For a time this spring, it was unclear whether Oakland's public-employee unions would make the financial sacrifices needed for the city to avoid devastating budget cuts. But then Mayor Jean Quan's administration and the city council reached agreements with the unions that called for 9 percent givebacks across-the-board. On Friday, the last of the city's five major unions ratified the "fair share" deals, as Quan called them, including police and fire. The deals are expected to save the city's cash-strapped general fund about $23 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year, and about $30 million in 2012-13.
Now, Quan and the council are turning their attention to an $11 million parcel tax that the mayor has proposed for the November ballot. "The city and its employees have stepped up with cuts to make this a Fair Share Budget; I am asking residents to pay less than a quarter a day to help me restore cuts to senior centers, park and tree maintenance, and to help me maintain police staffing levels with more police academies," the mayor said a statement.
The council plans to take up the $80-a-year-per-home parcel tax, along with other ballot-measure proposals, on Tuesday, July 19. And now that the city's unions have proven that they're willing to make sacrifices, city voters likely will be afforded the same opportunity. Quan appears to have enough votes to put the parcel tax on the ballot.
Quan had pushed for the parcel tax earlier this year, but the council appears to have made a smart move in blocking it. There's reason to believe city voters wouldn't have approved it — until the unions agreed to givebacks. Oakland residents already have one of the highest property tax bills in the Bay Area, and it's become clear over the past twelve months that the city can no longer afford employee compensation packages inked before the Great Recession.
Indeed, public worker pay makes up the lion's share of Oakland's general fund budget, and so when city revenues plummeted by about $100 million after the economic collapse, there was no way to balance the budget without substantial employee concessions — or drastic cuts to city services. Without the union givebacks, Oakland may have been forced to close most of its libraries, while slashing funding for cultural arts, parks, and tree maintenance.
The five major unions all made their concessions in different ways. The police union agreed to finally pay 9 percent of its pension plan, firefighters took 9 percent pay cuts, and other unions agreed to pay more into their retirement plans or take more unpaid days off. The deals also will downsize next year's projected deficit significantly. In the end, it was about shared sacrifice — which is why voters will be asked to do the same.
But make no mistake, Quan, city leaders, and the unions are banking on Oakland recovering from the economic downturn in the next few years. All of the union deals include sunset clauses that make them temporary. Likewise, the mayor's parcel tax would only last five years if approved. Let's hope that they're right, and that the givebacks and the new tax will be all that's needed.
Batts Announces Reorg
Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts announced the reorganization of the police department in an attempt to maintain public safety with a much smaller force. As of last week, Oakland had 637 cops, down from more than 800 when Batts was hired by then-Mayor Ron Dellums in 2009. As a result, Batts is decreasing the city's geographic policing areas from three to two, consolidating major crimes investigations, and moving officers who are recovering from injuries from desk jobs to the property crimes unit, the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune reported.
Death Penalty to be Axed?
A bill that would abolish the death penalty passed a state assembly committee hearing last week. The bill, written by state Senator Loni Hancock of Berkeley, would end capital punishment because of the state's ongoing budget crisis. In recent years the death penalty debate has shifted from moral to financial terms. Capital punishment has cost the state $4 billion since 1978, and yet California has only put thirteen people to death in that time. Moreover, a recent report showed that ending the death penalty would reduce the state budget by $184 million a year, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Brown Hauls Cash for Charters
Jerry Brown is parlaying his position as governor to rake in millions of dollars for his two Oakland charter schools, including big contributions from special interests that have been lobbying his administration for favors, California Watch reported. A Brown spokesman said there is no quid pro quo — that the governor is not soliciting donations for his schools in exchange for favorable treatment. But there's no doubt the governor is hauling in big bucks for his schools. So far this year, Brown has solicited a staggering $2.3 million for his charter arts and military schools.
Did Bailey Witness Lie?
The judge in the Chauncey Bailey murder case ordered a defense attorney and two East Bay newspaper reporters to court on August 12 to determine whether a star witness perjured himself. The Tribune and Chronicle reported that Judge Thomas Reardon wants to question attorney LaRue Grim and Bay Area News Group reporters Thomas Peele and Josh Richman, concerning a story they co-wrote in which Grim was quoted as saying that his client Devaughndre Broussard may have "committed a little bit of fabrication" in his story. Broussard, who confessed to fatally shooting Oakland journalist Bailey in 2007, was the prime witness in the trial of Your Black Muslim Bakery's Yusuf Bey IV and Antoine Mackey, and helped convict both of first-degree murder for their roles in Bailey's death. The judge has put off sentencing for Bey IV and Mackey until he talks to Grim, Peele, and Richman.
The Solar Explosion
Oakland's Sungevity, a highly successful solar startup, announced that it's adding two hundred to three hundred new workers this year, the Trib reported. Sungevity offers a solar leasing plan that allows homeowners to install rooftop solar with no money down and reasonable monthly payments. ... Solar power set a record last year in California, as state residents installed 194 megawatts worth of rooftop solar, a 47 percent increase over 2009, the San Jose Mercury News reported. PG&E now has 47,823 customers who use solar power.