After an election season filled with debate over Oakland’s public safety funding woes, voters passed Measure BB Tuesday by a two-thirds majority. The measure’s approval means the city will continue collecting parking and property taxes for police, fire and violence prevention programs.
The approval of Measure BB was a relief for organizations and services that depend on Measure Y funds. “We will now be able to continue without disruption and with a renewed motivation,” said Ron Soto, executive director of the gang intervention program California Youth Outreach.
Measure BB amended the rules for funds collection under Measure Y, a tax approved by Oakland voters in 2004. Measure Y raised money for violence prevention and police and fire services, but contained a requirement that police staffing be kept at 739 or higher in order for those taxes to be collected.
Because layoffs have dropped police department levels considerably below that number with layoffs, collection of Measure Y taxes stopped in July. But the passage of Measure BB removed that staffing threshold requirement, and clears the way for continued collection and distribution of the Measure Y funds.
“If we lost the money from Measure Y, we would have to close down,” said Cherri Allison, executive director of the Family Violence Law Center. The center, which currently responds to 6,000 police reports of domestic violence a year, provides counseling, housing referrals and relocation money for victims.
“All of the things we were doing would have ended in January,” said Allison, who found out in May that the Family Violence Law Center could lose the $400,000 annual city funding upon which the center depends. “My staff is extremely grateful they will have a job.”
The passage of Measure BB was also a victory for the Oakland Police Department. Union officials said BB prevented another layoff of 122 officers in January. “We are going to see the community police officer back on the beat,” said Dom Arotzarena, Oakland Police Officer Association union president. “They can circumvent a lot of crime.“
Arozareno said he expects 63 Public Service Officer positions, or PSOs, to be added back to the police force in January.
Unlike this fall’s failed Measure X, which would have levied a $360 annual tax in Oakland for restoration of police funding, BB doesn’t provide enough funds to rehire all of the 80 officers let go last summer.
July’s layoff of 80 officers came after negotiations halted between the Oakland Police Office Association and the city. Historically, Oakland police officers have not contributed to their pension plans, and can retire with full pay at age 50. In August, OPOA members voted to contribute more to their pension plans starting in 2011, with the rate rising to 9 percent in 2010—but only if voters approved Measure X.
In March 2010, Oakland resident and attorney Marleen Sacks filed a lawsuit alleging that the city had already fallen below the mandatory Measure Y threshold and thus must stop collecting the Measure Y tax money. The city did discontinue the tax collection in July, following the layoffs of 80 officers. But council members placed Measure BB and Measure X on the November ballot in an effort to eliminate the threshold requirement problem.
Sacks said Wednesday that the approval of Measure BB had not satisfied her distress. “The city has been misleading people into thinking that if BB passes, the police force would expand by 63,” Sacks said Wednesday. But Oakland residents have heard such promises before, Sacks said, and then been disappointed when officers were laid off or not hired at promised numbers.
Religious leaders addressed the city’s Public Safety Committee last month, asking officers to return to negotiations that might result in more office hiring. “We need the officers, but we don’t have the money,” Bishop Frank Pinkard of Mosswood’s Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church said to the committee, while standing with representatives from four other faith-based organizations including the Men of Valor Academy and the Allen Temple Baptist Church.
The statements came amid citywide discussion of funding problems for Oakland’s police force. Historically, Oakland police officers have not contributed to their pension plans and were able to retire with full pay at age 50. But this summer the city laid-off 80 officers and announced it could only guarantee police officers still on the force one-year job security.
Mayoral candidate and council member Jean Quan said that paying for the police department takes up 40 percent of the city’s budget, and that Oakland police officers are the highest paid in the nation. She expressed concern that if officers do not pay into their pension plans, then cuts would have to be made elsewhere, which may include laying off additional officers in January.
“Compared to other departments, we are paid well,” Arotzarena said. “However, when you compare ourselves to other cities locally, we’re average, given the median house price in the Bay Area—$500,000.”
The police department has been whittled down to approximately 670 officers, the fewest since 1994, and the clock is ticking as many of the laid-off officers are finding jobs outside of Oakland. “These are two-year veterans, very qualified officers, and we lost them,” said Arotzarena. “About 40 of them have jobs already, in Hayward, Mountain View and San Francisco.”
Sacks argued that the passage of BB will amount to another blank check for the city. “We didn’t spend any money educating people trying fight this campaign,” Sacks said. “I wish that angry taxpayers like me would be more organized, but we don’t have the automatic cash flow that the unions and the nonprofits do. It was not a fair fight.”
Correction: Marleen Sacks filed her second lawsuit in March, not April of 2010. Dom Arotzarena is the correct spelling. Oakland North apologizes for the error.