Matthai Kuruvila, 04/17/13
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, roundly criticized as being soft on crime as violence increased during her tenure, unveiled a spending plan on Wednesday that would raise the number of police officers to a level greater than it was when she took office in 2011.
Quan proposes adding 48 police officers to the current force of 649 over the next two years – bringing the total number of police officers to nearly 700 – while reducing the number of city jobs in other departments.
The mayor has been under pressure – both from residents in the low-income flatlands and the wealthier Oakland hills – to increase public safety and improve police response times to urgent calls for help.
“Public safety is her top priority,” said her spokesman, Sean Maher. “The Police Department needs to be rebuilt. We certainly heard it from the community as well. Going into this budget, we knew it was something we absolutely had to do.”
In addition to the increase in police officers, Quan proposes restoring pay to thousands of city workers who agreed to temporary pay cuts two years ago when the city was in a budget crisis.
Quan said the city would be able to afford the increased costs by collecting increasing tax revenues and eliminating 87 city jobs over the next two years.
“We believe this is a ‘fair share’ budget for all,” Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana wrote in a preface to the budget documents.
Even though Quan said she believes it’s the best budget she’s been able to present as a mayor or a councilwoman, several union leaders remained skeptical.
“We’re pretty dismayed that they’ve already announced job cutbacks,” said Pete Castelli, executive director of SEIU Local 1021, which represents nearly 1,100 full-time and 1,500 part-time workers, including parking officers, parks and recreation workers and those who maintain city garbage containers.
The budget will be formally presented to the full City Council on April 30. The council has the power to revise the budget substantially, but council members must adopt it by June 30. Quan votes only if there is a 4-4 tie on the eight-member council.
During Quan’s mayoral tenure, serious crimes increased by 7 percent from 2010 to 2011 and by 23 percent from 2011 to 2012. Meanwhile, her efforts at improving public safety – such as her 100-block crime prevention plan – have fallen flat.
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said she had feared that the mayor would not propose increasing the number of police officers, a goal that Schaaf and other council members said the city needed to prioritize. “I really was pleasantly surprised,” she said.
Under Quan’s plan, as the city strengthens its police force, it will also eliminate the furlough days that city workers were forced to take to save the city money. This would allow city offices and libraries to open for an additional 11 days a year.
But there would also be cuts under Quan’s plan:
— $1.7 million from Head Start programs, including shutting down a center in the San Antonio district. The city would serve 1,710 children through Head Start, instead of 1,778.
— Nine vacant positions for engineers, planners and inspectors would be eliminated, which could lead to slower response times to complaints about blight and garbage as well as plan checks for building permits.
— City subsidies to the Oakland Zoo, Chabot Space & Science Center, Hacienda Peralta and the Asian Cultural Center would be cut by 10 percent.
The number of police officers had been steadily declining since Quan took office – from around 656 officers to a low of 611 this March, before a police academy class graduated and 38 new officers joined the department.
Under the budget plan, the department would have 665 officers by July 2014 and 697 officers by July 2015. Five police dispatchers and other support staff would also be brought on board.
“It will help us to solve crime a lot quicker,” Police Chief Howard Jordan said at a press conference with Quan. “It makes our department a lot more efficient.”
Others were more cautious in their appraisal.
Rocky Lucia, an attorney for the Oakland Police Officers Association, said he hadn’t had time to review the budget documents. But he said police officers have been “overwhelmed with demand,” compromising residents’ safety.
“I don’t know if this budget makes the Oakland Police Department the No. 1 priority,” said Lucia. “But if they didn’t, they should.”
Quan and Santana said they were concerned about the rising cost of pensions and health care for all city workers.
Castelli, of the SEIU, said those comments concerned him. He worried the city would come to workers to make up for those costs.
Over the past eight years, Castelli said, his members have sacrificed 25 percent of their pay, accounting for inflation. Many union members say they are on the financial brink. Others have filed for bankruptcy or lost their homes.
“We’re basically taking a no-concession stance,” said Castelli. “They’ve given all they can give.”