Abel’s eNews: Reforming the budget process, showing solidarity with immigrants, stopping sex trafficking

Fall Is Coming | The Oakland Episodes

It’s not quite “Game of Thrones,” but it has been pretty busy at City Hall and around District 2 the past couple months. The Council’s August recess comes at an opportune time to recharge our batteries and get ready for an equally fast-paced fall.

We will take a few days off next month, but my staff and I will be spending most of the next few weeks reviewing our work and planning for the future to better serve the residents of District 2. You can reach us by phone or email on most days.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at National Night Out on Tuesday, August 1. Let us know if you’re having an event – we’d love to stop by and meet our neighbors.

Investing More in Top Priorities, Reforming the Budget Process
After passing a balanced budget for FY 2017-19 on June 29, I can report that the City Council was able to fund many vital programs and services this year. Among the highlights, we increased funding to:

  • Create substantially more affordable housing.
  • Expand existing programs, shelter facilities and transitional housing to assist the homeless, and preserve existing affordable housing to help slow the displacement of current residents.
  • Allocate funds to acquire a second navigation center, similar to the Henry Robinson Center that boasts an 80% success rate in ensuring that its residents remain housed.
  • Strengthen fire-prevention services and add fire inspectors and support staff.
  • Add one new public-works crews to remove illegal dumping.
  • Restore an additional street-tree crew to help improve Oakland’s tree canopy and reduce tree-root damage to sidewalks.

For a more detailed description of the budget details, please read our previous newsletter.

FUTURE ADDITIONS: Under a two-year budget structure like we have in Oakland, the City Council routinely makes “mid-cycle” adjustments to the budget. At that time, we add programs and services based on refined priorities and revenues. Although we passed the budget only a couple weeks ago, the mid-cycle adjustments for it are just around the corner.

Moving forward, my first priority for those additions will be to fund a second fire academy – which should allow for that training to begin on schedule – and approve extra funding above what was included in the budget for efforts to tackle illegal dumping.

BUDGET REFORMS: While this budget invests in building a healthy future for all Oaklanders, I’m not satisfied with the existing budget process. We can reform the way we create a comprehensive budget that allows us to fund all of our community’s critical needs more efficiently and with better results.

Learning from the findings and recommendations in this year’s independent budget review by Harvey Rose and Associates, which I initiated as the Council’s Finance Chair, I believe there is still work to be done to move the city toward better budgeting practices – and take advantage of opportunities – especially in areas such as salary savings, encumbrances and staff overtime. Moving forward, we can improve the City budget process through:

  1. Increased transparency and accountability: I will ask for more regular, detailed and transparent reports so that the City Council and the public will have better information about budget inefficiencies, cost savings and revenue opportunities.
  2. Labor negotiations at the right time: Salaries for our City employees comprise a large percentage of the budget. In the current process, the Council first adopts a budget, and then it comes back later to reach agreements on new union contracts. This is not a “best practices” approach, and puts the cart before the horse. For a contrast, when I served as a Peralta Colleges trustee, the board would negotiate labor agreements well in advance of adopting a budget – and build salary cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) into the budget. Oakland’s current process doesn’t build goodwill for our hardworking staff and creates distrust. I look forward to working with our friends in labor and interested community members to fix this perennial problem.
  3. More flexible budgeting: I will continue working with our independent budget analyst (Harvey Rose) to examine the potential of implementing a zero-based budgeting process. The current practice simply rolls over appropriated but unspent encumbrances from the prior year’s budget – more than $38 million from last year – to the same programs. It would make more sense to be able to reexamine the costs and priorities behind those funds and then redistribute that unused money to other updated priorities – like tackling illegal dumping, homelessness and displacement. 

    If the Council received more timely information about expenditures as they are made (rather than quarterly reports after the fact), we could make more effective, real-time decisions about managing costs, allocating staff, and creating more precisely targeted budgets. City departments that continually overspend on staff overtime should, at the very least, inform the Council if they blow through their budgets by more than 2%.
  4. Collecting revenues: I’ve asked the City’s Revenue Division for a detailed “aging report” of uncollected money that is owed the City – now estimated at several million dollars. Using good business practices, the City should know what its outstanding accounts receivables are at shorter intervals. The Council, however, doesn’t currently receive this information in a timely enough fashion to best ensure responsible fiscal oversight and make forward-looking budget decisions.

Our budget is a blueprint that represents our community’s core values and charts a course for its future. I take that responsibility very seriously. In the coming year, I will continue to closely examine the City’s expenditures so that our budget accurately reflects and most effectively implements our community’s priorities.

About Mid-cycle Budget Additions
There was some confusion in media reports and on social media last week about the legal technicalities required for the Council to adopt a balanced budget by the June 30 deadline. By law, a six-vote majority is required for a budget that uses one-time funding for ongoing expenses. However, we couldn’t agree on a budget proposal that would secure the support of six Councilmembers to do that. That meant temporarily removing about $3 million of ongoing programs that would receive one-time funding so that only five votes were needed to balance and adopt the budget. We expect those one-time funding items to be approved separately during the mid-cycle revisions. Check out the complete budget legally adopted by the Council.

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District Priorities for Federal Community Grants Approved
This week, the City Council also approved the District 2 citizen priorities for Community Development Block Grants – chosen by the community during our recent Participatory Budget Project – including $195,300 to fix the famed Junk Boat play structure at Lincoln Square Park (middle photo: Abel cleaning up under the boat).

Additional CDBG funding for District 2 will also provide approximately $45,600 each for the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay to provide immigrant and refugee services; Greater New Beginnings Youth Services, Inc., to support their rehabilitative program for young men; Youth Employment Partnership, Inc., for a summer education and job-training program; and Vietnamese Community Development, Inc., to provide vital senior services.

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Council Underscores Support for Undocumented Immigrants
This week, the City Council unanimously approved a policy to terminate Oakland’s Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE), strengthening our sanctuary city ordinance. The Council also passed an ordinance that increases oversight and public engagement in surveillance-related agreements between the City and federal agencies.

As I said at Tuesday’s Council meeting, rescinding the agreement “will send a stronger message to our community that we in fact do not have a relationship with ICE, and it will bring peace of mind to members of our community who are living in fear currently. I think this is a good start. While the work is beginning here, I want to be clear that the work has not ended.”

As a sanctuary city, it’s important that all of Oakland’s residents truly feel safe in their homes and going to and from schools, workplaces and stores.

In May 2016, the Council approved an MOU with ICE to allow some Oakland police officers to be designated as “customs task force agents.” Although aimed at dealing with federal crimes like human trafficking, that designation has raised concerns that OPD officers would also potentially be involved in some fashion with immigration raids and arrests. Read more

Report on Police Best Practices
This spring, I requested a report from the Oakland Police Department to compare its rules and policies to national best practices for local law enforcement, based on the American Civil Liberties Union’s “Freedom Cities” principles. OPD presented their report at the Council’s Public Safety Committee last week. It included a newly drafted immigration policy that reaffirms the department’s commitment to ensure equal enforcement of the law regardless of a person’s immigration status. OPD states that they follow best practices and doesn’t collect data related to immigrant status, but I would like to further ensure that no OPD data can be readily accessed by ICE or other federal agencies. Read the report

This is a good start but the next step is to conduct a more in-depth review of OPD’s data practices. The Privacy Advisory Commission is working with OPD to research all of its databases to more extensively map how their data is shared with other entities. I’ve asked for OPD and the commission to report back on their progress in three months.

Help for Young Victims of Sex Trafficking
The FBI has identified the Bay Area as a hub for the commercial sexual exploitation of children, with an estimated 100 children trafficked in Oakland every night. I am committed to combating these human-rights abuses in District 2 and across the city: That’s why I secured $200,000 in the City budget for transitional housing and shelter facilities to assist sexually exploited children in Oakland.

These grants will provide safe spaces for these children to find refuge, support services, and education and job programs so they have the ability to heal from the trauma of exploitation and thrive. I’m also working on legislation to help prevent these abuses from happening, and hope to bring it to the Council this fall.

This issue is a top priority for me both in terms of community advocacy and city funding. From my first months in office, I’ve participated in on-the-street protests against johns in my district, worked with the community to shed a spotlight on the larger problem of the sex trafficking of youth in our city, and sought ways to protect and assist its victims.

I have called for the doubling of penalties on pimps and johns who operate in and around our schools. We must create pimp-free and john-free zones where our children are most vulnerable. Working with Oakland’s sex-trafficking prevention task force, we’ve talked with area businesses about what they can do to help prevent and report sex trafficking in our community. Email me at aguillen@oaklandnet.com to get involved in my office's efforts on behalf of these children.

GET INVOLVED

Saturday, July 22 | Highland Hospital Neighborhood Cleanup Day
9:00-11:00 am | 1411 E. 31 St., meet at parking-garage entrance
Please join Councilmember Guillén, Alameda Health System and area residents in keeping the perimeter around Highland Hospital and the surrounding neighborhood clean. For more info: lnakada@alamedahealthsystem.org

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Saturday, July 29 | Pancake Breakfast at San Antonio Park
9:00 am-12:00 pm | San Antonio Park Gazebo, 1701 E. 19th St. at 17th Ave.
Join Councilmember Guillén for a pancake breakfast in the park. Meet your neighbors, help clean up the park, water the 27 elm trees recently planted around the park, and share your ideas about revitalizing the park. For more info: Sarah Ting, sting@oaklandnet.com

CITY SERVICES

Friday, July 21 | Food for Low-Income Families and Seniors
The City of Oakland’s Hunger Program, the Emergency Food Providers Advisory Committee and the Alameda County-Oakland Community Action Partnership are sponsoring a food distribution for low-income families and seniors at various locations throughout Oakland. To find a distribution location: www.oaklandhumanservices.org

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Ferry Service and Emergency Preparedness
Last week, I got to take a ride on the Hydrass, the newest addition to the San Francisco Bay Ferry network. Our bay waterways are critical component of the region’s transportation network – and ferries become even more critical during emergencies if roads and bridges are compromised. In the event of a natural disaster or emergency that disrupts regional transportation systems, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) would provide emergency water transportation services and coordinate the region’s water-transit response.

There is a good chance that new state funding will be available to strengthen the WETA system and expand ferry service. I am hoping to have Oakland tap into this funding to help Oakland secure support for a much-needed fire boat and improve our emergency preparedness.

More Summer Jobs Available for Youth
The City’s Summer Job Program now has 300 additional jobs available for Oakland’s youth. The new positions, made possible through a generous $750,000 grant from Marc and Lynne Benioff, brings the total number of summer jobs to 2,000. The program seeks to expand the paid opportunities available to Oakland youth and provides employers a way to invest in youth by either hiring or sponsoring a young person. To apply, youth must live in Oakland and be between 16 and 24 years old. For more info for interested youth and companies/organizations: youthjobs@oaklandnet.com