Will Oakland become a filthy city where nobody reads?

Crystal ball says maybe.

Oakland’s City Council will meet this afternoon at 4 PM (PDF) for their third discussion of the Mayor’s proposed budget (PDF). Over the last two meetings, they went through each department, asking questions about the service impacts of the cuts, department operations, and potential revenue generating opportunities. So far, I’ve managed to upload the video of these discussions for the library, parks and recreation, human services, IT, parking, public works, and CEDA. Technical difficulties have prevented me from getting the remainder up, but I’m hoping to have them all finished by tomorrow, and you can watch them all here.

So they’ll meet again tonight, and if everything goes as planned, they’ll approve a budget for the next two years at their regular meeting on June 16th. By law, they must adopt a budget by June 30th. But there’s a few things you need to know about that. First, although the Council will definitely approve a budget by June 30th, there is almost zero chance that this will be the budget for the next fiscal year, let alone the one after that.. There’s a number of x factors remaining out there, all of which could require significant further amendments. Let’s take a look :

  • There’s the issue of whether or not the State will approve “borrowing” $11.8 million from Oakland to help balance the equally troubled California budget. Obviously, this would be devastating to us. In theory, we can borrow the money the State “borrows” from us from a private lender, but our significant unfunded future obligations and essentially non-existent cash reserve aren’t going to make that any easier. The State may create a joint powers authority that allows local governments robbed of their funds to borrow against the State’s repayment as a group, but again, there’s a lot about this that’s unclear, and no actual assurances that the State will ever repay any money that’s been taken. In any case, the borrowing, if approved, will cause a lot of problems for Oakland and I cannot urge strongly enough that you contact your legislators and tell them you oppose this proposal. The numbers again:

  • On top of that, we have to worry about the State potentially taking $8.5 million from the Redevelopment Agency. The State’s attempt to do this last year was recently blocked by a Sacramento Superior Court Ruling, but the State Department of Finance has announced that they will appeal the decision.

  • Then we’ve got the CHRP to worry about. As you might recall, the Mayor’s budget currently schedules a layoff of 140 police officers for October 1st. This layoff must be in the City’s approved budget in order for Oakland to qualify for the $23 million we’ve applied for in police funding from the stimulus package. We will almost definitely get some of that money, we have a good shot at getting a lot of that money, and because we have so many problems, we actually have some chance of getting all of that money. However, the CHRP grants are very competitive, much more money was requested than is available, and there is no guarantee how much we’ll get. If our grant is anything less than the full $23 million (and it likely will be), then we are going to have to go back to the table and make cuts to fill the gap.

    Does that make sense? Basically, we can’t actually lay off any officers without losing our ability to collect Measure Y taxes, which fund not only 63 police positions, but also provide around $4 million to the Fire Department annually and fund a variety of violence prevention programs. So if we end up getting, say, $17 million (that’s just a random number I’m using as an example, BTW), then we are going to have to open up the budget again and find another $5 million somewhere that we can then use to make up the difference between what we asked for, and budgeted based on, and what we actually got.

  • And of course, it’s entirely possible, likely even, that our revenues will turn out to be lower than we’re projecting right now. The City is thinking at the moment that further drops in property tax and sales tax revenue could put us another $6 million in the hole. And, as much as I hate to say it, there’s not really any good reason at the moment to think that it won’t be even worse than that. Whatever that shortfall ends up being, we’re going to have to open up the budget again as soon as we know what it is and make whatever cuts are necessary to address it.

As far as the actual budget goes, the biggest uproar thus far has been over the proposed cuts to the library, which, honestly, are completely insane. (I should probably note here that I work at the library, although, on this blog, I of course speak only for myself and not my employer.) Currently, all of Oakland’s 15 branch libraries are open 6 days a week (except for the weeks when the City’s closed on Fridays, of course). Under the Mayor’s proposed budget, the schedule would change (PDF) so that 9 of those branches would be open only 5 days per week. Brookfield, Montclair, Piedmont, and West Oakland would be open Monday through Friday. Asian, Chavez, Dimond, Eastmont, and Rockridge would be open Tuesday through Saturday, as would the new 81st Avenue library when it opens.

Golden Gate, Temescal, and MLK would be open 3 days per week, from 11:30 to 7:00 on Mondays, and 10:00 to 5:30 on Wednesdays and Fridays. Elmhurst, Lakeview, and Melrose would be open only 2 days per week, from 11:30 to 7:00 on Tuesdays and 10:00 to 5:30 on Thursdays. Like I said before, insane. What is even the point of having a library that’s only open two days a week? Ugh.

Library patrons opposing the cuts have created a number of websites to promote action against the proposal. Save the Libraries offers a one-stop space for general action, while there are now individual blogs defending Lakeview Library and Elmhurst Library. Additionally, former City Council candidate and Oakland Community Action Partnership Board member Sean Sullivan writes a guest post today at Living in the O opposing the library cuts.

What is just as horrible, but not getting anywhere near as much attention, in the Mayor’s budget, are the absolutely devastating cuts to public works. I mean, I’ve complained a lot here about how grimy and dirty the City often looks in general, which I maintain impacts the negative outsider perceptions of Oakland just as much, if not more than, headlines about crime. (It certainly reinforces any pre-existing negative images for visitors.) But as trashed as much of Oakland looks right now, it’s nothing compared to what it’s going to look like soon. Under this budget, Public Works is losing 73.18. That means a number of things, all of them bad.

Litter enforcement staff will be cut in half. Tree services will be left with less than half the staff it had a year ago, and the only tree tending done period will be to address hazardous conditions and emergency situations, likely with a slower response time. The designated downtown cleaning crew will be eliminated, leaving downtown with street sweeping and graffiti abatement, but no manual sweeping or power washing the sidewalks or any other extras like that. With the heavy paving program being eliminated, there will be no major road repairs outside the woefully underfunded capital improvement program, which means that basically no residential streets should expect repairs. And of course, we will have the lowest number of park maintenance staff in Oakland in memory.

To understand better what all this will mean, you really need to look at this list (PDF) of the proposed facility maintenance. It divides the City’s facilities into two groups, priority and non-priority. Priority facilities will still be maintained, although not at the levels they previously were. Non-priority facilities will receive no routine maintenance. So, if something is terribly wrong, someone will come deal with it when they can, but there will be no trash cans, no cleaning, no nothing to keep these spaces maintained under this new budget. The locations that will get no routine maintenance include basically all the City’s mini (less than 1 acre) and neighborhood (2-10 acres, no rec center or anything) parks, parking lots, public plazas, and medians. Oakland is going to look nasty. Sigh. All the more reason to go weed some medians yourself, I guess.

95 thoughts on “Will Oakland become a filthy city where nobody reads?

  1. Patrick

    Look on the bright side! At least our highly-paid city employees will be able to return to their safe, clean, leafy suburban neighborhoods. We should be proud that the City Council, via our tax dollars, provides an advantaged lifestyle for Oakland’s public workers, if not for it’s citizens.

  2. Ken O

    V, have you been to any third world, I mean developing countries?
    I’ve trooped around Asia though not India or Africa.

    People pretty much police themselves. I think we’ll be fine. The city will depopulate eventually anyway.

    The pdf list of parks: I notice the parks not to be routinely maintained are mostly in east/west oakland, though quite a few are in the north/south hills and outer-rockridge as well.

    I am fine with public works not “working” on street medians also. Some of their “work” includes spraying cancer-causing Roundup on weeds anyway. The neighborhood of Temescal has done quite a good job on doing a spring planting/ maintenance on the 40th street median and others. I’d be happier with more greenery and less spraying. “Weeds” improve soil quality, improve ecological diversity and prevent erosion.

    That said, the city probably provides a useful service maintaining these medians year-round. Neighborhoods will have to take up the slack — or let nature run herself.

    (I’m also annoyed that The Uptown apartments uses monthly spot pesticide spraying and gas-powered stinky leaf blowers instead of brooms… the fumes come into my apt. What happened to being “green”?)

    Libraries; I hardly ever noticed patrons using the Temescal library. Rockridge gets much more use. Who reads books these days anyway?

  3. Jennifer

    Those lame cardboard trash receptacles are never picked up anyway and the garbage blows out and around. Then it rains and they break down and rot. Really, I don’t think I’ll notice a difference of garbage pick-up or street maintenance in my regular routes — they are so bad right now it’s an ongoing joke in my house. I use the East Bay Regional Parks for recreation.

  4. Patrick

    Can anyone still provide me with reasons why the not-so-rosy scenario V. has presented is preferable to bankruptcy? A City that cannot provide essential services is already bankrupt – all we have to do is file.

    As the City will not be able to maintain large swaths of land, why not go all out? Let’s de-annex everything south of 73rd/Hegenberger and west of MacArthur. We’ll keep the airport, of course. It seems to be de rigeuer to make your problems someone else’s.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Patrick, as has been explained to you repeatedly, bankruptcy would not change or prevent the above outlined situation in any way.

  6. dto510

    Ken, Oakland is not a third-world country. We don’t pay first-world taxes for third-world services. The comparison to an impoverished nation is somewhat apt, but as a cautionary tale for what can happen when government fails. Your cavalier view of the misery and suffering experienced by people living without a functioning state is pretty disturbing, honestly. You ever look at WHO statistics? Bad government = a miserable life and an early death.

  7. Naomi Schiff

    Thank you, V, for your comments. Today at 4 pm I plan to pay yet another visit to the city council to urge them not to cut parks and rec, and to keep all the library branches open equally. I hope those who can will also do so, or at least call and email the council.

    It is not wise nor fair to pit neighborhood against neighborhood in this way. And I agree about the Roundup. Let’s not spray it. I’ll be happy to go around weeding. I already do a lot of that, but once the city came and sprayed the local median, I didn’t want to go play amongst the toxics. (Not to mention their killing stuff I planted.) We do need to keep the pressure on the state! The governor is trying to make cuts out of spite, instead of reevaluating the potential for revenues and fair treatment of urban constituencies. I feel like we are being punished for living in cities.

    This is a rich and resourceful state and we can do better than this.

  8. Patrick

    If bankruptcy cannot prevent (or at least lessen) the above scenario, why would Vallejo have declared bankruptcy? Or General Motors for that matter? Bankruptcy allows us to restructure our current obligations – such as union contracts – to reflect what we can actually pay. Falling revenues are not the entire problem here; the main reason that Oakland is in the financial condition it is in is because our employees make too much money.

    I really don’t get your line of reasoning. At all. If we save money on payroll, we’ll clearly have more money to fill the gaps elsewhere.

  9. Naomi Schiff

    SOME city employees are highly paid, but a lot of them are not overcompensated in the least. The huge majority of the general fund, as V has pointed out repeatedly, goes to fire and police. They do get a lot of overtime pay.

    One difficulty in any bureaucracy is that the people who write the budgets tend not to trim upper management, because they are upper management. Generally you will see more layoffs among the lower-paid workers. Yet in the case of parks & rec and the library, the lower-paid workers are a pretty good value, and do the actual hands-on work.

    It was interesting to hear Kaplan question the size and utility of the city’s big fleet of vehicles. I have a small economy: don’t supply food at city meetings of any kind. Let people bring their own, or pass the hat, or potluck. It would be healthier too! There are way too many bread products and pastries at city hall! (Don’t know who acquires this stuff, nor what tiny budget it comes from, but it must add up.)

  10. Patrick

    Actually, V has researched payroll extensively; in all but four wage categories, Oakland ranks highest in the Bay Area. It is not just “some” employees, it is “virtually all”. And overall, our employees are some of the highest paid in the nation for a City of our size.

    Regarding parks, why not just lay them all off? We can use the money saved and go to the Day Labor area off Fruitvale. I guarantee that for a relative minimum of cash, our parks will sparkle in a matter of days.

    Yes, the Chiefs are always the last to go. Plenty of administrators to collect a salary while bemoaning their inability to accomplish anything of value.

  11. PRE

    I just came back from spending the weekend in Albuquerque – and wow, what a difference between there and Oakland (or most cities in the Bay Area for that matter)! ABQ is just slightly bigger in population than Oakland, but the streets are all nicely paved and trash isn’t blowing in every parking lot or gutter. The parks looked well kept and were not filled with bums. The state of New Mexico has even figured out a way to run train service between ABQ and Santa Fe that was clean, quiet, on-time and was bursting with passengers the Saturday I rode. Somehow in New Mexico all the necessary things get paid for with money left over for the niceties. I fear that the outlook for California and Oakland in particular, just gets worse and worse.

  12. ConcernedOakFF

    Patrick –

    Do you at least try to find a realistic solution for the problems you see, or is it just easier to criticize the quote unquote over-paid bloated city workers leaching off of the tax saddled poor denizens of this broken city.

    My guess? The latter. Far harder to find real solutions, and easy to make ridiculous ones like hiring illegal labor.

  13. Christopher

    re New Mexico:
    I would be interested in comparisons of Oakland’s budget (revenues and expenses) to other cities (outside the Bay Area). Many people complain about high taxes and city employee salaries, but is Oakland’s budget really that much different from other big cities? I imagine NM has lower property and sales taxes than CA.

  14. PRE

    I believe New Mexico sales taxes according to the receipts I brought back were 6.75% and my friend says his property taxes were about 0.8% – so both are less than here in Cali, and of course the average house price is probably half what it is here, so that’s a smaller base to start with. Yet, they seem to make it work.

  15. Christopher

    btw, here is Albuquerque’s city budget info: http://www.cabq.gov/budget/

    The city actually employs an economist. Even though they faced a $65M budget shortfall for 2009, they produced a balanced budget of $907M without layoffs while also reducing the sales tax 1/8 cent and increasing wages of public safety officers.

  16. Robert


    Cut 10% of the city employees except for sworn police.

    Cut the salaries of the remaining employees by 10% (not by cutting hours but by cutting pay rate).

    Require that all employees contribut half of the total contribution to CALPERS. Firefighters are already contributing so may not be hit too hard by this one.

    Overall savings, around 25% of the total personnel budget, or in the neighborhood of $100M. If the employees cut are the lowest performing, the way any industry would do it, overall service would not go down and would likely actually increase.

  17. VivekB

    I was talking last week to an employee of city gov’t who will remain nameless, in a nameless dept (fear of retribution). This persons statement was that it’s staggeringly hard to fire bad workers that are of minority status. There are several specific ones who are (insert minority name) (insert EEOC protected group), that keep getting transferred around because they don’t do anything, and no one has the cajones to get on their case.

    A few years back a manager took one on to get them to do anything, and within days an HR complaint for sexual harassment and hostile work environment was filed. The manager had to leave, employee stayed.

    This person thinks that this is an incredible drag on the efficiency of the gov’t, as other folks see the behavior and wonder why they too are bothering to do work. They said that the individuals are well known, worst kept secret type thing, but everyone is scared and powerless.

    I know this is a vague post, but it’s as much as i’m permitted to discuss. Wouldn’t it be nice if ability to terminate bottom 25% of performers was an easy thing, regardless of race/color/creed/gender/orientation/height/weight/etc.

  18. Patrick

    ConcernedOakFF: my “specifics” have been made clear “repeatedly”. We can either cut employee pay (which I advocate; if the employees don’t go along with it, bankruptcy will force their hand) or, we can cut employees, leaving our city understaffed with an overpaid workforce. I really can’t be more specific than that.

    I know you’re a firefighter in Oakland. And I know typing on this thread is easier than taking a pay cut. But beyond closing libraries, abandoning parks and leaving roads to crumble under the forces of nature there are NO other options. None. Our city requires services. And if we had a lower-paid workforce, we would have adequate services.

    P.S. You may want to look up the word “sarcasm” in the dictionary. Better hurry though – the library is closing and won’t open again until Saturday.

  19. OnTheGoJo/Joanna

    My parents used to live in ABQ, and I’m sorry PRE, but unless things have drastically changed in the last two years, their roads aren’t all sunshine and caviar. And the parks? Many are riddled with drug dealers, trash, and broken playground equipment. But then again, my parents aren’t rich and didn’t live in the touristy or better part of town…. Hmm, you’re right – it does kind of remind me of Oakland.

    As for crumbling roads, I swear my car is going to fall to bits traveling on Jackson Street between 880 and the lake. I definitely wouldn’t ride my bike on that stretch. I find it odd that I can go up North and seemingly even the most remote country roads seem nice in comparison.

  20. V Smoothe Post author

    Patrick –

    There is no reason to think the bankruptcy would prevent the above scenario. And again, as I have explained repeatedly, our union contracts are all either expired or (in the case of the police) will expire in a year. So we are currently in contract negotiations. Declaring bankruptcy will not change that.

    As far as payroll goes, I have presented in the past a variety of information about Oakland’s payroll from a variety of sources, and overall I do believe that Oakland would be better served by paying people less. It is true that in many cases, positions in Oakland pay more than equivalent positions in most Bay Area cities. It is also true that our total payroll per employee is higher than that in large cities throughout the nation. But it is not accurate to say that Oakland has the highest pay in the Bay Area in all but four wage categories. I apologize if I gave that impression.

    Naomi –

    I agree with you about the food. And also bottled water

    Joanna, Christopher, and PRE –

    I suspect that Albequerque, like many other cities, is clean and well maintained in some areas and not so much in others. Portland, a city that I used to live in, and that I believe in general is very well-run, is beautifully maintained and clean in the parts that tourists go to, but also has abysmal infrastructure in other parts. I lived in a fairly nice neighborhood in the inner part of the city, and an entire block very close to my house was not even paved! Where Oakland differs from these other cities, though, is that almost nothing here is well-maintained – not downtown, not parks and sidewalks and streets in wealthy areas, nothing. Certainly some parts of the city look better than others, but in general, there’s very, very little that sparkles.

    To readers in general -

    Oakland’s budget problems are both simpler and more complicated than is often made out. At root, our current situation is the result of a long series of poor decisions over many years. Choices about employee pay are part of that. Choices about taking on debt are part of that. Choices about the way we’ve spent our money when we had lots of it are part of that.

    I have, in various states of progress, a number of spreadsheets comparing Oakland to other cities, in some cases, to Bay Area cities, in other cases, to similarly sized cities in California and throughout the nation. I am working on things about employee compensation, taxes, revenue generation, the way the budget is distributed through different city services, and a number of other things. I am genuinely sorry I have not been able to complete them in time to present them along with Oakland’s ongoing budget discussions. But pulling all this information together is quite time consuming, as every city budgets differently, and I have other demands on my time (like work), and I would much rather take the time to get it done properly so I can present a full and accurate picture of the issues. I will post this information as soon as I am satisfied that I have it all right.

  21. Ken O

    ConcernedOakFF: the restaurants in SF and Oakland apparently have it figured out: plenty of “illegal immigrants” working in the back. I formerly picked up grease for a biodiesel company and know first hand.

  22. Patrick

    Thank you, V., for the corrections.

    To bring it all home, there is only one thing that Oakland pays for about which we can say “we’re among the best”: employee pay/benefits. Therefore, it is the only meaningul thing that can be cut without devastating consequences.

    And ConcernedOakFF, we’re planning on giving “illegal labor” ID cards in Oakland – why not give them work, too?

  23. Ken O

    DTO: In Oakland (and America), we’re working hard at becoming a third world country. We’ve used up all our natural capital which supported us. Our oil-based support systems for industrial civilization will break down in the coming decades. In the future I’d expect more US cities’ roads to look like our Jackson street, 20th Street in Oakland between MLK and 980, or some residential streets in Richmond CA.

    Richmond and Oakland are just canaries for what can and will happen to our overpaved lands.

    “Your cavalier view of the misery and suffering experienced by people living without a functioning state is pretty disturbing, honestly. You ever look at WHO statistics? Bad government = a miserable life and an early death.”

    Japan has a functioning national government, including national healthcare, yet their suicide rate is very high. Seattle has a decently functioning city government with money, yet they have problems.

    When I was in Cambodia, people didn’t seem miserable, or living short lives — that’s the fault of Pol Pot. Sure there were poor people here and there, but how different is that from NYC or SF, Sacramento or Ontario? I wasn’t always in a tourist trap, and people lived. People adjust to just about anything. We’ve had it very good for a while due to luck. (a rich country, counting its depleting natural capital as “income.”)

    A “miserable life and an early death” is probably how our ancestors lived, depending on geography, climate and diet. Welcome to the past.

    Plenty of Americans have a miserable life and an early death by heart disease or cancer from too much driving, drinking, fried foods, soda, having to work part-time at WalMart, etc. The main problems are overpopulation and not enough resources to support this many people. In Oakland, California or anywhere. We are like the deer on that island whose population grew exponentially and then all died off.

  24. ConcernedOakFF

    I would be fine with a pay cut, as long as it is city wide. Never said otherwise. We runs at the razors-edge of staffing in the Fire Department this city. We cannot cannot cannot cut personnel without gravely endangering the lives of the people that we protect.

    I am far more defensive about the attacks on our pension than on my salary.

  25. PRE

    V Smoothe said: There is no reason to think the bankruptcy would prevent the above scenario. And again, as I have explained repeatedly, our union contracts are all either expired or (in the case of the police) will expire in a year. So we are currently in contract negotiations. Declaring bankruptcy will not change that.

    I’ll have to agree with Patrick on this one, declaring bankruptcy is probably the only bargaining chip that Oakland has in those upcoming/ongoing negotiations, and I hope it follows Vallejo’s lead and does so. Pretending that the city isn’t already bankrupt doesn’t change the fact that it is. Of course with grandpa running the show (is he still even around?) I’m not holding my breath. Robert’s suggestions sound just about right to me.

    As for firefighter’s (and other “public” employee) pensions, I don’t know ANYONE who has one – real people have to save for their own retirements with 401Ks that are worth a lot less today than last year. If CALPERS or anyone else comes to taxpayers and tries to pick their pockets to pay for ridiculously over-generous pensions (Heather Fong, or anyone else getting 90% of her working pay as a pension is obscene) while the rest of us have to make do – you just wait for the “firestorm” that’ll cause. As ugly as the cuts are going to be, one good thing that may come out of the rejection of the propositions is that maybe some politicians will have the nerve to stand up to the public employee unions.

  26. ConcernedOakFF

    So should you be trying to bring everyone down to this level of supposed poverty in retirement?

    Why don’t you work to bring everyone up to our level?

    I really cannot understand this desire to despoil what our unions and the people that died young before us were able to achieve. We should as a society be happy about this!

    Let’s get MORE pensions! Not, “well, since I am in a profession that I willingly chose, and I don’t get a pension, I am going to act like an angry child and make sure NOBODY gets one.”

  27. PRE

    Let’s get MORE pensions! Not, “well, since I am in a profession that I willingly chose, and I don’t get a pension, I am going to act like an angry child and make sure NOBODY gets one.”

    Well now were throwing around names like “angry child” are we? When I was in the Air Force, the retirement after 20 years was 50% and that was considered very, very, generous. I’ll say it again – getting 90% of your working salary in retirement is obscene for a PUBLIC employee who is ultimately paid entirely by taxpayers.

    In case you had not noticed, this state and city are broke, in large part due to making ridiculously generous commitments to be carried on the backs of the taxpayers and their children and grandchildren. You’re in a profession that you willingly chose that has effectively priced itself out of the market and now you “act like an angry child” and complain that nobody can afford you anymore.

  28. len

    layoffs, pay cuts, service cuts, and restructuring will happen within a couple of years because cities can’t run deficits and have limited borrowing opportunities even in good times. whether that is thru bankruptcy proceeding (eg. if it’s the only way to unilaterally break existing retirement obligations) is a technicality and a negotiating tactic. the feds might be able to delay that for two three years but can’t keep borrowing money without risking serious inflation etc.

    the restructuring will be extremely difficult to achieve for the reason NS mentioned, the intricate political web tying the well being of and power of officials and employees together etc. I’m pretty sure that when it comes down to drastic service cuts so called “hills liberals” will vote their self interest and support dismantling of policies such as the Living Wage. either the current officials read the tea leaves or the active body politic will disgorge them.

    well intentioned civil service seniority rules, and the whole panopoly of hard fought for anti discrimination laws will make for years of costly litigation and delays in the restructuring into a more efficient lower cost service provider. good thing that to varying degrees other cities and Calif, as well as many businesses will be going thru the same process to share the legal battle costs and develop equitable ways to make the cuts while improving efficiency. in the end we’ll have to consolidate into a regional government that outsource services to non-union lower paid private vendors, and achieves economies of scale on admin costs.

    alternatively, a consensus develops in CA and maybe the whole country to substantially raise income taxes a wide base of the population to support or even increase the current level of public employment. that could be combined with efficiency increases, but hard to imagine how to encourage that.

    -len raphael

    -len raphael

  29. Naomi Schiff

    Well, Len, possibly a consensus develops that the prop 13 property tax has distorted California’s finances and become terribly unfair after these many years. Sorry to repeat myself, but my young neighbors are paying around 7 or 8 times the property tax I do, for a very similar piece of property. They are paying the penalty of having bought it only five years ago, but they were only about 8 years old when I bought. Granted, they had lousy judgment when they were 8, but should they now be punished for it?Makes no sense. I won’t go on again about split roll, and how little prop tax Chevron pays on its huge chunk of Richmond, but.

    I believe we can protect the seniors (the excuse for prop 13) and still have equitable property taxation that is not ruinous. We need to rewrite that law.

  30. len raphael

    NS, yes i could see some version of split roll winning as a proposition in the next year because businesses can’t vote directly, and it’s less immediately painful to tax businesses than voters; let alone restructuring govt services. i think it’s a patch and is a bad substitute for changing state income taxes and revenue sharing with cities.


  31. Carlos Plazola

    In my 6.5 years with the city, several things were evident that are now leading us into an emergency situation:

    1. The pension fund issue is simply unsustainable. With people living longer and retiring younger, and the needs of an urban city growing, without much physical room to grow the budget, it is only a matter of time before the situation implodes. We all know this now, so the fix should be easy, but the fact that it will be a long, drawn-out struggle that leads to only tweaks on the margins of the pension fund issue will be evidence that organized labor has overshot, and doesn’t know how to pull back into the realm of the reasonable.

    2. Many workers are overpaid for the amount of tangible results that come from their work, day to day. When I left the city, I was paid very well. My boss, Ignacio, demanded results, so it would not have been easy for me to slack off, but this is absolutely not the case in the large agencies where accountability drops as the hierarchical levels increase. And the culture of work-avoidance is incredible. It would blow people’s minds to see behind the curtain.

    3. Oakland has become an employment agency. We know that redevelopment funds are constantly raided to keep people employed, rather than lay people off. We know that when people’s jobs become obsolete, they’re transferred, rather than laid off. While this is wonderful for our Eutopic dreams, it is a rip off of tax payer money.

    4. The bureaucracy fights efficiency and accountability. Workers who show their colleagues up by working hard, too often get ostracized. There is great pressure to reduce performance. Measures to bring accountability are constantly resisted.

    5. Under poor leadership, the culture of “no” prevails because there is no risk in saying no, while saying yes runs the risk of making mistakes. This leads to the stagnation of ideas, the killing of any entrepreneurial spirit, the reduction of revenue, and the slow, bitter death of morale.

    It is possible to balance the budget and not see a reduction in services–theoretically. But the kinds of decisions that would need to be made, and the fights that would need to be fought to make this happen, would only be taken on by a small minority of our existing councilmembers. I say with pride that Ignacio, has been leading this charge for years, which is why the city unions have fought him so ferociously for years.

    How do we fix all of this? We need the kind of leadership that will go head-to-head against those who seek to keep this inefficient system in place, at the expense of the Oakland taxpayer. This leader needs to speak to the voters, not to the city hall insiders, and rally the support of Oaklanders behind him or her. It takes the kind of almost arrogant, if not suicidal, courage not often seen in politicians. The kind of leadership that is selfless, and that runs for office for the right reasons–to serve and make decisions for the whole, even if these decisions runs counter to the self.

    We’ll see.

    Sorry for the long post.

  32. Naomi Schiff

    I’m not necessarily opposed to changing income tax structure. I do think the recurring grab of local monies by the state, and the overloading of responsibilities as unfunded mandates to the counties is unsustainable. The legislature and the governor are too frightened and greedy to fix it. We need a little courage from them, and the willingness to occasionally lose an election. And we need to lose that 2/3 vote requirement, for sure. It is creating a tyranny of the minority and removing any incentive for agreement.

  33. gem s

    KenO. : “Some of their “work” includes spraying cancer-causing Roundup on weeds anyway.”

    Glysophate doesn’t cause cancer. It doesn’t cause birth defects either, or mutagenicity, or teratogenicity, or break down into anything hazardous. I’ve been a professional organic gardener for 10+ years, so I don’t use RoundUp, but there are better arguments to be made for avoiding it (like not supporting Monsanto) than false carcinogen claims. However, the gas powered blowers you mentioned do actually produce several carcinogens and launch all sorts of pollutants into the air. No one ever wants to pay gardeners for the time it takes to sweep a sidewalk, unfortunately.

    As far as the library closures go, Oakland is shooting itself in the foot. People need libraries more than ever when they have no extra money for computers or internet or books or movies. The same is true of parks- clean parks means more park use, and more park use means: more people exercising, more people out in the community, and more eyes on the street. Keeping kids busy in libraries, community centers, and parks has got to be cheaper than policing them when they have got nothing to do.

    I’d like to see the city get rid of its vehicle fleet. They can get CityCarShare memberships and AC transit passes and bikes.

  34. The Boss

    One thing I think is interesting — aside from the really excellent exchange of viewpoints and information on this thread — is the seeming shift in people’s thinking in these comments toward more realistic solutions to these problems.

    It wasn’t too long ago that bringing up public-employee pensions, pay, work rules, overtime and the like was likely to get one ostracized in polite company in the East Bay.

    These are real problems that have been festering. It’s great to see that very few people are suggesting additional taxes as the solution. Maybe that means we’re close to electing people who will actually work on a solution.

  35. Hayden

    The same criticisms leveled against Oakland city government employees have been leveled against employees of plenty of other large enterprises, including Microsoft, which has plenty of deadwood itself, as it were.

    It’s reasonable that we care about them more when they’re in our city, as compared to when we’re paying monopolistic prices for buggy software. Practically, though, we’re not going to fix the problem by slashing pay and trying to cripple public employee unions. What happens when you do that, I think, is all the people we’d like to see either turning over a new leaf, or out of city government entirely, instead stick around. Where else are they going to go? But the folks who are good at what they do hit the road.

  36. Ken O

    # ConcernedOakFF on Today 6:13 pm (5 hours ago)
    So should you be trying to bring everyone down to this level of supposed poverty in retirement? Why don’t you work to bring everyone up to our level?

    COFF- I want to agree with you. I really do. It would be wonderful if we could all have million pensions forever. But we live in a finite world.

    Were there pensions 100+ years ago? We’ve existed as a farming species for 10,000 years. No pensions during the prior 9,900 years that I knwo of.

    Before humanity found coal, oil&gas, we had slaves. Pensions didn’t exist until after WWII as far as I know. People lived with family in their old years, or were left behind by nomadic native americans. Energy you put in your car or firetruck fuel tank = “free” energy slaves. I mean, if you car gets 25mpg on one gallon of gasoline, try pushing your car 25 miles. See how long it takes. How many men.

    Because our cheap energy is going away, so is debt (borrowing forward based on ever-increasing cheap energy supplies) and “credit” which formerly could pay all our kingly pensions and 401ks.

    The world oil situation as you know is a situation of annual 10% decline rates. So world GDP will have to shrink by at least 10% per year from here on out. We are at the beginning of that now.

    Let’s consider the human condition 100-200 years ago. No oil/gas/coal. Did people have pensions? Did they have gas-propelled cars to bring them to hostpitals, drive-through movies and restaurants in their old age?

    That is what we going back to. There is no cold fusion, hydrogen highway or zero point infinite energy. Oil can only be used once. Fossil fuels are equivalent to energy “slaves” following each of us around, pushing our cars and food to safeway. And adding human “labor” to value-added goods/services.

    That goes away, petro-backed pensions go away.

    Welcome to the ffuture of no pensions. (this is all ignoring our aged populations, longevity)

    We’ve lived like kings here in America for the last 60 years.

  37. Ken O

    gem, thanks for the roundup info. generally i wouldn’t use anything i can’t drink myself. i probably shouldn’t drink roundup :)

    libraries yes. i see lots of jobless homeless people using them, even those who have a 24hr membership to shower and even take JC classes to get ahead/ diversify.

    it’s not making rich people money to keep libraries open though — generally speaking at a national level. no social safety net like eruope = and you have a mobile labor pool which moves itself to jobsites, no need to feed/clothe/house them…

  38. Ken O

    naomi – state of california needs to become a “country” and split into five or more “states”

    we are too big now to be managed properly from river city, try as they might.

    sf guardian has good article about this this week.

    CA constitution convention – even arnold (?) is supportive of this idea now!

    need to cut CA services/people. decentralize. downscale into smaller units. no more cheap oil to power the big monolithic CA state or US federal monster.

  39. V Smoothe Post author

    Actually, libraries are a service appreciated by the entire spectrum of society. While libraries offer opportunity and a form of safety net to the less fortunate among us, they are also extremely popular with and well-used by the wealthy and well-educated.

  40. The Boss

    I actually wonder whether the rise of e-book readers like the Kindle will eventually make libraries outmoded. I’d be curious if you have any thoughts on that, working at a library.

  41. David

    OakFF, again, I don’t have a problem with pensions in the private sector OR if your pension in the public sector was truly self-funding.

    You ask why us private sector folks cry like spoiled children or whatever. I’m not crying like a spoiled child, I simply don’t want you STEALING my money to fund your overly lavish retirement. Just like I don’t want Obambi STEALING my money to bribe UAW workers (to the tune of $1.4M per worker in taxpayer costs) to make the new, improved Chevrobama, or is it the ObamYugo…We’ll soon find out unfortunately.

    As for waste, it’s clear that Oakland, SF, the entire state wastes tremendous amounts of money, and VSmoothe will document it at some point, but it’s clear that it does. How is it clear? Well, the state is taking 20-30% more real, inflation-adjusted, per capita dollars from its residents now compared to 10 years ago. IS there a SINGLE state service that’s 20-30% better? Is your line at the DMV 20% shorter?

    San Francisco’s city budget is the same as Chicago’s. Chicago has FOUR TIMES as many people, 24% school age (SF is 14%, hmm, school spending?), more parks, snow removal every winter to deal with, etc etc. You don’t think there’s waste in the SF budget? Milwaukee (600,000+ people, snow removal, high crime, etc) has a budget of about $1.3B, not the $1.5B it’d have if it had Oakland’s level of spending. Just based on that, Oakland should be able to cut 20% of its spending off the top.

    Do you really think we need to pay city workers as much as we do? How many candidates are there for every time there’s an opening? Clearly if it were such a horrible low-paying job, there’d be no applicants for city positions…

  42. David

    PS. I agree libraries are important, much more important that paying overly-generous pensions and keeping paper-shuffling bureaucrats employed. Last time I was looking for a job, it was my only connection to the internet, etc as I cut everything and lived off my meager savings for my jobless time.

  43. rob

    as a novice in regards to most things political, i must thank you all for sharing your insights and helping me to understand a little more about these issues, and other issues on this blog and others.

    david, a question for you. how much, if any, of the difference in budgets b/t sf and chicago, and oakland and milwaukee, is attributable to cost of living differences that drive up salaries/benefits? it seems (to my uninformed mind) that real estate prices alone might drive this, tho i’m also guessing that there are a multitude of factors involved here. i am wondering why workers in other places wouldn’t have been able to negotiate out what those here have.


  44. publicadministrator

    David, your comparison of municipal budgets between San Francisco and Chicago is deeply flawed in an apples and oranges way. SF is unique in that it operates as both a city and a county. A more accurate comparison would be SF to Chicago and Cook County budgets combined.

    Typically county governments have the responsibility (and the expense) of services such as criminal justice, public health, property tax collection, and elections. Most cities, Chicago included, do not have these budgetary costs, and running a court system and jailing people is expensive.

  45. VivekB

    Quite right all, let’s figure out a way to pull pensions up to the plutonium standard.

    I hereby submit that everyone in the US, get pensions equal to triple their last working salary, and a minimum of $300K/year to ensure a level playing field. This will be funded, of course, by the taxpayers.

    If that’s too much, well sure, I guess 90% of your last salary paid annually for life works too.

    No real difference between the two #s, both are obscenely high, far far far far far higher than anyone else ever gets or could hope to get (except maybe for CEOs of bailed out companies). While I certainly wouldn’t mind making millionaires out of everyone, the #s just don’t work, they never will.

  46. Naomi Schiff

    If anyone is reading this far down.

    Please join us and meet at Dimond Branch Library (Fruitvale, near Farmer Joe’s) on Thursday at 7 pm, to discuss libraries. Hope some of you library supporters will come! Jean Quan, and the library director Carmen Martinez, and a hoped-for group of firm advocates for Oakland’s citizens.

    Let’s figure out something that doesn’t cripple the branches!

  47. Ken O

    Vivek- agree. what we have in the US is a sense of entitlement. i deserve this. i deserve ever more services. politicians bow down and try not to raise taxes, while increasing services. eventually the whole system goes ponzi and central bank prints “infinite” money to pay for all the bread-and-circus without raising taxes.

    VS – my gf only buys books or swaps with friends. refuses to use kindle.
    I read mostly online, the occasional book/magazine I buy, very infrequently rent library books. (libs are too out of the way for me.)

    When i go to the library in my hometown i mostly see people who I know for a fact are unemployed or somehow down and out, old people, immigrants and their kids, and some parents/kids who really value education. Not the doritos and nickelodeon set.

    RR library in my exp is used by a very few homeless/transients, plenty of locals, jhs kids checking their myspace, and all manner of neighborhood/ngo groups who use rooms to host lectures/meetings.

  48. Ralph

    council could have spared the libraries a bit by not giving into those meddling kids (granted it would not have saved them but the cuts wouldn’t be as deep).

    i am not sure if Oakland values libraries. when i look at the main library and ballot measures that fail, i don’t know what to think about Oakland and libraries.

    can someone explain to me why Oakland is not part of the Alameda County Library system. I am sure there is a good reason; I just don’t know it.

    personally, i love libraries and would hate to see them closed more than they currently are but i am also fed up with council and there half-baked ideas.

  49. Naomi Schiff

    CORRECTION! Jean Quan library meeting is on WEDNESDAY 7 pm Fruitvale library near Farmer Joe’s! My apologies for my error! I believe the library director, Carmen Martinez, will also attend.

    As to the comment above, yes we value our libraries: Last time the branches were threatened with closure (Jerry B and Bob B proposed killing a bunch of them) hundreds of people suddenly emerged, hollering. Measure Q passed overwhelmingly–I think it was at least 74%–as a parcel tax to keep the branches open. That’s why proposing to whack six of them down to 2 or 3 days is completely unacceptable. It would renege on a campaign promise made to a huge majority of our voters.

    Alameda County has fewer resources for libraries than Oakland does, and an overall less-dense population. County libraries serve the unincorporated areas plus a business and a law library, I think. Each incorporated city has its own system, except that Emeryville and Piedmont use Oakland’s, and pay something for the service.

  50. Andy K

    Amen Carlos.

    Having worked in government and with government agencies, I could not agree with you more. The inability to cut the dead weight is costing us big time. When I left the State 13 years ago, public employees pay was less – say 20% less – but they had much better benefits like retirement, twice as many holidays, way more vacation and sick leave, and major job security. Today State salaries in my industry are on par with the private sector.

    I know that there are well qualified and hard working people in government jobs. These people should be rewarded – the best way to do so would be to fire the dead weight.

  51. V Smoothe Post author

    Some clarifications:

    - The library meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 3rd (tomorrow) at 7 PM at the Dimond Branch Library, 3565 Fruitvale Avenue.

    - Measure Q, for which single family homeowners are paying $82.52 annually (soon to become $85.07 (PDF)), passed in 2004 with 77.2% of the vote.

    - Oakland has contracts with the cities of Emeryville and Piedmont to provide library service to their residents. These cities do pay for the service.

    - The Alameda County Library System serves many of the County’s residents, in both incorporated and unincorporated areas – Albany, Dublin, Fremont, and Newark are all cities that use the County libraries. Alameda, San Leandro, and Hayward are examples of cities that have their own libraries.

    - While nothing is for sure at this point, the Council as a whole indicated last night that they were not supportive of the Mayor’s proposed branch closures.

  52. Christopher

    The term “library” has grown to encompass many government services. When people say they value libraries, do they mean:

    * free access to books
    * free access to periodicals
    * free internet access
    * free Wi-Fi (in Rockridge Library, at least)
    * free after-school study zone
    * free community meeting rooms

    These are all nice-to-have services, but I’m sure different people would prioritize (and fund) them differently.

  53. livegreen

    V has thoroughly documented the budget and salary schedules. There is ample room for cutting both salaries (esp. the duplicate automatic pay increases in both the Salary Schedule and COLA’s) and Benefits (esp. the 50% of the employees contribution that is paid by the City ON TOP OF the 50% of the total benefits already paid by the City).

    SF and CA have been making substantial cuts to employees pay, why can’t Oakland?

    Even with these cuts the pay and benefits to City Workers would still be excellent.

  54. V Smoothe Post author

    I believe that compensation needs to be cut. But I also believe that there is a limit on how much it is fair to cut compensation that someone is already receiving and is counting on. If it were up to me, for the next year, we would do a 10% salary reduction for civilian employees, plus 20% medical cost sharing. I believe this is the limit of what is reasonable to ask people to give up. Long-term, retirement contributions, salaries for specific positions, and several other things need to be re-evaluated, as should the City’s retirement plan.

  55. livegreen

    Carlos, So why doesn’t Ignacio run for Mayor? Dapper Don being in the race is not a good enough reason for IDLF to back out…

  56. David

    I refuse to believe that there are no redundancies that city and county of SF couldn’t find. nor do I believe for one second that the “county” expenses account for that gross disparity.

    Secondly by all means let’s compare Cook County + Chicago and what do we get?
    Cook County’s budget is $2.94B…plus Chicago at just under $6B..and let’s round up to $9B. Hmm. SF’s budget is over $6B…but SF only has 700,000 ish people! Chicago has 2.8M, and Cook county has even more.

    Finally, the point remains, let’s assume that we need to pay everyone more. Let’s assume that the Bay Area is special and needs really costly gov’t. Let’s ignore that the per capita student population here is practically HALF that of other cities. Let’s ignore than we have significantly FEWER cops per capita…That doesn’t explain why spending has increased significantly more than inflation + population growth WITH NO IMPROVEMENT IN SERVICES. Sorry to shout, but come on, is the gov’t any better than it was 10 years ago? Why the **** are we paying so much more then?

    Do you deliberately go to the gas station charging $3/gallon when the one across the street is charging $2.50? Cuz that’s what we’re doing with the gov’t. Paying up more for the same old ****.

  57. Hayden

    I don’t understand the concerns about issues like pensions in the absence of discussion of other, framing, issues.

    For example, do we think retirement savings risk should be borne by the employee or employer? It seems to me that the private-sector shift to employee risk has not been accompanied by a related increase in compensation to the employees for assuming that risk. Maybe we had that system in the 1800s, but fortunately we had the New Deal so that senior citizens don’t have to spend their retirement eating cat food.

    Typical government employee pensions are a function of time worked and salary over some portion of that time. In order to receive a pension that is a significant portion of an employee’s salary, that employee typically must spend the entirety or at least the vast majority of their working life within a given government pension system, and retire “late.” (the exception being ‘public safety’ category employees). Maybe we don’t think longevity is valuable, but I’d suggest there will be significant impacts to the public if the civil service shifts to a greater number of short-timers.

    In the area of government I work, salaries are quite a bit lower than the private sector. Historically, the trade-off has been: lower pay, but decent benefits and a predictable retirement, plus of course the opportunity to have significant influence in crafting public policy.

    We could decide we’re going to elect people who will shift the burden of retirement risk to employees and alter the historical trade-off, so that public service attracts more short-timers (similar to the private-sector shift). At that point, the benefits of public service have been significantly reduced relative to the opportunity costs. I suspect that’s going to further reduce the quality of public employees, as the good and the best go elsewhere.

    Not only that, we’ll lose the benefits of folks who’ve been around awhile. Maybe we think that’s worth it, but I’m not sure that a discussion that seems to be largely about dollars considers much of the above.

  58. Carlos Plazola

    I worked in federal government for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and at the local level for Oakland City Council.

    At the federal level, people are not well-paid. At the local level, people are very well-paid. Generally-speaking.


  59. LoveOakland

    The principal cause of the Oakland budget crisis is the recession, the result of Bush fiscal policies and irresponsible actions by banks and other major corporations.

    There are certainly ways that Oakland can save money and the crisis provides the opportunity to do so. However, this will not solve the huge $83Million problem caused by the crisis. If every single non-sworn city employee paid through the city’s General Fund worked for free, Oakland would still have a multi-million dollar shortfall.

    60% of the $414M General Fund goes to Police and Fire, $15M goes to children’s programs as required by law and $20M goes to bond service. The kicker is the $83M budget deficit.

    The deficit leaves very little general fund money left for everything else like parks, libraries, managing the city’s computer systems, moping the floors in public buildings and so on unless there are modest cuts or concessions by Police and Fire.

    As for the employee pensions, those costs have actually decreased for next year. Even if CalPERS raises what employers have to pay in, it is a nominal part of the deficit. The big drivers are the economy. City employees earn a living but it is hardly plush. There has been a wage freeze for the past two years and staff have taken a 5% pay cut.

  60. Ken O

    # LoveOakland on Today 3:52 pm (5 hours ago)

    “The principal cause of the Oakland budget crisis is the recession, the result of Bush fiscal policies and irresponsible actions by banks and other major corporations.”

    Agree with you about all these. But Obama’s fiscal policies are identical to Bush’s: give money away to corporations and failed financial institutions. AND, don’t prosecute any of those banksters who aided and abetted the financial scams we have.

    But you’re missing one big thing.

    All of these would have been fine (for a while longer, anyway) had the US had growing domestic oil supplies.

    That way we could keep on motoring forever in our cars. Debt-based growth is only possible in a world of infinite and or growing resources including mainly oil.

    It wasn’t subprime housing that did in the US economy last year. It was $147 per barrel oil.

    Subprime existed before the oil crisis did and also in other countries.

    High oil prices are doing us in. Did GM and Chrysler and subprime in. (even if they and the whole US economy have always been one big ponzi scheme)

  61. Naomi Schiff

    Well, big picture thinkers, just to bring it back home, here’s a brief report on Quan’s library-related meeting last night, 4 or 5 dozen people at the Dimond library. Only some of them were librarians! The rest of us were library users.

    The consensus in the room was clear: everyone seemed to agree that all branches should be treated equally, and that the goal should be to keep all open at least 5 days a week.

    Councilmember Quan expressed her hope and some confidence that this is doable, and that enough money can be found to make it possible.

    Councilmember Quan reported that based on what she heard at the hearings, she believes there is council support to keep branches open. However, she reminded the group that to make this a reality, everyone must urgently communicate to their councilmembers that it is a very high priority, and that we expect them to follow through.

    She urged those present to consider doing energetic fundraising through Friends of Library groups to supplement the materials budget, to make up for a modest potential cut in that category.

    The group discussed the importance of passing the revenue measures on the July 21 mail-in ballot, to help the city to balance its general fund budget, and a plea for volunteers to help.

    People who attended represented libraries from all over town, including Elmhurst, Lakeview, Piedmont, Temescal, Melrose, Golden Gate, Chavez, Dimond, and Rockridge, among others. Staff present included Carmen Martinez and Gerry Garzon, the top admins. of the library. They seem to be supporting the program of keeping branches open.

    Bottom line: I think if folks keep making noise that we can keep the branches open.

  62. David

    Wow. it’s Bush’s fault that Dellums is a sleepwalking old fool? Good heavens. Remind me again what party runs the Bay Area and has for decades?

  63. Max Allstadt

    We should be closing underused library branches, leasing the properties short term, and preparing to sell them when the market comes back.

    Oakland has too many branches. We also have a feifdom problem on the council. If an honest study were to reveal that branches should be closed in 3 out of 7 council districts, there would be ranting fits from the councilmembers representing the districts where closures were recommended. The next thing you know, they’ll have reached out to their peers, made a deal, and nobody will vote for closures.

    So instead, we’ll keep some branches open two or three days a week only, wasting money on overhead while providing minimal service. Will furlough days apply to the few days some of these branches are open? I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Lame.

  64. Naomi Schiff

    Max, let me explain. We don’t have too many branches. I agree that it would be inefficient to operate two or three days a week. The whole point of the public outcry is to keep each branch open at least FIVE days, and the main library SEVEN. It isn’t just about circulating books. The branches serve a great number of people who need internet access and don’t have it (or don’t have a fast hookup) at home. Many people use them for all kinds of media,m and they provide some pretty good programs too. Did you ever go to “story time” when you were little? They also serve very large numbers of school students, both during the school day and after school. (There are almost no school libraries in Oakland.)

    And, they provide safe, active, maintained, well lit, centers of community in many neighborhoods, some of which are sorely lacking in the kinds of institutions that help build community connection and the sense of a functioning city. Library usage has increased significantly during the last few years. These places are hives of activity. During times of high unemployment library use is even higher.

    We discussed last night the need to align the furlough days with library schedules so that it will make sense. I was the one who brought up your point, I think a good one, which is that furlough days could make a truncated schedule ridiculous. People agreed on that and my impression was that the union and the city are going to work toward a sensible schedule.

    There is not much leasing market for used libraries. And, did you know that our five Carnegie Libraries are required to remain public libraries under the terms of the original funding? We can’t sell them. We’d have to give them back to the foundation.

    I’m sorry you didn’t come to the meeting. You might have appreciated the ardent, diverse, energetic, eager group of library supporters from the Melrose Library and the many others who pointed out the important role that the libraries play in our neighborhoods. We agree with you: two or three days is dumb. That’s why we are going to make sure we keep them open for five, and hope to get back to six days very soon.

    Measure Q, as noted far above by V, passed overwhelmingly. Oaklanders want our libraries and we want them open, not closed. We will do what we have to; it is a quite modest sum of money very well spent.

  65. dto510

    Oakland has as many branch libraries as San Francisco, which has almost twice the population. If some branches aren’t being used much, it makes sense to close them, in order to provide better service and longer hours at the branches that are more popular. Economies of scale and all that.

  66. Ralph

    Naomi, thanks for the explanation. I did not realize AC has fewer resources for library services than Oakland. I am huge fan of the Fremont library. You would never think that they were lacking for resources.

  67. Max Allstadt

    I’m really curious to see stats on all the branches, how much traffic they get. If any get radically lower traffic than the rest, we should close them.

    We’re broke. We’re worse than broke. And since the council decided to compromise, while we were broke, on measure OO, we’re going to be more broke because of an unfunded mandate.

    Something has to get cut. If anything gives us a good reason to cut it, such as lack of use, I say cut it.

  68. Robert

    I think that this is one of those times that raw usage statistics are not the only criteria that is important. For example, while it might be that the Easmont branch has fewer users than Montclair, it seems to me that it would be far more important to keep Easmont open than Montclair, bechase there are far fewer options available for the folks around Eastmont. The folks who live around Montclair can afford alternatives for the thinkgs that they use the library for.

  69. David

    OakFF. For the last time, your pensions are 1) backstopped by the taxpayer and 2) more importantly all these “local contributions” come from where? oh yeah, the TAXPAYER.

    I invite you to sit down and do the calculation for what kind of return you would need to get your approximately $2M (in value) pension plan based solely on your contributions. It doesn’t work that way.

    Money quote:
    But CalPERS has the authority on its own to compel state and local governments to increase contributions, and the impact of higher rates could be substantial.

    The state’s annual contribution to CalPERS jumped from $156 million to $2.5 billion with little warning. Despite strong investment returns in recent years, the state still is contributing about $3 billion a year to CalPERS.

    If your pension was solely based on your own contributions (at $12,000/year), you would need to make 10% year in, year out for 30 years. The return on the stock market for the past 30 years has been about 7% annualized. Ditto for bonds. So where does this magic money fairy come from? Oh yeah, my pocket.

    Get a clue man.

  70. Naomi Schiff

    Just as a matter of proportion: We are only talking about a gap of $380,000 to keep the branches open. The libraries are saving money by: 1) killing off the Bookmobile 2) restructuring the adult literacy program to run it jointly with the school district, whose literacy program has also been slashed 3) cutting back slightly on materials purchases. Library is 3% of general fund, and parks&rec another 3%. Slightly more than 50% of the library budget is from Measure Q funds. Under Measure Q, the general fund appropriation for library cannot be reduced below a specified base level without jeopardizing the measure Q assessment. We are getting close to that level. So there are no huge savings in the library budget.

    Indeed, one reason to push for all branches to be cut equally and supported equally is because it can be hard to judge the importance of each by the circulation statistics, as Robert points out above. For example, director Martinez pointed out that many patrons in some less wealthy areas don’t withdraw books for fear of losing them or being unable to return them on time, but would rather read them at the library. And the branches serve the neighborhood schools, who really can’t lend their students recreational reading or provide other free media such as dvds, computer access, and arts programs. (Did you know there was a band operating out of Golden Gate Library Branch?)

  71. VivekB

    Great link David, and demonstrates the inherent flaw with “defined benefit” plans like the pension, versus the “defined contribution” plan like every other person on the planet gets.

    Now if the defined benefit was a more normal amount and not 3%/year, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue. But it’s time to stop soaking Joe Q. Taxpayer to provide retirement plans that are this much higher than what everyone else has, esp since investment losses or inadequate #s of taxpayers can require augmentation of the fund.

    It’s not that we can’t afford this ponzi scheme anymore, we could never afford it, but the pie was growing fast enough that we didn’t notice it. It is time to pay the piper, and my god is it going to hurt for everyone.

  72. Patrick

    Thank you, COFF, I am grateful that I can forward your sentiments to our legislators. According to what you’ve espoused, your retirement account should be entirely funded by a PRIVATE organization with NO public input. I thank you, and the citizens of Oakland thank you. Best of luck getting a 10% annualized return.

  73. ConcernedOakFF

    Again all I hear is sour grapes. Sorry.

    You know, actually I’m not sorry at all. I feel like I earn every bit of the money we get, as well as the pensions we earn. I will defend my pension and the rights to it until the end,if we need to take a pay cut, fine. but there must be a cut in kind to the other workers.

    The additional contributions are also paid by us, for your infomation.

    I feel like I am talking to a brick wall here. I am done defending what I should not have to, our earned benefits legally negociated and approved.

  74. VivekB

    We’re saying all CalPERS must be slashed to market-normal, or preferably defined contribution vs defined benefit, levels. AKA, all workers will get the same cut.

    BTW, are you saying you won’t mind if taxpayers refuse to bail out CalPERS when investment losses mean that it can’t afford to pay out the pensions? If so, sure, i’ll start with that reduction.

  75. David

    OakFF, are you saying the SacBee (which is rather well-known for covering public worker issues) is wrong on the state pension funding shortfall which is being made up by taxpayers? Perhaps you should write them.

    Of course I expect you to defend them. I would if I had a pension.

    But let’s review. Your pay of ~$90,000+ (not counting overtime) is in about the 90th percentile of college-degreed workers 25 years old and over:


    So, again, you earn more money than 90% of your fellow educated white-collar workers. Now let’s assume that’s reasonable (and considering the job, it just might be, despite that other municipalities across the country aren’t nearly as generous in pay).

    Why can’t you pay for your own retirement then, with no taxpayer support? I think most of us expect that someone making in the top 10% of earners could probably save enough money for retirement out of their own pockets…

    But no, not only do you get quite a nice salary (before overtime), but you also get essentially a guaranteed 10% return on your retirement savings. You may feel you earn every penny of it, but the fact is that you’re not underpaid, and your benefits are generous. Period.


  76. Ken O

    Thank you David and Vivek for providing financial sanity here.

    COFF, thank you for all your hard work (along with OPD, BART, city of oak PW etc) but you’re all going to have to take the same cuts as private sector has.

    I have no 401k, no pension, and a 13% paycut this year.

    There is no natural system on this planet which provides more than 2-3% per year “growth” besides fossil fuels.

    Those are drawing down, which is causing our ponzi economies and financial systems to collapse — they are all based on 200yo expectations of annual energy and resource extraction (not ‘production’) growth.

    That is why a gold based money supply is far more sustainable than Bernanke’s lie-based printing presses (or Rome’s, or any old society’s)… no more than a 1-2% increase in world’s gold supply is possible per year. This mimics natural cycles, patterns, nature. We can’t fight nature.

    THis ties money to natural patterns.

    Infinite energy and resources do not exist. Therefore infinite money cannot exist. Therefore infinite pensions, 401ks, other ponzi schemes (10% in perpetuity) cannot exist.

    If I grow corn and beans, do I make a 10% return every year for infinity? No. The soil quality depletes, I may run out of water, weather might be bad (bad harvest, famine)…. the best anyone farming could expect is 2-3% increase in ‘capital’ per year.

    Not 10%. Only with fossil fuels which are like steroids for civilization, and which are going away rather quickly now.

    Goodbye pensions. It was nice knowing you while we had plenty of cheap oil, gas and coal during the last 200 years.

    (CalPERS didn’t exist in the 1500s or 0 BC right?)

    Best of luck.

  77. dto510

    Naomi, circulation along with computer usage are certainly good indicators of how much a library is used. No way is the Eastmont branch at the bottom of any list of Oakland’s library usage. If students are using the library, that will be reflected in statistics (and if we’re running libraries to the benefit of the OUSD, then it should be helping pay the costs). It’s likely that the most underused libraries are close to bigger and better libraries. I know that people in Temescal just go to Rockridge because it’s bigger (the tool lending library could be anywhere, in fact putting it somewhere more central is probably a good idea). If the only reason to have library in an area is because there’s nowhere else to go, a community center or a rec center would serve that purpose better than a library staffed by information professionals.

  78. len

    NS, which are the Carnegie libraries here besides Temescal and Golden Gate?
    Curious, do they all have same interior layouts? Working fireplaces?

    Would revert back to the Carnegie Fndation even if switched to another public or 501c3 use? Has the C Foundation been asked if they’d be flexible on that?


  79. Naomi Schiff

    OUSD is indeed currently partnering with City of Oakland on a new library at 81st Ave. (It was planned when they thought they would have more money, but I’m not going to go into that whole story here.)

    It’s not just proximity to other libraries that affects usage. There are many factors. For instance, Lakeview, in a small and run-down building, is not that far from Main, yet is extremely busy. It is very close to an elementary school and adjoins a playground, near the Splash Pad and Lake Merritt, so can be part of a walkable outing. It serves densely populated areas. But it has repeatedly been threatened with closing, despite its very heavy usage.

    Preserving neighborhoods is not “the only reason” to keep a branch open. But closing libraries (by the way: Temescal is a Carnegie Library, probably cannot be sold off) can have a terrible negative effect on a neighborhood, because they do act as community centers. It is okay for intellectual activity such as reading and using the internet to be social activities as well; lots of us are unlikely to play much basketball, and too young for the senior centers.

    Again, we are talking here about a rather small sum of money. This is not where any big savings are going to come from. It is nice to talk about more rec centers but Parks and Rec is in even worse shape than the library department. So that is not a likely possibility.

    (But I urge everyone to support Parks and Rec too, and to advocate against those cuts if you don’t want to live amongst weeds and trash.)

    One last thought about Temescal Library. As its neighborhood changes and is becoming more dense, I think it will become busier too. That neighborhood is interesting to look at, with the badly-designed intrusion of a much-widened intersection and 51st street feeding into the freeway. The 580/980 reconfig of the streets there was very harsh to pedestrian and retail use in an established and solid neighborhood, and damaged the relationship of the library to its neighbors. It is an interesting example of automobile-centric degradation of a liveable area. There is an excellent history of the neighborhood by Jeff Norman.

  80. citystaffer

    I work for the City and am home today on furlough. I receive excellent pay, benefits and retirement. I agree with V that ALL city staff should take larger salary cuts and pay more for benefits vs letting staff go. To me the most painful of the proposed budget cuts will be cutting the staff that maintains City facilities. First, the newer, younger and most hardworking staff will be cut. Second, not maintaining parks, medians and open spaces, buildings and equipment will allow them to deteriorate (e.g. Kaiser Auditorium). The only way back from deterioration will be rebuilding – MUCH more expensive than maintaining. I am also a huge library user and supporter. I think it is true that a community is defined by the quality of its parks and libraries.

  81. PRE

    Ken O says “Infinite energy and resources do not exist. Therefore infinite money cannot exist.”

    I agree with you on pensions, but all this peak oil talk is getting me down. A source as near to infinite as anyone is ever going to need is only 1 astronomical unit away – and will last as close to infinity as you’ll ever need. It’s called the sun. The only reason were sitting here in the dark is because of our own ignorance, not the lack of “energy.”

  82. len

    COFF, don’t take criticism of ofd compensation as judgement of the social value of your work. over the past 10 or so year your union negotiated w the city, and our elected officials approved the contracts in what in hindsight was a muni compensation financial bubble mind set.

    unions demanded the most they could get, and the officials gave them the most they could for a combo of reasons, some because of concentrated political support from the unions as general public civic interest declined, some because the officials hired pension consultants who told the officials what they wanted to hear, and also because the officials had to match the overheated compensation of other bay area cities.

    there will be some very painful muni worker battles coming. don’t know if fire/police strikes are illegal here; there will sick outs and slow downs etc. some very unpleasant and possibly harmful tactics will probably be needed for the employees to force oakland officials to make painful decisions that they won’t make on their own. in the end, your compensation current and in retirement will drop or stagnate. new hires will not get the same compensation packages as existing employees.

    -len raphael

  83. Ken O

    PRE, want to “shut up and play” in Vegas with me? :) Man, there’s a city that won’t exist in five years… lots of solar power potential though! The most of any region in the US. Hard to grow watermelon and grapes and wheat out there though. Gotta to truck and fly that stuff in.

    Oil is what allows us to import food from anywhere in the world to unlivable arid environments. Or to natural disaster zones. I suppose we could use sailing ships…if there weren’t so many of us to feed. And working harbors.

    Electricity can’t power cars. Not on a scale of 200 million US cars and WalMart and Safeway big rig trucks and Disneyland and 70% of Americans’ daily commutes to Starbucks, also served nightly by a delivery truck. What about India and China? They deserve to drive, too. Now we’re talking over 2 billion cars. Will they ever be built?

    Maybe a college kids’ solar racer demo unit yes. A prius, no. You’d need probably a house or warehouse sized solar array to run a Prius off batteries in realtime. There aint’ enough batteries to go around. Not enough Lithium in the earth’s crust in Bolivia to give us Americans all one Tesla each. No sir…

    I wish we’d had electric trains (better than e-cars) kept in place in teh 1920s thru 1950s… stupid GM bought up all this nation’s streetcar lines and tore em up. For modernity. Progress. And mainly to pay for GM’s CEO pay and worker pensions and sharehlder ‘value.’

    RIP GM. Imagine how many TRILLIONS of dollars we’d have saved as a country by keeping our streetcar lines in place in LA, Detroit, Oakland-Berkeley-San Leandro, Seattle, etc…. only SF, NYC, NOLA, Boston kept theirs. All that money we could have saved, not fighting for oil in the middle east, not buying gasoline in every metro region, paving fewer roads, less asthma, more money in everyone’s pocket and in each regional economy for meaningful jobs, sustainable development…how many lives saved from car crashes, and car kill (not ‘road’ kill) …

    There’s always tradeoffs I guess. Cars are nice for girls so they don’t get hit on or pushed by guys on the street. A nice safety cage for your old auntie. A quick way to get around—life’s so short already! But wait, I spend my waking hours in a flammable gas-powered steel cage, socially isolated? Yes, tradeoffs.

    There’s no better land transportation fuel than gas or diesel or kerosene. All (peak) oil-based. The world’s “future” fuels don’t exist today and won’t tomorrow. Hydrogen isn’t practical. Nuclear won’t power our cars. Algae biodiesel? Cellulosic ethanol from plant so-called waste? Nope. We need that corn to eat, not for ethanol gas tanks. How stupid is ethanol…

    Electricity from the sun can’t create our petro fertilizers, pesticides, transport our grains to markets… you can’t make shrink wrapped and plastic wrapped containers for Trader Joe’s neat little four veggies in a row, out of solar power. What a re-volting thought.

    Time for back to the future, chaps! :)

    Tip Top Bike Shop is a good place to find the transportation of the near future. Good service, friendly, next to a pizza parlor and great wine drinking establishments. Hey, there’s even a burma super* there! Temescal is definitely a safe and entertaining place to live. Maybe it should be renamed Noe Valley East? ;)

    Finding ways to keep cars going will waste our already limited resources. Is wasting them. Ox cars, chariots, the Concorde…they all had their day. Nothing is forever, except change.

    We should think of ways which WILL work, to get people and goods around. Mobility is the goal, not keep-cars-running-by-any-means-necessary. Just like city pensions and CA home values, cars were a bubble – so said a GM sales analyst… let’s close Broadway to car traffic. Busses, streetcars and bikes only. Make it more village-like in the style of europe and asia, not like I-5.


    I think we’ll see more “change you’re not going to friggin’ believe” this year, and in coming years. Time for local solutions that work.


  84. Ken O

    keeping cars going by lithium battery packs or nickel metal hydride batteries or biofuel oasis is nice, but is a bit like continuing to build big concrete statues on a tiny island with fewer trees every year in hopes that it will be just enough.


    i think oakland should transform itself into a bicycle city.

    it’s what we can all afford, honestly.
    it’s good for preventing heart disease–and getting that sexy bod you’ve always wanted.
    it’s good for being social.
    it requires less frequent pavement repaving. that jives with our 85+ year repaving cycle. perfect!

    more Oaklanders bicycling to get around. it’s a matter of when, not if.

    oh ho ho..! we should get rid of some zoning too. allow restaurants and cafes in residential neighborhoods! that would be ‘green’

    why should i have to walk four blocks or drive down from them oakland hills to a restaurant when there could be one downstairs or around the corner?

  85. Ken O

    Has anyone seen a boeing 747 powered by solar panels? (infinite solar energy)

    Not to be sarcastic, just asking.

  86. Patrick

    Due to 3 back surgeries, my ability to use a regular bicycle is limited to how much sciatic pain I can endure, However, I can use an electric bike – when the pain flares, I just turn up juice. Here is a link to (what I thought was) an interesting paper on the energy requirements of human-powered vs. electrically powered bicycles. For those not inclined to click through, it suggests that the energy required to produce, process and transport the food required to replace the calories expended on a human powered bike exceeds the power required to produce, ship and power an electric bike (with lithium-ion batteries, like mine). In any event, it’s nice to be able to go to the store without having to worry about be stranded due to pain.


  87. dave o

    There is a French film about Detroit that is very relavent to what Oakland and other cities are going through:
    People who are waiting for a turn-around should watch this film. De-industrialization may not be an option but an unstopable process. “Crash Course” gets into all of the factors involved, many more than brought on the Great Depression:
    It gets into climate change, peak oil, resource depletion in general, the real estate bubble, the stock bubble, demographics, money supply problems, the credit card bubble, the war costs, the foreign imbalance of trade, overpopulation, and some other things. Other than those problems, it should be smooth sailing ahead. The Great Depression only had a severe drought and a stock market bubble to deal with.

  88. PRE

    Has anyone seen a boeing 747 powered by solar panels? (infinite solar energy)

    Not to be sarcastic, just asking.

    Of course you meant to be sarcastic. Anytime someone says “not to be….fill in the blank…” that’s exactly what they’re doing. Now if you want to get off your peak oil high horse for a minute, I wasn’t saying that there won’t be changes in store for how we live, and I certainly have no love of the post-war car-centered America, but I stand by my original point. And I didn’t mention cars at all.

    This fixation on OIL as the end all be all, must be what happened in Europe during the transition from wood to coal. I’m just stating a simple fact of physics. There’s more energy out there than we could possibly know what to do with – for billions of years. Getting hung up on lithium… And what is it with peak oilers and Disneyland for goodness sakes?

  89. PRE

    And speaking of Disney, when built, Disney World was granted the right to build a nuclear power plant on its property by the state of Florida. Whether that right still exists or not, you can bet that to keep the lights on in DW, Florida and the Feds would grant them anything they wanted – and it would the fastest built nuclear plant on record. And yes, that’s something that I would “shut up and play” in Vegas.

  90. Pamela Drake

    This is an interesting discussion that I will soon have more time to follow as I will be laid off one of my jobs (adult ed teacher) by next week. I have worked for the city and looked at state and federal jobs. City employees do seem to make more and receive better benefits than other government employees. Particularly those at the top make very high salaries and some spend much of the time playing CYA. However, no one seems (have I missed it?) to have mentioned that most of the rank and file employees (except, notably, the OPD) live in Oakland. While it would probably be better to cut their wages somewhat than lay many of them off, any cuts will reduce the revenue to Oakland’s businesses and deepen the spiral of this depression. High level managers could handle a cut, and I don’t believe anyone should get car allowances. When you can afford to drive any car you want, why should you get a city car?
    And another thing (as Jeanette Sherwin used to say), I have worked with city staff as a city council employee and as a taxpayer. I have rarely received poor service. I’m always careful to be reasonable in what I ask for and thankful when I get it. I find that most staffers will try and help. There are some “just say no” employees who do not get the boot. It can be very frustrating, but I find that happens more often when I ask someone in the exalted private sector for service. Try talking to your cell phone rep and compare the experience!
    We should be working on the state budget and all the Jarvis-Gann horrors that brought us to this place before closing libraries. But bless any politician who tries that. It’s been shown time and time again that it’s the best way to organize Oakland’s diverse citizenry to come out and protest!