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J.J. Phillips, Berkeley
John Birdsall no longer writes for the SF Weekly, and his editors are responsible for the column name.
"Libraries on the Brink," News, 5/25
Why Not Cut Police/Fire?
The spirit in which Measure Q was written was to devise a scheme in Oakland's budgetary allocations, especially during hard economic times, to guarantee that libraries receive a minimal amount of funding (currently 2 percent) and not get squeezed out of the budget. Instead, Measure Q is being misused as a bargaining weapon to threaten library workers with mass layoffs unless they repeatedly take disproportionate amounts of salary cuts.
That there are only three potential scenarios, as proposed by the mayor (and supported by city council) is a distortion. Why was there no "Scenario D" where cuts to police and fire department were included among the cuts to social services, especially when police and fire account for 75 percent of the general fund?
I do believe public safety is a priority. That is why, with a 17 percent unemployment rate, Oakland citizens need access to computers to find jobs, access to safe spaces for youth, and access to the meeting rooms where Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils convene. Now is the time for Oakland to challenge the police/fire monopoly on our general fund, honor the spirit of Measure Q, and collect the $14 million in revenue that 77 percent of voters volunteered to pay to keep libraries open.
Branch Manager, Golden Gate Branch
Tax Alone Won't Cut It
The mayor's Scenario C is actually not based on the parcel tax. It's based on employee concessions and the parcel tax. The parcel tax alone won't do much at all. Worse still is the timing. If there is a proposal for the parcel tax, it has to be approved by a public vote. The ballot goes out in November, but the new fiscal year begins July 1. Would they close the libraries for July through November? Maybe, but that wouldn't do the job either. If we're going to spend the money on the libraries and other services, we have to collect it. The property taxes are collected at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. By the time the measure was passed, it would be too late to collect it with the 2011-2012 taxes. It would have to wait until the following fiscal year, 2012-2013. That is, the tax couldn't be collected until the end of 2012. Any library services dependent on those taxes would have to wait until the end of next year. Scenario C isn't the answer.
Bob Shurtleff, Oakland
"Bashing Mayor Quan," Seven Days, 5/25
Kids In a Sand Box
Nice article. Watching the city council lately is like watching a bunch of kids in a sand box throw sand in each other's faces. Everyone after their own agenda and wanting to be right. There seems to be very little interest in helping the mayor figure out a way to balance the budget without destroying so much of what makes our city wonderful: parks, libraries, art, good senior centers, etc.
Sara Somers, Oakland
Chain Saws vs. Nail Clippers
With the City of Oakland facing Depression Economics, the ongoing approach of trying to balance the current $58 million shortfall (an estimated at $76 million next year) is both naive and quite shortsighted.
The deficits are simply not sustainable. Not only do the deficits have significant effects on the city's financial stability, economic growth, and our standard of living; in the not-too-distant future they will become catastrophic. It simply cannot continue. If the city were operated as the half-a-billion-dollar-a-year business that it is, it would have been put under bankruptcy re-organization long ago.
For years the City of Oakland's leaders have attempted to balance the budget with a pair of fingernail clippers making minuscule cuts. They should be using a super-sized chainsaw! Clipping away at expenses only continues the downward spiral and resolves nothing. History clearly shows that the clipping-away approach is an unquestionable failure.
An enormous share of the city's budget woes does not provide a single service to its residents, specifically interest payments on debt (not even the principle) and retirement pensions. There is no chance for the city to get back on its feet if it continues to pay these debts at face value. The city has been borrowing money without a source of repayment for decades. They have been making promises to employees they could never keep. It's time to stop the insanity. Without a strong financial foundation, nothing can be rebuilt.
That brings me back to the earlier paragraph; the city must file for bankruptcy. Yes, on the surface, that is a huge ego crusher. And yes, on the surface, it will reflect poorly on the résumé of our city officials. So what? This is not a popularity contest; it's about saving a city that is sinking with no viable plan to prevent drowning.
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