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Commentary: Budget Showdown in Oakland

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Community says Schaaf’s budget hides $45 million ‘slush fund’

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf could have responded to City Council President Rebecca Kaplan’s amendments to her administration’s proposed $2.3 billion city budget with diplomacy and negotiations, as many City Hall observers had expected she would.

She could have recognized that Kaplan’s budget proposals were a response to the growing frustrations of city workers and Oakland communities who are tired of standing on the sidelines of a booming economy—illustrated by a skyline full of construction cranes. Year after year, City Hall produces austerity budgets that communities say starve the needs of local residents who are desperate for stable housing,  an end to homelessness, clean  and well maintained streets and parks, programs for marginalized youth and wildfire safety.

Schaaf could have realized that Kaplan’s budget recommendations do no not belong to the council president alone but are backed by neighborhood and community groups as well as supporters of the “People’s Budget,” proposed by the ReFund Community-Labor Coalition, which includes city worker unions SEIU Local 1021 and IFPTE Local 21, EBASE, EBHO, Causa Justa: Just Cause, ACCE Action, the Anti Police-Terror Project, Street Level Health Project and others.

Instead of taking the path of negotiating and deliberating, Mayor Schaaf and her administration chose to come out swinging, opting for a head-on confrontation with Kaplan and the progressives on the City Council, attacking the proposals as irresponsible and vigorously defending continued austerity measures in response to community needs. Her budget directs a huge share of the city’s income into business-as-usual funding to the Oakland Police Department and the unregulated pot of money that goes to police overtime, which costs residents  about $30 million a year.

On Monday, June 10, on the same day a special City Council meeting was scheduled to discuss the Schaaf Administration’s budget proposal and the proposed amendments, the mayor sent out a blast email to local residents accusing Kaplan of “deceit and political pandering” and calling Kaplan’s budget amendment proposal “one of the most dangerous proposals I’ve ever seen to threaten Oakland’s future.”

In a move that upset many city workers, Schaaf’s city administrator, Sabrina Landreth, sent an email to all city employees titled “Update on Labor Negotiations and FY 2019-21 Budget,” dated June 6, denouncing Kaplan’s proposals for relying on “fictitious revenues” that could “potentially result in layoffs of filled positions in (the) Department of Transportation, the Clerk’s Office, OPD non-sworn and possibly employees in departments across the city.”

Speaking at Monday evening’s council meeting, Landreth refused to present a summary of the mayor’s budget to the public, saying  there was no need to do that because staff had presented the proposal May 7 and that answers to questions from council members and the public had been posted online. Landreth repeatedly rebuffed Kaplan’s invitation to explain the Schaaf administration’s budget proposal to the public at Monday’s council meeting.

Mobilizing in support of the People’s Budget and Kaplan’s proposals that embodied many of them, hundreds of people packed the City Council meeting, marching up the stairs to the council chambers, with drums beating.

The main floor and the gallery seating were full to capacity, and an overflow room was opened for those who could not find a seat. The city clerk announced that 117 people had signed up to speak on the budget.

A report was presented at the meeting by Kristen Schumacher, staff researcher for Local 21, which showed that for the past seven years the administration purposely undercounted revenues by an average of $45 million a year.

Many saw this as a blow to the administration’s contention that Kaplan’s proposals were based on “fictitious revenues.”

This money, not included in the budget or in the City Council’s public budget deliberations, could eventually be spent by the administration and the mayor as they saw fit.

“Property taxes have been under-projected every single year, transient occupancy taxes have been under-projected every single year, and business license taxes have come in  a minimum of $3.6 million higher and a maximum of $9 million higher over each of these seven years,” Schumacher said.

“The real estate transfer tax has been under-projected every single year by a minimum of $1.7 million and as much as $28 million,” she said. “In addition to these systematic  under-projections, the vast majority of city departments underspend their budgets due to hundreds of vacancies in the  non-sworn personnel budget.”

Referring to the mayor’s approach to budget deliberations, Dwight McElroy, chief steward for SEIU Local 1021, who works in the city’s paving division, said, “If there is an alternative point of view that may benefit the citizens of this city—who the money really belongs to—I don’t want to see mudslinging.  I don’t want to see allegations. I don’t want to read about bully tactics.”

Dwight McElroy, chief steward, SEIU Local 1021, calls on the City Council to pass City Council President Rebecca Kaplan’s budget proposals. Photo by Ken Epstein.

The $45 million per year that was left out of the budget for seven years, said McElroy, “is restricted and has minimum use to benefit this city. You want to talk about fiction, the way you budget is a fiction.”

Felipe Cuevas, chapter president of SEIU 1021, a heavy equipment mechanic for the City of Oakland for 20 years, said, ”I just don’t understand the eagerness of our City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to harass our members with a threat of a layoff when we don’t even have a budget yet.

“If something like that would happen, if you were going to go by the rules, that would happen after you had a budget,” he said. “My union will be filing (unfair labor practice) charges over the harassment and intimidation by the city administration.”

Cat Brooks, executive director of the Justice Teams Network, said, “We here…in mass, united across race, class, ideology, profession as one Oakland. Rebecca Kaplan’s budget is the only budget that reflects the values  of the city, that reflects the priorities of the people of this city,” she said. It is a budget that “puts Oakland on the path toward being the city that we profess to be, a city that is progressive and rooted in justice, equity and humanity.”

In her remarks, Kaplan denied that her proposal involved laying off union workers.

“There is no such proposal,” she said. “That was an inaccurate characterization, and I think that is part of why people feel there is a lack of respect going on—in terms of making statements that are untrue about the proposals.”

Explaining her understanding of budget deliberations, Kaplan said:

“Adopting a budget is one of the most important things we as a council do. It is our legal duty to deliberate and adopt a budget. And it is the administrative [duty] to ensure that it is implemented. How we allocate money and what we allocate it to is core to how we take action collectively as a council to ensure the needs of our city.  This is a chance to put our goals and values into action by putting dollar amounts beside them.”

Budget proposals are scheduled to be discussed at the June 18 council meeting and again on June 24, if needed. The deadline for passing the completed budget is June 30.

Bay Area

California Moving into Next Budget Year With a $31 Billion Surplus, Analysts Say

“Under our current law and policy approach, we estimate the general fund revenue will reach $202 billion in the budget year and result in a surplus of about $31 billion for that budget year,” said Gabriel Petek, legislative analyst of the State of California, referring to LAO’s projections for fiscal year 2022-23.

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California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.
California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

California is expected to move into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022, with a whopping $31 billion surplus, according to estimates from the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO).

The LAO announced the anticipated surplus during a news briefing last week.

“Under our current law and policy approach, we estimate the general fund revenue will reach $202 billion in the budget year and result in a surplus of about $31 billion for that budget year,” said Gabriel Petek, legislative analyst of the State of California, referring to LAO’s projections for fiscal year 2022-23.

Petek said the large surplus reflects a number of trends. Among them are surpluses in the state current operating budget, money left in the economic reserve from the last fiscal year, higher revenues than projected for the last two years, etc.

“Revenue collections have grown rapidly in recent months, coming in over $10 billion ahead of budget act expectations so far this year. Underlying this growth is a meteoric rise in several measures of economic activity,” LAO report reads.

That windfall in the state reserve could mean a rebate for taxpayers or more money for education and other public spending.

State spending is expected to reach a cap set by California voters through a ballot measure in 1979 called the Gann Limit. When that happens, the state is compelled to return money to taxpayers by lowering taxes, sending out rebates or spending money on education.

Salena Pryor, president of the California Black Small Business Association (BSBA) says she is encouraged by the investments the state has made to aid small businesses and to improve the overall economic outlook for Californians most impacted by the pandemic.

She hopes the state will use monies from the surplus to sustain some of its initial investments.

“There is still a lot more work to do. Forty-one percent of Black small businesses have closed permanently due to COVID-19, so further investments into start-ups and restarts would greatly benefit our community,” she said.

California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.

“California has no peers – continues to have no peers. We are world-beating in terms of our economic growth,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking at the California Economic Summit earlier this month.

“In the last five years, no western democracy has outperformed the state of California. The United States has not… Germany, Japan, the U.K… no other western democracy has outperformed this state in our economic output of 21% GDP over the last five years.”

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Activism

New California “Strike Force” Gives Teeth to State Housing Laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

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The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.
The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

To advance housing access, affordability and equity, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced earlier this month the creation of a Housing Strike Force.

The team, housed within the California Department of Justice (Cal DOJ) has been tasked with enforcing California housing laws that cities across the state have been evading or ignoring.

The strike force will conduct a series of roundtables across the state to educate and involve tenants and homeowners as the state puts pressure on municipalities failing to follow housing rules and falling short of housing production goals set by the state.

“California is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis of epic proportion,” Bonta said. “Every day, millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their heads, and there are too many across this state who lack housing altogether.

“This is a top priority and a fight we won’t back down from. As Attorney General, I am committed to using all the tools my office has available to advance Californians’ fundamental right to housing.”

The Housing Strike Force will take “an innovative and intersectional approach” to addressing the housing crisis, focusing on tenant protections, housing availability and environmental sustainability, housing affordability, and equitable and fair housing opportunity for tenants and owners.

Bonta also launched a Housing Portal on the Cal DOJ’s web site with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants.

The strike force will enlist the expertise of attorneys from the Cal DOJ’s Land Use and Conservation Section, the Consumer Protection Section, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and the Environment Section’s Bureau of Environmental Justice in its enforcement efforts.

“California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address its housing crisis, thanks to the historic $22 billion housing and homelessness investments in this year’s budget. But it’ll only work if local governments do their part to zone and permit new housing,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “The attorney general’s emphasis on holding cities and counties accountable for fair housing, equity, and housing production is an important component to the state’s efforts to tackle the affordability crisis and create greater opportunities for all Californians to have an affordable place to call home.”

According to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the level of Black ownership nationally has decreased below levels achieved during the decades when housing discrimination was legal.

The 2020 census reports that there was a 29.6% gap between homeownership rates for African Americans and whites. Homeowners accounted for 44.6% of the Black population as compared to 74.2% for whites.

“Blacks have made little, if any, strides at closing the homeownership gap. Systemic discriminatory regulations and policies continue to thwart any meaningful effort at increasing Black homeownership,” Lydia Pope, NAREB’s president, said.

In California, the DOJ reports that over the last four decades, housing needs have outpaced housing production. It has caused a crisis that stretches from homelessness to unaffordable homes.

Despite significant effort, the DOJ stated that California continues to host a disproportionate share of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, with an estimated 150,000 Californians sleeping in shelters, in their cars, or on the street.

Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

Due to decades of systemic racism, these challenges have continuously and disproportionately impacted communities of color. For example, Bonta said, almost half of Black households in California spend more than 30% of their income on housing, compared with only a third of White families.

In addition, less than one in five Black California households could afford to purchase the $659,380 statewide median-priced home in 2020, compared to two in five white California households that could afford to purchase the same median-priced home, the California Association Realtors (CAR) said in a February 2021 statement.

The percentage of Black home buyers who could afford to purchase a median-priced, existing single-family home in California in 2020 was 19%, compared to 38% for white households, CAR stated.

“Just as the price for a single-median home reaches a new record of more than $800,000 in California, everywhere you look, we are in a housing crisis,” Bonta said during the virtual news conference on Nov. 3.

“Among all households, one in four renters pays more than half of their income on rent.”

The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 215, enhancing the attorney general’s concurrent role in enforcing state housing laws.

AB 215 was designed for reforms, facilitating housing development and combating the current housing crisis.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill (SB) 9 and SB 10 in September, legislation designed to help increase the supply of affordable housing and speed up the production of multi-family housing units statewide.

Authored by Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 allows a homeowner to subdivide an existing single-family residential lot to create a duplex, triplex, or fourplex.

In response to SB 9, homeowner groups have formed across the state to oppose it. The groups are citing challenges they anticipate the law will bring to their communities, from garbage collection to increased risk of fires.

Livable California, a San Francisco-based non-profit that focuses on housing, is one of the groups that opposes the new laws.

“Senate Bill 9 ends single-family zoning to allow four homes where one now stands. It was signed by Gov. Newsom, backed by 73 of 120 legislators and praised by many media. Yet a respected pollster found 71% of California voters oppose SB 9,” the Livable California website reads.

“It opens 1.12 million homes in severe fire zones to unmanaged density — one-sixth of single-family homes in California,” the message continues. “SB 9 could reshape, in unwanted ways, hundreds of high-risk fire zones that sprawl across California’s urban and rural areas.”

But Newsom says the laws are urgent and overdue.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a Sept. 16 statement.

SB 10 was designed for jurisdictions that want to opt-in and up-zone urbanized areas close to transit, allowing up to 10 units per parcel without the oversight of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Passing strong housing laws is only the first step. To tackle our severe housing shortage, those laws must be consistently and vigorously enforced,” said California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), chair of the Senate Housing Committee. “I applaud Attorney General Bonta’s commitment to strong enforcement of California’s housing laws.”

The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. Information on legal aid in your area is available at https://lawhelpca.org.

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Bay Area

As Planned Robberies and Thefts Increase, Oakland Officials Grapple for Solutions

On Friday and Saturday evenings in Oakland, “roving caravans” targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail stores and pharmacies throughout Oakland. “At least two dozen businesses were impacted, mostly cannabis operations. Armed individuals exchanged gunfire with police and security guards.

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Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.
Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.

By Post Staff

Police and city officials are struggling to deal with a wave of organized smash-and-grab robberies, shootouts, home invasions, random drive-by shootings and muggings that swept across Bay Area cites over last weekend.

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong called the violent crime wave “unprecedented” and said his police force needs the help of elected officials to meet the challenge.

Armstrong said, “We will have tactical teams deployed throughout the city,” to increase safety over the holiday weekend.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the police chief’s boss, has been silent about how her office will step up.

In a video interview, Armstrong said, “What we’ve seen in Oakland is not much different than a lot of cities have seen in this Northern California region: roving robbery caravans, homicides and shootings.”

“We’re not going to tolerate this kind of activity in the City of Oakland. We are going to respond,” to be ready to deal with these roving gangs in the upcoming weekend, he said.

“These individuals who come to the city have been heavily armed, from all throughout the Bay Area,” Armstrong continued. “They are not just people from Oakland. They are groups of people coming to target communities. We will be prepared to address it. We will have extended staffing over the weekend to ensure there are enough resources to address the violent crime.”

After 11:00 p.m. roving caravans have targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail shops and pharmacies throughout the city of Oakland. At least two dozen businesses were impacted, most of them cannabis operations. Armed individuals were shooting at staff and others when they met resistance.

On Friday and Saturday evenings in Oakland, “roving caravans” targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail stores and pharmacies throughout Oakland. “At least two dozen businesses were impacted, mostly cannabis operations. Armed individuals exchanged gunfire with police and security guards.

Other organized groups of thieves targeted stores in San Francisco, Hayward and Walnut Creek.

On Sunday, robbers broke into a jewelry store in a Hayward mall, smashing glass cases and driving off with the valuables. In Walnut Creek, police urged businesses to close early after 80 thieves ransacked a Nordstrom last Saturday night.

In San Francisco, thieves broke into high-end stores in Union Square, including Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry and Bloomingdale’s, stealing merchandise worth thousands of dollars.

Oakland City Councilmembers responded quickly to Chief Armstrong’s call for help.

They said they have called a special meeting on December 7 to discuss the violence and underscored their commitment to stopping the violence.

“Absolutely, we are all concerned, and I can attest to that from all councilmembers including the mayor as well, too,” said District 2 Councilmember Sheng Thao, quoted on KGO.

Thao and District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb called for restoring the violence reduction program, Ceasefire, back to where it was before the pandemic.

Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan said the Council is already responding to the post-pandemic crime wave that is surging in many cities. She pointed to new laws to increase funding for tracing and cracking down on illegal guns.

Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.

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