City Attorneys Say It Plain: No Police Required
In order to sell Oakland voters a new set of parcel and parking taxes in November 2004 (Measure Y), councilmembers insisted the City would get at least 802 police officers total.
Measure Y has two staffing requirements. The City is supposed to maintain 739 police with non-Y money, such as the general fund. On top of that, the City is supposed to hire and maintain at least 63 more police with the Measure Y tax money, for a total of 802.
In all the time since voters approved Measure Y, Oakland has never had 739 officers. Indeed, staffing actually declined after Measure Y was written. A citizen's lawsuit called the City to account, charging that the City is violating Measure Y even as it collects the taxes.
In response, City attorneys made it clear: Measure Y imposes absolutely no requirement to hire police. Now shut up and pay your taxes.
Official City papers in Alameda County Superior Court assert that the City only needs to write a number on paper in the budget document. This is called "appropriating." However, the City need not spend one dime of the "appropriated" money on police officers. The City does not need to maintain 739 officers, now or in the future. Nor does the City need to hire even one of the 63 additional officers that councilmembers represented Measure Y as funding.
Suppose your cable company offered you a new package of channels. You agreed. The company started collecting the monthly fee but did not deliver the channels. You call to complain. The cable company says, oh, we're still building the infrastructure to deliver those channels. Wait two to five years. Meanwhile, we're going to collect the monthly fee.
That's exactly what the City of Oakland is doing with Measure Y taxes. We're paying now for police we have not got in more than two years, with nothing in sight but years more of the same.
In court filings, the City revealed the bait and switch it pulled in Measure Y. While councilmembers made clear promises to voters, City attorneys now assert that the language in the law is just the opposite, and the court agreed.
City's pre-election commitment
to 802 police
of any police requirement
"Additional Programs and Services. 63 sworn police officers, bringing total sworn strength to 802." (City Fact Sheet, Sept. 24, 2004, still on the City website)
"The money raised by Measure Y will be used to expand the department to 802 officers, Quan said. 'All of us have to run for re-election – none of us would break such an obvious promise,' Quan said." (Oakland Tribune, Oct. 10, 2004)
"Allow me to outline what Measure Y proposes to do. ... 1. ... GUARANTEES A MINIMUM OF 802 OFFICERS CITYWIDE EACH YEAR" (Then councilmember, attorney Danny Wan, broadcast email, Oct. 20, 2004)
"The measure will add 63 sworn police officers ..., bringing the total strength of the department to 802 sworn officers." (City Q&A website)
"The specific language of Measure Y, Section 4 is clear that minimal dollars must be appropriated, not minimal officers 'hired.'"
"The ballot pamphlet confirms that the City need only 'appropriate' in its budget, not hire, 739 officers in order to collect the new tax."
"Measure Y requires only appropriation in order to collect and use the new taxes for violence prevention."
"Use of the word 'may' permits, but does not require, the City to hire the 63 officers with the Measure Y money."
(All quotes from the Memorandum filed with Demurrer by City of Oakland, Dec. 30, 2005, pages 5, 6, 7, 9)
The bitter lesson: Do not listen to councilmembers' words. Any councilmember who insisted Measure Y funds would be used to provide 802 police – including De La Fuente, Nadel, Quan, and Brunner – either knew that was a lie or needs to give a darn good excuse.
To be sure, some Measure Y money will be used on a few police while total department staffing falls. That merely frees up general fund money. Where does it go? Curious people can figure out the flimflam. In addition, the council is making grants of Measure Y money to social agencies, upsetting the so-called balanced compromise between hiring police and handing out more political pork.
It's Not Police, It's Not the Library, It's Not Street Lights
Measure Y and police staffing are not the City's only tax swindle. The council has pulled the same bait and switch with Measure Q (the library) and Measure DD (Lake Merritt).
Now the council and the new mayor want you to vote a bigger Landscape and Lighting Assessment (LLAD) on yourself. They plan a revote in 2008 after voters defeated an increase in 2006. This money would no more be for street lights than Y money was for police. City Hall will threaten voters: if you do not approve a big hike in the LLAD tax, we must cut back on park maintenance and street lighting. Nonsense. The council is not cutting back on new top executive positions, on pork barrel grants, nor on giveaways to favored developers. Somehow that stuff is sacred.
During the campaign leading up to the November 2004 ballot, the founders of Oakland Residents for Peaceful Neighborhoods (the group that maintains this website) warned that the City would not provide additional police with Measure Y. Unfortunately, we were correct. The facts are clear for all to see: the City of Oakland is a dysfunctional bureaucracy at best, a giant racket at the worst.
How many times must the ordinary voter and taxpayer be swindled? There are only two ways to bring City Hall to account. One is to elect new councilmembers. The other way is to hit the councilmembers where they can feel it, in their pork-barrel pocketbook, by voting No on all these bait-and-switch tax proposals.