Mayor Libby Schaaf set off a fire storm in December when she and her administration unilaterally made $29 million in cuts to the city’s budget, including reductions in fire department services and public safety services without discussing the cuts publicly with the City Council or impacted communities.
At a recent town hall meeting in Chinatown to discuss an alarming increase in crime against Asian American elders, Schaaf attempted to blame Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan for making the cuts that in fact came from her administration.
The Chinatown community was particularly upset about the elimination of a Chinese-speaking foot patrol that served the Chinatown area.
According to many community activists, those cuts put the community at risk, and those cuts, made by the mayor and her administration, include the cuts that Chinatown leaders had called their press conference about.
Among the administration’s cuts: closing fire stations, cutting the ceasefire program, which deals with gun violence, and cutting walking beat officers and community policing resources, including s the Chinatown Walking Beat Officers.
These cuts were announced in an Informational Memorandum, dated Dec. 20, 2020, from the Director of Finance to the City Administrator, making Schaaf’s position clear. ”The fiscal crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic requires immediate and impactful service cuts….Most of these cost-cutting measures will take effect immediately,” according to the memo.
The December memo justified making these cuts without a transparent public process.
“The Charter provides the City Council with the sole authority to appropriate funds; and the Charter provides the responsibility of the City Administrator to ‘control and administer the financial affairs of the city,’ which staff interprets to mean that the administration has the power to “reduce expenditures of appropriated funds to align with declining actual revenues” without consulting the City Council or the public.
Schaaf compounded the damage and inflamed passions by using the press conference to blame Bas and Kaplan for making the cuts that her administration made. According to community leaders who responded in anger, Schaaf had come into Chinatown and publicly attacked and demeaned the local Chinatown elected representative, and falsely claimed that the cuts to the Chinatown walking officers were the fault of Councilmembers Kaplan and Bas.
The mayor also stoked racial fears and community division, according to many community leaders.
In an interview with the Oakland Post, Bas, who had attended the Chinatown press conference, said, “ I was really shocked that she (the mayor) would take this press conference as a political platform to attack me and Rebecca (Kaplan) and spreading misinformation.”
“It is extremely important for the public to know that the Mayor and City Administrator are able to make decisions behind closed doors without public input,” Bas said. “If this had come from the council,” it wouldn’t have passed, she said.
Agreeing with Bas, Kaplan, in a Tweet, criticized the mayor for making decisions in secret. “When councilmembers want to cut items from the budget, there must be a public meeting where input is taken before a public decision. That should be required for mayors’ cuts too. These cuts wouldn’t have passed if they had come publicly.”
In the fallout from the Chinatown press conference, Schaaf has been asked to apologize for fomenting racial divisions between Black and Asian communities.
The issue recently went national in a February 11 Newsweek article: “Oakland Mayor Blames Crime Wave Against Asians on Defunded Police; Black and Asian Activists Disagree.”
The magazine article quoted Bas as saying in a Tweet, “Across the nation, some electeds are seeding division among racial groups. I continue to be angered by what Mayor Schaaf did—taking a space for healing & safety (the Chinatown press conference) & using it to politically attack me.”
The article also quoted District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, who defended her colleagues.
“I’m saying this publicly because the disrespect was done publicly,” said Fife addressing the mayor. “You owe her, as well as Oakland’s Asian and Black communities an apology.”
“What we feel is important and what I felt in that moment was triggered by the image of a white woman using dog whistle tactics to create a fracture between the Asian community and the Black community,” Fife said.