What you missed at Overhauling Oakland’s Budget

On Saturday, I urged readers to brave the rain and get over to Lakeshore on Sunday afternoon for “Overhauling Oakland’s Budget.”

On Sunday, it turned out to not be rainy at all. Instead it was sunny and beautiful, which made me fear even more for turnout at the event. When the sun comes out after such yucky weather, who wants to spend their weekend afternoon sitting inside some church meeting room talking about performance based budgeting?

So I was delighted when I walked in (late — I had a minor crisis trying to get there) to see the chairs almost all full, and a really healthy sized audience. It says a lot about how much Oaklanders care about seeing the City become more successful that so many people were willing to give up such a beautiful afternoon.

The event overall was great, too. The presentations were really informative, and it was just so delightful to see that amount of energy and interest in these wonky, but extremely important issues. I took some video of the meeting, so if you weren’t able to make it, you can see what you missed below.

Ignacio De La Fuente spent his time talking about how difficult it is to really make any kind of tangible change in City Hall, noting that he has seen a number of groups similar to Make Oakland Better Now! come and go during his time. He talked about the need for amendments to the City Charter relating to issues like PFRS, pension contributions, and contracting out City services, and said that such ballot measures will have to come from the people, because the Council will not place them on the ballot.

Make Oakland Better Now!’s Nicolas Heidorn gave a great presentation about how the City can be better prepared to weather future budget crises by adopting a rainy day fund policy.

City Attorney John Russo commended the group on the policy work they’ve done, and urged them to become more political in their efforts, and to think about forming or working with a Political Action Committee that would lead signature drives to put charter amendments on the ballot. Like De La Fuente, he insisted that change is never going to come from within City Hall. As an example of a needed charter amendment, he suggested language that would allow the City to more easily contract with volunteer groups, non-profits, and Business Improvement Districts for the provision of services.

City Auditor Courtney Ruby complained a lot about State issues and listing things she thinks our State representatives are doing wrong. I found it the least compelling of the presentations.

Make Oakland Better Now!’s Jim Blanchman made a brief, but thorough presentation about the City’s PFRS obligations — for those unfamiliar with the term, that is a retirement system that the City used to have for police and fire employees that is now closed, but that we’re still paying on.

The PFRS issue comes up every so often (and will definitely be more on the radar in the coming months), and I have to admit, I hate having to go through the whole thing and explain it, cause it is frankly, kind of convoluted and usually takes me a really long time. But I thought he laid out the whole issue really clearly, and from now on when people ask me about it, I’m totally just going to send them the link to this video.

BTW, there are a couple of PFRS-related items on the agenda for today’s Finance & Management Committee meeting, and I do plan to write about them, but I’ve got a wicked busy schedule, so I can tell you right now that it’s unlikely I’ll get anything up on that subject before the weekend.

In between presentations, there was a lot of interesting Q&A, and I’ve broken those out into individual videos as well, which you can watch below.

Thanks again to Make Oakland Better Now! and the East Bay Young Democrats for putting this on.

8 thoughts on “What you missed at Overhauling Oakland’s Budget

  1. livegreen

    Thank you V for the excellent summary and video, for those of us who couldn’t make it. Thank you also MOBN & all the speakers for doing an excellent job explaining the Budget challenge we’re facing and potential solutions.

    I support the movement for citizens to take this on. However I’m still surprised that our Elected Officials are not able to take this on and get real reform done. Didn’t we elect them to do what is necessary for a sustainable and effective City Govt?

  2. Dax

    Livegreen, regarding your Elected Officials and
    “I’m still surprised that our Elected Officials are not able to take this on and get real reform done”

    All you have to do is look at them. The veterans. Quan, De La Fuente, Reid, Brunner, Nadel and even Brooks.

    Sorry, but these are people who have no new ideas, nor the creative energy to put new ideas into practice.
    Their dynamic interaction is depleted.

    They are the old GM, Chrysler, Montgomery Wards, managers of our city.
    Only allowed to remain in place because a city doesn’t have to produce a profit.
    They can produce losses for decades before it all finally collapses.

    That is why nothing new will come from City Hall.

    I’m sure many of them are nice people, and in other areas of life very capable and responsible. But they, neither individually nor as a group, will ever bring about substantial change.

    They have no urgency. Each year they lament the same old troubles and go through the motions of addressing them.
    Or worse, they ignore them and kick them down the road.

    Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, get boarded up, but city council persons just keep running.

  3. livegreen

    I understand the history. However my expectations appear to be higher than your might be: It’s the responsibility of our elected representatives to do what is necessary to bring costs in line with revenue.

    More taxes on the private sector has already tried and failed. The voters have spoken. It’s time for elected officials to acknowledge this fact and implement the tough changes that are required.

  4. Ken O


    can you point to any US elected politicians who promoted and or actually carried out broad cuts to social programs or corporate subsidies who then remained in office?


  5. livegreen

    The increased Oakland budget and deficit are not because of increased services.

    What local corporate subsidies do you mean?

  6. charlie s

    Thank you for this summary and the informative videos. This really makes a difference, and means a lot for those of us with unusual schedules who cannot get to such meetings.

  7. ralph

    Doesn’t it make more sense to limit expense growth to a percent of normal revenue growth, with the balance going to a rainy day fund?

    Bringing costs in line with revenue seems like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.

  8. len raphael

    CS, you’re kidding about the unusual schedules, right?

    Normal people with normal lives who aren’t getting paid somehow to attend these meetings, don’t have the time to attend unless something is immediately and seriously affecting a 200 foot radius of their residence.

    That leaves city staff, employees of non profits, lobbyists such as land use attorneys etc., developers, larger property owners, union reps, and

    retired people, students, under/un employed people, people who work for non profits with lots of flex time. plus a few self employed people without young children to take to after school programs to supplement bad ousd schools.