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City councilmembers continue to debate municipal ID card system

on September 14, 2011

The Oakland City Council finance committee considered several options for implementing a proposed municipal ID card system Tuesday, but ultimately decided not to forward with the proposal until an ongoing examination of costs and feasibility is completed.

The proposed card would provide Oakland residents with a valid form of identification regardless of one’s immigration status, while also offering a debit function that would allow residents to deposit, withdraw and transfer funds from an account associated with their card. Proponents say the cards would give undocumented immigrants confidence that they wouldn’t be deported if stopped by police, in addition to granting low-income residents affordable access to banking services.

The city council approved the cards in 2009 and selected a company, SF Mexico LLC, to produce the cards in 2010. However, after expressing concerns about the cost of the program and the functionality of the debit component this July, the council ordered the City Administrator’s Office to conduct a due diligence assessment of the provider — a review ensuring that it has the financial backing and other resources necessary to produce the cards — as well as identify other options for implementing the program. These could include partnering with the city of San Francisco and using its system to provide IDs to Oakland residents, producing the cards in-house after purchasing or leasing the necessary equipment, or a combination of the two.

While the full assessment will not be completed until late October, Arturo Sanchez, the assistant to the city administrator, presented an interim report at Tuesday’s committee meeting.  He said running the program through the city would be much more costly than allowing SF Mexico to move forward with production.

“The amount that we would have to charge to produce the card would be pretty expensive for the folks that we were originally intending for this card to serve,” Sanchez said. If produced in-house or in partnership with San Francisco, the city of Oakland would have to charge around $55 per card, compared to just $15 if the cards are produced by SF Mexico, Sanchez said.

Sanchez also noted that since the city administrator’s office began the assessment in August, it has so far determined that SF Mexico and its partner, Central National Bank and Trust of Enid, Oklahoma (CNB) are in good financial health and are viable for the production of the cards.

Based on the interim report, Sanchez recommended moving forward with the proposal as planned.

Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6) nevertheless expressed concern over the potential cost of the program.  “In a city where we have a tremendous deficit, we need to look at core functions of the city, not add programs that are going to add cost to us,” Brooks said. “Until we know all of the costs that are associated, and that there are no costs to the city, at this point we cannot afford to do this.”

Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1) echoed Brooks’ apprehension about the program’s costs, but ultimately spoke in favor of the proposal. “I’m a little leery that it’s actually going to be cost-recovering,” Brunner said. “But I think there are a lot of reasons to do this—specifically for people who are being ripped off, basically, when they’re cashing their paychecks by going to cash stores.”

The committee decided to leave the issue in committee until the full assessment is completed in October, at which point the city administrator’s office will present their comprehensive findings as well as submit for approval a licensing agreement between the city and SF Mexico. The committee may at that time push the proposal to the full council for a vote on the contract. Barring any unforeseen complications, the council expects to begin issuing the cards in 2012.


  1. Oakland Resident on September 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I sometimes wonder how it’s possible to both love and hate Oakland simultaneously.

    The city faces a whole host of issues that this proposal does nothing to address. Instead of addressing those problems (like crime and unemployment) the City’s leadership would like to spend time and money implementing a program that does almost nothing to benefit legal residents (I don’t believe for one bit that legal residents are going to be taking advantage of this just for the debit card feature).

    Let’s drain the City’s coffers to implement a program that benefits illegal residents of this country rather than put any effort into fixing the many existing programs we already have that aim to tackle issues that concern legal residents – sounds like an excellent plan to the Oakland’s leadership!

  2. Charles Pine on September 19, 2011 at 8:17 am

    National immigration policy needs reform, one way or the other. But of all the governments around the country, the one least qualified to do something on its own about the issue is the City of Oakland.

    Ditto for the legal status of marijuana.

    Oakland should change its logo from a tree to a clown. If there is a mess to be made, send in the Oakland clowns!

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