In the aftermath of the victory of Oakland’s safety Measure Y, supporters were calling it the result of a “measured, reasonable compromise” while progressive opponents said they lost because of defections from organizations and politicians “we would have expected to be fighting on our side.”
The parcel tax and parking tax surcharge measure is expected to add $19.9 million in new revenue to fund safety and violence prevention programs in Oakland, including the hiring of 63 new sworn police officers, $4 million per year in fire department expenditures, and approximately $6.4 million to fund violence prevention social programs.
Preliminary results this week gave the measure 69.8 percent of the vote. A two-thirds vote was needed to pass.
Measure Y was Oakland’s third try at a violence prevention tax in recent years. In 2002, voters passed Mayor Jerry Brown’s proposal to hire 100 new police officers, but at the same time voted down the three companion tax measures to fund the hiring. In March of this year, progressive Councilmember Nancy Nadel’s measure to raise $10 million for violence prevention programs and hire 30 to 40 police officers—Measure R—barely missed the two-thirds vote needed for passage.
A defeat of Measure Y would have been a severe political blow to Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who has already announced his intention to run for California attorney general in 2006.
Councilmember Jean Quan, who campaigned extensively for the measure, said that a defeat of Measure Y would have meant that a new violence prevention measure would not have been introduced until 2008.
“Everything’s going to be tied up in 2006 in the Oakland mayor’s race,” she said.
While preliminary tallies were coming in on election night at Alameda County election headquarters in Oakland, Quan said that she had predicted that Measure Y would get 68 percent of the vote. She said she was “obviously pleased” that the final tally exceeded her expectations.
Quan praised the measure’s “good mix” between additional police and violence prevention social programs. “There was a lot of misinformation about the measure,” she said. “I think we convinced voters that it was carefully crafted, that we made sure a lot of checks and balances were in place. But the most important thing was that there are serious problems with violence in portions of Oakland, and we can’t handle those problems with the current number of police. Those concerns were reflected in the vote.”
But former Councilmember Wilson Riles—who was defeated by Jerry Brown two years ago in the mayoral election—said that money and desperation were key factors in Measure Y’s victory. Riles campaigned against the measure.
“There were a lot of well-recognized elected officials with powerful names like Barbara Lee who swayed a lot of people,” Riles said. “In addition, we weren’t able to mount a sufficient campaign to get in any kind of depth of the issue. People supported a political compromise without looking any deeper as to whether what they were supporting would actually make any difference in the city. People are just desperate and hoping that something can be done.”
Riles estimated that Y opponents were badly outspent, with approximately $26,000 spent to defeat the measure and $140,000 spent to support it.
Noah Zern, a member of the Education Not Incarceration coalition that opposed Y, agreed that Y opponents “didn’t have the resources or the experience to run a serious electoral campaign.” Zern said that his group was “disappointed in some of the progressive leaders, like Nancy Nadel and Barbara Lee, who took positions supporting Measure Y. We plan on meeting with them and doing follow-up work to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Zern saw a silver lining in the defeat, however.
“Our goal for the campaign was to challenge the notion that police make us safer,” he said. “We wanted to advance the debate that the community needed job training programs and health care, a better education system, adequate housing, and adequate food. We feel that through the campaign we were successful in strengthening the coalition against the prison-industrial complex.”
And Wilson said that even though Y has passed, Oaklanders should not look for relief on the streets any time soon.
“The police department has a lot of folks to hire to get up to the level of personnel that the city is committed to maintain before they can even start collecting and spending any of this Y money,” he explained. “It’s going to take a while to do that. In the meantime, the police department is in total disarray, both because they won’t have a chief for a while and to fulfill the requirements of the Riders settlement that they have not met the marks on.”
Oakland Police Chief Richard Word will soon be leaving the department for a similar job in Vacaville, and a new police chief has not yet been chosen. The Riders settlement involved a recent multi-million dollar settlement by the city over claims that Oakland police officers systematically beat arrestees, lied on reports and on the witness stand, and manufactured evidence. As part of the settlement, Oakland is being monitored by a court-chosen team to improve its police department.
“I’m not expecting there will be many new police very soon,” Riles said. “And those that do get into the system will be as poorly trained as those who are presently in the neighborhoods that are under the greatest stress from violence.”?