost low value ngo’s. lol.

    -len raphael

  24. Max Allstadt

    Thanks, Len.

    I’m gonna add another objection while I’m still up. This amendment essentially obliterates an entire department. It passed committee on Thursday. A final vote happens tonight. Three business days of notice for us to mobilize to save an entire department? This is a god damn ambush.

  25. Max Allstadt


    I don’t know the exact percentage of funding being cut, but it’s at least a majority. What’s more, the entire staff is being eliminated, so I don’t know who’ll be administering the scraps that are left. Maybe if the council had given itself more than 3 days to mull this over, they would be serving up a catch 22 along with the death warrant.

    A percentage I did learn tonight was rather shocking:


    That’s how much cultural and arts funding is down in the last five years. They’re already down to a third of what they once had, and now this. Very very not OK.

  26. V Smoothe Post author

    Max, what are you referring to when you say cultural and arts funding is down 66% in the last five years? Because I’m looking at the City’s budgets here, and that just plain isn’t true. It certainly isn’t true with respect to all Cultural Arts & Marketing programming and it also isn’t true with respect to the City’s cultural arts grants program. Both, in fact, have stayed relatively stable. So what, specifically, is down 66%?

  27. Max Allstadt

    I should have sourced that one before posting it. It was mentioned by two heavy hitters at our planning meeting last night. I will get back to you with the source.

    It could be that this number reflects both private and public grants available in Oakland. Let’s not forget that in the current recession (and perhaps coming depression), private money will be drying up even faster than public money.

    Also, is it even legal to only have two business days (friday, monday) of public notice between an amendment passing committee and a final vote in Council Chambers? The arts community is totally irate at being sucker punched like this.

    The unions have had weeks to organize and have had fair warning about potential cuts. The arts cuts are so last minute that it looks like we’re going to have a hard time getting decent turnout tonight at City Hall to protest. Artists and art lovers who’re reading this, please please come to City Hall tonight at 7pm.

  28. David Huff

    Hi Everyone,

    The meeting to save Oakland’s arts funding went pretty well last night. I’m not completely familiar with some of the details, But this is what I’ve got:

    DTO –
    The cuts will be made to the cultural funding that comes from the general fund – 1.4 million. 1 million of that money is given directly to smaller arts organizations and individual artists via grants, the remained goes to the cultural funding staff.

    There will still be money coming in from the ’1% for art’ initiative that funds public art. But this money does not go to arts education or arts organization support. Additionally, with no staff left to administer the 1% money it’s unclear how long that program will continue.

    V Smooth -
    I believe what Max is referring to is the drastic cuts made to the Department of Cultural Affairs in 2003. Mentioned at the top of link:


    Which cut 8 administrative positions and a large portion of the budget.

    This is important because, at (i believe) 2 full time positions, the department has already been trimmed pretty much to the bone. In a time when everyone is looking to trim a little fat, there’s not much to give in the arts section.

  29. V Smoothe Post author

    Max, there isn’t any committee involved here. This is an ongoing discussion of the City’s budget that has had, I believe, three special workshops at this point. The Council can (and probably will) make amendments to the budget the same day they vote on it.

  30. V Smoothe Post author

    David, the link you provided doesn’t say anything about “drastic cuts to the Department of Cultural Affairs.” In fact, it describes the creation of the Department of Cultural Affairs and says explicitly “Current funding maintained for all arts, crafts, music, parades and festivals.”

    Also, the FY07-09 adopted budget has 19.50 FTE positions for the Cultural Arts program, not two.

  31. Max Allstadt


    What about the ethics of wiping out an entire department on 3 days notice? I stand by what I’ve said. This is a travesty and an ambush. So they have legal authority to do this, apparently. So what. The ambush is still an ambush.

  32. V Smoothe Post author

    Max, what do you think they should cut instead? The Mayor wanted to solve the problem by shutting down all city services one day a week and cutting every City employee’s pay by 20%. His back-up plan was to lay off 120 people. So yeah, I think this is better, no, I don’t find it unethical.

  33. ConcernedOakFF


    How many of those 120 jobs are ones that are going to be cut through attrition, cut by eliminating unfilled jobs, and how many would actually be layoffs?

  34. V Smoothe Post author

    That 120 is on top of the already agreed upon attrition, elimination of vacant positions, and 84 layoffs. It would be an additional 120 layoffs of current City workers.

  35. Max Allstadt


    120 jobs or 20% pay cuts were about the whole deficit, not the measly 1.7 million that Cultural Arts is losing. If we’re talking about jobs vs. arts, there was one Councilmember that just sent out an email saying that the 1.7 million could amount to 14 or 15 city jobs. But let’s not kid ourselves, cutting all the arts funding will kill 50 or 60 arts jobs, and dozens of low-cost high-benefit programs.

    Arts jobs pay way way less than city jobs. This is because the arts world has an ethos that says that as long as you eat and have a place to sleep, working in the arts is payment enough. We’re talking about annual take-home pay in the high teens or low 20k range.

    What’s more, the margins that arts orgs operate under are tight as all hell. I just got an email from Sean Sullivan, who says that cutting 16k will kill Covenant House Records. This is a depressingly typical situation. Some of the grants from the City fund up to 20% of these organizations annual operating expenses. If you yanked that from a for-profit business with three days notice, they’d be dead too.

    We could look for other cuts or other sources of funding.

    The city buys a lot of print ads. How many new cops actually signed up because they saw a “Justice Pays” ad on a bus or in the paper?

    We could also ask the City employees to pay for a percentage of their health care. Very few private sector jobs offer 100% employee contributions for health care. If the city employees paid even 5% more, we’d probably have a huge chunk of change to work with.

    We could also seek funds from the redevelopment agency temporarily. Or up the percentage of construction cost contributions. But that’s dodgy because we’re in a building bust at the moment.

    You know what would be the best way to find alternative cuts and funds? Giving us more than THREE LOUSY DAYS to think about it. That’s why I keep shouting “Ambush!”

  36. Max Allstadt

    Also, if measure WW passes, won’t we be able to skim some Parks and Rec money and have neutral results?

    Why is the council insisting on getting this done two weeks before an election that will potentially change the budget game drastically due to ballot measures? If OO and WW pass, don’t they have to do this same dance all over again? Why do it twice?

  37. V Smoothe Post author

    No, Max, they weren’t “about the whole deficit”. People need to be clear on this. The original proposed Dellums submitted to close the deficit already included 84 layoffs. Those are definitely going to go. The 120 additional layoffs or one day a week closure of city services would have been made to close the remaining $10 million deficit left after all of the Mayor’s other cuts. So yeah, $1.7 million is actually a pretty significant portion of that.

    Arts jobs may pay less than City jobs, but City jobs provide the direct services that taxpayers are supposed to get in return for their money, and grants to non-governmental organizations don’t.

  38. Max Allstadt

    “Arts jobs may pay less than City jobs, but City jobs provide the direct services that taxpayers are supposed to get in return for their money, and grants to non-governmental organizations don’t.”

    Bull. Tell that to Sean Sullivan. Arts funding is youth funding. Arts funding is Community building and capacity building funding. How indirect of a benefit is it to take a gun out of a kids hand and replace it with a microphone?

    And so it’s 120 jobs for the 10 million, not the 42. That means that the 1.7 million for the arts would be swapped for 20 jobs at most. Subtract the jobs in Cultural affairs that get cut with the 1.7 million, and your down to 15. Seems like Pat Kernighan actually did pretty good math in the response she sent to her constituents. I hope she’s reading this, because if she’s doing math that well, all we need to swing her vote around on this is to point out the cost-benefit of arts funding.

    A single 19k arts job can oversee dozens of volunteers and interns. This is a clear example of bang for your buck. David Huff certainly provides direct services by facilitating a 400 artist open studios program, and he gets paid a pittance to do it. He gets paid in satisfaction, mainly.

    With the aid of volunteerism, business attraction and community good will, our arts dollar goes out with Washington on it and comes back with Lincoln or Hamilton.

  39. V Smoothe Post author

    And we come back again to what you’re going to cut to supply that money. Seriously, Max, what 15 jobs do you think we should eliminate in order to fund these grants? Libraries and parks provide services for youth too, and their services are open to all of Oakland’s youth, not just a handful. And these departments are both already experiencing almost inhuman cuts. So where’s it going to come from? You can’t just be against things – you need to have an alternative.

  40. David Huff

    I disagree with the idea that the services offered to Oakland’s youth through the parks are more important than arts funding by virtue of the fact that they are ‘open to all’

    When Artist In School (AIS) programs interact with ‘a handful’ of youth, they are functioning as a targeted program, often working with students that otherwise get very little individual attention inside our schools. The focus on under-resourced schools and under-represented populations has long been the focus of AIS programs.

    Often, these in-school projects are carried over into the community in the form of public art projects which beautify neighborhoods and help strengthen community bonds. These projects exist as part of the community, affecting all.

  41. V Smoothe Post author

    So would you rather we close parks than suspend the Cultural Arts grants, David? Seriously, people. That money needs to come from somewhere, and if you don’t want it cut, you need to present an alternative.

  42. Max Allstadt


    I just put up three possibilities for where to find the money. My biggest objection is that the arts community has been ambushed and given a mere three days to seek alternative sources.

    WE NEED A “NO” VOTE ON THIS AMENDMENT so that we can do the following…

    A. See what WW funds will allow us save on parks and rec.
    B. Have more than three days to get our wonkiest friends to find other places to cut.
    C. Know if OO passes and know if we have even more to cut as a result.
    D. Know if OO passes and know if some Cultural Arts funding can be from OO.

    Say the council alters the amendment so that it makes 8.3 million in cuts and allows for two weeks to examine Cultural Arts more closely… is that a worse idea than just casually slaughtering an entire department on three days notice?

    Why is it a good idea to make these cuts right before the ballot box budgeting of OO potentially throws another monkey wrench into the process? It seems like a great way to waste a huge amount of effort.

  43. V Smoothe Post author

    Max -

    Okay, let’s look at your three sources.

    • Police advertising: those ads are paid for out of Measure Y designated police funding, they aren’t available for any other use.
    • Medical contributions from City employees: I don’t disagree with you here, but it just isn’t going to happen. Although if you want to stand up tonight in a room full of angry union members who are not only not getting their annual raise this year, but also getting a 5% pay cut and advocate for them to pay even more, mazel tov. You’re braver than I am.
    • I can’t seem to find it at the moment, so this is going to be from memory and probably not exactly right, but from what I recall, we have somewhere around $8 million of uncommitted money in the redevelopment budget, and the state just took $8.5 million away from us. So there’s nothing to spare there, either. I do agree that in future budget cycles, we should fund at least part of the Cultural Arts grant program from redevelopment funds.

    So that’s zero for three and we’re back where we started.

    Waiting is not an option. Every single day we don’t pass a budget, we’re spending money that we just don’t have, which makes the deficit grow and the cuts we’re going to have to make even deeper. Whether OO or WW pass will have absolutely zero impact on this year’s budget. Any additional revenue or additional obligations will not come into play for two years. I’m not sure what you think another two weeks would accomplish. They’ve been working on this for almost a month at this point, and this is the best that anyone’s been able to come up with.

  44. David Huff

    You are right, the money needs to come from somewhere.

    But as I understand it, Cultural Arts funding, is the only department to be completely cut. Far better to ‘share the load’ across several if not all departments as long as it leaves something of the Cultural Arts department behind. If we get cut 50% it will be very difficult, we may have to limp along for a few years, but if we get through this crisis it will be a hundred times easier to restore funding then to create a completely new department from the ground up.

    Cutting the roots out of cultural funding is a bad investment.

    I don’t know which other departments should be trimmed to ensure the survival of cultural arts. but I do know that the effect of a department of 20 shrinking to 18 is orders of magnitude less than that of a department of 3 shrinking to 0, no matter what services they provide.

  45. Max Allstadt

    If they’ve been at this for a month, WHY didn’t anyone get in touch with the people funded by Cultural Arts money, and oh, I don’t know, maybe ASK us if there was any consensus on how to tighten the belt a little?

    If they’ve been at this for a month, WHY are major players in the arts world being caught completely by surprise?

    If Jean Quan has been thinking about this for a month, does that mean that she deliberately held off on mentioning the elimination of all arts funding for tactical reasons?

    For the umpteeth time: This is an ambush! Worse, the city doesn’t seem to get that it’s a friendly fire incident too.

  46. V Smoothe Post author

    David, the Cultural Arts and Marketing Department is not being completed cut. The General Fund portion of the department’s budget is being eliminated and the CEDA and Redevelopment Agency funding will remain the same. The Cultural Arts grant program is what’s being completely cut, and no, it is not the only program slated for elimination (actually, it’s not even proposed to be eliminated, just suspended for the year).

    You say we should “share the load,” but do you think the City hasn’t already done that already? Every single department in the City is hurting over this, and every single department is suffering significant staff cuts in this budget. Basic city services, most of which are already operating on shoestring budgets, are all taking deep hits. If people want to preserve this $1.7 million funding, I want to know what more they think Oakland residents should give up for it.

  47. V Smoothe Post author

    Max, settle down. You seem to be searching for some grand conspiracy against artists when the reality is that this is just normal procedure for public agencies with heavy deficits.

    There have been multiple public meetings over the last several weeks that were all scheduled and publicly noticed well in advance and received ample attention in the local media. As far as I’m aware, nobody came to any of those meetings to talk about the cultural arts program. The Mayor submitted a budget with a $10 million hole and told the Council to find a way to fill it. So they sat down and worked at it literally around the clock for weeks and this is what they came up with. If you want to condemn someone for not giving you enough notice, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the Mayor for taking so long to come up with a budget and then submitting an incomplete one. He didn’t leave the Council with any other options.

  48. Lori Zook


    Perhaps it shouldn’t just be “normal procedure” and while I recognize that falsely pitting the arts against libraries and parks and rec is a time-honored strategy of divide and conquer, it is not the only alternative.

    Yes, the city needs to make cuts. No, the city doesn’t need to make the cultural funding program bear the entire brunt. The grants are not gifts but are contracts for services (that have already been issued) that not only serve children, youth, and adults but also employ people, put $$s into the retail economy, and provide one of the few sources of positive visibility for our city.

  49. V Smoothe Post author

    Lori, what shouldn’t be normal procedure? Passing budgets? If you think this isn’t the only alternative, please show me what is. I have asked over and over again on this thread for people who advocate retaining this funding to tell me what they think should be cut instead, and nobody can give me an answer. Put up or shut up, people.

    And the notion that the city is making the “cultural funding program bear the entire brunt” of budget cuts is as preposterous as it is insulting. The total discretionary portion the city has to work with is $110 million, and we’re cutting $42 million, slashing core city services to barely functioning levels.

  50. dto510

    Ms. Zook, I strongly object to the lies that you’ve been spreading all over the Internet. First, cultural arts is NOT being eliminated, as you falsely claimed in your petition and email. Second, the cultural funding program in NO WAY “bears the entire brunt” of cuts – it’s $1.4m of $42m in total cuts. Third, the three councilmembers you cited as “supporting” arts grants have not offered anything in the way of cuts to provide funding for cultural arts, and you have no offered any either. Blaming the Councilmembers who are actually working on Oakland’s problems, rather than the mayor’s late and erroneous budgets or the councilmembers who haven’t lifted a finger to find cuts, is nasty politics.

    I find it really pathetic how you and your supporters act as if arts in Oakland wouldn’t exist without city subsidy. Did you go to public hearings to save live/work? Are you active in the movement to loosen cabaret restrictions? Did you publicly object when Nancy Nadel called the cops on the Art Murmur? Or is city cash the only part of the arts that interests you?

    Your lies and selfishness are seriously hurting your cause. You better hope the Council doesn’t treat you as disrespectfully as you are treating them.

  51. len raphael

    MA, if you have the backbone to call for (a larger) employee contribution to medical benefits, I’ll provide moral support because you’re absolutely correct that we can’t pay high wages and higher benefits than most residents get. But, yes, better bring 10 large friends with you. Methinks you would need Acorn to win this round. It will happen, but not for another year or so. That will be too late of course.

    DT, though I agree that JQ and DLF did a better than expected set of cuts, to say that this budget “crisis” blindsided the council because of Dellum’s erroneous prior budgets is to assume that all the council members and their staff don’t read newspapers, don’t buy/sell homes, drive cars, talk to city budget staff.

    There is no way that this entire council hasn’t known for at least two years that this “crisis” was coming. They publicly accepted Dellum’s prior budgets without serious question because it was expedient to do so.

    -len raphael

  52. len raphael

    MA, instead of going for the benefit cut, which will make you look “mean spirited”, lower hanging fruit wb combing thru the list of >100k positions looking for some of the more useless positions.

    -len raphael

  53. V Smoothe Post author

    Len, you’re misunderstanding what dto510 is saying. The problem isn’t that the
    Council didn’t know there would be a deficit, the problem is that the way the city is structured, the Mayor submits a budget for the Council to either adjust, then approve, or just approve. Dellums completely screwed this up by taking too long to submit his budget, giving them very little time for review, and then on top of that, submitting an incomplete budget. So they’re left to do both the Mayor’s job and their own with very little time to do it in.

  54. SF2OAK

    I just watched the Mayor speak and the council members weigh in on the proposed cuts. I find it interesting that there isn’t talk of privatizing & outsourcing. I was amazed to do the simple calculation of $10,000,000 (the amt. of extra cuts needed) divided by 120 (the number of positions) = $83,333.33- Over $83K (I suppose an average) for a city employee is way far out of line. It is really far now with the economy where it is, but it is far out of line given what is delivered.

    Oak makes no bones that they charge a a high property tax rate (and more than likely i’d wind up in a school district where I wouldn’t send my child) if I buy here. I just googled the Oak bus tax and came up with this (probably not the most current) and came up with this http://www.oaklandauditor.com/reports/report_buslicensetax.pdf No surprise to find that OAK has among the highest bus. taxes in the region, but indicative of ass backward planning.

    I am really so tempted to vote in favor of OO, to further hamstring the budget and force cuts. I realize the unions are incredibly strong here but I want to see a reduction in workforce, a reduction of wages & benefits and a plan to grow OAK economy, like SF did with Biotech, Silicon valley tech, Emeryville biotech. Every financial decision should have to go thru the value proposition.

  55. Robert

    I believe that the $10M includes both wages and benefits. I don’t know the exact palnning number the city uses, but benefits can easily run about 50% of salary. So your $83K salary plus benefits works out to be about $55K in wages. Which really doesn’t seem all that high.

  56. len raphael

    V, point taken that legally the mayor proposes and the council accepts/modifies budgets. All i meant was that it was disingenuous of the council (not of DT) to be unprepared for detailed budget cuts and more importantly to have failed to at least jaw bone for mid budget cycle cuts at least a year ago.


  57. V Smoothe Post author

    Len, again, legally, the Council gets all the detailed budget data through the Mayor, so as long as he wasn’t providing it, I’m not sure what exactly you think they should have been doing.

  58. SF2OAK

    If you can’t outsource it eliminate it. It may be semantics but in my view Charter schools are outsourcing, and that’s fine by me, especially when we saw the result of an Oakland run school district. Tree trimming- why have a city dept about that why not call Davey and get what you need when you need it. We just hired Robert Bobb- that seems to me to be outsourcing- he has his own consulting co. and is coming back for a specific project- how is this not outsourcing, and I’m happy to see it as the in house administrator apparently had no clue, no morals, no loyalty except to her own- not much in the way of a Public Servant was she?

    I heard the Mayor’s speech about him not knowing anything about the budget “…but that wasn’t quite true…” really for a CEO or so he claims is his job equivalent pretty piss poor performance.

    $55K to a clerk that sits on their ass all day seems like a lot- I’ve had to go to the assessor- recorder’s office not a whole lot going on there. I suspect nobody will notice or care if city gov’t shuts down 1 day a week, the whole week between Xmas & NY.

  59. V Smoothe Post author

    SF2OAK, if you want to start a movement to amend the City Charter so that it would allow outsourcing, I’m totally supportive of that. But the law as it is right now is explicit that you are not allowed to lay off city workers and contract the services out.

    City government shutting down 1 day a week isn’t just about offices at City Hall. It’s libraries, rec centers, street sweeping, all services. It’s a pretty big deal.

  60. SF2OAK

    It’s semantics- we can’t afford what we’ve been getting so there will be cuts made, thankfully. I’m just a proponent of eliminating the “services” that we cannot afford anyway.

    I can only hope that the decision is made to shut it down b/c then people will realize how little (or much) they actually use the services and what alternatives will spring up to replace them. And good that it’s a big deal b/c then Oaklander’s can see wht mismanagers they’ve elected into office time after time.

  61. Patrick

    Sorry to change the tone:

    All this fighting about where to make cuts. Yes, a pressing and IMMEDIATE problem. Actually, an immediate necessity. Anyone up for talking about how to improve Oakland’s finances? With improved tax collections, we can have all of this and more.

    We have a spectacular city, culturally rich, stunning physical stock, ideal climate, unparalleled location, enviable transit options, acres and acres and ACRES of underutilized land and obviously, an engaged citizenry…

  62. Robert

    Well, after listening so far, I am changng my mind and support continuing support for the arts, and cutting further city staff. At least the money will go to someone that actually will make productive use of the money.

  63. len raphael

    v, hate to bring nat’l politics into this forum, but only as an example: congress often holds hearings on spending,tax topics, and policy stuff that is supposed to be strictly executive office matters or supposed to originate in a different chamber. So they might not be able to introduce legislation but they can focus public attention on problems before they reach the crisis stage.

    is there something in the city charter that forbids holding hearings and conducting studies? from the joint JB/city staff budget townhall meeting i attended over a year ago, it was stated that council was “looking into” the unfunded medical retirement benefits issue.

    so yes, a council seat could be a bully pulpit instead of a reactive group sitting around waiting for the flames before they yell fire.

    -len raphael

  64. das88

    One thing that really amazed me about the council meeting was the discussion of employees being able to take cars home and have the city cover gas and upkeep.

    This seems like an absolutely extravagant perk awarded haphazardly to some employees. People were talking about this costing the city millions of dollars. Besides the fiscal impacts, it seems like a dumb idea. Why would we want to encourage city employees to live far from the city?