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You Tell Us: Oakland voters should reject Measure Z

on October 30, 2014

Ten years ago, the city claimed it was broke, and that there was a public safety safety crisis.  They asked voters to approve a “temporary” parcel tax that would last 10 years to lower crime.  Sound familiar?  After 10 years of the failed Measure Y, the public safety crisis is obviously far worse.  This alone is sufficient reason not to support Measure Z, the proposed successor.  We can see that simply throwing money at a problem will not make it go away.  But the story gets worse.  Measure Y, unlike the proposed Measure Z, was not supposed to just throw money at the problem.  Specific promises were made.  Measure Y promised baseline staffing of 739 officers as a precondition of collecting the tax, and the money for police was supposed to go largely for dedicated “problem solving officers,” one for each beat.  It promised full staffing of the police department at 803 officers.   It promised annual audits required by law.  It promised meaningful oversight and evaluations.  It promised that the money would only be used for designated  purposes.  Over the last 10 years, the City has continually and repeatedly violated those promises.

For years after Measure Y passed, police staffing went down, rather than up.  The city failed to fill the community policing positions.  Even when they were filled, officers were repeatedly pulled off their beats to deal with issues elsewhere in the city, sometimes for months at a time.  The city spent over $8 million of Measure Y funds for unauthorized purposes, resulting in a lawsuit.  It never performed the mandatory audits until I prevailed in my lawsuit, and the city was then forced to do them.  The oversight committee failed to address, or even notice, the ongoing and repeated violations.

After briefly achieving a police force of the promised 803 officers, the city promptly laid off 80 officers, and the force declined steadily, eventually to a low of 611. Crime, meanwhile, has skyrocketed.  This is not a track record that the city can afford to repeat.

Unfortunately, Measure Z is far worse than the original Measure Y. It costs more, and delivers nothing. It doesn’t promise a single additional police officer.  The “baseline staffing” for police referred to (678)  is deceptive, and contains exceptions big enough to drive a truck through.  Moreover, most policing experts agree Oakland needs closer to 900-1000 officers. Why should Oakland residents, who already pay amongst the highest taxes in the state, be asked to pay extra for far below basic services? Measure Z also eliminates the previously guaranteed problem solving officers, sounding a death knell for real community policing.

As usual, city officials are using threats to coerce voters into approving this misguided measure. They claim that without Measure Z, the funds will be lost, and staffing could go down even more.  But voters have a choice and can demand that city officials come back next year with a new proposal that doesn’t cost more, will truly be temporary, and contains guaranteed increases in police staffing that will make a real difference in public safety.  Voters should not be asked to reward financial mismanagement and broken promises, or settle for a measure that doesn’t do nearly enough to make meaningful improvements to public safety.

Marleen Sacks has lived in Oakland for 15 years, and is an attorney and public safety advocate who twice sued the City of Oakland over repeated violations of Measure Y.  


You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to We’d love to hear from you!

All essays reflect the opinions of their authors, and not of the Oakland North staff or the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Oakland North reserves the right to edit submissions for length, clarity and spelling/grammar. Oakland North does not pay for the the publication of opinion pieces. You Tell Us submissions must be written in civil and non-offensive language. We do not publish hate speech, libelous material, unsubstantiated allegations or rumors, or personal attacks on individuals or groups.


  1. M N on October 30, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    “Ten years ago, the city claimed it was broke, and that there was a public safety safety crisis” — these were not *claims*, they were statements of fact. The city *was* broke, and there *was* a public safety crisis. It’s hard to take this piece seriously when it tries to rewrite history with its very first sentence.

  2. Haggie on October 30, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    The only budget measure that I will ever vote for is the one that ends all future budget measures.

    If we decide policy by budget measure, why do we need to elect politicians?

  3. Michael Ubell on October 30, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    the author says that Z costs more and delivers nothing. This is a misstatement of facts. Z costs the same as it would if Y did not expire and delivers funding for 50 officers and public safety programs. The claim that it is worse than Y because it recognizes that there could be a financial melt down out of control of the city is backwards. Measure Y is worse because it did not provide for what happened in 2008 and required a second ballot measure to correct it.. I agree we need more than 900 officers. The author sugessts that the first thing we should do to get ther is to drop funding for 50 officers. The author has never stated a plan for getting more officers.

    • Marleen on October 31, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Michael – you never asked for my plan. I actually sat down with two separate council members and told them specifically what the measure would need to include for me to support it, and my recommendations for how the City could realistically improve staffing. Clearly, the City’s own plans have NOT worked – we have 25 fewer officers today than we did 10 years ago. The proof is in the pudding.

      I am not calling for cutting funding for 50 officers. I am calling for rejecting this flawed measure and holding out for something better. In terms of a plan to “get more officers,” step one would be a requirement in the measure that we get more officers. The language in Measure Z has no such requirement.

  4. D on November 6, 2014 at 12:34 am

    The salary of Oakland officers is another controversial issue. Police Officer Entry Level current annual salary is $69,912 to $98,088, the second highest in the country.[27] Additional pay increases are granted to higher-ranking officers. Average total compensation for an OPD employee is $162,000.[28] In 2012, 179 Oakland police officers took home over $200,000 in total compensation.[29] Three patrol officers, a sergeant, and a captain each took home over $300,000.[29] In 2011 the Police Department’s costs make up 44% of the city’s $400 million general budget.[29]

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