OAKLAND — Mayor Ron Dellums said Tuesday that the city should follow a "prudent course" and cut 80 police jobs — 53 filled — to balance its troubled budget.
Dellums offered remarks two days before the City Council is expected to vote on a package of budget adjustments to close a $31 million deficit in the city's $400 million general fund. The mayor was under heavy scrutiny again, facing criticism that he has been disengaged as the budget crisis threatens some of the city's core public safety programs.
"Politics is politics," Dellums said, bristling when asked about the criticism. "These issues are so significant "... that to reduce them, to burlesque them at the level of petty politics, is to do people a great disservice."
The Dellums administration's budget proposal ended up largely similar to a proposal released by City Council President Jane Brunner and three of her colleagues Monday after City Administrator Dan Lindheim and budget office staff members worked with the council members to come as close as possible to an agreement.
Both proposals rely on cutting police jobs now while asking for voter approval for at least one new tax and a change in the city's 2004 public safety ballot measure, Measure Y.
If those measures aren't approved, more police would be laid off in January. Depending on which proposal is adopted, 178 to 216 police officer jobs could be cut without voter approval of the measures. The
City officials argue that the cuts are needed to address short- and long-term budget imbalances. "Oakland is in serious difficulty," Dellums said.
A council plan — backed by Brunner, Jean Quan, Ignacio De La Fuente and Pat Kernighan — proposes the board cut either 150 or 80 police jobs immediately and wait on possible ballot measures before cutting more police.
Dellums said "the prudent course" was to cut 80 before voters are presented with the measures.
The council had signaled this month that it might lay off as many as 200 police. Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, head of the police union, said there is no saving grace in the kind of cuts Dellums and council members are talking about now.
"It's not a victory any time any public safety (officer) is laid off," he said.
City and union officials seem stuck on the possibility of reopening the police contract. Council members want police to contribute 9 percent of their salaries toward their retirement. Union leadership says it would be willing to negotiate on their pension payments only if guarantees against layoffs are made — a promise council members say they can't make.
Cutting police would force the city to stop collecting Measure Y tax revenues of about $20 million a year. The proposed Measure Y change would eliminate the requirement that the city fund at least 739 officers before collecting the tax, which also pays for police and violence-prevention programs.
The council and the administration's budget proposals include $3 million for violence-prevention programs outside Measure Y to keep them running until voters have the chance to approve the change.
Details on a tax proposal are being worked out. It could end up being a parcel tax, a telephone users' tax or a sales tax increase. If the city opts for a parcel tax, it could be in the range of $360 per home and worth roughly $50 million a year to the city. The proposed tax could be lower if police and other unions agree to concessions. The 9 percent police pension contribution is worth about $7.8 million a year itself.
Other budget-cutting proposals that would affect public safety programs include reorganizing the Neighborhood Services program and eliminating budgeted police academies for the next two years. Combined with the layoffs to police, the package is unpopular with anti-crime activists.
Jim Dexter, interim chairman of Oakland's Neighborhood Watch Steering Committee, who said he was speaking as an individual, said the mayor and City Council are paying "lip service" to their stated No. 1 priority of public safety. Dellums is "absent without leave," he said. "I wish we had a mayor."
Jerry Brown, the democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Oakland mayor, reportedly made a similar comment recently. According to a blog entry from a KCBS reporter, Brown told a small group of people, "Oakland could use a mayor, it hasn't had one since I left office."
Dellums has not attended community meetings on the budget, nor has he personally been involved in union negotiations.
Tuesday's news conference was Dellums' first substantial meeting with the press on the current round of cuts.
Still, the mayor referred to himself as the "chief executive officer" of Oakland, saying he has directed the administration's strategy out of the public eye.
"What do I care about what Jerry Brown thinks?" he said. "I am not here being political. I am here trying to do my job in a substantive and serious way. "... Oakland's got real problems."