Oakland Must Pay Back Measure Y Money, Says Judge

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday February 10, 2009 - 01:33:00 PM

An Alameda County Superior Court judge tentatively ruled this week that Mayor Ron Dellums "Augmented Recruitment Program of 2008" was an "impermissible use" of Measure Y violence prevention funds, and that the money spent on that program must be paid back. 

Oakland city officials are saying unofficially that the ruling will have no practical effect on the either the total number of police officers on Oakland streets or on the number of Measure Y Problem Solving Officers (PSO's) on staff, and that the money to be paid back to the Measure Y fund amounts to some $3.8 million. 

The tentative ruling by Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch on a Petition for Writ of Mandate came in a lawsuit filed by Oakland attorney Marleen L. Sacks filed against the City of Oakland last April. A final ruling is expected sometime after the judge hears further arguments on the case. 

The judge also tentatively ruled that the City of Oakland has never conducted yearly audits of Measure Y funds required by state law, and must immediately begin to do so once the tentative ruling is made final. Both the City of Oakland and Sacks will have an opportunity to contest portions of the tentative ruling before it is finalized. 

Representatives of the Oakland City Attorney's office have yet to issue a public statement on the ruling.  

Sacks, who represented herself in the lawsuit, called the mayor's augmented recruitment program "a sham from the get-go." Saying that Oakland's Measure Y, passed by voters in November of 2004, did not authorize recruitment or initial training of rookie officers but only the salaries of 63 problem solving officers and specific training for their community policing role, Sacks said by telephone today that "no Measure Y officers were ever going to be directly hired under [the mayor's augmented recruitment] program. Only veteran officers were going to be put into the community policing positions. The rookies hired under the program were then put in to replace those veteran officers." While Sacks said she agreed with Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker's decision only to hire veteran officers for the Measure Y PSO positions, she said the money for the recruitment and training of their replacements should have come out of the general fund, and not the Measure Y funds. "You can't use special tax money as a piggybank," Sacks said. 

Sacks said she believed the judge's ruling would not mean reductions in the ranks of the Measure Y community policing officers. "I don't see the city turning down the $20 million in Measure Y tax money each year" Sacks said, a situation that would happen if the city did not have the money to both reimburse the Measure Y fund as the judge ordered and keep the total police ranks above the minimum staffing needed to continue imposing the Measure Y tax. "If that means making cuts in other areas, that's what they are going to have to do," Sacks said. 

Measure Y was a $19 million per year, ten year tax measure passed by Oakland voters in 2004 in part to add 63 community policing "problem solving officers" to the city's police ranks. But hiring of the 63 PSO's languished for several years in part because the city could not hire and train police officers fast enough to keep up with retirements and attrition and keep the non-community policing ranks at full force. To break this logjam, Mayor Ron Dellums pledged in his 2008 State of the City address to bring both the regular police department and the Measure Y community policing officers up to full staffing levels by the end of the year. The City Council later approved the mayor's proposal for an accelerated police recruitment and training program for 2008, and by the end of the year, In November, the city reached a record-high 837 regular patrol officers, exceeding the authorized staffing levels of 803, and had fully staffed the 630 Measure Y community policing officer positions.