The roundabout road to an Oakland ballot measure to increase the city’s police strength—projected to be placed before Oakland voters in some form or other in November—took another series of twists and turns this week.
North Oakland Councilmember Jane Brunner introduced a competing parcel tax proposal to the one already introduced by Mayor Ron Dellums, then worked out a deal with the mayor’s office in which the two measures were to be merged and then passed out of the Oakland City Council’s powerful Rules Committee for discussion by the full council next week.
Before she could win Rules Committee passage, however, a visibly frustrated Brunner had to publicly scold Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and At-Large Councilmember Henry Chang, who threatened to withhold the votes necessary to get the proposed measure out of committee.
If passed by the council to be placed on the ballot and approved by voters in November, the proposed parcel tax would, among other things, add 105 uniformed police officers and 75 police service technicians to the Oakland Police Department’s ranks over a three year period, bringing the total authorized uniformed police strength up to 908.
To support the new hires, the Dellums-Brunner proposal would increase parcel taxes on single family residential units by $275 in its third year, with a $188 extra per unit charge on multiple residential dwellings. Low-income households would be exempt from the tax increase.
Oakland’s police increase ballot measure saga began earlier this year when a group of private citizens—later joined by influential political consultant Larry Tramutola—began circulating petitions for a November Oakland ballot measure to be called the “Safe Streets And Neighborhoods Act Of 2008,” which would have raised uniformed police strength to 1,075 officers from the current authorized 803. The Safe Streets measure was widely criticized for its failure to identify a funding source for the added uniformed police, with its advocates proposing that the money be taken out of the Oakland's existing city budget.
Late this spring, Mayor Dellums cut a deal with the Safe Streets measure advocates in which, in return for their dropping their initiative to increase police staffing by 272, the mayor would propose a parcel tax measure calling for a smaller police increase.
At Thursday morning’s Rules Committee meeting, Safe Streets initiative proponents said they were not yet ready to sign on to the Dellums-Brunner measure, and hoped to be able to make changes before the council’s final approval next week.
Oakland resident and developer Roy Alper said that Safe Streets initiative sponsors “haven’t had a chance to review [the Dellums-Brunner measure] in depth,” but added that he was “concerned” that the new measure “did not have enough officers” and “concerned that it has too large of a parcel tax.”
Those were the same concerns voiced by West Oakland resident and Measure Y Oversight Committee member Marcus Johnson, another Safe Streets initiative sponsor, who said that the Dellums-Brunner measure calls for more taxes, and “we can’t burden the city with more taxes.”
But Oakland real estate attorney Zack Wasserman of the Jobs and Housing Coalition said while the Safe Streets organizers “have a disagreement about the number of officers” in the Dellums-Brunner proposed measure, “we’re prepared to work on this even if it includes a lower number of police. It’s a first step.”
Dellums and Brunner cannot count on the help of Council President De La Fuente, however, who said that he “will not be a supporter of the measure” shortly before voting against sending it out of the Rules Committee.
“Crime is at an unacceptable level in Oakland,” De La Fuente said. “But we have made a lot of changes in police procedures in Oakland” in recent months, “and we’re not yet sure what the effect they will be.”
De La Fuente noted the recent reorganization of OPD into three geographically-based commands and the drive to fully staff the 803 authorized police strength by the end of this year as two of the new police reforms he wanted to watch. Although De La Fuente did not mention political rival Dellums by name, the two police reforms he listed are the centerpiece of the police portion of the mayor’s public safety program.
De La Fuente added that he is “not willing to go to the taxpayers and ask them for $200 or $300 a year more” in taxes, and that if the City Council deems it necessary to hire more police for Oakland, “We need to bite the bullet and find a way to pay for it” out of the existing budget.
Chang also indicated that he would not vote for the proposal, which would have created a 2-2 tie and killed the proposed ballot measure in the Rules Committee. But after an astonished Brunner asked, “Are you guys really going to vote to keep this in committee?” and Councilmember Larry Reid added, “I think you’re making a big mistake,” referring to De La Fuente and Chang, De La Fuente asked Chang to change to a vote for passage, and the measure went out to the full council on a 3-1 vote with De La Fuente still voting no.