Amidst accusations of electioneering, the Oakland City Council approved legislation that would determine how funds from a proposed $80 parcel tax would be spent if Measure I passes next month.
The legislation, authored by Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan, Councilmember Pat Kernighan (District 2) and Council President Larry Reid (District 7), determines how the $60 million collected from the tax under Measure I would be spent over the next five years, and allocates a majority of the funds toward public safety items.
The proposal would give the Oakland Police Department $6.2 million, most of which would go towards hiring or rehiring police officers. It also allotted $1.5 million to roads, $1.2 million to city gardeners, and $600,000 to street lighting for the purpose of crime prevention. If the tax passes, the city would begin collecting revenue in the fall of 2012.
The council approved the legislation by a vote of 5-2, with councilmembers Desley Brooks (District 6) and Jane Brunner (District 1) voting against it, while Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente was absent. Kaplan said the legislation would give voters clarity about where the money from the parcel tax would be spent. Residents are currently voting on Measure I through mail-order ballots. Voting ends November 15.
Because of the ongoing election, Brooks was vehement in her opposition, saying the timing was highly suspect because voters were simultaneously voting on the ballot measure, and this was an attempt to influence their votes. Brooks, who has previously voiced her opposition to the parcel tax, said it was dishonest because the legislation was non-binding and the council could vote to change the allocation of funds whenever it pleased. “Is it possible for the council to change its mind the day after the ballot measure passes?” Brooks asked repeatedly, until a representative from the city attorney’s office confirmed that it was within the council’s rights to reallocate the funds once the measure passed.
“The budget resolution is no less binding than a budget, and I am in no way saying how people should vote,” said Kaplan, after being accused of campaigning for the measure to pass by Brooks. “It is our
ethical and moral obligation to clarify how the money will be spent if the tax passes.”
Mayor Jean Quan said that the city had made drastic cuts to city services and personnel, and needed the tax to balance the budget, when Brooks interrupted her to to ask the city attorney’s representative if Quan’s behavior could be termed electioneering. An exasperated Kernighan then said, “If we’re going to let everybody speak willy-nilly, Vice Mayor Brooks was electioneering quite well.”
Kernighan then continued, saying it was unlikely the council would change how the money was allocated. “The council could come back and change its vote, but we would be doing it at our own political peril,” she said. She went on to defend the measure and its allocation on public safety items. “Did the city tighten its belt first? Damn right, we did,” she said. “We have been cutting $80 million out of the budget every year and every city employee has given up ten percent of their pay.”
Supervising City Attorney Mark Morodomi confirmed the council’s right to discuss budget allocations, but critics, including council members and speakers, continued to argue the council should have specified in the ballot measure how it would be spent. Marlene Sacks, a member of Oaklanders against the Parcel Tax, said the council had not given proper notice about how the funds would be allocated. “The issue is purely illegal,” she said. “It is electioneering.”
But supporters said the tax is the only way to provide money the city desperately needs. “Where are we going to get the funds to support the services that have been cut in the city?” said Jeff Levine of Local 21, a union that represents professional and technical engineers. “What’s important is to be above partisan politics and to come together and do what’s good for the city.”
The city council also put another contested issue to rest this week by approving Quan’s decision to reappoint Victor Uno and appoint Jakada Imani as commissioners for The Port of Oakland. At the city council meeting two weeks ago, supporters of Imani and current port commissioner Margaret Gordon showed up in hordes to back their candidate. Quan’s decision to appoint Imani instead of reappointing Gordon did not go down well with many of the speakers and council members, who voiced their displeasure at both council meetings.
The vote to confirm Uno and Imani took place Tuesday night without hearing the 63 people who had signed up to speak, after councilmembers said they had already heard enough on the issue in the previous council meeting. The council agreed unanimously to reappoint Uno, who has been serving as commissioner since 2007, and appoint Imani with a vote of 5-3. After the vote, supporters of Gordon spoke to the council, and railed against this decision, at the same time as Quan was swearing in Uno and Imani outside the council chambers amidst a crowd of supporters.
“My work is not over,” Gordon said in an interview on the chamber’s steps. “I was doing work before this happened, and I will continue doing it.” Gordon seemed disgruntled by what she viewed as a switch of allegiances by the council members as she left the chambers. “The same people who are endorsing Jakada are the people who endorsed me years ago,” she said.
As the meeting drew to a close, Reid said he was not in favor of the decision, and asked people to stand and honor Gordon’s work during her term.