In her six months in office, Jean Quan is proving to be as tireless a mayor as she was a candidate on the 2010 campaign trail when she walked much of the city, knocking on doors. At times in 2011, the former councilwoman has seemed to be everywhere at once, attending business breakfast meetings and ribbon cuttings while working behind the scenes to solve Oakland's $58 million budget deficit. It's a stark contrast to her predecessor, who seemed during his tenure as if he really didn't want to be mayor. But as active as Quan has been this year, no week may have been as busy as the one that just finished.
By early this week, Quan had capped a series of marathon days with the announcement from union officials that her administration and the city council had struck tentative deals with Oakland's major public-employee unions. The deals were expected to save the city a total of about $40 million annually to its various funds, including nearly $28 million for the beleaguered general fund account. More importantly, the union concessions, if finalized, will allow the city to stave off planned deep cuts to city services, including the closure of libraries and parks, and devastating cuts to tree maintenance and arts funding.
The leadership of five major unions — police and fire, along with SEIU Local 1021, Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 — agreed to givebacks of 9 percent, although each chose to structure the concessions differently, union officials said. "It's certainly painful for our members, but everybody understands how difficult the situation is for the city ... and we're willing to step up and do our share," Jeff Levin of Local 21 told this newspaper.
The tentative agreements were subject to the vote of each union's rank-and-file membership. But if the workers were to reject the deals, it not only would represent a big blow to the city, but also a major rejection of the union leaders who reached the tentative agreements after months of negotiations with Interim City Administrator P. Lamont Ewell and former City Administrator Dan Lindheim.
The deals also needed final approval from the city council, but Quan's administration had kept councilmembers apprised of the negotiations and they helped direct the outcome, so it seemed likely that they would okay the agreements. On Monday afternoon, Quan was upbeat: "We've been moving steadily with all of the unions for a while now, and all of them are in various stages of ratification and clean-up language. I'm very optimistic."
The council also appeared poised to pass a balanced budget on Tuesday night with far fewer cuts to city services than had once been feared. A proposal made late last week by Councilwomen Rebecca Kaplan, Pat Kernighan, Nancy Nadel, and Libby Schaaf seemed to have the best chance of passing, in part because it only needs one more vote on the council. It would keep libraries and park recreation centers open, maintain 85 percent of arts funding, and restore planned cuts to tree maintenance.
The council also appeared ready to approve Quan's plan to sell the shuttered Henry J. Kaiser Center along Lake Merritt to Oakland's Redevelopment Agency for $28.3 million. Budget proposals from all eight councilmembers contemplated using proceeds from the sale to help balance the budget. If it goes through as expected, the sale also would represent an about-face for some councilmembers who criticized Quan when she originally put it forward.
As if that were not enough, the mayor also introduced her new permanent city administrator last week after the council unanimously approved her choice — San Jose Deputy City Manager Deanna Santana. An Oaklander at heart, Santana has an impressive résumé with a strong background in public safety issues and the regulation of medical cannabis — two areas of importance in the city. Santana also has shown in her career that she's not afraid to take on sacred cows.
When she worked as an analyst in the Oakland Police Department in the late-1990s, she was among the first in the city to publicly question Oakland's monopoly towing contract with the politically influential A&B Auto Company. In a report to the then-council, Santana noted that the city's deal with A&B had resulted in Oakland collecting less money from its towing operations than other cities.
Quan's selection of Santana also was connected to the mayor's decision to hire former Oakland Fire Chief Ewell as interim city administrator. Santana had not applied for the Oakland job during the initial application process because she was busy with pressing issues in San Jose. But then after Quan hired Ewell as the interim, Ewell encouraged Santana to apply for the permanent position. Ewell had been one of Santana's early mentors when she worked in Oakland city government. "Lamont and I talked about the position during coffee one morning and he encouraged me to consider the job," Santana said.
Quan said that Ewell's influence "helped" result in Santana coming to Oakland.
So what were Santana's pressing issues earlier this year in San Jose? One was interviewing applicants to be San Jose's new police chief. As such, Santana interviewed Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, who originally applied for the job last fall. The Oakland Tribune reported that Batts made a great impression during the San Jose interview process. That could bode well for Oakland since Batts will be reporting directly to Santana when she officially starts on August 1.
Governor Jerry Brown finally realized earlier this week that he was never going to get Republican support to put his tax measures on the ballot, so he agreed with the Democrat-controlled legislature on a budget deal without any GOP votes. The deal, however, counts heavily on the rebound of California's economy generating billions in unexpected revenue for the state. If it doesn't, then Brown and the Democrats plan to implement deep cuts to K-12 education.
The budget package also calls for the effective elimination of redevelopment agencies — although cities throughout California have vowed to sue the state to stop that from happening. In Oakland, the death of redevelopment could have huge impacts. And finally, the budget deal includes legislation that would force Amazon.com and Overstock.com to start collecting sales taxes from their California customers — a move supported by most brick-and-mortar retailers in the state.