You Spoke: Thumbs Down For Pay-Go

The people have spoken, and it’s thumbs-down for Pay-Go.  Some 82 percent of voters wanted these funds to be red-lined from Oakland’s budget.  The rest of you split evenly between keeping them or not being sure what to do, yet still wanted to reduce the $125k allotment per City Council representative.

Thumbs Down

These results came from our non-scientific survey, launched yesterday and still open.  Thus far, respondents were 46 percent male and 54 percent female.  Over 30 percent said they lived in Rep Nadel’s district 3, while others lived in districts repped by Brooks, Brunner, De La Fuente and Quan.  Interestingly, no one cast ballots from Reid or Kernighan’s districts.

What else did Oaklanders say?  They offered varied opinions about how Pay-Go funds are or should be used by different Council reps – and all demanded better accountability.  Check out these comments left by survey-takers:

When times are good, pay-go would be o. k.  Now, no.  Pay-go should have some “rules” attached to it.  Ideally, it should be used to leverage other community $.

I agree with Ms. Brunner that Pay-Go is valuable in a City that seems to perennially pay attention to certain areas while completely ignoring others.  However, I think that more stringent rules should be placed on use – none of this “neighborhood party” business like in Brook’s district.  That is nothing short of vote buying.  Capital improvements only, with cursory permission via vote by other council members.  In that event, I support raising the amount.

Council members should admit and mea culpa their role in blowing the surplus we had a few years back, due to the house-flipping that jacked up transfer tax revenue.  Of course, the council had a feeding frenzy on that, and saved not one dime for a rainy day.  Not learning a thing, at least one council member continues to beat an old dead horse to rifle its saddlebags for money.  Money to buy his own glory to build a boondoggle which he probably wants to name after himself, while his district crumbles apart with no grocery stores or drugstores or youth centers, but lots of murders.

A majority of council members use these funds on projects that don’t get other funds because they are poor uses of money.  It is used to reward cronies.  Get rid of it.

Beyond Pay-Go, many respondents felt the need to suggest other Council budget changes.  Several of you wanted to reduce headcounts in staff offices or else make substantial cuts to the elected reps’ salaries.  One respondent went straight to the stomach, noting meals budgeted by the city clerk:  “The Council should pay for their own meals, not the tax payers.”  I guess every morsel counts during the 2009 recession.

June 20th Update: Still want to weigh in?  Please feel free to take this quick survey and share your thoughts.  Living in the O, which is an active Oakland-wide blog, has asked for survey takers and we’re wondering if these preliminary results will hold or change as survey takers pile on.

Our Council Rep, Jean Quan, also offered her take today on how Pay-Go gets used in our district.  These funds help “prime the pump” on city funding or else fill gaps when there are simply no resources available.

Here’s what Rep Quan explained about Pay-Go in her weekly newsletter:

Mayor Objects to Cuts and Pay Go: The Mayor met with the media and then leaders of the Council this week to react to the proposal that Council Members Brunner, Delafuente, Kernighan and I put forward this week.  He objected to layoffs we proposed in his office which were conforming to the reorganization study he commissioned earlier this year.  He also proposed to give back his “Pay Go” which we had proposed to suspend for the next two years.

So What Is “Pay Go” and How Do Council Members Members Use It?
From what I have been told, these “Pay As You Go” funds originally were established by our former City Manager Robert Bobb.  Each Council Member was given a small share of our overall capital to designate to specific projects (bricks & mortar, furniture, and other permanent infrastructure) budget.  These ranged from $125,000 per year to $250,000 a year.  Both the Maxwell Park mural from last week and the Shepherd Canyon parking lot and trails for pedestrian safety are projects that were launched with a small “Pay Go” grants.  Critics say we use them for political gain, we would say we use them to move local priorities quickly that citywide plans often ignore.  Interestingly, last year when I held budget hearings it was top priority amongst those who attended.

This is how we use “Pay Go”:

* We largely use Pay Go for parks. Unlike other Districts that have large Redevelopment areas that often fund park improvements, my only source for capital improvements is usually Pay Go. We have funded improvements in almost every park in my district:  Joaquin Miller Dog Park, lighting and security improvements at Brookdale, paths and playground improvements in Montclair Park, oak tree preservation and playground at Dimond,  and computers at Allendale Rec are examples.  My District has more park acreage than most, so this is a special problem for me.  Even the Mayor acknowledged that District 1 (North Oakland) and District 4 would have to receive other funds is Pay Go was permanently abolished.

* We use Pay Go for project planning to leverage grants. There are so many needs and so little money, that I work with staff and community volunteers to raise fund and apply for grants.  We use Pay Go to develop plans which then can be used for grant applications and fundraising appeals.  I have helped develop plans with the community for Shepherd Canyon, Joaquin Miller, Maxwell Park, Brookdale and Dimond; we are in the process of developing plans for Feather River Camp, Courtland Creek

* We use Pay Go to match grants. Many grants require a match before you can apply.  Short time frames mean that Pay Go is the quickest source.

* We use small pay-go grants to help build community: We are often asked for small grants of $100 to $5000 just for supplies by community groups.  The Horace Mann School Salad Bar, Library, and Nutritional Garden projects, the Sequoia playground project, the Dimond Gateway pocket park, and Shortline Pocket Park are examples.  We funded over 300 trees in Maxwell Park, Dimond and other areas.

* We match School Projects: My grants are often the seed money that leverages major fundraising or volunteer projects at schools.  Grants to Melrose, Thornhill, Joaquin Miller, Laurel, Fruitvale, Montclair, Skyline, and other schools literally bring in 3 to 4 times more money and uncounted volunteer hours.

* We fund traffic mitigations: Many areas of my district are not eligible for state and federal traffic funds.  For example, the stretch of road without sidewalk near Joaquin Miller and Montera Schools is very dangerous for pedestrians. (See #7)  We have put down “seed money” to develop the off street path plans and are assembling contributions, volunteers, to work on it section by section.  We hope the plans and contributions will provide the basis of a much larger state grant.  We also conducted planning and design work for a Bike Path and Walkway on Park Blvd, we hope this will put us in competition for Stimulus Funding.  Finally, we used these funds to build attractive traffic rounds all along Ygnacio to slow the traffic near Horace Mann School and discourage side shows.

* We use PayGo for quick Safety Interventions: When librarians were worried about their safety because of gang activities in one neighborhood, I was able to quickly buy cameras to help their security guard keep an eye on all entrances and corridors.  Last year when prostitution started to take root on one quiet but dark street I was able to quickly get a new city light process.  The waiting list for lights was long and now with the huge deficit in the Landscape and Lighting District there is little money for new lights.  The libraries have no funds for security cameras.

* We use the funds to innovate: The Solar Trash Can that we are piloting in front of Peets in the Dimond are a good example of how we can move faster than City Departments.  Based on our experience here, the City may increase use of these cans.   We are purchasing check out laptops for Dimond Library on another pilot.  The computers are always busy here and with wifi we can increase access to the internet dramatically.

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