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Three Policy Victories For Dellums in Oakland

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday March 07, 2008

The administration of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums hit the trifecta on Tuesday, winning City Council passage of two major initiatives and claiming victory in contract arbitration with the powerful Oakland Police Officers Association police union. 

In a marathon session that began at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and lasted until well after midnight, Council approved—with minor modifications—Dellums’ police augmentation plan and industrial land use policy. 


Police augmentation 

On the police augmentation issue, the mayor had originally asked expedited approval of a plan to spend $7.7 million in Measure Y violence prevention plan money to meet his ambitious goal of reaching full staffing of the Oakland Police Department—803 total officers, including 63 Measure Y problem-solving officers—by the end of 2008. Included in the original proposal was $1.5 million for advertising and $3.3 million for a stepped-up schedule of police academies this year. 

By consensus—meaning no roll call vote was taken, but no councilmember expressed disapproval—the Council approved Councilmember Jean Quan's modified proposal that $500,000 be cut out of the advertising budget, to go, instead, to bonuses to lure veteran police officers to Oakland from other police agencies.  

With the council winning a promise from Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker that recruits from the first academies will go exclusively to positions specifically called for in Measure Y in 2004, councilmembers inserted a provision in the police augmentation plan, also suggested by Quan, that while the initial round of advertising and academies would be paid for by Measure Y, the city's general fund would pick up some of the future costs on a percentage basis to be determined after monitoring how many of the first officers actually go to those Measure Y positions. 

In approving the plan, the council rejected a request by Measure Y Oversight Committee Chair Maya Dillard Smith that funding for the advertising portion of the academies be held off until more study could be made on how to sustain the recruitment plan financially through 2010 if it failed to meet the recruitment mark at the end of the year. 

In statements released by the mayor's office, both Dellums and Council President De La Fuente appeared equally pleased by the compromise measure. Dellums has been under public pressure to respond to Oakland's pressing crime and violence problems, and De La Fuente is facing an electoral challenge this June for his 5th District seat that will almost certainly be based in large part on law and order issues. 

“I am optimistic that the City Council and city staff will continue to work together in the best interest of Oakland residents,” the Dellums statement read. “I appreciate the City Council's diligence over the years to address the issue of police staffing and I am confident that this plan will allow us to achieve our goal of reaching 803 police officers by the end of the year.” 

Council President De La Fuente added, “I am satisfied with the consensus reached by my distinguished colleagues on the City Council which is consistent with the mayor's plan to fully staff the police department and the expectations of Oakland residents who deserve a greater level of public safety.” 


Land-use policy 

On the vastly more complicated industrial land-use policy issue, the Council voted 5-3 (Councilmembers Nancy Nadel, Jean Quan, Ignacio De La Fuente, Jane Brunner, and Henry Chang voting aye, Larry Reid, Desley Brooks, and Pat Kernighan voting nay) to approve Nadel's modifications to Dellums' original plan.  

The nay vote was deceptive, however, as Brooks and Kernighan wanted no modifications to the Dellums plan, while Reid wanted to add more modifications. 

With Oakland under continuing pressure from developers and property owners to allow its dwindling parcels of industrial zoned property to be converted to residential use on a property by property basis, Dellums had proposed a policy to freeze its 17 industrially zoned sub-areas in place while adopting citywide criteria for conversions. Industries were once the backbone of Oakland's job market, but many have left the city in the last half-century, and industrial zoned land now comprises only 5 percent of Oakland under the city's land use control. 

When the issue first came before council on Feb. 19, Reid proposed carving out exceptions to industrial zoning in six of the current 17 industrial zoning sub areas. 

In a compromise plan which she said was put together in order to get the five votes necessary to win approval, Nadel—a longtime proponent of preserving Oakland industrial land—whittled those exception sub areas down from six to two. 

In one of those areas, area 4, near the High Street Bridge to Alameda, former De La Fuente chief of staff Carlos Plazola is part of a business consortium that wants to convert 2.35 acres of industrial land to condominiums, a conversion that will now be allowed under Council's action. 

But in explaining her vote for Nadel's compromise, Councilmember Brunner said, “I know that some people think we're benefiting certain people by this,” but felt it was good policy for the city.  

Explaining that Oakland historically put its industries along the waterfront, blocking public access to the estuary in a long stretch from Jack London Square south, she felt that the area should now be changed to a residential and commercial mix in order to allow the waterway to be opened up to the public. 

Reid lost a substitute motion, 2-6 (Reid and Chang voting aye) to add a third exception to Nadel's list, allowing a housing and business mix in the sub area 8, which includes property surrounding 92nd Avenue and San Leandro Street in Reid's East Oakland district. The decision means that a proposed 11-acre residential development at that site will have to be scrapped unless and until the sub-area is rezoned following the yet-to-be determined rezoning guidelines. 

An angry Reid predicted that the council would be back in ten years looking at this as a missed opportunity to “change communities that have long been suffering from neglect. … The industrial use you believe will happen along San Leandro Street ain't going to happen. I guarantee you.” 


Police union arbitration 

In the OPOA police union arbitration decision, Oakland city officials were claiming victory following the issuance of the independent arbitrator's preliminary decision. 

“I'm very pleased with the scope of the arbitrator's award on management rights,” Police Chief Tucker said in a prepared statement. “It will fundamentally change the rules under which we operate to the benefit of the citizens of Oakland. … I applaud the City Council and the Mayor, whose unwavering support throughout this process has made this outcome possible.” 

The City of Oakland and OPOA began negotiations in April 2006 over renewal of a contract that expired in June of that year. When negotiations broke down, the issue went to arbitration in February 2007. 

While the arbitrator has not yet issued a written opinion, city officials say the preliminary decision grants the city victories in the following areas: 

Civilianization: the department now has the right to civilianize “any position which does not require a sworn officer,” which city officials say will free up police officers from desk jobs and other non-crime prevention duties.  

Past Practices: the award allows the city to “change problematic past practices” instead of freezing in place all practices in the police department that the city had previously allowed, even if those practices had not been part of contract negotiations. Tucker had said that the “past practices” clause in the previous contract had hampered his ability to run the department.  

Responding to Changing Conditions: allows the union to challenge a change to working conditions before an arbitrator only if it can demonstrate “irreparable injury” might come from that change; previously the union could challenge any management change in working conditions, a process that tied up management decisions for months at a time.  

Side Letters: Eliminated more than 20 so-called “side letter” labor agreements with OPOA that the public has never seen, and City Council never approved. 

This is the second major victory of the Dellums administration in arbitration decisions over disagreements with the police union. Last year, an arbitrator sided with the city over OPOA's challenge to Tucker's proposed 12-hour shift deployment, opening the way to the division of the department into three geographic departments, a division Tucker had said was necessary to institute community policing in Oakland and respond to the city's crime and violence problem.