Cranky Oakland City Council Can’t Agree on Budget

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — During a fraught Oakland City Council meeting Monday night, residents angry with Mayor Libby Schaaf’s eleventh-hour bid to torpedo a budget proposal promising more services for low-income and homeless people in the Bay Area city chastised the mayor as a “bully” and a figurehead for Oakland’s rich.

“Her priority as the shining leader of the gentry … has caused harm and displacement to the flatlands, and that has been criminal,” a community organizer named Nita told the council Monday night, referring to Oakland’s marginalized neighborhoods.

“That stunt you pulled?” she said, addressing administration officials. “Thank you for showing that you have complete disregard for the democratic process.”

The “stunt” was Schaaf’s early morning email urging constituents to tell their Council members to vote down City Council President Rebecca Kaplan’s amendments to the mayor’s $3.2 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019-2021.

City policy requires the council president to submit amendments to the mayor’s budget as part of the budgeting process.

“I need your immediate action to prevent one of the most dangerous proposals I’ve ever seen to threaten Oakland’s future,” said the email against Schaaf’s political foe.

The email came days after City Administrator Sabrina Landreth exhorted council members to defeat Kaplan’s proposal.

The proposal emphasizes social services such as affordable housing, maintenance of parks in low-income neighborhoods and more services targeting mental illness and homelessness — issues that Kaplan’s supporters say the mayor’s budget does not adequately address.

According to Landreth, Kaplan inflated revenue projections by $100 million to cover those services. Landreth said that could create a $58.7 million deficit over two years, resulting in layoffs and hiring freezes and plunging the city back into financial chaos.

Kaplan did not submit her proposal to the city’s finance department for analysis before publicly releasing it, resulting in “myriad deficiencies, illegalities and errors,” Landreth wrote in her June 6 letter to the City Council.

Kaplan did not address those allegations Monday night, nor those the mayor had leveled via email.

The email accuses Kaplan of “inventing” extra funding to satisfy the city’s powerful employee unions and other special interests, and of deceiving her activist supporters, who have dubbed her budget the “People’s Budget.” And it criticizes her decision to funnel money away from fire prevention and road repairs: top priorities for Schaaf.

“(B)ecause Kaplan’s deceitful proposal exists, the groups who’d benefit from her illegal and irresponsible budget can now criticize any official who responsibly rejects it,” Schaaf wrote.

Kaplan’s supporters don’t see it that way. They say Schaaf’s budget overallocates money to the mayor’s office and to the Oakland Police Department. By contrast, Kaplan’s redirects police funds to needy residents by reducing unbudgeted officer overtime and eliminating incarceration for some offenses.

“The people have come together and said we want a budget that takes care of our most marginalized people; we want a budget that ensures our city workers can live here; we want a budget that does not just keep the OPD afloat but actually puts forth solutions that keep us safe; we want a budget that deals with affordable housing; we want a budget that gets our unhoused people off the streets,” Cat Brooks, executive director of California’s Justice Teams Network, which supports victims of police violence, told the council. “Rebecca Kaplan’s budget is the only budget on the table that reflects the values of this city.”

Kaplan remained upbeat throughout the seven-hour meeting, calling the budgeting process a “chance for us to put our goals and values into action” and reminding residents “this isn’t a soap opera.”

But Councilman Dan Kalb was less optimistic.

“In my time that I’ve been on the council, I’ve never seen a budget process or where we’re at in the budget process so far apart in finding a resolution,” he said. “It worries me.”

The City Council delayed a vote on the budget and scheduled a second round of discussions for June 18. A vote is expected by the end of the month.

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