OAKLAND -- District 4 Councilmember Libby Schaaf and council president Pat Kernighan hosted a packed town hall meeting Sunday in Glenview Elementary School's auditorium to hear from citizens about what they wanted -- or didn't want -- in the 2013-2015 budget.
The meeting was also attended by Mayor Jean Quan, who began it by giving an overview of her proposed budget, which must be approved by the City Council.
"I call this the 'fair share' budget because we didn't have to cut personnel or services and we are still able to bring down the debt," Quan said. "It puts the city on a stable basis -- one of the most stable places we've been since I've been in city government."
She noted the budget invests in police and safety through four police academies over the two years that will boost the police force to 697 sworn officers by 2015. She said the budget allows $2 million to boost economic development, including new staff for the department.
"We are hoping for an uptick in the economy and housing," Quan said. "We need staff to work on such projects as developing the army base and downtown."
She said some revenue loss in the budget is beyond the city's control, such as the federal government's cuts to the Head Start program and the state's "clawback" of redevelopment funds.
There's also been a huge increase in the cost of state pension funds that the city pays into, according to City Administrator Deanna Santana, who also spoke at the meeting.
"A 20 percent increase this year cost the city $67 million; next year, it will be $81 million, and there will be a 50 percent increase over the next six years," Santana said.
Following the presentations by Quan and Santana, Schaaf and Kernighan took questions from audience members, who lined up all the way to the back of the auditorium for a chance to speak.
Several speakers were concerned with cuts to affordable housing as a result of the state's cutbacks to redevelopment funds. Statewide, about $1 billion for affordable housing was lost when the state dissolved some 400 redevelopment agencies to close its budget gap.
"Is affordable housing a priority?" asked Ronald "Guitar" Whitfield. "I became homeless due to an auto accident but got help from East Bay Housing Organizations."
He said he thinks affordable housing not only helps the homeless but also makes streets and communities much safer. One speaker echoed his opinion.
"We urge you to think about public safety as more than police officers," she said.
Another longtime resident, who works for the SPCA, was concerned that the proposed budget cuts one animal control officer.
"Animal control is important for public safety and disease control such as rabies," she said.
Schaaf responded that she was looking carefully at the proposal to cut the animal control officer position.
"I'm also looking into private and foundation funding (for the SPCA)," Schaaf said.
A city of Oakland worker disagreed with Quan that this is a "fair share budget."
"It's not a fair share budget because medical and pension costs are increased," said the speaker, who also wanted more efforts to recruit minorities from Oakland for public safety.
Library Commissioner Victoria Barbero thanked the council for recognizing libraries as a "safe haven for children."
"I hope you will continue to support that effort," Barbero said. "Nowadays, you can't apply for a job at McDonalds, except online. If you are poor and don't have a computer, the library is an important resource."
Another resident wanted funding for the recreation centers. She related how when the Manzanita Recreation Center director was gone on maternity leave for six months, there was gambling and drug use on the grounds.
"As soon as the director came back, there was an extraordinary difference," said the resident. "Recreation centers are also important for public safety reasons."
A man who warned he was "grumpy" brought up the subject of debt.
"We're going to fall off the cliff if we don't address debt," he said.
Santana noted that 8 percent of the budget goes to debt paydown and that by 2026 a lot of debt will have expired.
A woman who had been a victim of armed robbery said she understood why the city wants to beef up the OPD but thinks that police consultants William Bratton and Compliance Director Tom Frazier are overpaid. Another resident agreed that too much money is being allocated to police at the expense of other quality-of-life issues.
"Torn-up streets are unsafe to walk on," he said. "Vacant lots, blight and graffiti create a scene for more criminal activity."
Neighborhood Watch block captain Karen Lock said safety is her number-one priority.
"Burglaries are up 42 percent in the last two years," said Lock, who was shocked to discover that OPD is so understaffed compared to other cities. "It's literally a crime."
Another City of Oakland employee also spoke. She said that -- unlike police officers -- she hadn't had a cost-of-living raise in six years.
"Service workers are ready and willing to go out on strike," said another city worker, who was concerned about the city reducing his benefits and pension.
The final hearing and adoption of budget is at 6:30 p.m. June 27.