The Oakland City Council passed a budget Tuesday night that will eliminate 80 city jobs. But thanks to a last-minute proposal from four council members, funding for art and culture programs that had been on the chopping block was spared.
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, Children’s Fairyland and the Oakland Zoo—which all faced a 40 percent cut in funding in a budget proposal submitted last week—had their grants restored for the remaining fiscal year and for the next. Funding for art grants and symphony in schools also had their funding restored.
“I wanted to keep the programs that our kids and our families go to,” said council member Jane Brunner (District 1).
“We are turning this city around, and we’re turning it around through restaurants, and we’re turning it around through the arts, the Art Murmur, the galleries,” Brunner continued as she was drowned out by applause from the audience.
The council voted 6 to 1 with one abstention to pass the amended budget. The city is reeling from the loss of $28 million of redevelopment money for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, after the state axed the programs this year.
Patricia Kernighan (District 4) was the only council member to vote against the amended budget, and Council member Nancy Nadel (District 3) abstained from voting.
The starting point of Tuesday's council meeting was the re-introduction of city administrator Deanna Santana's budget, which she initially submitted at a special council meeting last week. Santana's budget included the same number of layoffs, which are mostly aimed at management, and called for departments in the city to be consolidated.
While the budget that passed last night maintained the same general framework, Santana's budget proposed cuts to the 211 call center, neighborhood service coordinators and the art and culture programs. In response, city workers and community members packed the council chambers with with a standing-room only crowd and voiced their displeasure
A long line of speakers praised Peralta Hacienda, with many wearing stickers that implored the council not to cut funding for the historical ranch in Fruitvale. The Peralta House “is helping people learn and understand, and that’s the way to create healthier communities, to end the violence in these communities,” Fruitvale resident Victor Moreno told the council.
About an hour into the meeting, an amended budget proposal from council members Brunner, Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5), Desley Brooks (District 6) and Libby Schaaf (District 4) began circulating through the chambers. The amended budget restored funding for programs that were on the chopping block by identifying new revenue streams, which included the the sale of the Champion Street Fire Station and the elimination of funding for neighborhood watch programs. The sale of the fire station is expected to bring in $325,000 in the next fiscal year.
The amended budget also included a two-week notice for city employees being laid off. About 2,500 city employees received layoff notices in mid-January which stated that if the notice was not rescinded by February 3, they would lose their jobs.
Council members apologized to city workers for the confusion and hostile atmosphere the notices may have caused. “It created an environment over the past two weeks that wasn’t necessary,” Brooks said. “I think we all regret that.”
Council member Kernighan was the only member to vote against the amended budget proposal and questioned the sustainability of using "one-time" money, like the sale of the fire station, to fund continuing services.
“It’s not a great idea to use one-time money for ongoing services,” she said.
Mayor Jean Quan thanked the council and community members for helping craft a budget that saved some city jobs and services.
Dwight McElroy, the president of the Oakland chapter of SEIU 1021, said in an interview after the meeting that union workers were “angry” at having to face layoffs after giving concessions during the budget negotiations last summer. He added, though, “anger doesn’t solve crisis” and appreciated that the city council appeared to act on their concerns.
“We’re happy the city administration and city council recognize this is a union town,” he said, “and any discussion should be inclusive of the workforce if you want to come up with a superior product.”