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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Oakland Moves to Stuff the Ballot with Important Referendums

Oakland voters might be asked to decide
between two competing measures to
raise the minimum wage. 
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Three ballot initiatives were approved by the Oakland City Council Tuesday, one of which will ask voters to renew a controversial $98 annual parcel tax to fund additional public safety programs. Oakland voters will also be asked to approve initiatives to bolster the Public Ethics Commission with additional funding and raise the minimum wage to $12.25. A fourth measure hoping to act as an alternative to the minimum wage increase could also be added before the end of the month.

In the fall, Oakland voters will be asked to reauthorize a reworked version of Measure Y, which was approved by Oakland voters in 2004. But some have called it ineffective in staunching crime and more importantly, not having shown much bang for its buck. A minimum staffing level of 802 police officers included in the previous measure to ensure the tax was received by the city was ultimately not met. The new version also includes a minimum staffing figure, this time, mimicking the current number of officers on the force, at 678. Some council members, though, were clearly weary of the new number.

“It had both successes as well as a huge disappointment,” Council President Pat Kernighan said of the original Measure Y and its staffing requirements. “I never want to go through that again. I don’t want to promise more than we can deliver.” A proposal to set the number of minimum officers at 700, also met opposition. Kernighan added, she believes because of budget uncertainty in the next 18 months, the city’s police force will certainly drop below the proposed figure. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also worried about setting a minimum because of rising costs for adding more officers in the future. “I guess, once burned…” Quan said without finishing her sentence. Quan, however, supports the measure, as did the entire council. Councilmember Desley Brooks abstained.

Voters will also be asked to approve Councilman
Dan Kalb's initiative to fund the toothless
Public Ethics Committee.
Proponents of the Measure Y reauthorization, however, said the additional revenue for funding small parts of the police and fire departments, along with other public safety-related community groups, will continue to help make its city streets more safe. Before massive police layoffs brought the number of police officers below the 802 threshold, Oakland received a healthy $20 million from Measure Y. Four years ago, Oakland voters passed an initiative to rework Measure Y and omit the minimum staffing requirement for collecting the parcel tax.

Voters will also be asked to approve a City Charter amendment that would allocate $500,000 annually for Oakland’s perennially funding-starved Public Ethics Commission. The bare bones staff does not have the funding or staffing to adequately investigate allegations of city wrong-doing and corruption, advocates say. Over the past year, adding teeth to the commission has been a pet issue for Councilmember Dan Kalb, who authored the initiative.

The council also approved adding a ballot measure to raise the city’s hourly minimum wage to $12.25 by March 2015. The proposal, backed by a group named Lift Up Oakland, had already been certified by the Alameda County Registrar’s office after offering over 33,000 signatures for its backing. However, the council’s approval was merely clerical. A potential competing initiative, to be offered July 22 and backed by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce and Kernighan, aims to offer a more drawn out time line for raising the minimum wage along with some exceptions for businesses with less than 20 employees.

1 comments :

Priorities as usual.

New Measure Y maintains funding with no performance mandate for city hall. Council and Mayor cover their butts and pass the buck for the same-same onto the voters.

Ethics Commission proposal designed to repair the barn door after all the livestock have already flown. A nice gesture. They hope we'll feel better about it all. Bottom line: we need ethical people in city hall not more easily-evaded rules.

Council couldn't be wishy-washy about minimum wage because citizens collected the signature. But Council needs to kowtow to business so they'll put a "softer" minimum wage proposal on the ballot. Meanwhile they pay themselves not $12 but $90 an hour with abundant bennies.

As Council wonder McElhaney put it, there may be too much cognitive demand on the ballot for the voting public. As usual, the Council has successfully watched its back and there will be little new for Oakland after November.

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