Budget Diaries 2: No End In Sight
on June 17, 2009
By ALEXIA UNDERWOOD
In the beginning, a little after 3:00 p.m., the council chambers were crowded and the air was thick with anticipation. Two television stations jockeyed for camera room, residents lined up against the walls and some people found seats in the balcony to watch the Oakland City Council discuss a new alternative budget proposal to Mayor Dellum’s much maligned proposal for 2009-2011 on Tuesday.
But by 11 p.m., after countless speakers and hours spent quibbling over parking meter fines, the cameramen had left and despite the June 30 deadline and an $83 million deficit, many decisions were put off.
As Council member Jean Quan read off the items altered in the new proposal put forth last week by her and council members Jane Brunner, Pat Kernighan and Ignacio De La Fuente, the impact of the community’s input – showcased over hours of sobering testimony earlier this month – was clear.
Libraries would stay open five days a week. The mayor’s staff would be cut by about a third. Rangers would survive to patrol the parks another day. Pay-Go funds would be suspended for the current year. A 5 percent pay cut for city council members would go into effect. Parking meter hours would be extended to 8 p.m. downtown.
However, the new proposal was not received with open arms.
“Just so you know, I’m not in favor of this budget,” said council member Desley Brooks before launching into exactly how and why.
“It’s not a balanced budget, but I’ll speak to you later,” said council member Nancy Nadel.
“There are some items that the four of you presented to all of us that I can’t live with.
Between now and when we have to vote, how do we get our items in for consideration?” asked council member Laurence Reid.
Brunner sought to bring the divisive comments to a close. Well, she said, “it’s put out here, we’re not voting on it tonight. We’ll vote on it in two weeks.”
In one of the few significant moves of the evening, council members agreed to send layoff notices to all employees slated to be laid off and not saved by the alternative budget. “Every week we delay costs hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said council member Quan.
The budget office could not be reached for comment to determine the exact number of workers who will receive notices beginning today, Wednesday, June 17.
During one of the department briefings, council member Kaplan departed from the usually brusque questions and asked Neighborhood Services Manager Claudia Albano her opinion on the proposal to shift Neighborhood Services Coordinators to another department to cut costs.
Albano, quietly stating her opinion, disagreed with the proposal and listed several reasons why it wouldn’t make sense.
The room went very quiet as all eyes turned to the lectern. A city employee in the audience who had his head on the seat in front of him sat up.
“Wow,” he whispered.
Some 66 speakers put in cards to speak on the alternative budget proposal.
Supporters of Senior centers, Libraries, Unions (Local 1021) and Neighborhood Services Coordinators were out in full force, waiting patiently in lines and ceding minutes to each other with apparent abundant good will.
An aide frequently adjusted the microphone on the lectern as young and old Oakland residents of all ethnicities and ages spoke out.
This was a scene unlikely to go away soon, council members said.
“In a way, we’re going to be working on the budget all year,” said council member Quan. “I think there’s a good chance we’ll be readjusting it when we come back in September.”
“I think we’re going to be talking budget for the next year,” Brunner said.
This go around adjourned at 1:12 a.m.
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: email@example.com.