City Council discusses layoffs and department mergers, protesters disrupt meeting
on January 26, 2012
The Oakland City Council began the process of scaling down the city budget last night in response to the projected loss of $28 million in redevelopment funding. The council will not vote on the amended budget introduced by Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana until the next meeting on Tuesday, January 31.
In a drastic attempt to balance the budget, Quan and Santana proposed that the city lay off 105 full time equivalent positions, decrease funding for several departments and organizations, and cutting or merging administrative departments to reduce city costs. Some 2,500 city workers across a wide number of city agencies and departments were sent layoff notices last week, which stated that if the employees did not receive a letter rescinding the offer by February 3, they could consider themselves discharged.
A large crowd of city workers and their supporters thronged inside the city council’s chambers, shouting and heckling the councilmembers over their remarks, and disrupting the meeting. A vast majority expressed their discontent over the planned layoffs, and the hurried manner in which city officials had announced them.
“There is nothing in the law that requires you to lay off people in the manner that you are doing, nothing in the law that requires you to change the city’s organizational culture,” said Jeff Levine, Vice President of Oakland’s chapter of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. “Doesn’t it make sense to draw the reserves long enough to give the people proper notice?”
A number of Oakland residents urged the city to allow its citizens to participate in the cost-cutting process. “We’ve been there to support you. That’s why your reserves are up by the tune of 15 percent,” said Dwight McElroy, president of the Service Employees International Union. “Now you need to work with us.”
Terry Brennand, a member of the SEIU, brought a copy of a letter from John Perez, speaker of the California State Assembly, and said that the dissolution of Oakland’s redevelopment agency does not absolve the agency or its successor from certain obligations to former employees. Oakland plans to close the redevelopment agency by February 1, and transfer all of its remaining assets to the successor agency on the same day. “The legislation anticipated that pension obligations, providing notice prior to layoffs, unemployment payments or other obligations under collective bargaining agreements would be enforceable obligations,” stated the letter.
The city had previously sent the 2,500 notices last week so that when the final layoffs were announced, it could circumvent the additional 10 day notice. Perez’s letter prompted the council to debate this decision at Wednesday night’s meeting, after Brennand handed out copies to the mayor and some councilmembers. Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan proposed a motion to add $1 million for layoff and notice costs, $2 million for leave, and $4.5 million for unemployment benefits to the proposed plan, to be payable from redevelopment funds before the dissolution of the agency. The motion passed, with only Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) opposing it.
Members of the Occupy Oakland general assembly, who had been holding a meeting outside the city hall tried to force their way into the chambers around 7 pm, but were forced out by policemen standing guard at the main doors. A group of about 30 or so members then made their way to the galleries in the chamber, and began to shout “No more layoffs” and “Shame!” until the council decided to take a 15-minute recess. Police officers asked the masked protestors to either leave or remove their masks, to which they complied peacefully.
During the recess, the protestors discussed Quan’s proposed budget by employing the traditional mic-check routine inside the chamber. They refused to go up to the mic at the speaker’s podium. The council returned in fifteen minutes, although Mayor Quan decided not to return to the chambers, and left the premises flanked by police officers for protection. After an initial ruckus, during which the protestors again began to shout “You suck!” and “We’ll shut the city down!” a few members of the public encouraged them to let the council discuss the budget peacefully.
During the first hour, a large number of senior citizens also crowded the balconies and the rear seats, fearful of the cuts the city administration would make to the senior centers. Santana assured them that the senior centers would face no cuts, after which the crowd gradually trickled out.
After the recess, the council returned to discussing the proposed budget cuts city faces a $12.4 million deficit in fiscal year 2011-12, and a $28 million dollar deficit in fiscal year 2012-13. However, the city will also be receiving funds from two new revenue streams – a “wind down” cost for the elimination of the redevelopment agency, and a direct project cost for implementing the enforceable payment schedule. This reduces the deficit to $8.1 million in FY 2011-12, and approximately $20.3 million in FY 2012-13, and the city plans to make cuts equal to those amounts in the proposed budget.
The budget proposes that 105 full time equivalent positions be laid off, which translates to 81 actual positions and 43 vacancies being eliminated. It also suggests that library services and public safety services be preserved. No sworn police officers would be laid off, although one administrative position in the police and fire departments is being merged. The Community and Economic Development Agency would also be dissolved and its functions distributed among four different departments, while certain administrative functions in Finance and Management, Human Resources, Information Technology and the city administrator’s office would be merged into one Administrative Services Department.
The City Attorney’s Office, along with the offices of the council members and the mayor, would face a reduction of 40 percent of the funding they received from the redevelopment agency. Positions would be eliminated from the IT and human resources departments and the City Attorney and city clerk’s offices. Parks and Recreation and Public Works would also face significant cuts of 40 percent.
This last amendment enraged many members of the public at the meeting last night, who spoke in favor of letting the parks retain their funds. The Oakland Zoo and the Museum would be affected drastically by these cuts, but Children’s Fairyland would be hit the hardest, since it already receives a small amount compared to the other two.
Fairyland’s Director C.J. Hirschfield spoke at the meeting saying that the park had already lost a lot of money. “Our biggest grant from the San Francisco Foundation went from $25,000 to $5,000 a year, and we lost funding for our Head Start project,” she said. “We ask that Fairyland’s 40 percent cut be rescinded.”
Later during the budget discussion, Councilmember Nancy Nadel (District 3) inquired whether the city administrator would be willing to voluntarily give up a portion of her pay, given that city workers with significantly lower pays were facing layoffs and salary reductions. Santana replied that the proposal did not talk about cuts to administrators’ salaries. “I have an employment contract and I would like to consult my attorney,” she said, to loud booing from the crowd.
The meeting ended with the council agreeing to meet again in closed session to discuss the amendments to the budget before the vote next Tuesday.
The article originally stated that Councilmember Nadel asked the city attorney if she would voluntarily reduce her salary. Ms. Nadel had posed the question to the City Administrator, Deanna Santana.
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