The Oakland City Council passed a budget Tuesday night that will eliminate 80 city jobs. But thanks to a last-minute proposal from four councilmembers, funding for art and culture programs that had been on the chopping block was spared.
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, Children’s Fairyland and the Oakland Zoo—which all faced a 40 percent cut in funding in a budget proposal submitted last week—had their grants restored for the remaining fiscal year and for the next. Funding for art grants and symphony in schools also had their funding restored.
“I wanted to keep the programs that our kids and our families go to,” said councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1).
“We are turning this city around, and we’re turning it around through restaurants, and we’re turning it around through the arts, the art murmur, the galleries,” Brunner continued as she was drowned out by applause from the audience.
The council voted 6 to 1 with one abstention to pass the amended budget that came in response to losses of $28 million of redevelopment money for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, after the state axed the programs this year. Patricia Kernighan (District 4) was the only councilmember to vote against the amended budget, and Councilmember Nancy Nadel (District 3) abstained from voting. The budget was crafted by city administrator Deanna Santana, and first introduced at a special city council meeting last week.
The budget introduced by Santana last week had much of the same framework as the one that was passed Tuesday night, with the same number of layoffs, which are mostly aimed at management, and departments in the city being reorganized and consolidated. However, Santana’s previous budget proposal also included cuts to the 211 call center, neighborhood service coordinators and the art and culture programs.
In response, the city council chambers were packed with a standing-room only crowd of city workers and community members who wanted to voice their displeasure with the proposed cuts to the arts programs. Many in the chambers were city employees, including union workers wearing purple SEIU shirts. One SEIU sign read, “Keep the Oak tree alive.”
A long line of speakers praised Peralta Hacienda, with many wearing stickers that implored the council not to cut funding for the historical ranch in Fruitvale. The Peralta House “is helping people learn and understand, and that’s the way to create healthier communities, to end the violence in these communities,” Fruitvale resident Victor Moreno told the council.
About an hour into the meeting, an amended budget proposal from councilmembers Brunner, Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5), Desley Brooks (District 6) and Libby Schaaf (District 4) began circulating through the chambers. The amended budget proposes paying for the programs which had their funding restored with new revenue streams, including the sale of the Champion Street Fire Station, which the budget stated will bring in $325,000 for the next fiscal year, and the elimination of funding for neighborhood watch programs.
The amended budget also included a two-week notice for city employees being laid off. About 2,500 city employees received layoff notices in mid-January which stated that if the notice was not rescinded by February 3, they would lose their jobs.
Councilmembers apologized to city workers for the confusion and hostile atmosphere the notices may have caused. “It created an environment over the past two weeks that wasn’t necessary,” Brooks said. “I think we all regret that.”
As the only councilmember to vote against the budget proposal, which included the amendments, Kernighan complained that the amendments came in late and said she did not agree with the city positions that were being added and cut in the amendments. Kernighan also raised questions about future “one-time” money in the budget, like the sale of the fire station. “It’s not a great idea to use one-time money for ongoing services,” she said.
Mayor Jean Quan thanked the council and community members for helping craft a budget that saved some city jobs and services. Quan said she was concerned about specific job cuts—the city’s one graphic designer and the urban economic analyst position would be eliminated—and asked for more dialogue to try to bring those jobs back in the future. “I would really like to bring these positions back,” Quan said. “It’s going to be very hard to live without them.”
Dwight McElroy, the president of the Oakland chapter of SEIU 1021, said in an interview after the meeting that union workers were “angry” at having to face layoffs after giving concessions during the budget negotiations last summer. He added, though, “anger doesn’t solve crisis” and appreciated that the city council appeared to act on their concerns.
“We’re happy the city administration and city council recognize this is a union town,” he said, “and any discussion should be inclusive of the workforce if you want to come up with a superior product.”