OAKLAND -- Police leaders would have a lot more flexibility in allocating more than $10 million a year from Oakland's signature public safety tax measure under a draft proposal released Friday.
Whereas the original Measure Y property tax, which expires this year, committed police to spending its share of tax proceeds on 63 officers assigned to community policing, the new measure spells out a much broader mandate of reducing crime and improving 911 response times.
"We wanted there to be increased flexibility for the department to provide money where it's most needed," said Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who served on a committee that wrote the ballot language. She said the department would still be required to have community policing officers.
Passed by voters in 2004, Measure Y generates $21 million for violence prevention programs, firefighting services and the 63 community policing officers.
Polls have shown that city residents want more police and social programs, but the city has a credibility gap with voters when it comes to the measure that taxes single-family homeowners $98 per year and imposes an 8.5 percent surcharge on parking rates.
The measure was contingent on the city maintaining a police force of at least 802 officers. But when the economy crashed and police staffing dropped well below that threshold, voters had to approve eliminating the staffing clause in 2010 so the city could continue to collect the tax.
Unlike its predecessor, the draft measure does not include a hard minimum police staffing requirement. The Fire Department's allotment would be halved from $4 million to $2 million, with 60 percent of the remaining money going to the Police Department and 40 percent going toward violence prevention programs.
The original Measure Y was promoted as a tool to fully fund the department's community policing program, which was especially popular in the voter-rich hills neighborhoods.
But as police staffing plummeted over the last decade, department leaders struggled to meet the community policing mandate while adequately staffing the patrol division and crime suppression units. Over the years, police leaders have griped about not having more flexibility in using the tax proceeds.
Marcus Johnson, chairman of Oakland's Community Policing Advisory Board, said he supported giving the department greater control over the tax funds. "I think the strategy has to be flexible," he said. "You've got to give police latitude in how they address crime."
But Marleen Sacks, a resident who twice sued the city over its implementation of Measure Y, said she would oppose the proposed measure as currently written because it was too broad and lacked a minimum staffing requirement.
"It's just a slush fund, which is how they treated Measure Y from the get-go," she said.
The City Council is expected to vote on the new ballot language before the end of July. The first review will come June 24 at the council's Public Safety Committee.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.