Oakland is facing a projected $30 million to $40 million budget deficit next year. And there was a concern that the budget woes might worsen by another $15 million because of a lawsuit over the city's handling of Measure Y funds. But Oakland city leaders received good news late last week when a state appellate court ruled in their favor, saying they did nothing wrong. The decision overturned a lower court ruling and meant that the city won't have to repay an estimated $15 million to the Measure Y fund. The city's budget hole, as a result, won't be as deep as originally feared.
The appellate ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Oakland gadfly Marleen Sacks. She claimed the city and police department illegally spent Measure Y funds to recruit, hire, and train new cops to replace veteran officers who were promoted to community policing jobs — also known as neighborhood beat positions. Sacks argued that the city could only spend Measure Y dollars to hire and train community policing officers — not pay to backfill their replacements in patrol. In a lower court ruling, Alameda County Judge Frank Roesch agreed with Sacks. If upheld, Roesch's decision would have forced the city to repay the Measure Y money, resulting in a potential $15 million hit to the city's general fund.
But a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled unanimously that Roesch and Sacks were wrong. "We conclude that the city did not make an impermissible use of Measure Y funds by indirectly hiring and training new officers to replace veteran officers who were assigned to neighborhood beat positions," the court wrote.
The appellate court said Measure Y, a community policing parcel tax measure adopted by Oakland voters in 2004, did not establish strict spending requirements as Sacks had claimed and Roesch had ruled. Measure Y, the appellate court said, was loosely written, and since the city used the money to help pay the costs of putting cops in community policing positions, then what the city did was okay.
The court agreed with arguments proffered by Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who contended that recruiting, hiring, and training cops specifically for community policing beats would violate department rules because rookies are not ready for those types of specialized jobs. To force the department to put rookies in community policing jobs would amount to "micro managing," the appellate court agreed.
On her blog, Sacks, an East Bay lawyer, indicated that she might appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court. She's also upset that the appellate court upheld Roesch's ruling that she's not entitled to collect attorneys' fees from the city and that the city was not required under Measure Y to staff a certain number of cops — it only had to fund those positions.
Quan Sorry for Over-Tweeting
It's been a long, strange trip, but Oakland's Mayor-elect Jean Quan decided to dial back her controversial Twitter activity. During the mayoral election, Quan used Twitter primarily as an organizing apparatus, and she tweeted only a couple times a week. But then, after she won, the account spewed out 544 tweets — many which were unrelated to Oakland — between November 10 and 25. It was enough to earn her the ire of a few followers and make some ask if she'd already begun alienating constituents — not to mention providing considerable fuel for parody account @FakeJeanQuan.
Then last week, after the Express wrote about the flap, the 36-tweet-a-day account stopped chirping. Fittingly, the mayor-elect then issued this tweet: "Our apologies for the past 'over-tweeting.' We're experimenting with social media to serve Oakland. Sometimes we miss. We'll get this right!"
Parkway Fund-Raising Rocks
The New Parkway Theater is off to a good start in its effort to reopen next spring or summer. Backers of the new theater are hoping to raise enough cash to help fix the rundown building, and the New Parkway's online Kickstarter fund-raising campaign appears to have been a success.
The campaign, designed to encourage buy-in from members of the community through incentives, started slow but finished with a bang. In its final 24 hours, supporters pledged more than $27,000 to push the campaign past its $50,000 goal. When it concluded on December 3, it had raised $56,832 from nearly 1,000 people. "I was surprised that it made it," said organizer J. Moses Caesar. "And thrilled. ... The Kickstarter campaign created this whole wave of energy and excitement."
A federal appeals court indicated that it's ready to allow gay marriage in California, but seemed reluctant about extending same-sex nuptials to other states. ... A major wind-power company agreed to install taller wind turbines in the Altamont Pass to cut down on bird deaths. ... The shuttered Berkeley Iceland may become a sporting goods store. ... The high school dropout rate in Oakland public schools is 40 percent. ... Alameda City Councilwoman Lena Tam wants city taxpayers to pay the $44,000 in legal bills she racked up while the city and the county District Attorney were investigating her for possible wrongdoing. ... And the Contra Costa County Water District says it will finish the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in the East Bay by the end of 2011. East Bay MUD had refused to partner last year in the expansion and instead is moving forward with a new dam on the Mokelumne River because it said Contra Costa's plan is too "speculative."