Crime Is Down, But Dellums Isn't Up 

Oakland's mayor revamped the police department, but hasn't received credit for the substantial decrease in crime.

Oakland's crime problem spiraled out of control in the last two years of Jerry Brown's administration. And then it remained high in 2007 and 2008 during Ron Dellums' first two years as mayor of Oakland. Brown, however, managed to escape criticism for failing to slow the crime wave, while Dellums was excoriated for it — despite the fact that his crime numbers were never as bad as Brown's. And now, Oakland's crime wave appears to be over, yet Dellums isn't getting credit for that either, even though there's an argument to be made that the decisions made on his watch are partially responsible.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that March marked the fifteenth straight month of declines. Homicides have plummeted 26 percent, aggravated assaults have dropped 31 percent, rapes are down 45 percent, robberies have declined 27 percent, and thefts have decreased by 38 percent.

If those numbers hold up for the rest of the year, it will represent the biggest turnaround in crime since the crack epidemic ended in the early 1990s. So what did Dellums do? For starters, his administration reorganized the police department and reassigned officers to geographic areas, increasing both accountability and public service. He also hired and trained more cops and won the right to switch the department to twelve-hour shifts, giving commanders greater flexibility to assign more cops to work evenings when most crime occurs. And finally, he replaced Brown's ineffective police chief, Wayne Tucker, with Anthony Batts, a cop with a proven track record who appears to be a perfect fit for Oakland.

To deny that these decisions played a role in Oakland's crime drop is akin to denying that effective policing works. And it seems absurd to blame a mayor for a high-crime rate and then not give him credit when crime decreases dramatically — after he made decisions specifically designed to do just that. Dellums' first term has had its shortcomings, but crime no longer appears to be one of them.

The continuing recession, however, is resulting in much lower city tax revenues, which could force Oakland to lay off police officers and firefighters to bridge a projected $43 million budget gap next year. As result, the city is considering a new parcel tax that would raise about $18 million annually for public safety. The money would not be used to hire new cops and firefighters, but to prevent them from losing their jobs.

However, Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente has already come out against the parcel tax measure, calling it a "cop-out," according to the Oakland Tribune. He argues that the city needs to cut more waste and become more efficient before going to voters with another tax measure, the Chronicle reports.

It's hard to argue that Oakland's government is without waste and inefficiency, but fixing those problems likely won't generate the money needed to solve the city's budget woes. That's because most city employees have already taken a pay cut, and the city had to slash services dramatically last year to fix a previous budget problem. Plus, convincing police and firefighter unions to agree to more wage concessions is highly unlikely.

Oakland also faces the problems created by the previous public safety initiative, Measure Y. That poorly written law says the city can't just lay off a few cops. Instead, it requires that any layoff result in at least sixty officers losing their jobs. So while raising taxes during a recession is not normally a smart idea, Oakland appears to have little choice but to try.

Recycling Fee Could Backfire

Speaking of raising revenues, the City of Berkeley may begin charging property owners for curbside recycling in an effort to close a large budget gap of its own, the Chron reports. Berkeley trash collection revenues have declined in recent years in part because residents are recycling more. However, a new recycling fee could backfire.

Charging for curbside recycling could prove to be an eco-disincentive on several fronts. First, it could prompt residents to recycle less in order to avoid the new fees. It also could give residents a financial incentive to get in their cars, and drive their recyclables to the West Berkeley transfer station, thereby creating more car trips and greenhouse gas emissions. And finally, a new fee could induce residents to drive their recyclables to private recycling centers that pay for the products, and thus harm Berkeley's ability to meet its climate-change goals.

Marijuana Roundup

Tax Cannabis 2010, the pot legalization petition financed by Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University in Oakland, gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November statewide ballot. ... But it's unclear whether the measure will prohibit employers from firing workers who use marijuana. Current California law allows employers to terminate employees who use medical cannabis, the Sacramento Bee reported. ... The East Bay's purge of pot clubs continued last week when Walnut Creek's only dispensary, C3 Medical Cannabis Collective, closed after city officials said pot clubs were not allowed within city limits.

Three-Dot Roundup

Chris Cohan, owner of the Golden State Warriors, put the Oakland-based basketball team up for sale. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, a billionaire Warriors fan, is considered the frontrunner to buy the team. ... State agriculture officials announced that they have abandoned plans to reinstate their controversial aerial-spray program for the light brown apple moth. However, environmentalists are concerned about the state's intention to use pesticide-laced "ground spray" and "twist ties" in people's backyards and on public school grounds.

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