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Oakland Budget Fight Is Not about Money, It’s about ‘Values’

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Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and team penned out how she thinks Oakland’s financial resources should be budgeted but City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and supporters have different ideas about where the city should, and shouldn’t, spend its cash. As the month-end deadline nears for the city to approve a 2019-2021 fiscal plan, councilmembers and Oakland residents struggle with vastly different proposals highlighting vastly different values.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Council President Rebecca Kaplan face off on 2019-2021 city budget proposals. Photo courtesy of East Bay

After more than seven-hours “discussing” the alternatives at a special Monday meeting, councilmembers still hadn’t arrived at any conclusions and punted the topic to June 18. Time is quickly running out and at the end of the month, the council must decide between Schaaf’s Proposed Policy Budget and amendments introduced by Kaplan, dubbed the “People’s Budget” by activist allies.

There’s been some fire around the topic of the city’s Department of Transportation, an agency proposed by the mayor and adopted by the council in 2016. Through her budget amendment, Kaplan has taken aim at the department, originally going for a complete gut job but later rolling back the goal to identify duplication of efforts and contradiction of rules between the OakDOT and other agencies, such as Oakland Public Works. The council president has since requested a report from City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to clarify job functions and identify duplication among agencies. Kaplan’s thinking on the topic is reflected in an op-ed she wrote for Oakland News Now.

With that point of contention calmed down, the real beefs in the budget argument have taken center stage: funding for Oakland Police Department and resources to address homelessness.

Schaaf’s $3.2 billion proposal only allocates $55 million to address affordable housing issues, an amount not considered adequate by some in light of the city’s growing homelessness and affordable housing crisis. Kaplan, who has been accused of inflating revenue projections, proposes substantially more money be thrown at “expanding the city’s response to homelessness.” Schaaf’s plan increases funding to OPD, and other emergency services, but neglects to address calls for reform. Kaplan’s plan would cut into OPD money to pay for resident needs, but she claims she can pull in the necessary revenue by cutting the department’s abuse of overtime pay and eliminating incarceration for specific offenses.

People rally in support of Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan’s “People’s Budget” amendment. Photo courtesy of Oakland Post

The amendment is widely criticized by opponents as being haphazard – Kaplan did not have her numbers reviewed by the city’s finance department because going public with her proposal. But on the supporting end, Kaplan’s plan is hailed as a chance to put the “people’s” priorities at the forefront of the discussion.

Granted, there are a number of sticking points being deliberated but those two issues evoke the most heated debates, and this is hardly the first time the mayor has faced challenges to her priorities in these key areas.

When Cat Brooks, California’s Justice Teams Network executive director, ran as a mayoral candidate against Schaaf in 2018, her platform looked and smelled much like Kaplan’s “People’s Budget” does now. While Brooks did lose the general election to Schaaf by 27.5 percentage points, her bold and progressive platform garnered more than 25 percent of the voting share. In other words, the career activist running on a police department overhaul and housing-for-all agenda picked up support from about a quarter of Oakland’s constituents. Those voters still exist and continue to demand change. Kaplan, in her role as council president is trying to meet those demands.

Brooks spoke at Monday’s meeting and said:

“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.”

Brooks continued:

“Rebecca Kaplan’s budget is the only budget on the table that reflects the values of this city.”

While it is questionable Kaplan can pick up enough support among members to push her amendment through, the council president is committed to going as far she can because to her, it’s a “chance for us to put our goals and values into action.” Schaaf may have won the last election and may very well come out the victor in this budget fight, but the emergence of and growing support for progressive legislative reforms in Oakland is striking, and one day, those progressives just might win.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.