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They probably are the most financially savvy city union. Every year that they can delay the city from looking hard at benefits is one more year of vesting. That translates into millions of future retirement benefits and increases the risks we face next time we hit a recession and shifts tax revenues from services to retirement compensation.
A pity that the Oakland Tribune's editorial writer is a one trick pony who so often seemed oblivious to the needs of all Oaklanders. Because of his approach, Oakland readers largely dismissed his often-valid fiscal analysis as the output of a right-winger channeling the old 1950s Knowland Tribune.
Leonard Raphael, Oakland
Borenstein Doesn't Suffer Fools
Last election, I watched a couple of Borenstein's endorsement interviews, which are posted on Bay Area News Group's website. I've never met or spoken with Borenstein myself, but judging by his interview style, I have to say that he's a man who does not suffer fools gladly. It's definitely true that he cares about unfunded liabilities most of all, but it's also clear that what he is looking for in candidates is knowledge of the actual problem. The interviews are brutal, and they are very brutal because he seems to know the financial situations and budgets of each city/district backwards and forwards and he asks questions that demand such knowledge. But this should not come as a surprise to any candidate. If you go to face him unprepared, you might as well not go (in that, Jim Prola has the right idea).
In the interviews I watched, which included both male and female candidates, I found Borenstein to be even-handed with his questions. He wasn't harder or more patronizing to male or female candidates. But he seemed to have little patience for candidates who didn't know their stuff.
Borenstein's endorsements don't fall on the regular right-wing, union-business spectrum. The candidates he endorses come from the far left, the far right, and everywhere in the middle; some are labor darlings, others hated by labor.
Here, in San Leandro, during our last election, Borenstein endorsed the two most liberal city council candidates in two of the races, and the most conservative ones in the other two. The latter was also endorsed by the police and fire unions. Clearly that was not a consideration for Borenstein. The liberal candidate who ran against Corina Lopez and got Borenstein's endorsement ran on a platform of raising the minimum wage and imposing rent control in San Leandro, not what you'd call "conservative" issues.
That said, I do agree that Borenstein's endorsements have little to no effect in many political races, though the same can be said of the Express' endorsements. For better or for worse, what seems to matter is how many mailers you send and how big they are — a sad comment on our democracy.
Margarita Lacabe, San Leandro
The Pension Bill Is Coming Due
Unfunded pension liabilities are a problem born of political expediency and unintended consequences. Taxpayers are not at the collective bargaining table (indeed, they've been asleep), and it's very easy for termed-out pols to accede to retirement benefits that somebody else will have to figure out how to fund. Predictably, this has led to quite generous pension obligations that now eat up a big fraction of tax revenues.
If the journalism community is to be faulted, it is for their failure to have recognized this phenomenon as it was occurring, to wake up the populace to it. It's not sexy — it's eyes-glazingly technical and boring, but important, they and we all missed it. The bills for this inattention are coming due.
Tom Cushing, Alamo
"Council Should Kill Illegal Deal," Seven Days, 6/17
Oakland Will be Sued
The question is whether or not there is the political will to do what is legal and right for the citizens of Oakland. To this point, the mayor and city council have failed. If they proceed to approve this backroom deal, the city will be sued.
The first thing a judge will check is whether or not the law was followed in regards to process for notice and disposition of public land. The second test is whether or not the city is in compliance with state planning law. The third is whether or not the city, by its action, is in compliance with its own General Plan (Housing Element). On all counts, the City of Oakland fails.
This is an easy call for City Attorney Barbara Parker. Her job is to keep the city out of court and avoid litigation the city has no chance of winning. She should be reminded that under Measure X [the strong mayor provision of the city charter], she works for the people of Oakland, not the city council or the mayor. Parker has not historically been strong in the land use area, but in this case, her opportunity to show leadership is right in front of her. She should not be swayed by opinions from the mayor's executive branch, comprised of City of Emeryville ex-pats looking to cut developers a deal or local attorneys for hire (Zach Wasserman) who, for the right price, will argue both sides of any land use issue.
Gary Patton, former deputy director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Oakland, Hayward