From Fruitvale to Rockridge, Oakland North reporters spoke recently to residents about the city council elections. We asked everyone the same question: If you could speak directly to the candidates, what would you like to know? We delivered the most frequent of the residents’ questions, in person to the seven candidates for the District 1 City Council seat. Their edited answers, one question at a time, will appear in Oakland North every week between now and Election Day.
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The way I would deal with Oakland’s deficit is the same way I would deal with the public health department’s projected deficit. We minimized expenditures wherever we could, and we maximized revenues wherever we could. So it’s a balance of controlling your costs and at the same time making sure you bring in every dollar you can bring into the system.Read more about the candidate here.
You either figure out how to raise revenue or you figure out how to cut costs. That's how it works. The Len Raphael way of looking at it is, when you look at how small a percentage of sales tax comes to the city and relatively how low our business tax is, and also when transfer taxes on real estate sales are not doing that well compared to the bubble, we don't have any way to raise enough tax revenue in my lifetime.to make a serious dent in that $2.5 billion.And if you were going to raise parcel tax you'd be talking about $3000 or $4000 resident.
The only possible way you could make a significant dent in that is to cut total costs - and personnel costs are by far the biggest part of our budget.Read more about the candidate here.
“If some candidate somewhere says to you,‘We just have to grow our way out of it’...then they’re living in Alice in Wonderland. Nevertheless, growing our way out of it is part of the solution. Some of it’s going to happen on its own. The economy is starting to pick up. We’ve had more tax revenue come in, close to $11 million earlier in the year. That was unexpected. Revitalizing the San Pablo corridor in northwest Oakland is a good idea. I want to bring more clean tech biz to Oakland. Oakland’s a logical place to do that; we are less expensive to lease land than Silicon Valley or SF. We have Oakland airport right here. We have a lot of NGOs.Read more about the candidate here.
The general fund is too small for a city like Oakland. It’s about bringing in more business tax and sales tax to pay for police. It’s also about lifting the 14.1% of people out of unemployment. One alternative is a new parcel tax. The last two parcel taxes have been rejected, overwhelmingly. The Chamber of Commerce and another group recently did a poll to show that there is not the support in the electorate for a parcel tax, because they do not trust the city council. So what’s another source of funding? More union concessions? The unions of Oakland have made considerable concessions over the last 4 years. We have workers now who have up to 20 furlough days a year. If we can implement a well designed, thoughtful economic development strategy in two to three years, it may be possible to go for another parcel tax.Read more about the candidate here.
In theory, technically, the Oakland budget is not in deficit. It’s in balance--at least by law it’s supposed to be--and that wouldn’t be a deficit unless you felt that we needed the things that we cut from the budget. I agree with that. I consider it deficient. The place we should probably should do that is our business taxes. I am in favor of taxing the Port--maybe a per-container fee. I would like to see a scaled business tax that is based on actual receipts. Take the gross receipts of rental income, subtract the parcel taxes, subtract the mortgage payments, and pay a percentage based on the net. That would be a much fairer tax system. We need to probably be raising about 15 percent more from certain sectors across the city.Read more about the candidate here.
Balancing the budget is a question of: what are the priorities? Do you want to cut libraries? Senior centers? Parks and rec.? What are you going to do about police and fire? They cost so much money…basically 75 percent of the budget. That’s what city council has to do. They set priorities, and there is only a limited amount of money. In the last couple of years, I think the mayor and the city council did a fairly good job. It meant horrendous cuts in services, and furlough days, so we suffered because of that. The police officers gave back. For the first time they took a nine percent cut, and they agreed to start paying toward the pension fund. All those things added together, somehow we balanced the budget. This year we had a very small increase in tax revenue… $11 million is good, but it’s small. We are always on the edge, and will be for some time in the foreseeable future.Read more about the candidate here.
The thing about the budget that doesn't seem acceptable is that when the decisions are made, it seems like this happens out of sight, behind closed doors. The group of four will come back with a proposal, because four people are less than the quorum. I'd like to see a new practice started. That is a sunset- every two years to have a practice that you sunset the budget and start over again. Look at it in terms of priorities and build it from the bottom up to see if the budget we're taking for granted and adjusting makes any sense at all. I think we've been on autopilot for too long.Read more about the candidate here.