Your Hills Budget Meeting, Monday at 7pm

Before the City of Oakland makes its final budget cuts, there’s one opportunity for you to participate in the discussion.  Our city rep, Jean Quan, organized a meeting for District 4 constituents tonight at 7pm, in the Redwood Heights Recreation Center (map).

Given the Oakland budget gap, this is an important opportunity to discuss where the cuts should be and should not be made.  Among other city services, our well-loved parks and libraries are at risk – and we must provide guidance in these areas.

To understand the current budget, this chart (above) shows how funds are distributed to each department.  There’s not much to work with, with some 64% that gets directed to the police and fire departments.

Late last month, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums issued a full report covering the budget and where the city recommends cutbacks.  According to the report, Dellums and his team explain that “having only $110 million in discretionary budget leaves little flexibility when attempting to eliminate a $37.4 million shortfall.”

Just like private industry, the recommendations to freeze hiring, lay off current staff, minimize salary increases, and shorten the work weeks are appropriate – if painful – steps to close the gap.

Mark Zinns, who supervises Montclair Park, confirms the cuts:  “Yes it’s true that Montclair Recreation Center and Park is facing some serious cut-backs because of the city’s financial crisis.”  He expects to shutter the Rec Center every Friday, and make cuts/layoffs to maintenance, gardening and recreation staff.

The City also plans to eliminate the remaining handful of park rangers, who specialize in park safety.  This past weekend, for example, Joaquin Miller was closed due to high winds and fire danger.  Are the replacement beat cops, who earn more than the rangers, ready to handle new assignments?

Finally, local libraries are under examination – and Montclair’s hours and programs are at risk too.  No one needs to argue about the educational resources available both online and on the shelves.  Our storybook library has been a source of pride for years, and it should stay opened six days/week.

Cutting back on parks and libraries doesn’t solve the bigger budget gap, because their numbers are quite small.  As you can see, only six percent of the budget is spent on them.  While there’s no question that some minor reductions could be made, we have to make sure that these civic resources don’t get decimated.

We live in interesting times.  Keep in mind that the WPA was busy building up these neighborhood gems during the Great Depression, and now we are thinking they are places not worthy of sufficient resources with this economic downturn.

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