Criticizing the mayor's budget is a time-honored tradition in Oakland. And 2011 is no different. So far, pundits, bloggers, and some councilmembers have repeatedly ripped Jean Quan's ideas for closing the city's $58 million budget deficit. First, they accused Her Honor of avoiding tough decisions when she had the audacity to seek the council's input before making her official proposal. And then they leveled the same accusation when she released three budget scenarios, instead of one. She was dodging her duty, they argued, ignoring the fact that a single, concrete proposal would have been virtually impossible when the city's finances depend so heavily on whether public-employee unions agree to major concessions.
Then last week, at least three councilmembers harangued the mayor for her proposal to sell the shuttered Henry J. Kaiser Center on the shores of Lake Merritt to Oakland's Redevelopment Agency for $28.3 million. Quan wants to use the proceeds from the sale to help close the city's massive deficit over the next three years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. But councilmembers Desley Brooks, Ignacio De La Fuente, and Larry Reid alleged that the plan was illegal because the redevelopment agency would use funds earmarked for a different area of the city than where the Kaiser is located.
Quan appears to be desperately searching for ways to fix the city's financial mess while cushioning potentially devastating cuts to city services, including the proposed closure of fourteen of Oakland's eighteen library branches (see "Libraries on the Brink"). The mayor also has attempted to appease the city's powerful public-employee unions by pushing an $11 million parcel tax, possibly for the November ballot. The tax, if approved by voters, would save jobs and some union member benefits.
But some councilmembers, particularly De La Fuente, oppose the parcel tax and seem bent on forcing the city's unions into substantial givebacks. And if the unions refuse? Well, last year, De La Fuente led the drive to lay-off eighty cops when the police union refused to pay 9 percent of its pension plan. And when the cops' union wouldn't budge, the city laid off the officers.
But Quan's budget isn't the only thing under fire. De La Fuente and others, including Reid, also have criticized the mayor for using her longtime friend, Oakland attorney Dan Siegel, as her unpaid legal advisor. Quan turned to Siegel not long after she was elected last November because of her deep distrust for outgoing City Attorney John Russo. Siegel responded to a few records requests on Quan's behalf and sat in on a federal court meeting involving the Oakland Police Department's repeated failure to live up to reforms stemming from the infamous Riders case. Reid and De La Fuente contend that Quan's use of Siegel is illegal — a charge that Siegel says is incorrect.
Finally, Reid and De La Fuente were made unhappy last week when Quan and Police Chief Anthony Batts agreed to table plans for a third gang injunction in the city, pending further study of whether they're effective. Reid badly wanted an injunction for his East Oakland district. In addition, Quan and Batts agreed to not add any names to the gang injunction currently being sought in De La Fuente's Fruitvale district. Reid and De La Fuente, also a big supporter of the injunctions, endorsed the deal, primarily because the alternative being sought by other councilmembers was to defund the controversial gang injunctions entirely.
In short, Quan's honeymoon with the council is over. That is, if you believe it ever actually started.
Still, the next several weeks in Oakland government should be quite interesting. Will the city employee unions agree to big concessions? Will the police union finally start paying their fair share of their pensions? Will the city lay off hundreds of workers? Will Oakland's prized libraries and parks be decimated? And will councilmembers start making their own proposals for fixing Oakland's financial woes or will they be content with bashing Quan?
Taxes, Full Speed Ahead
Governor Jerry Brown announced last week that state tax revenues surged dramatically this year, jumping $6.6 billion higher than expected. But Brown, nonetheless, plans to push forward with his tax measure ballot proposals despite continuing GOP opposition. Brown also hasn't given up on his plan to kill redevelopment agencies, although Republicans don't like that idea either. The governor, however, did agree to abandon his plan to eliminate tax enterprise zones after being pressured by the GOP and Big Business.
The unexpected revenues also have had no impact on Brown's plan to close seventy state parks next year. That could change, however, because closing parks promises to create numerous logistical problems for state officials, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Brown wants to close several state beaches, for example, but they're required to remain open under existing California law.
And speaking of Brown, the Los Angeles Times reported that a video on the state prison guards' web site provided a link between the new sweetheart deal the union inked with the governor and the $7 million that the union spent last year on political campaigns, including $2 million for Brown. The video features politicians that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association backed heavily and who voted for the union contract, including GOP state Senator Anthony Cannella, who broke with fellow Republicans and cast the deciding vote to ratify the prison guards' deal.
The world learned why Maria Shriver left ex-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — he admitted to fathering a son with one of his housekeepers more than a decade ago. ... Alameda County jumped into the corrupt cops sweepstakes last week, when San Leandro narcotics officer Jason Fredriksson was arrested for allegedly selling a pound of weed to his mistress, who turned out to be an informant. ... An Oakland public schools student tried to poison a teacher by spiking her coffee with dry-erase fluid. ... Republicans in the US Senate blocked President Obama's nomination of UC Berkeley law school professor Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. ... Los Angeles police arrested the prime suspect in the brutal beating of San Francisco Giants' fan Bryan Stow, who remains in a coma. ... The Botox mom who lied about her name and about living San Francisco said she made up the whole story about injecting her kid with Botox. ... And Oakland false prophet/financial genius Harold Camping told the Chronicle he was "flabbergasted" that his prediction about the Rapture didn't come true.