Court rules Oakland did not misspend Measure Y funds

On Friday, a state appeals court panel in San Francisco ruled that Oakland did not misspend millions of dollars generated from a 2004 police staffing parcel tax.

Passed by voters in 2004, Measure Y imposed a $90-a-year parcel tax to pay for problem solving officers, or PSOs, and violence-prevention programs.

In 2008, Oakland attorney and resident Marleen Sacks charged that the city had violated the requirements of the measure by failing to maintain a level of 802 officers. Sacks demanded that the city repay $15 million in funds that she said were misspent. Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that neither Sacks nor other Oakland taxpayers were owed refunds by the city.

Later in 2009, in response to a second suit filed by Sacks, Roesch ruled that the city had illegally used the funds in 2008 to hire new patrol officers, and that the city and would have to repay about $10 million into the Measure Y fund for expenses used to train officers who were not placed into Measure Y-funded positions.

Friday’s appellate court decision reversed that part of Roesch’s ruling. In the 3-0 ruling, Justice Robert Dondero stated, “We conclude that the city did not make an impermissible use of Measure Y funds by indirectly hiring and training new officers to replace veteran officers who were assigned to the neighborhood beat positions added by the ordinance.”

In a press release sent out today, Oakland City Attorney John Russo said the city complied with Measure Y requirements by using the funds to hire new officers for the patrol division, which allowed senior officers to be transferred to community policing positions.

Russo’s press release said the court’s decision saves Oakland from having to cut $10 milion from its general fund. “This is a huge decision for a city in Oakland’s financial condition,” he said.

In November, voters passed Measure BB, which allows the city to keep collecting the $90-a-year parcel tax and eliminates the minimum police staffing requirement. But this amendment also means that the Oakland Police Department will have to pull 57 officers and six sergeants from other units and assign them to community policing positions.

Oakland laid off 80 officers in July to help balance its budget, but as a result of retirements and officers leaving for other cities, its force is expected to decrease significantly in the next year.

Correction: Marleen Sacks’ first lawsuit was filed in 2008.

2 Comments

  1. Nicole:

    My first lawsuit was filed in 2008, not 2009. It alleged that the City had illegally spent approximately $15 million in Measure Y funds for recruiting and hiring of officers who were not placed in Measure Y positions. The judge sided with me, ruling that using Measure Y funds in this manner was illegal, and ordered that the general fund refund the Measure Y fund the amount of illegally spent funds. The City appealed this ruling, and that’s what this court of appeal decision related to. No ruling has been made on my second lawsuit. A hearing is scheduled for March, 2011.

  2. The verdict is a TKO for city officials but it is not a victory for voters
    who were persuaded by the officials in mailings and speechifying to originally vote for Measure Y based on the officials’ assurance it would guarantee cop staffing at about 830.

    We stupid non attorney voters didn’t read the small print in the ballot
    proposition that the court has now ruled means, that the literal wording of Measure Y controls. The wording only promised
    to “appropriate” funds for more cops, not actually hire more cops.

    even a former city council member who helped draft Measure Y said that it was always the intent that appropriate = hire.

    The appellate court’s words “We neither intend to denigrate petitioner’s motives nor suggest that her commendable efforts failed to have any impact. We realize that petitioner’s action may have induced and compelled the City to comply with Measure Y – or at least do so with greater haste, and with audit procedures that facilitate more transparency – and for that reason the residents of the City have cause to be appreciative of her litigation.”

    Lesson learned: Ballot propositions sponsored by elected officials are no more
    to be trusted than propositions by any other special interest group.

    -len raphael, temescal

    Call it a victory for the city, but it will only raised the level of mistrust of
    residents for their own officials.

    -len raphael, temescal

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