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Jean Quan Gambles on Anthony Batts

Demands by Oakland's police chief will make it much tougher for the new mayor to fill the city's $40 million budget hole.

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Supporters of Anthony Batts were elated by his decision late last week to stay on as Oakland's police chief. And Mayor Jean Quan told reporters that she was "very happy" and "very relieved" that Batts wasn't leaving. But Quan's decision to ask Batts to remain as the city's top cop promises to make her job much tougher, especially when he has made it clear that his heart isn't completely in Oakland.

Although city council President Larry Reid told the San Francisco Chronicle that Batts promised him that he would fulfill the remainder of his three-year contract, the chief refused to repeat that vow to the newspaper. The Chronicle noted that when asked if he was committed to Oakland, Batts responded: "As long as we continue to make progress and keep focusing as a team."

In other words, Batts appears to be saying that he'll only stay under the right conditions. Presumably, that means more money for the Oakland Police Department, or at the very least, no more budget cuts. His backers undoubtedly think his position is perfectly understandable, but it's an attitude that could prove problematic for Quan as she grapples with next year's $40 million budget deficit.

Batts applied for the San Jose police chief's job last fall, and then contemplated quitting Oakland last week after San Jose chose someone else. Batts apparently was angered by the Oakland City Council's decision last year to lay off eighty cops. Quan appeared to placate Batts last week, at least temporarily, with her decision to hire back ten of the laid-off cops and make police equipment problems a top city priority. But the mayor is likely going to have a tough time keeping the police chief happy over the long-term.

The big problem for Quan is that she and the Oakland Police Officers Association remain at loggerheads over compensation concessions. And it's going to be very difficult for her to balance next year's budget without the police union agreeing to pay at least 9 percent of its pension plan. Other city unions, who agreed in the past two years to several more givebacks than the cops' union did, have said that they won't go along with more concessions unless the cops do their part. The police union is the only union in the city that does not pay at least 9 percent of its pension plan.

In other words, Quan must somehow convince the police union to back off its hard-line stance if she's going to balance the budget and avoid massive layoffs and the destruction of basic city services. But Batts' "I'll-only-stay-if-I-get-what-I-want" attitude complicates her job significantly. The reason is that it deprives the mayor of the leverage needed to get the police union to compromise.

Normally, public agencies use the threat of layoffs to coerce unions into agreeing to givebacks. But the Oakland police union now knows that Quan has effectively surrendered this weapon from her arsenal. Quan may not be able to even threaten layoffs without Batts jumping ship. And even if she's able to make the threat, it won't be credible, because if the police union still refuses to budge, then Batts would surely leave if she laid off more officers.

Quan apparently believed that the departure of Oakland's popular police chief would have been viewed as a severe blow to her nascent administration. But her decision to ask him to stay, coupled with his refusal to commit long-term to the job, appears to be a big win for the police union, and potentially devastating for other city services. Quan seems to have backed herself into a corner, and made her already very tough job a whole lot tougher.

Firm Stays in Gang Case

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman said last week that members of a politically connected Oakland law firm could remain as attorneys in a gang injunction case because they don't have a conflict of interest as alleged by City Attorney John Russo, the Oakland Tribune reported. Russo had argued that Michael Siegel and Jose Luis Fuentes had a conflict because city Councilwoman Jane Brunner is a member of the firm, and firm partner Dan Siegel is an unpaid advisor to Mayor Quan. But Freedman said that the nonprofit that Michael Siegel and Fuentes created with independent attorneys to represent alleged gang members had established a legal firewall that alleviated any concerns about a possible conflict.

Cap-and-Trade in Doubt

The landmark cap-and-trade system established by the California Air Resources Board is illegal because the state failed to conduct an environmental impact report, a San Francisco county superior court judge tentatively ruled last week. The decision by Judge Ernest Goldsmith came in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups that want the air board to examine alternatives to the cap-and-trade system, the Chron reported. The system is designed to fight climate change by allowing renewable energy companies to sell greenhouse gas emissions "credits" to polluters.

Three-Dot Roundup

An all-out melee erupted at Kitty's bar in Emeryville last week when up to 180 people spilled into the streets, drawing knives and guns and throwing bottles at police officers. ... Blakes on Telegraph, a Berkeley institution for 71 years, closed its doors after defaulting on its lease. ... The Claremont Resort and Spa filed for bankruptcy protection, but the venerable Oakland hotel is expected to remain open as it sorts out its financial troubles. ... And Oakland's Jack London Aquatic Center may close at the end of February because the nonprofit that runs the center has been unable to find funding to make up for Oakland city budget cuts.

Rachel Swan and Alexa Vaughn contributed to this report.

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