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Economy

Mayor Woodfin proposes $451M FY 2020 budget with focus in neighborhoods

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday unveiled a $451 million fiscal 2020 budget that includes a focus on neighborhood revitalization and an increase in the pension fund for city employees. The budget is a 2.4 percent increase over the $440 million fiscal 2019 budget approved last year by the City Council. The fiscal year begins July 1.

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By Erica Wright

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday unveiled a $451 million fiscal 2020 budget that includes a focus on neighborhood revitalization and an increase in the pension fund for city employees.

The budget is a 2.4 percent increase over the $440 million fiscal 2019 budget approved last year by the City Council. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget projects tax and license revenue increase of $6.5 million over 2019 which will be combined with $3 million of commercial construction fees and revenue from the state’s recently approved gas tax.

Up to $14 million in this year’s budget will go to neighborhood revitalization in the form of demolition, street paving, weed abatement and the Birmingham Land Bank Authority, which returns vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties back to the tax rolls, the mayor said.

“These things are important as it relates to the issues I still hear when I’m addressing residents, whether it’s at a neighborhood meeting or church or at their door, [they’re saying] ‘mayor, please pave these streets and please tear these houses down,’” said Woodfin, who delivered his budget message to the council on Tuesday and residents at the Birmingham CrossPlex later in the evening.

Woodfin said his administration is not just talking about the concerns but the money that is in the budget reflects solutions.

The city is not proposing a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this year because of the money put toward areas such as merit pay ($3 million), health insurance ($3 million), longevity pay ($2 million) and the pension ($5.8 million) which totaled $13.8 million, the mayor said.

“We did not do a COLA this year, but it doesn’t mean we won’t do one next year, it means this year with the tough decisions we had to make including the number one priority of filling the pension, we couldn’t do all five at the level we wanted to,” he said.

Merit pay is performance-related pay that provides bonuses for workers who perform their jobs effectively according to certain criteria.

As for the pension, he said, “our greatest asset is our city employees and they deserve to have a fully-funded pension and I’m happy to say the city’s portion of meeting our obligation, we will actually meet in this budget. I would say tied for first place in this budget’s priorities were paving streets and our pension funding and we met both.”

Highlights of the mayor’s proposed budget include:

  • $8 million, street paving and pothole repair (an increase of $5.5 million over last year)
  • $5.8 million, pension contribution increase
  • $4.7 million, demolition and weed abatement (an increase of $1.5 million over last year)
  • $1.5 million real time crime center
  • $1 million, land bank (an increase of $650,000 over last year)

The spending plan has no funding for non-profit organizations, although the mayor said the city continues to support non-profits, but the focus has to be on public safety, he said.

“I have a moral obligation to public safety and public infrastructure as it relates to how to allocate the city’s tax dollars,” said Woodfin. “When you talk about public safety, that’s the main employee groups including police, fire and public works . . . you have to make those investments because no one else is responsible for [public safety and public infrastructure] . . .which means by moral obligation and by fiscal obligation, they’re the priority.”

The planned $1.5 million for a “real time” crime center will help the Birmingham Police Department modernize a digital-based records keeping program.

The mayor also announced The Birmingham Promise, which represents a $2 million commitment to secondary and post-secondary workforce development, creating apprenticeships and real opportunities for the city’s youth as they enter the job market.

“It is past the time as a city we commit to workforce development and the best place is to focus on our young people,” he said.

The mayor also is proposing to increase the discretionary fund for each council district to $100,000 from $50,000.

Neighborhoods

The investment in the land bank reflects an investment in the neighborhoods, Woodfin said.

The budget reflects a $700,000 increase in the Land Bank which has been in existence for about five years and the same amount of money has been in it every year, Woodfin said.

“We wanted to show neighborhood revitalization isn’t just about tearing down houses, you have to remove the blight but you don’t want a city that’s snaggletooth,” he said. “At some point you have to go back vertical on these empty lots which includes affordable and single family homes and when you add an additional $700,000 that sends a signal to this community that we’re serious about this land bank and it also puts me in a position to be able to go out here and talk to certain stakeholder groups and say the city has shown its commitment for its land bank.

“We’re showing our commitment to neighborhood revitalization by increasing the rate of moving these properties off the tax delinquency and moving them towards going back vertical on this empty lots,” he said.

The proposed operating budget and capital budget for the 2020 fiscal year can be found at www.birminghamal.gov/budget2020.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times

Bay Area

Council Approves Additional Public Safety Investments

Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland Community Centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response. 

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Stop typography on a sidewalk in Sterling Virginia during the fall photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador via Unsplash

Councilmember Sheng Thao

Councilmembers, community leaders, and city staff,  approved public safety investments for Oakland recommended by Councilmember Sheng Thao

These additions, approved Monday afternoon, included investments that align with the city’s reimagining public safety goals. The City Council unanimously approved Councilmember Thao’s budget amendments, which included investments in:

  • Traffic Calming and Sideshow Prevention
  • Faster 911 Response
  • Restoring Foot Patrol officers in business corridors during the holiday season
  • Business District Ambassadors
  • Adding Public Restrooms near homeless encampments
  • Investments to job training and resources

“My top priority is public safety, which means addressing violent crime, street safety, poverty, and homelessness,” said Thao.

“These budget amendments invest in our community and increase our Police Department’s ability to prevent and respond to violent crimes. These amendments will also protect our business corridors so Oaklanders can feel safe while they shop, and in turn, invest in our Oakland businesses.”

Said Oakland Police Chief LeRonne L. Armstrong, “I would like to thank Oakland City Council Member Sheng Thao and other Council Members for their vote and support with additional funding.

“These funds will provide walking officers in our business districts across the city during this holiday season. The funds allow us to restore much needed public safety services, walking officers, while our community and visitors shop across our city.”

Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland Community Centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response.

“These amendments also help address decades of divestment from our BIPOC communities in East Oakland,” she said. “By bringing investments into street safety, beautification, and city services. It is important that we stay committed to equity for East Oakland.

“Our office made a point to work with Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor to bring these amendments forward, and I thank them for their strong partnership in this work,” said Councilmember Thao.

 

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Bay Area

Where Do Negotiations Go Now After A’s “Howard Terminal” or Bust Ultimatum?

The A’s are seeking to develop 55 acres at the Port of Oakland. The proposal includes a 35,000-seat baseball stadium, which would cost $1 billion, or 8.3% of the total project.

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Oakland A's Photo Courtesy of Rick Rodriquez via Unsplash

FILE – In this Nov. 17, 2016, file photo, Oakland Athletics President David Kaval gestures during a news conference in Oakland, Calif. TheAthletics will be phased out of revenue sharing in the coming years as part of baseball’s new labor deal, and that puts even more urgency on the small-budget franchise’s plan to find the right spot soon to build a new, privately funded ballpark. Kaval, named to his new A’s leadership position last month, is committed to making quick progress but also doing this right. That means strong communication with city and civic leaders as well as the community and fan base. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

John Fisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikki Fortunato

Rebecca Kaplan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oakland’s City Council rejected the A’s proposed non-binding term sheet, which the team had presented to the City along with an ultimatum, “Howard Terminal or Bust.”

At a packed City Council meeting last week, attended by 1,000 people on Zoom, many residents were angry at what they viewed as the A’s real estate “land grab” at the Port of Oakland and either said that the team should leave or stay at the Oakland Coliseum in East Oakland.
Rejecting the A’s term sheet, councilmembers at the July 20th meeting voted 6-1 with one abstention to make a counteroffer, approving city staff’s and Council’s amendments to the A’s term sheet.

Council’s vote was to continue negotiating with the A’s, and the A’s gained substantial concessions, $352 million, enough to return for further negotiations, in Oakland. The Council’s vote didn’t derail A’s pursuit of Las Vegas.

Now, over a week since Council’s vote, neither A’s President Dave Kaval nor owner John Fisher have spoken publically on the A’s intent to continue bargaining with Oakland for their proposed $12 billion waterfront development at Howard Terminal.

The A’s are seeking to develop 55 acres at the Port of Oakland. The proposal includes a 35,000-seat baseball stadium, which would cost $1 billion, or 8.3% of the total project.

In addition to the stadium, the development features 3,000 condominium/housing units; over a million square feet of commercial space (office and retail); a 3,500-seat performance theater, 400 hotel rooms and approximately 18 acres of parks and open space.

The most fundamental sticking point, along with all the other complications, is whether a commercial/residential development, ‘a city within a city,” in the middle of a working seaport are compatible uses for the land. Many experts are saying that the existence of upscale residences and thousands of tourists strolling around will eventually destroy the Port of Oakland, which is the economic engine of the city and the region.

According to Kaval, who had pushed for the Council to approve the ultimatum, “We’re disappointed that the city did not vote on our proposal … we’re going to take some time and really dig in and understand and ‘vet’ what they did pass and what all the amendments mean.”

Although the A’s stated a willingness to be open to the amended terms Council approved, Kaval expressed uncertainty whether the Council’s amended term sheet offers “a path forward.”

“The current [amended] term sheet as its constructed is not a business partnership that works for us,” said Kaval, saying the team would have to examine the Council’s counter-offer before deciding to resume negotiations or return to Las Vegas or focus on finding a new home someplace else.

City Council President Bas and Mayor Libby Schaaf joined city and labor leaders to discuss the Council’s vote. Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan made it clear that the amended term sheet the Council approved should be considered a “road map for future negotiations … a baseline for further discussions.”

Upon Kaval’s dismissal of the Council’s stated positions, Fife said, “I don’t know where we go from here,” abstaining from the vote on the proposed term sheet.

Many find Kaval’s statement confusing because he used words like partnership but apparently ignored and/or disregarded the City of Oakland – the A’s major stakeholder and a business partnership since 1968, more than 53 years.

Some are asking if the A’s understand that Oakland’s 53-year relationship with the team is the basis for the meme “Rooted in Oakland?” Are the A’s willing to accept, as the Council has determined, that the terms of the business “partnership” must be equitable and mutually beneficial for all of “us”?

And the question remains after a 53-year relationship, is it reasonable to terminate that relationship or negotiate further for an equitable and mutually beneficial business partnership?

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Activism

Free School Meals for All Here to Stay in California

With 1 in every 6 children facing hunger in the U.S., California is the first state to promise that every public school student — all 6 million of them – will get free school meals.

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Nancy Skinner

With 1 in every 6 children facing hunger in the U.S., California is the first state to promise that every public school student — all 6 million of them – will get free school meals.

The universal school meals program, which will launch in the 2022-2023 school year, is part of the landmark state budget agreement reached between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature last month. Days later, Maine became the second state to commit to offering a universal school meals program with the signing of its budget.

The program ensures that all students will be offered breakfast and lunch at their school, which state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said is “essential to learning.” Skinner has led the effort to establish a universal school meal program.

“We know that many California children are food insecure, and if you’re hungry you cannot learn well,” Skinner said. “The whole point of school is learning, and everything we can do to create an environment that allows children to thrive and learn is what we need to do.”

Skinner introduced a bill in March that would have established a universal school meal program. After the program garnered bipartisan support and the California Department of Finance forecast unexpectedly large projected revenues, lawmakers opted to include it in the state budget rather than as a separate bill.

The final agreement between Newsom and the Legislature calls for $650 million through the Proposition 98 fund each year to reimburse school districts starting in 2022, as well as $54 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year to supplement state meal reimbursements. Proposition 98 is the formula that determines what portion of the general fund goes to community colleges and K-12 schools.

The state program is set to begin in the 2022-23 school year because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has already committed to paying for school meals for all students through the 2021-22 school year.

The USDA has reimbursed districts for providing free meals to all students since the start of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, districts were only reimbursed for feeding students who were enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. Advocates said being able to feed students without having to check whether they qualified for free lunches allowed districts to serve more families at a time when many faced hunger and hardship.

Waiving the eligibility requirements allowed the Oakland Unified School District, for example, to distribute as many as 18,000 grab-and-go meals a day during the pandemic, said spokesman John Sasaki.

“That just goes to show the need that was there,” Sasaki said.

Previously, as part of the National School Lunch Program application process, families had to disclose their household income, how many people lived in the household, their children’s immigration status or if their children were homeless or runaways. Some families feared giving out that information, and students may have felt embarrassed to receive a free meal while others paid for it.

Schools in New York City began serving free meals to all students in 2017 after finding that some students would rather go hungry than admit they didn’t have enough money to pay for lunch. The decision followed a national outcry over “lunch shaming” — publicly shaming students for unpaid school meal bills, or even school staff throwing away their lunches rather than allowing them to eat.

Advocates believed that though 3.9 million students – 63% of California’s student body — participated in the program, the need was actually much higher.

“It’s such good news that everybody gets food with no strings attached, but to be able to do it in a way that nobody is called out is the best thing about this,” Sasaki said. “We want to make sure kids are never given a hard time for being who they are or being in the situation they are in.”

Districts will still be asking families to fill out household income eligibility forms, however. That’s because the number of families in the district that make so little that they qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program remains a key factor in the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. The formula gives additional state funds to districts based on the number of low-income students, English learners, foster children and homeless youth they serve.

Tony Wold, the West Contra Costa Unified associate superintendent of business services, said the district was concerned that fewer families would fill out the household income eligibility forms because they didn’t have to in order to receive free meals. That could have potentially led to a reduction in supplemental funds for the cash-strapped district. To help solve the problem, the district had outreach workers call families directly, explaining why it was important for families to submit the information.

The outreach workers’ “big lift” resulted in more families filling out the forms than the previous year, Wold said, which kept the district’s unduplicated pupils percentage constant. That statistic measures the share of a district’s students who are low-income, homeless, foster youth or English learners — all of which drive the Local Control Funding Formula.

Outreach workers at Oakland Unified emphasize to families who are skeptical about the forms that they determine how much money goes to the classroom, Sasaki said.

California School Boards Association spokesman Troy Flint said the organization anticipates it will be harder for districts to collect income eligibility forms with the new universal meals program. The association hopes the state will provide some support to schools’ “diligent and creative efforts” to collect the forms, though the group isn’t calling for any specific change.

“This administration has prioritized steering additional money toward high-need students, particularly into concentration grants, so there’s reason to believe they might be willing to work toward a modification here,” Flint said.

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