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.
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