Voters decide future of violence prevention funding

on October 25, 2010

Two measures on the ballot this November give voters the chance to decide the future of public safety funding in Oakland. If either Measure BB or Measure X passes, the city could again collect funds for a slew of public safety programs that currently have no revenue to support them.

Measures X and BB both seek a similar outcome: to let Oakland collect funds as outlined in the city’s Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act of 2004 (or Measure Y, as that act was called when voters approved it). Their two approaches differ greatly.

Measure BB changes the requirements on the Oakland Police Department that currently prevent about $19 million in Measure Y funds from being collected.   Although Measure Y levies a parcel tax, or a flat rate tax assessed on every property in Oakland, it also requires that police staffing be kept at 739 or higher before the taxes can be collected.

This summer, the city laid off 80 police officers due to a budget deficit, bringing the total number of sworn officers to 696. The decision—heatedly debated—meant that Measure Y funds could no longer be collected.

So if voters approve Measure BB (known as “the Measure Y fix”), this requirement will be stricken from the law. The parcel tax will be levied regardless of police staffing levels, allowing Measure Y funds to be collected.

Money from Measure Y initially paid for 57 problem-solving officers (often called PSOs) to work on recurring issues like burglary, vandalism, and prostitution. Of the officers laid off this summer, 60 were PSOs. What’s more, Measure Y pays for officers who run a Crime Reduction Team, as well as truancy abatement officers and members of a special victim’s unit. So, while measure BB would remove the requirement to keep 739 police officers in the force, money would be freed up to pay for more than 60 specialized officers.

Measure X takes a different approach, enacting a new parcel tax that can be used in part to recruit and train more police officers. If the increased budget allows the police force to grow, the arrival of the new officers would allow Measure Y funds to be collected again, bringing in even more funding. The parcel tax is set at a flat $360 for a single-family residence, and would be collected until 2015, when Measure Y is set to expire.

If voters approve Measure X, a side contract agreed to by the Oakland Police Officer’s Association will come into effect, requiring police officers to contribute 9% of funds toward their pensions. Police currently do not put any money toward their pensions.

With crime rates a chief concern among Oaklanders, the decision could seem simple to outsiders. But thousands of Oaklanders have already lost homes in foreclosures and short sales this year, and the local unemployment rate is 17.3%, according to the California Employment Development Department The prospect of increasing or even maintaining property taxes puts some voters in a bind.

Davis Riemer, an Oakland resident of 41 years, described himself as a voter who “fell in love with every bond measure he ever met” at a recent informational event put on by the Oakland chapter of the League of Women Voters. But Riemer said he had moral misgivings about adding more parcel taxes to the bills of financially strapped Oaklanders. In the end, Riemer said, he is supporting Measure X even though he isn’t fond of the Oakland Police Officer’s Association. “I’m furious at the way the police union has negotiated over the past 5 to 10 years,” said Riemer.

The League itself supports measures X and BB simply because public safety funding will increase if one or both of them passes. “We have a really basic position that says that local governments and school districts should have full funding,” League member Helen Hutchinson said. “The only way they have to do that is the parcel tax. It’s not great, but it’s the only way they have to get money.”

In California, city governments face tight restrictions on how they can collect taxes. Before Proposition 13 was enacted in 1978, local governments had broader control over property taxes, and could increase revenues more freely. After the new law took effect, parcel taxes emerged as a key strategy for funding new services. Hence the “alphabet soup” voters see on their ballots today. Proposition 13 also requires that measures like X and BB need a two-thirds majority to become law.

David Wolfe of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association disagrees with the League position. “We believe that first and foremost, the role of government should be to protect its citizens from harm,” Wolfe said. “That said, our legislative leaders locally should be able to prioritize resources to ensure that” those services are delivered.

Measure Y, which was written by mayoral candidate Jean Quan, does the opposite of what anti-tax groups such as Wolfe’s would like: it collects a flat rate of money to pay specifically for services not covered by a local government’s general fund. The tax does more than pay for specialized police officers: it also provides money for violence prevention programs and fire safety crews.

A recent report produced by the city administrator said that in the fiscal year of 2009-2010, the city spent over $4.5 million of Measure Y funds on violence prevention programs for young adults and adolescents, as well as for domestic violence and crisis response programs. The report states that Measure Y-funded programs contributed to a near-term decrease in crime and risk-taking behaviors, as well as an increase in employment, with the adolescents and young adults they served.

Update: A change was made to this article on 10/26/10 to reflect the fact that funds from the Measure X parcel tax could be used for a variety of police and fire safety expenditures, including police officer recruitment and training.

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5 Comments

  1. Esteban Minero on October 25, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I am tired of our city council using our property as a piggy bank to fund their mismanagement of our city. I am voting no on X and BB.



    • len raphael on October 25, 2010 at 11:30 pm

      Quoting a self serving report by the city administrator, that congratulates the city on how it spends money is just silly. Instead dig into some of the outside evaluations of the MY programs posted on the MY site and couched in very diplomatic language (since the evaluators were paid by MY) you will find a very different story. Basically, there is very little proof that the anti violence programs are the “cause” of any drops in Oakland violence.

      eg. quite possibly the same money would have been much more effective spent on say vocational training in OUSD high schools.

      The point is we don’t know but continue to spend millions on these programs. This summer the council had to stop collecting MY taxes but laid off cops instead of reducing MY funding. ie. the council took general fund money and gave it to anti violence programs instead of hiring back the cops.

      Measure Y was passed by voters only because it had minimum funding requirements for police. Measure BB removes that requirement and substitutes extremely vague “intent” lawyerly language that means the council can ignore spending any on more police.

      You have to be kidding to say a 360/year parcel tax puts only “some voters in a bind”.

      It might not be much to my fellow League of Women’s Voter members, but to many of us who have seen large drops in our income and our retirements wiped out, $360 is simply $360 that we can’t spare so that the directors of some of these anti violence programs can make their 150,000/year salaries.

      -len raphael
      temescal
      No on X
      BB: lies, lies, and more lies



  2. OakGirl on October 26, 2010 at 9:23 am

    This article is MISLEADING. There is NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, in Measure X that indicates we will get more officers. And if you think there is I suspect you have been living in Rebecca Kaplan’s Oaksterdam.



  3. MarleenLee on October 26, 2010 at 9:54 am

    There are so many errors in this story I don’t know where to start. First, Measure X is completely unrelated to Measure Y or BB – there is nothing in Measure X that would allow the City to collect taxes under Measure Y, as asserted in the second paragraph.

    Next, the crime reduction teams that were supposed to have been funded under Measure Y – those positions were never filled. There’s a lawsuit on this subject.

    Next, the agreement with OPOA does NOT require a 9% pension contribution. Rather, it calls for the police gradually beginning to start contributing to their pensions; they’d only start contributing 9% three years from now. If we reject X and BB, there will be a huge incentive to force OPOA to make that concession IMMEDIATELY, rather than wait for three years.

    Next, Jean Quan did NOT write Measure Y. While she participated in its drafting, she was not the sole author. Former Council member Danny Wan played a larger role.

    As for the City’s self-serving report on the benefits of “violence prevention” – ha! The reality is that crime started going down when the City finally – after two lawsuits – increased the size of the force at the end of 2008. Of course, it’s been going back down ever since. Passage of Measure BB will have a disastrous impact on public safety because it REMOVES any incentive to maintain the police force at a level that our police chief agrees is already too small. If voters reject BB, the City will be able to collect Measure Y taxes only if it funds baseline staffing of at least 739 officers, which is what we were promised and what we should get. Vote NO on BB!
    no on measure bb dot blogspot dot com



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