Oakland has the highest per-capita robbery rate in the nation. The number of sworn police officers is about 23 percent lower than six years ago. The department hasn't been investigating most burglaries. Rogue cops go unpunished. And suddenly the chief quits.
Recent reports of the bare-bone Police Department's dysfunction highlight the need for reorganization and beefed-up staffing. But no one seems willing to seriously discuss how to pay for more cops long-term -- not even the mayor.
For all Jean Quan's declarations to make public safety her top priority, she has yet to specify where the money will come from to return the department to previous staffing levels. She knows residents must give up other city services, but she's unwilling to name them.
"As we tackle police staffing shortages in the near term," the mayor said last month in her budget message to the City Council, "we must also keep our eyes sharply focused on the horizon to ensure that our long-term financial issues are addressed without 'kicking the can' further down the road."
She's so right. If only she would walk the talk.
Responsible long-range financial planning continues to elude Oakland officials. Time and again, Quan has postponed the tough decisions. For 2½ years, she has promised to make them, yet she hasn't delivered.
For example, last fall, her staff released a five-year fiscal forecast that showed the city facing a financial cliff. Quan vowed that this spring she would present a proposal to address the shortfalls. She even announced the title of it: "Five-Year Financial Plan -- Service Levels and Budget Strategies."
It's now spring. There is no plan.
"For Oakland to truly flourish, we must begin to confront the imbalance between revenues and expenditures," she said, stating the obvious, in her recent budget memo.
"This will take systematic planning, difficult trade-offs, patience, and will to create sustainable, long-term solutions that provide relief from the shortfalls predicted for the future."
Well said. That's what it will take. And it's her job to devise such a strategy, to determine which services are essential and which should be jettisoned. She will need City Council cooperation and consent. Thus far, she has yet to put a proposal on paper so talks can begin.
Meanwhile, Oakland continues to live beyond its means. The longer the mayor delays the discussion, the deeper the hole, the harder to climb out of it, the less money available in the future for cops on the streets or other city services.
We're already seeing that. The city's historical failure to plan, and its past excessive spending, greatly contributed to the problems it faces today.
By the Quan administration's latest estimates, the general fund will have a $128 million annual deficit by 2017-18, with only about 79 percent of needed revenues. It's really much worse than that. The calculation is based on a sworn police staff of 697 by then, rather than the 793 Quan had set as the goal last fall. That's still short of the high of about 830.
In addition, the city faces roughly $2 billion in unfunded liabilities for employee retirement benefits. That works out to about $13,000 for every city household. Because of pension accounting changes expected at the California Public Employees' Retirement System and the city's continuing failure to make minimum contributions to its retiree health program, those debt numbers could increase.
Rather than address the long-term problem, Quan this spring proposes only a two-year budget for fiscal years 2013-15 that makes marginal cuts in some areas and restores services in others.
Meanwhile, city leaders have entered labor negotiations with no long-range plan. It would be so much better if they had first figured out what services they absolutely needed and how much they could afford to pay. After all, any compensation increases will mean commensurate budget cuts somewhere later.
The numbers show that if Oakland continues on its current financial trajectory, this could get very ugly. Certainly, until city leaders figure out what they can afford, all the talk about restoring the police department to historical staffing levels remains just talk.
Daniel Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @BorensteinDan.