More than 300 people convened at the North Oakland Senior Center on Saturday morning to share their concerns – most of them budget-related – with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Jane Brunner.
As the third town hall meeting in a series of seven—each in a different council district—Saturday’s event followed the same format as before, which includes breakout sessions that focus on top priorities in nine different areas, such as public safety, youth and schools, public works and economic development, and zoning. Participants could join one of the groups to tell the facilitators—mostly officials from corresponding city departments—what they care about the most.
“We want you to know that we’re trying to reorganize the government and make it closer to the community and more transparent,” Quan said. “We need everyone to participate.”
Quan only had time to join one of the group discussions, where she was surrounded by seniors worried about the city closing senior centers to save money.
“I have no plan to close any senior center, I don’t know where the rumor came from,” Quan said. But she added that senior centers wouldn’t be immune from cuts while the city is facing a $46 million deficit.
“I don’t want to see anything destroyed,” Quan said. “I could close the center but it would be very hard to open it again. That’s why I’d rather cut back some hours.”
Quan said her staff would record all the topics collected from the sessions and come up with both short-term and long-term solutions. Throughout the meeting, organizers and volunteers also asked all participants to sign their names and contact information for future feedback.
After sessions in different rooms, the crowd reconvened in the center’s auditorium to listen as Quan addressed the city’s budget.
“Now we have to cut everything in some way,” said Quan, who added that Oakland is facing the most difficult time in decades as it reels from the effects of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
To balance the budget, Quan said, the city will have to ask its employees to contribute more while eliminating lower-priority services.
“My plan is not to lay off any more officers,” Quan said. But she added that since spending on police takes up 50 percent of the city’s general purpose fund, it’s impossible to bridge the shortfall “without bringing down the cost of officers.”
To achieve that, Quan said she’s trying to allow civilian groups to take crime reports and collect evidence for burglaries. And if some officers need to be on furlough to reduce the overall cost, the police will keep the 280 patrol officers by backfilling with staff from other units.
Quan also proposed a parcel tax of $80 per single-family unit, which would generate an estimated $11 million each year in the next five years.
“I wouldn’t want to be in Jean’s seat at this moment,” said Brunner, The city, she said, “is not going to be able to do one-time fixes anymore.”