Five years ago, Oakland voters were desperate to improve public safety and increase the size of the understaffed police force. Despite the booming economy, the city said it couldn’t afford to. Measure Y, an $88 per year parcel tax, was placed on the ballot as a compromise measure to fund violence prevention programs and expand the size of the police force by 63 officers.
Since the passage of Measure Y in November, 2004, the city has continually failed to live up to the promises of Measure Y. It failed to hire the promised 63 community policing officers. Instead of increasing the size of the police force, the force declined steadily. It began using millions of dollars in Measure Y funds, earmarked for specific programs and purposes, for whatever it chose. It failed to conduct the mandatory audits, required under both Measure Y and state law.
Fed up with the broken promises and misuse of funds, I sued the city, on my own time, and my own dime. And I won. In 2009, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that the city had misspent millions, and had failed to conduct the mandatory audits. Unrepentant, the city has appealed, and the Measure Y abuses have continued. Despite the promise of an expanded police force, the city deliberately cancelled an academy scheduled for the fall of 2008, and hasn’t had another one since, deliberately allowing the force to drop by over 50 officers a year through attrition. In the six years since Measure Y passed, we gave the city over $100 million, and we got the promised staffing for less than six months. This is an example of government waste at its worst.
Rather than comply with the law, the city is trying to change it, with Measure BB. As written, Measure Y taxes could not be collected unless the city at least budgeted for a minimum staff of 739 officers. That’s why the city had to stop collecting Measure Y taxes in July, after it decided to lay off 80 officers. Measure BB eliminates this requirement, and destroys any incentive to maintain the police force at the size we were promised, and at a size that our police chief and the Grand Jury agree was too small already.
The deceit surrounding Measure Y has already started with Measure BB. Measure BB does not guarantee no more layoffs. There are no promises to rehire the laid off officers, or for additional officers at all. Rather, citizens will be taxed over $90 a year for a police force that will only get smaller, because the city is refusing to schedule new academies. The city has no long-term plan for how to properly fund public safety, and these so-called “short-term” tax measures are nothing more than a bail-out; they do nothing to address the chronic fiscal mismanagement that has plagued Oakland for years. Measure BB makes no amends for the past betrayals under Measure Y, and reduces, rather than increases accountability and oversight. Meanwhile, the police union is still refusing to contribute the same 9 percent toward pensions that the other public employee unions do.
Rejecting Measure BB will retain the incentive for maintaining an adequately sized police force, and will send a strong message to City Hall that we are demanding accountability and are no longer interested in subsidizing government waste.
Marleen Sacks is a local attorney and Oakland resident who successfully sued the City over Measure Y violations.
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