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.