Oakland, CA

Oakland's City Council President expresses frustration over delayed city budget

Built in the Bay

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

By Ian Firstenberg

(OAKLAND, Calif.) City Council President Nikki Fortunato-Bas took to Twitter over the weekend to express her frustration over delays in publishing the city's budget, which was expected to be released May 1.

Fotunato-Bas noted that Mayor Libby Schaff's failure to publish the preliminary budget documents by May 1 contradicts what she was told by Mayor Schaff earlier in the week.

(City of Oakland)

"I'm very concerned that the Mayor failed to meet her responsibility of publishing her proposed budget today. We spoke at length four days ago, April 27th. She said that she finalized a budget the prior day Monday the 26th, and that it would be published today," Fortunato-Bas said in a prepared statement. "She committed to meeting with my Council budget team on Monday, May 3rd to review the budget. This delay means that the Council and the public will only have three or four days to review what has historically been a 500+ pages document before the May 10 Council budget hearing and my District 2 budget town hall on May 12."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Justin Berton, a spokesperson for Mayor Schaff, pointed to “the challenges of this year (that) have made it difficult for everyone to meet pre-COVID deadlines," as the driving force behind those delays.

Berton added that the delay should would put no strain or "appreciable effect on the two months that remain for ... debate before Oakland’s budget is adopted."

This is the most recent iteration of a continued fight between Fortunato-Bas and Schaff which has seen both parties condemn the other side as unreasonable.

In February, Fortunato-Bas and Schaff clashed with Bas and another city council member over the mayor's percieved failure to incorporate city council recommendations into her budget assesment. The city council member's suggestions hinged on police budgets and police staff cuts.

In 2020, following a series of protests in Oakland over police violence and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) killing of one Erik Salgado, Schaff criticized Bas of "proposing a dangerous and irresponsible amendment," in regards to police budgets, referring to it as an "irresponsible act of political theater.”

Schaff has pushed back against progressive calls for slashing police budgets as a misguided attempt to fix the problem of police violence in Oakland.

According to a statement reported by the Chronicle, Oakland Progressive Alliance and Refund Oakland Coalition noted that Schaff's "budgetary and policy choices (have) seen a spike in market rate development while homelessness has reached crisis levels."

In the 2019-2020 Adopted Budget policy, the city incorporated the cost of adding a "complaint investigator" to the Community Police Review Agency.

This continued fight between city legislators over police funding buries the questions at the heart of this issue: how much of the city's budget does the police department account for? And are there other areas that money could be spent that might help the city better?

In 2020, Oakland's City Council set up the Reimaging Public Safety Task Force, to evaluate the possibility of cutting OPD's budget and reinvesting that money into social services, something progressive organizers of the city have been calling for.

As Darwin BondGraham writes in Oaklandside in April of 2021, "The City Council has committed itself to reducing police spending, and the councilmembers, mayor, and city administrator are currently sorting through competing visions and priorities as they prepare the city’s next two-year budget, which the City Council will vote on in June."

According to the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, Oakland spent $338 million on the police department, amounting to roughly 22% of the total city budget, with most of that being spent on officers' salaries.

As BondGraham accurately points out, this is cause for some confusion as technically, the city of Oakland's budget is split into two. One portion comes from property, sales and other types of taxes or revenue which the City Council can choose to spend in a variety of ways.

A second, larger sum of money is also part of the budget. This second portion is divided into smaller "restricted" funds, meaning that the money can only be spent in specific ways.

Roughly $322 million went to the city's police department from the $764 million that was taken out of the city's general fund. That amounts to about 42% which could account for the misconception that Oakland spends half of its budget on policing.

Crucially, BondGraham notes that some of the city's development services funds are used to support OPD's budget. As he outlines, the Measure Z fund, which raises about $29 million annually from special parcel taxes and parking taxes, gave about 53% of its money it recieved to the OPD, which amounts to $15.6 million.

As the political battle over policing continues in Oakland, the financial framework of the city's support for the department may soon be the focal point of contention.

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