Oakland City Council delays budget talk
on June 22, 2011
More than 200 people showed up to Tuesday night’s Oakland City Council meeting at City Hall in downtown Oakland, only to find that all budget-related items were removed from the meeting agenda at the last minute.
Councilmembers were scheduled to deliberate budget proposals and decide whether to put an $80 parcel tax on the ballot. Both items were postponed until the next council meeting, June 28.
Many in the audience, carrying banners and noisemakers, came to voice opposition to the proposed budget cuts by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan to libraries and other city services. City workers, many wearing shirts from SEIU Local 1021, also made a heavy presence, chanting “fair share, fair deal, City Council make it real.”
A major reason the budget discussion was delayed, councilmember Patricia Kernighan of District 2 said at the meeting, is because the city is still negotiating with the city employees’ unions to make concessions to help bridge the city’s $58 million deficit gap. “Those potential savings are really our only way of giving some more money so we can bring back some of the services that have been proposed to be cut in Budget A,” Kernighan said.
“Budget A” was one of three budget options Quan’s office proposed in late April, and it assumes no further contributions from city employees, as well as the failure to collect the parcel tax, which would raise about $11 million for the city’s general fund in the next five years. Under Budget A, 14 out of 18 public libraries are slated for closure and layoffs of city workers would be inevitable.
Another reason for the delay is councilmembers haven’t completed their budget counterproposals. Two such proposals, each drafted by a faction of the council, were originally expected Tuesday night. Councilmember Libby Schaaf (District 4) said “materials and a packet” about the budget proposals will be published Friday, and added that the completion of the counterproposals depend on the progress of negotiations with unions.
“Everybody knows that we don’t have a lot of money and there will be some cuts,” Quan said during the meeting. “I urge you [the city council] to let the community at least know where your priorities will be.”
In response to Quan’s comment, Council President Larry Reid (District 7) said the delay is partly due to the mayor. “I have lived in the city for 27 years now—15 years on the council,” Reid said. “We have never, ever been given three options. We could have been further long down the process [if there was one budget proposal]. ”
The Oakland City Charter requires that a balanced budget be adopted by the city council by June 30. According to a weekly newsletter sent to the public by Quan on Tuesday, even if the council voted to put a parcel tax on the ballot, the results would remain unknown until voting in November—meaning layoffs and service cuts would likely be unavoidable in the first four months of the new fiscal year.
The budget discussion aside, the city council unanimously approved the hiring of Oakland’s new City Administrator, Deanna Santana, who is now the Deputy City Manager of San Jose. In addition, the council voted 8-0 to deny the appeal made by several environmental groups to halt the controversial Oakland Zoo’s expansion plan, giving it the green light to move forward.
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