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Oakland debates budget proposal, amendments, as deadline nears

The Oakland City Council will hold a special meeting Monday evening to discuss Mayor Libby Schaaf’s proposed $3.2 billion budget for the next two fiscal years.

It’s likely that there will be a lively debate at the meeting because City Council President Rebecca Kaplan has offered a long list of amendments to Schaaf’s plan.

Kaplan initially made a controversial proposal to eliminate the city’s Department of Transportation that Schaaf created three years ago and firing its director.

But last Wednesday, Kaplan changed her position and instead asked for City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to provide a report on “issues of duplication” between the Department of Transportation and the Public Works Department.

In releasing the proposed budget on May 1, Schaaf and Landreth said:

“The $3.2 billion plan makes unprecedented investments to address our homeless crisis, build affordable housing post-redevelopment, strengthen anti-displacement efforts and pave our roads.”

Schaaf and Landreth added:

“This budget also makes an ongoing commitment to paying down the city’s retiree medical un-funded liabilities, which combined with pension un-funded liabilities totals more than $2.7 billion.”

Kaplan said in a statement that one of the reasons she’s proposing an alternative budget is that there’s a law requiring the council president to do so.

“Writing a budget is about the numbers and it is also about our values, our goals and whether we take care of all of our community,” Kaplan said, stating that she got input from throughout the community before crafting her amendments.

Kaplan said she wants to:

“[R]emedy the disconnect that has taken place during the implementation of the Department of Transportation.”

Kaplan said there’s been a “lack of adequate clarity about roles and responsibilities” in the department which has caused “wasted time and resources” for city staff and regional partners.

“Numerous transportation and construction projects have been sent for approvals or support back and forth between the Department of Transportation, Public Works and other departments as the duties of each appear to overlap in ways that are wasting time and impeding the completion of important projects,” she said.

Other amendments proposed by Kaplan include rejecting Schaaf’s proposed cut of 8.5 full-time parks maintenance workers, adding proactive trash removal, remedying illegal dumping and expanding the city’s response to homelessness.

City Councilwoman Sheng Thao, who served as Kaplan’s chief of staff until she was elected to the Council last November, said in a statement that she supports Kaplan’s proposal to restore the 8.5 parks maintenance workers.

“Our parks and open spaces are incredibly important to the community city-wide, that is why I am pleased to see President Kaplan unfreezing those park positions. Our parks are already not being serviced at an adequate level and freezing these positions would only worsen the current reality,” Thao said.

However, Thao said she “strongly disagrees” with Kaplan’s original proposal to eliminate the Department of Transportation.

Thao said her district and the entire city are “continuing to feel the effects of our worsening streets and roads.” Thao cotinued:

“[W]e need a department with a single mission to focus on improving our infrastructure, including repaving our streets and filling in the potholes.”

Thao said:

“There is still a lot of work to be done within the Department of Transportation to improve service delivery, but I hope that my colleagues will join me and continue to fund this critical position.”

Schaaf’s spokesman Justin Berton alleged in a statement that Kaplan’s budget plan “is so reckless it would throw Oakland into financial and operational chaos now and for years to come.”

Berton said:

“Kaplan’s budget invents $100 million in fictitious revenues out of thin air, illegally uses restricted funds and violates multiple local and state laws and would force layoffs across the city.”

He said:

“It lacks a rudimentary understanding of municipal finance. The City Administrator (Landreth) has urged every councilmember to reject Kaplan’s budget, as it is simply too flawed to fix.”

The special City Council meeting on the two-year budget cycle for 2019-21 that begins on July 1 is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Monday at the council’s chambers at 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.

The council could vote on the budget at the meeting, but it if it can’t come to an agreement, it has until the end of the month to approve a budget.

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