Date Measure Y taxes began
Jan. 1, 2005
Date police staffing goal met (temporarily)
Nov. 14, 2008
Date police staffing promise again broken
June 30, 2009
The Betrayal of Measure Y
Measure Y requires the City of Oakland to hire and maintain 802 police officers. The City did not fulfill that requirement during the 2005-06 fiscal year nor in 2006-07, nor in 2007-08. However, the City immediately and illegally began to collect the Measure Y parcel and parking taxes.
Brief history of Measure Y
The city council put a new tax on the March 2004 ballot, Measure R. During the campaign, increasing questions arose about the uses of the tax proceeds. It turned out that most of the money would be granted to private agencies to carry out social programs with hardly any supervision. Although the council also promised more police officers, discontent with the absence of any minimum guarantee of new officers grew.
Defeat of Measure R
Measure R was narrowly defeated. The council, determined to raise taxes, set about writing a successor, which turned out to be Measure Y. At the same time, public demands to remedy the severe understaffing of Oakland's police department became more insistent. In order to navigate this situation, the council wrote what it called a balanced compromise.
The 802-Officer Requirement
On the police side, Measure Y guarantees 802 police when the City collects the taxes. The guarantee was offered in two parts. The measure allows the collection of new parcel and parking taxes only in those fiscal years in which the City maintains 739 police officers with non-Y money, mostly from the general fund. For a law to set a prerequisite for collecting a tax is truly extraordinary. Then, the City must use Measure Y money to hire and maintain at least 63 more officers, for a total of 802 or more.
On the grant side, Measure Y guarantees that at least 40% of its proceeds go to social programs under the vague heading of "violence prevention." However, the grants are subject to the same requirement that the City may not collect the tax for a fiscal year when it does not maintain 739 officers with non-Y funds.
At the time Measure Y was written, Oakland employed 734 police officers, so the requirement to maintain 739 was not difficult. Nonetheless, the city council refused to remove a hiring freeze that it had imposed on the police department in 2002. Instead, the council waited to see whether Measure Y would pass. Since resignations and retirements happen continually, it was no surprise that by Jan. 2005 the police department was already down to 704 officers.
The campaign for and against Measure Y was heated. When writing the measure, the council included $4 million to re-open fire stations, although this has little to do with "violence prevention." The real reason was to enlist the support of the firefighters association. A secret understanding was reached: the council committed to re-open the stations even if Measure Y failed. In return, the firefighters association contributed over $100,000 to the campaign for Measure Y. In total, councilmembers raised more than twice as much money for Y as opponents raised against it.
Critics of Measure Y charged that the council was not committed to re-staffing Oakland's half a police department. They warned of a bait and switch: if Measure Y passed, Oakland residents might not see any additional officers. Firing back, councilmembers, their aides, and the City itself insisted that Measure Y guarantees 802 officers, while charging that critics were using smear tactics.
Events would prove the critics half right and half wrong. They were right that the councilmembers would pull a bait and switch. They were wrong about how few police would be added, because the council let the police department fall to fewer than 700 sworn officers, well below the 734 we had when the council wrote Measure Y in July 2004.
Violations of Y Begin
Measure Y passed, and the council proceeded to violate it. The council began collecting the parking tax surcharge on Jan. 1, 2005, despite the fact that during the 2004-05 fiscal year (from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005), Oakland had fewer than 739 officers, and the number steadily fell. To his partial credit, then-councilmember Danny Wan had at least private misgivings about this illegal tax grab.
The council voted to collect the parcel tax for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2005, at which time Oakland employed 697 officers. It was obvious that the City would not have 739 officers supported out of non-Y funds for most or all of the fiscal year. Councilmembers did not care. At a July 6, 2005 public hearing they treated the requirement for a total of 802 officers with contempt and disdain.
For the 2006-07 fiscal year the council again ordered collection of the Measure Y taxes, at a time when the city was three dozen police below the 739-officer threshold. Grants to a series of private agencies and their uncoordinated, inefficient violence prevention programs are flowing out the door.
A City on the Edge of Crisis
Today, based on its population, Oakland has less than half a police department by comparison with most major cities. The situation is rapidly getting worse. The new chief has imposed mandatory overtime on all patrol officers. Morale is lower than it has been in ten years. Homicides, reduced for a year, increased in 2005 over 2004, then increased even more in 2006. The park ranger unit was decimated. Walking officers in several commercial districts were removed, then half-restored. Community policing is being dismantled. The highly regarded Beat Health unit was broken up. Patrol beats are being abolished, forcing residents to hope that when they call for service, an officer might be somewhere near their home or business.