The Oakland City Council is considering ways to close a $28 million-dollar-a-year budget gap as it faces the loss of redevelopment funds Feb. 1.
The meeting was halted for a half-hour when Occupy Oakland protesters stormed the chambers and shouted at councilmembers. But the proceedings got heated even before that, as many city employees vented their frustration and demanded the council delay layoffs.
The mayor's budget-balancing proposal includes cutting 105 full-time positions. Since some of those jobs are vacant, only about 81 employees would lose their jobs under the plan. The proposal also includes slashing funding by 40% for certain arts programs, for Children’s Fairyland, and for the Oakland Zoo, as well as reorganizing certain departments. The proposal leaves funding for libraries, senior services, and sworn police officers intact.
Dwight McElroy, president of SEIU local 1021, asked the council to work harder to involve the community and the unions.
“We’ve been there to support you in the past, that’s why your reserves are up. So now we’re asking you to support us,” McElroy said. “We want to work with you, we’ve already shown you that. At the end of the day, we bless you and we hope God blesses you, but bring us on board so we can help you steer this ship and get it out of the waters it’s in.”
The council was sympathetic to worker concerns. Councilwoman Jane Brunner directed staff to set up a transition team to work with the unions.
“I think they need to be at the table right now, with their good ideas,” she said.
Councilwoman Desley Brooks criticized the high number of layoff notices -- about 2,500 -- that went out initially, in light of the mayor’s proposal only eliminating about 100 full-time positions.
“Just walking around the city in the last week or so, you see how people are impacted by having received those notices, and I know it’s been a very difficult position for everybody,” she said.
Councilwoman Nancy Nadel asked City Administrator Deanna Santana if she would consider taking a pay cut. Santana's salary is partly paid by redevelopment funds that are being .
“I’m asking you to really strongly consider it,” she said. “And I’m addressing that to all of our top managers who have contracts...to come back and tell me whether you would voluntarily cut some of your salary as you are expecting us to cut the salaries of some people who make very very very much less than you do.”
Santana said, "I have an employment contract, and I would like the opportunity to consult my attorney in terms of answering that question." A round of boos from the crowd followed.
Santana will come back to the board with a revised budget proposal based on the council's requests, and then the council will vote next Tuesday.
You can watch a video of the meeting here. The crowd's chanting starts right at the beginning, and the Occupy Oakland protest at about 1:20.