A Tale of Two Budgets

After last night’s meeting and yesterday’s actions by the mayor and city administrator, I think an addition to this blog is necessary. Please scroll down for my latest comments.

Whose Budget?

It’s a truism to those who watch local government that mayors and city managers know how to hide money. When workers come sniffing around at contract time and when citizens show up touting their favorite neighborhood project, the money that was just available to be dumped into police overtime or pet projects, seems to have vanished or be needed for that rainy day. [Gee I noticed people huddled in tents during many of them this last winter and that fund was not used for them.]

Those of us who have advocated for workers, or the marginalized or just a new streetlight, are used to experiencing this vanishing act. It really doesn’t matter who is mayor or city manager or what city you live in, the folks who work the purse strings know where the false bottom is and how to move valuables into it even as you’re watching them.

But in our current tale of two cities, it’s particularly egregious to play this game of underestimating revenues. People are dying in the streets, in tents and on untended sidewalks while others are taking up their vacated places faster than you can say “Joe deVries.”

So when a city administration undercounts its revenues and downplays postive projections instead pleading austerity, it become a life and death decision for those left out.

The way it works is-the mayor proposes a budget with the help of the staff the mayor put in place. The city council then makes their own changes or amendments to that budget (after the Council President offers her version) then the Council negotiates as it hears testimony from the public-starting today June 10th- before coming to a final vote.

Mayors and city managers can be forgiven for underestimating revenue but city councils can also be forgiven for asking the hard questions, listening to their constituents and fighting for the possible.

We have elected, after a number of years of conservative and mayor-obedient CMs, a truly progressive council who are able to see the emergency we find our selves in-housing desperation, infrastructure failure and the continued monitoring of our police department by a federal judge-and believe that this a time to fund some of our overwhelming needs.

From Council President Kaplan’s Budget

“The Mayor’s budget assumes a first-year growth rate of 1% for General Purpose Fund unrestricted tax revenues……This growth rate is far below the historical trend of 7% annual average growth over the past 8 years, and long-term growth averaging 5.8% annually for the past 13 years. Notably, this long-term average includes the Great Recession (data provided in the City’s Preliminary Baseline Revenue and Expenditures Report, provided to Council on February 25, 2019). “

“Historical Trends: Budgeted Revenues vs Actuals According to annual audited reports, the City has ended the past seven fiscal years with, on average, $36 million in additional GPF unrestricted tax revenues. This amounts to an average budget to actual variance rate of 10%……Council President Kaplan’s budget assumes that the Mayor’s projections should be adjusted upwards by 3%, which falls far below average historical budget variance trends.”

The bottom line says the variance is 10%

Sorry about this difficult to read chart but as CM Kaplan says, this is a conservative estimate of the projected increase in revenues. In other words, revenues are still be routinely underestimated. If we want to take on some small and even some very large tasks, we have to spend our funds on the things we really need, things which will actually improve our economy while also improving the lives of the most marginalized of our residents.

By the way, the proposal to merge the Dept of Transportation with Public Works-an ill-conceived proposal to my mind-is off the table and the repaving plan is going forward.

Housing is a Right or is It?

First of all, we have to confront the fact that housing is not going to be provided for our curbside neighbors any time soon. But we can begin by investing in land trusts and fully funding the rental assistance program. District 2 CM Nikki Bas has been the leader in demanding these serious responses to the predicament we find ourselves in and services for the currently houseless-a 43% increase in homelessness in the last 2 years-it’s getting worse, folks!

But even if we had the funding and the will, many people still have a very long wait. That’s why sanctioned, self-governing camping sites where litter removal, mobile showers, storage space, (may I add communal kitchens) and outreach teams can be provided. We owe this to our unsheltered community and to their neighbors.

Services for the Neighborhoods

The Council President’s budget also funds more teams to combat illegal dumping and isn’t that the least our city can do? Should some neighbors expect to live next to a garbage dump? I didn’t think so…

This budget also provides that the positions frozen by the mayor to maintain our parks be funded and filled. This is our commons, where we come together to enjoy our friends and families without paying an entrance fee. If we refuse to maintain these, we hurt our struggling families and risk destroying our public assets.

Public Safety

If there’s one place where the mayor’s budget fails us almost as much as in housing, it’s the way OPD is funded. Every year they overspend without consequences so either that department is malfunctioning or the budget process is playing fast and loose with reality. Time to fix that. What is the actual funding need of this department and what are we doing to find out?

Another way to look at OPD spending is to fully fund Measure LL so that the Police Commission can do its job–oversight of the department, its budget, its policies and complaints against it. It makes no sense, as the city manager’s office continues to do, to thwart those goals. It keeps us under federal oversight, quite expensive in itself, that much longer.

One small expenditure that the Commission has recommended and President Kaplan’s budget includes is a program called CAHOOTS that already works very well in Seattle in which mental health workers are substituted for officers where that is what’s needed. It’s safer and it’s cheaper. There’s a pilot study in this budget.

There are lots of other innovations and infrastructure needs funded by this proposal. Refund Oakland, Pass the People’s Budget have members who have studied the mayor’s budget proposal and will be holding a rally todayat 4 pm. The first Council meeting on the budget starts at 5 but the discussion will continue on June 18th at 5:30pm.

From Refund Oakland

“Last month, Libby Schaaf presented her budget for the 2019-2021 budget cycle. Despite a citywide survey that revealed Oakland’s two top priorities are homelessness and affordable housing, Libby’s budget increased spending for her office and the police department. And it decreased spending on everything else including public works, libraries, social services, parks & rec and race & equity. On Monday, June 10th, Council President Rebecca Kaplan will present her amended budget for community response.

The Refund Coalition has spent the last several months creating a budget that reflects our values as a city and ensures our most marginalized populations have what they need to thrive in Oakland.

Join us on Monday for a rally and then to speak at City Council in favor of Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s budget which most closely aligns with the People’s Platform by redirecting monies from the bloated police budget to social services, expanding our response to the homeless crisis, ensuring city services are funded at the levels we need and investing in permanently affordable housing stock.

Failure to act today ensures that tomorrow will be too late!

About Last Night-Addendum to this Blog

Yesterday morning I received an email from the Office of the Mayor which opened with, “Dear Oaklanders, I need your immediate action to prevent one of the most dangerous proposals I’ve ever seen to threaten Oakland’s future.”

So began a full media assault on a budget that differed broadly from hers but not to the point of being illegal much less dangerous, and really, the most dangerous, threatening Oakland’s future?? It was so heavy-handed a response I fully expected a bunch of tweets to follow calling Council President Kaplan various ugly names.

Actually, no, that’s glib. I didn’t really expect this kind of attack, this show of disrespect or demonstration of silly hyperbole from either Libby Schaaf or Sabrina Landreth. When last night’s budget discussion was about to begin, Landreth (whom I’ve always found smart, funny, and capable) launched into a diatribe against CM Kaplan’s proposal that was cut short by boos and a redirection of the discussion.

This attitude should also not have surprised me after the way one of the assistant administrators (someone I’ve always liked and respected) responded at a Public Safety Committee meeting. When asked why she had not complied with the City Council’s directions-whose job it is to make policy- on staffing for the Police Commission. She said, “I’m not going to answer this question again.” She then turned and walked away from the podium.

Additonally, late into the last night, CMs asked staff questions about funding issues, like which parks will be closed due to understaffing and why the police department consistently blows out its overtime budget-City Auditor Ruby said it was partially due to management not implementing the auditor’s suggestions.

This council, unlike previous ones, wants to know what the heck is going on and is willing to ask tough questions. [They’ve also been able to come up with innovative and humane solutions.] That shouldn’t call forth a response of this level of vitriol.

My old friend Gary Sirbu addressed the council last night on the subject of fire prevention in the hills and asked speakers to be civil in their comments. I agree and I wish the mayor would take note. And, BTW, this type of overt disrespect can only make every city staffer’s job harder.

Here is a tweet of my own which summarizes the old failed way to utilize the city budget process. I think we need one that takes seriously what Oaklanders want. Please let your councilmembers know what kind of spending proposal works best for you and your neighbors.

2 Comments on "A Tale of Two Budgets"

  1. And see the vitriolic response from the City Administrator to Kaplan’s proposal: https://oakland.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3957477&GUID=1B53BD39-2B97-4457-90AA-8F31B33F42D9&Options=&Search= Since when does administrative staff respond to electeds in this manner? Completely inappropriate. Time for a new City Admin and Budget/Finance Director. See the report that may have put some fear on their plate: https://oakland.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3957478&GUID=BE5D7D38-70D6-4A61-B025-8C8BE5AE1E10&Options=&Search=

  2. Thank you, Pamela!

Leave a Reply