When it comes to Oakland, people generally agree on what the city’s major problems are — after all, they often show up loud, raw and in your face — much like the electric energy that endears one to the Town. There also is a general consensus on Oakland values: strength, resilience, authenticity, loyalty and a Warrior’s spirit, a few. What’s less clear is a plan to move us from the same-old, redundant rhetoric and practice that creates the aforementioned problems in the first place.
Data from a 2018 survey conducted by the City of Oakland shows that residents overwhelmingly want to address our affordable housing crisis, keep longtime residents in their homes, clean and pave our streets, and ensure that in this booming economy with cranes punctuating the skyline, that no one is forced to live on the streets. Unfortunately identifying issues and agreeing about our values does not solve the crisis we face today. To do this, we must make accurate assessments and fund real solutions.
It is commonly said that a budget is more than a collection of numbers, it’s a statement of values. Currently, the Oakland City Council is looking at two budgets: one from the mayor, the other from City Council President Rebecca Kaplan. As Council members consider which budget to pass, they will undoubtedly look at the values expressed in each budget. They must also look carefully at the specific funding each budget offers, and the assumptions made therein.
Every year since 2011-12, in a longstanding practice that has since become the new normal in Oakland, the projected operating revenues have been LESS than the actual collected revenue by an average of $45 million. These monies go quietly into the budget by calculated under-projections, and are snuck out of the budget to fund pet projects without transparency or accountability. Since 2011, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in this manner without community input and oversight — right from under the community’s nose.
This is a common practice across all sorts of municipalities. But not everyone has Oakland’s values — or Oakland’s needs. Imagine what could be done with an additional $45 million annually. We could pave streets, provide housing protections and homeless services, and fill the hundreds of long-standing city job vacancies that provide direct services and employment opportunities for our residents.
The mayor’s budget bolsters a false sense of austerity and starves vital city departments in order to free up money for others. One stark example is that the mayor’s budget cuts “freeze” park workers while continuing to pay millions of dollars per year in budget-busting police overtime with little-to-no meaningful oversight or consequences. The new Race & Equity Department, born straight from Oakland’s values, currently receives .1 percent of the general purpose fund; housing and homeless services receive less than 5 percent, while 45 percent is projected to be spent on OPD this year.
Meanwhile, The ReFund Oakland Community-Labor Coalition has come together to craft a People’s Budget. This budget has been largely embraced by Council President Kaplan and reflects not only the desires of Oakland residents, it also addresses the deep neglect, inequity, and disinvestment visible throughout the city and seeks to correct it.
For those interested in moving from platitudes to practice, please join us for a rally on Monday, June 10th at 4 p.m. outside City Hall. Council members will have the opportunity to pass these budget amendments the very same evening. Just think how amazing it would be to have a progressive roadmap that actually moves us toward the city Oaklanders deserve — President Kaplan’s budget does just that.
RSVP to the Rally for the People’s Budget here: http://bit.ly/OurValuesOurBudget
Carroll Fife is the director of ACCE Action, a member organization of The ReFund Coalition, which also includes EBASE, EBHO, SEIU 1021, Street Level Health Project (SLHP), Causa Justa::Just Cause, IFPTE Local 21, Oakland Tenants Union (OTU), CURYJ, the Anti Police Terror Project (APTP) and many others! Follow us at Facebook.com/ReFundOakland