Tomorrow two groups of four Councilmembers will present competing budgets for adoption by the City of Oakland. By far the most controversial of all proposed cuts is Mayor Jean Quan’s threat to cut 90% of the staff of the Oakland Public Library, violating the terms of the 2004 Measure Q parcel tax that provides additional funding for library services. Some observers claim that the library needs to share the pain like everyone else – and Councilmembers are quick to assure constituents that preserving the library is their top priority – but a cursory look at the city budget shows the library is being unfairly targeted for reductions.
General Fund contribution for the library was $12.7m in 2008, and last year it was cut to the Measure Q minimum, $9.1m. That’s a 28% cut in just three years! Parks and Recreation has been cut by 14%, and Public Works cuts have left our streets in deplorable condition. Meanwhile, outside grants have declined by only a small amount, and the City Planning Department has suffered almost no funding reductions (less than 4% cut from the General Fund). The Police Department has seen its total funding increase over that period even though the services it provides have been cut to the point that crime victims are coming to the library to get help filling out reports.
It is a statement of the backwards priorities of the sclerotic City Council that the most basic city services have been decimated while bureaucrats who do not help the public, and grants that go to politically-active organizations, have kept most of their funding.
But this isn’t just a matter of the City Council’s priorities. In order for Oakland to reverse the cycle of budget cuts, there must be new investment to lift property values, increase employment, and boost tax receipts. New residents and investors don’t care about planning codes or grants for private programs. They care about clean and safe streets, and basic services like libraries, which is the best-used city service (if you don’t count parking tickets!). If the library is decimated in order for the City to continue funding programs grants or Mayoral advisors, we won’t be able to attract the kind of investment that is needed to get the city’s fiscal house in order.
If you’d like to tell your City Councilmembers to prioritize the library and basic services you can email them at the addresses below. The first four Councilmembers are one group and the second four are the other. You can also join me and many other library supporters as we read books in front of City Hall today.
UPDATE June 21: Oakland City Council will hear budget proposals on June 28th.