WWLD: What Would Libby Do?

In Oakland, budget cuts seems to be endless.  Over the past couple years, we have gone through nine rounds.  And with the State of California’s decision to cut re-development funds, we have arrived at the tenth round.  It feel like Groundhog’s Day, right?

If you thought decisions required hand-wringing before, then just wait until the next City Council meeting this Tuesday at 5:30pm. This time, Council representatives are forced to approve and eliminate $20.3 million asap.

What would Libby do?

Our District 4 Council Rep, Libby Schaaf, has recently shared her budget recommendations with constituents.  While she’s looking for alternatives, Libby says pickings are slim.  In case you don’t receive her newsletter, here’s what Libby would do:

While I’m still gathering information and input, I’m inclined to approve the following recommendations:

  • Reorganizing departments and flattening the organization to eliminate administrative costs and five agency director positions;
  • Eliminating 44 housing and economic development positions affected by the halt of new redevelopment activities;
  • Cutting KTOP TV station staff (with the assurance that all public meetings will continue to be broadcast & archived);
  • Reducing staff to the Youth Commission, Oaklander’s Assistance Center and Mayor’s office;
  • Cutting 7 Parks & Rec positions by closing some Rec Centers on Mondays (only Allendale & Brookdale might be affected; Montclair and Redwood Heights would not); and
  • Eliminating 27 Public Works positions, including the Saturday illegal dumping crew.

I’m most concerned with the following recommendations:

  • Cutting funding for Council Aides — hard-working problem-solvers like Bruce, Shereda and Dorie;
  • Eliminating our 211 services referral contract that serves our most vulnerable residents;
  • Reducing funds for arts grants and cultural institutions like Fairyland, Peralta Hacienda and the Zoo;
  • Cutting 4 of 9 remaining Neighborhood Services Coordinators who support Crime Prevention Councils.

Before Tuesday, take an opportunity to consider the cuts above.  We suggest reading this take from Make Oakland Better Now!  Or if you have particular fortitude, then download and read Mayor Quan’s 115-page proposal (PDF here) issued last week.

To provide your two cents or more, please reach Libby (lschaaf@oaklandnet.com) or her aide Bruce (bstoffmacher@oaklandnet.com) before the Council meeting.  While it’s possible to address and watch the City Council live on Tuesday, we like watching from home — through KTOP online or Comcast Channel 10.

Update:   Oakland budget cuts were approved on January 31st, which eliminate 105 positions and lay off 80 employees.  The council aides, 211 services, arts grants and neighborhood coordinators were spared.  Learn more from the Tribune and ABC7 news.

Our Council Rep’s Take On City Budget

Ah, summer-time…budget-time.

Just this afternoon, District 4 Council Rep Libby Schaaf communicated her budget adjustments made with several other council reps.  Cutting to the chase, this budget proposal includes libraries, public safety coordinators, a few more cops — and no new taxes yet.

We wanted to make sure you saw all this information, whether it’s eye-glazing or not.


What does this all mean?   Well, these budget adjustments refer to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s “worst case” budget scenario.  Council Rep Schaaf has provided a translation of the top-line recommendations:

I’ve been working around the clock to craft a budget that keeps Oakland the wonderful city we all love. I’m pleased to present a budget proposal, developed with Councilmembers Nadel, Kernighan and Kaplan, that does the following:

  • Maintains existing service levels at all 18 Oakland Public Libraries plus keeps Main open during Winter Break
  • Preserves all 9 existing community policing Neighborhood Services Coordinators
  • Preserves 85% of cultural arts grants and The Oakland Film Office
  • Preserves the City’s Tree Trimmers and Gardeners who beauty our parks
  • Maintains support for cultural gems like the Oakland Zoo, Chabot Space & Science Center, Oakland Asian Cultural Center, the Peralta Hacienda; and more
  • Keeps all Fire Stations Open
  • Preserves programming at every Recreation Center
  • Hires back all available recently laid-off Police Officers immediately, in addition to holding an academy to recruit 40 new officers
  • Begins rebuilding the City’s Reserve Fund for financial stability

… and much, much more!  Other Councilmembers may be submitting proposals as well, and all can be viewed under Item 6 of the June 28th City Council agenda at www.oaklandnet.com.  While labor negotiations are still not final, we are hoping we will be able to adopt the budget at our meeting this Tuesday 6/28 starting at 6:30pm.  If not, we’ve scheduled a meeting on Thursday 6/30 at 5:30pm, just in case.

Any comments or suggestions may be sent to Libby (lschaaf@oaklandnet.com) or Jenny Feinberg (jfeinberg@oaklandnet), who works in Libby’s office and serves as our “go-to girl for all things Montclair.”  Or stop by Montclair Village this Sunday morning, between 9:30 and 11:00am, when Schaaf will be holding community office hours.

Update:  Read the Tribune and Chronicle stories about three proposals from City Council reps.  If you would like to dive deeper, then please head over to A Better Oakland’s analytical coverage.

Montclair Library, At Risk?

There’s plenty of concern about whether most of Oakland’s libraries can remain open, with the severe budget crunch.

Mayor Jean Quan has laid out three budget options, and Budget A translates into 14 closures — including our Montclair Library.  No one wants this worst-case outcome, given the painful cuts which would impact many city services.

Here’s a recap of the budget options, from District 4 Rep Libby Schaaf:

  • Budget A — Assumes no voluntary employee concessions, so is all-cuts; cuts 395 city jobs.
  • Budget B — Assumes 10-15% concessions from all employees; cuts 162 city jobs.
  • Budget C — Assumes 10-15% concession plus an $80 parcel tax is adopted; cuts 104 city jobs.

Save Oakland Library has outlined all the library closures and cuts caused by Budget A.  There would be only $3.6 million available from general funds, a pittance.  And Measure Q parcel taxes, earmarked for libraries, would evaporate.  Why?  These taxes only get collected if the City funds $9 million minimum from general funds.  (Measure Q contributed around $14 million this past year.)

We hope that Budget A won’t see the light of day!  So let’s move to Budget B which, according to Council Rep Schaaf, will keep the libraries open and hours intact.  She explains this budget scenario:

The total Library budget would actually increase by about $1.3 million and authorized staffing would increase by 1 FTE.  The only change required is shifting $400k in General Fund costs to Measure Q, which staff assures me won’t change services AT ALL.

But believe me, other Councilmembers and I love our libraries and understand their value.  I’m confident that even without full concessions, we’ll be able to preserve current library services and Mayor Quan’s Budget B shows it can be done.

That leaves Budget C, which involves an election and more parcel taxes. It’s a little hard to contemplate that option. Would we even have an election?  Would voters approve another tax, in this climate?  Who knows?

Hey, maybe we will somehow luck out — like Governor Jerry Brown’s recent, surprising revenue projection gift at the state level.

We’re Cutting Back Cops, As Expected

Finally, the City of Oakland reached the end of its 2009-2010 fiscal year.  At the City Council meeting tonight, which we watched on KTOP, things felt different because decisions simply had to be made.  A proposal actually passed!

As expected, Council members pretty much voted for the budget-balancing proposal on the floor.  The result was clear:  $11.7 million savings will come from the Oakland Police Department.

In essence, the police leadership has to cut positions or start contributing to pensions.  There were several options put forth, though we think some 80 positions will be eliminated soon.  It’s possible that police could get added back, depending on machinations over voter-approved Measure Y.

Meanwhile in Montclair, there have been rumbles about having private security arrangements – but no groundswell from what we can tell.  No one seems particularly panicked, yet.

Montclair Recreation Center, RIP?

Next on the budget chopping block is the historic Montclair Recreation Center.  While we’re philosophical about our city’s budget travails, the news about shuttering the Rec Center and all its programs feels like a sucker punch.

Admittedly, we’ve had time to adjust to Montclair Park’s staffing and facilities cutbacks over the past couple years, but are saddened about completely closing our park building too.  Read this note sent yesterday by Mark Zinns, Montclair Park’s recreation supervisor:

Hi Friends,

As you may know, there are some extreme cuts coming to Parks and Recreation because of the City’s budget shortfall.  No center is exempt including Montclair from complete closure.

If you can help, we need you to come to City Council this Thursday and speak on behalf of Parks and Recreation.  We will be having a rally around 4:00pm and council starts at 5:00pm.  You can register to speak on the City Council web site or fill out a card when you come.

Also, please spread the word to your friends and family about the dire circumstances.  Thank you.

Yes, every little drop of money matters now and the City of Oakland must remain solvent.  We aren’t sure that trying to save these remaining Parks and Recreation centers would even work out.  How depressing!

Well, we should do something. There are volunteers working on Montclair Park’s grounds today, and that same kind of local spirit might flow into the Rec Center itself.  We don’t know exactly how programs are organized without a director, but a couple classes soldier on:   the Montclair Hiking Club’s outings continue, right?

Perhaps another non-profit entity could ride in like a white knight.  There’s a modest model in place, with “Friends” groups who provide time and energy devoted to local resources.  While it took a while, the Shepherd Canyon Railroad Trail and Joaquin Miller Park groups are up and running now – and that’s due to efforts by local citizens who value our shared places.

We have to figure this out, and avoid saying:  Montclair Recreation Center, RIP.

How Oaklanders Feel About Cop Reductions

We aren’t going to pretend to have a magic wind that wipes out Oakland’s $31 million-plus budget gap, and so are focused on what decisions will be made by the City Council.  Like many of you, we hope our police department doesn’t get completely eviscerated.

At this stage, Council members Jean Quan, Jane Brunner and Ignacio De La Fuente have identified tough-love cuts.  Before meeting in chambers, the Council has sponsored a few budget forums, encouraging a little bit of citizen participation and feedback.

The Oakland Budget Challenge also was updated, which enables you to work with budgeting levers.  What interested us most were  quantified responses to this question:  Should the City reduce the number of sworn police officers by July 1st?

  • 31.4% – Do not cut Oakland police officers
  • 22.2% – Reduce by having police contribute to their pensions
  • 15.1% – Cut officers and restore if parcel tax passes in November
  • 20.7% – Cut 2x number of officers if parcel tax doesn’t pass
  • 10.7% – Modify Measure Y to keep 63 officers, if below 739 officers

So a third of Oaklanders who took this challenge want to keep the police officers, and another 15 percent said to cut officers now but restore headcount if a special parcel tax passes.  (From everything we have read, that parcel tax isn’t exactly popular.)

Now the City Council must close the deficit, whether their choices are politically popular or not.  After the death-by-a-thousand-cuts process, we wonder how the job will get done.

The Die Is Cast

Not that the Oakland City Council members are like Julius Caesar, but they declared “the die is cast” and proceeded across their Budget Rubicon last night.

We think they closed the 2009-2010 budget gap.  After some hand-wringing, seven council reps voted and one abstained for a final round of cuts.  [And they agreed to vote on the rest in two weeks.]  There’s plenty of unfinished business, like working with union negotiators, but few options right this minute.

The Council will vote voted to shave 15 percent from elected officials’ budgets, which includes the mayor, attorney, auditor, council reps and their aides.  In addition, the city planners were hit hard.

During this current budget year, there had to be a place to save another $4 million because this gap wasn’t going to magically disappear.  And another $35 million needs to be hunted down during the next fiscal year, so the clock was running out.

After months of delay, Council President Jane Brunner admitted, “we’re all going to suffer together.”  Not pretty but necessary.

Updates:  Please see voting clarifications above, thanks to V Smoothe and Max Allstadt.  (March 3rd Update)  The Council finally voted for the 15 percent cuts from elected officials’ budgets.  (April 1st Update)