Dellums Proposes Layoffs, Fine Increases, And Possible One-Day Shutdowns To Cut Oakland's Deficit

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Saturday September 27, 2008 - 10:28:00 AM

With the nation's attention focused on the national credit crisis and President George Bush's proposed $700 billion bailout package, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums released his proposals to address Oakland's fiscal crisis, a $37.5 million shortfall in the 2008-09 budget. 

Dellums is proposing $13 million in revenue increases and $15 million in staff cuts and fund transfers, as well as saying that the remaining $10 million deficit could be closed either by a once per week city business shutdown or 120 additional layoffs. The mayor said he is not proposing reneging on his promise to fully staff the 803 Oakland Police Department uniformed positions by the end of the year. "We made a promise at the beginning of the year and we're going to keep it," the mayor said. 

Among the proposed revenue increases would be hikes in parking meter rates, parking citation fines, and street sweeping citations. 

The mayor is also proposing that a separate $5 million deficit in the city's Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District Fund be closed by eliminating 46 budgeted staff positions, including 34 staff layoffs. 

At a standing-room-only Friday afternoon press conference packed with media representatives, anxious city workers, and at least two City Councilmembers, the mayor spoke for 35 minutes on the budget details, without any documentation in front of him, leaving little doubt about the depth of his involvement in the budget process. Acting City Manager and mayoral budget director Dan Lindheim stood nearby, but did not speak, and only once briefly came over to the mayor to give him any information. Dellums has been facing charges in some media outlets, particularly by San Francisco Chronicle East Bay columnist Chip Johnson, that he has not been "fully engaged" in his work as mayor. In addition, local developer Phil Tagami last week called for the mayor to begin turning in a time sheet, charging that the mayor was not regularly turning in a 40 hour week. As if to answer those charges, Dellums interrupted a back-and-forth dialogue he was having with Council Finance Chair Jean Quan over a barrage of budget number details, stepped away from the podium, tapped his head, and said, "I don't have any notes. I've got it all up here." 

While the mayor's budget adjustments have been made in close consultation with Councilmembers and city staff representatives, the proposals will be formally presented to Oakland City Council on September 30. Under Oakland's City Charter, the council will have the final say on how the budget will be structured. 

"I can sum up our situation in one sentence," the mayor said. "Oakland is living beyond its means." Dellums said that his administration inherited "long-term, systematic, historical structural problems with the budget," including carrying over fund liability deficits for year after year. 

"We all know the stories about emergency requests coming into the city for $2 million for some program or other and the administrator saying there's no money in the budget," Dellums said, "and then the administrator going back and working the figures and then-just like magic-coming back in a week with the $2 million." 

"But we've only been robbing Peter to pay Paul," the mayor said, saying it was borrowing from future budgets to pay for current needs. "This cannot continue to happen. We've got to stop engaging in this 'magic.' 'Magic' is what got us into this problem. There is no 'magic.' It's all over." 

The mayor said as soon as the current budget deficit problem is addressed, he will move forward in the next budget cycle with proposals to end the city's process of carrying over structural fund deficits. 

A spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union, which represents many of Oakland's city workers, said the union was "concerned about the lack of city service delivery based upon the limited alternatives suggested by the mayor. We have other alternatives that don't necessarily limit city services." The SEIU representative said the union would present those alternatives to the mayor and the Council following the formal presentation of the mayor's proposal to Council on September 30. 

During his press conference, Dellums said he welcomed "creative options and alternatives" from staff, and hoped that any differences could be worked out in a public process including staff, the council, and the administration. "We want this process to go forward with flexibility, collaboration, transparency, and inclusion," the mayor said.