OAKLAND -- Voters this November will get to decide the fate of Oakland's signature public safety tax, its chronically underfunded Public Ethics Commission and the base wages of thousands of workers.

In a marathon session Tuesday night, the City Council placed three initiatives on the ballot, the most heavily watched of which will be an extension of Measure Y, which provides more than $20 million a year for police, fire and violence prevention programs.

If voters reject the tax, which needs a two-thirds majority for passage, it will cost Oakland's Police Department a little over $10 million a year -- roughly the cost of 50 police officers.

The proposed tax extension would maintain the current tax rate of $98 per year, which can increase with inflation, as well as an 8.5 percent surcharge on parking rates.

The original tax measure, approved by voters in 2004, has a checkered past. It guaranteed that Oakland would have at least 802 officers, but the city reneged on that promised when it laid off 80 officers during the Great Recession.

In a bid to secure votes -- and possibly the support of the police union, which has been silent on the tax measure -- the council included a no-layoff clause into the 10-year measure. Police layoffs would only be permitted if sworn staffing was above 800 officers following the layoff.


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The measure requires that Oakland have at least 678 officers, which is exactly the number currently on the force. The city would retain some wiggle room to go below that number during a major recession or a sudden wave of police retirements and resignations.

Several city unions responded coolly to the proposal, fearful that the provisions would lock in police funding during the next recession and force further cuts to libraries, senior centers and other services.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who abstained from the 7-0 vote to put the measure on the ballot, echoed their concerns. "We know that minimum staffing levels didn't work for us in the past," she said. "And why we think they will work now is unclear to me."

On the other end of the spectrum, Marleen Sacks, who sued the city twice over its handling of the original Measure Y, said she would actively oppose the new measure because it didn't guarantee enough officers. Sacks said she will talk with residents who she teamed up with to successfully oppose a 2011 property tax, to see if they want to raise money to fight the new Measure Y.

The council voted 7-0 to place an initiative on the ballot to strengthen the Public Ethics Commission. The proposal, spearheaded by Councilman Dan Kalb, comes one year after the Alameda County grand jury urged council members to expand the commission's authority and increase its budget. The proposal would guarantee that the commission would have at least six employees and would transform it into a quasi-independent outfit with authority to fire its executive director and impose fines that would only be appealable to a superior court judge.

The council also placed a $12.25 minimum wage proposal on the November ballot. Council members were obligated to take that action after supporters of the labor-backed plan obtained more than 30,000 signatures from registered voters. On July 29, the council will decide whether to place a competing minimum wage measure on the ballot that is backed by local business groups.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6535.