As budget cuts loom, city officials are preparing to transfer Oakland’s parking enforcement unit to the Oakland Police Department. The transfer is intended to allow the parking enforcement staff to be trained to write tickets and accident reports, as well as become a part of OPD’s booting program—placing wheel clamps on cars that have several unpaid parking citations. But the move may create problems for some parking enforcement technicians, critics say, because they will now have to pass a more intensive background check than the one required for their initial hire.
The proposed changes to the parking enforcement unit would require current parking enforcers to undergo a background check, which includes checking their fingerprints and driver’s licenses.
“If they have access to the police department, and if they have access to any information, they have to have a background check,” said Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan as he addressed the city council during last week’s meeting. “The driver’s license part is already done, but the criminal check for any kind of prohibitive information will have to be completed.”
But Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan says requiring long-term workers, who already have jobs as parking technicians, to undergo a more in-depth background check, will create problems. “I don’t think it will be acceptable to get rid of long-term people based on a background check that was never a requirement before,” Kaplan said. “It’s unprofessional and fundamentally unfair to tell someone who has done everything right to secure a career that he or she has to go and do something else—something different—than what we’ve already told them to do.”
Kaplan said that she is concerned that the new requirement may cause some people to lose their jobs. “We have existing workers who may be told they’re going to be out of a job, based on a new background check,” Kaplan said. “That doesn’t seem right.”
The changes, which are a part of the city’s new budget plans, would transfer the parking enforcement unit, which is currently a part of the Finance and Management Agency, to the Oakland Police Department. It would eliminate one job, the Parking Management position, but add an administrative service manager. These changes are supposed to save the city over $74,000 a year.
Under the transfer, the OPD will oversee the administrative service manager, parking enforcement supervisors and parking enforcement technicians. The city’s Public Works Agency will supervise parking meter repair workers and parking garages. Oakland’s Finance and Management Agency will oversee the parking meter collector supervisor and parking meter collectors.
While it might seem like having the Public Works Agency, rather than the OPD, oversee the parking enforcement technicians would be an easy fix to the background check issue, City Administrator Deanna Santana says that would mean spending more money.
“We were looking at way to eliminate simple service overhead,” said Santana. “Public Works is more expensive. Transferring the positions to OPD allowed for us to save on service central overhead costs.”
Public Works would charge the city a 23 percent overhead rate for supervising the parking enforcement technicians, said Sabrina Landreth, the budget director for the city administrator’s office. According to Santana, the city will save a little more than $1 million in central service overhead costs by having the OPD, rather than the Public Works Agency, oversee them. “That drove the decision,” said Santana.
In addition to the new changes, the parking division will be trying other ways to increase revenue. On March 1, the parking division will start a pay-by-phone program, which would allow people to use their cellphones to pay for parking at meters. The division is also considering installing debit/credit meters throughout Oakland and starting a program through which cars with three or more citations would be stickered to show that they may be subject to being booted. These plans are still being reviewed.
For now, the city is trying to smooth the transition as parking enforcement prepares to move to OPD. Santana said she is aware of the potential conflict that may result now that some city employees will have to pass a new background check to keep their jobs. “I will bring back an info memo on how the dust settles with moving this to police,” she promised the council last week.
Kaplan thinks city officials should careful that they don’t end up accidentally disqualifying workers whom they want to keep on the job. “We have to make sure we don’t lose people we’re trying not to lose,” Kaplan said.