Friday, July 23, 2010

Will the Oakland Police Union Compromise?

By Robert Gammon
Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 11:05 AM

Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner said last night that the city is still in negotiations with the police union over pension contributions, and she and other council members hope to reach a deal by Monday when they will vote on November tax measures. The police union has been pushing the council to put a large parcel tax measure on the ballot, but several councilmembers said last night that they won’t do it unless the union abandons its demand of no cop layoffs in exchange for pension contributions.

In fact, without a police union compromise, the parcel tax, which could cost homeowners up to $360 a year if enacted, may not be on the ballot at all. The tax, which requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass, would generate more than $50 million a year for the city and allow it to avoid more police layoffs. But Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Desley Brooks stated flatly that they won’t vote to put it on the ballot on Monday if the police union refuses this weekend to back off its demands. Councilwoman Pat Kernighan echoed that sentiment, saying, “I’m only willing to go with the parcel tax if police agree to pay 9 percent of their pensions. ... If they change their mind before Monday, maybe it’s a new story.”

In addition, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan noted that the parcel tax appears to be unrealistic, and pointed out that the police union failed to show up at last night’s meeting to advocate for it. If the union refuses to compromise before Monday, and Brooks, De La Fuente, Kaplan, and Kernighan vote against it, then the parcel tax could be dead in the water. Councilwoman Jean Quan only offered reluctant support for it if the police union fails to compromise. It takes five votes from the eight-member council to put a measure on the ballot.

Without a parcel tax, more police layoffs are a certainty. The reason is that the city is facing a $50 million budget deficit next year and none of the other tax measures being considered will raise enough money for the city to avoid more cop layoffs — even if they all make it on the ballot and voters approve all of them. And that scenario apparently is not going to happen.

In fact, the only tax measure that appeared to have any support on the council was a telephone tax that needs just a simple majority to win and would raise about $8 million a year. Councilmembers appeared to oppose a tax on garbage and water that would raise about the same amount. And not a single councilmember spoke in favor of a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase, which also would raise about $8 million annually. The council had previously ruled out a proposal by ex-state Senator Don Perata to raise the sales tax by even more — one-half percent.

Instead, several councilmembers noted that even a quarter-percent sales tax hike would push Oakland’s rate to 10 percent, making it the highest in Northern California. Most Oakland merchant associations are against raising taxes that high, and council members were worried that it would drive retail and shoppers out of the city. “Can we just kill it?” De La Fuente said at one point about the sales tax proposal.

The council also could not agree on a tax structure for medical cannabis dispensaries and the new four large pot farms that will open in the city next year. Councilmembers Kaplan, Kernighan, Nadel, and Quan expressed support for asking voters in November to levy a 2.5 percent tax on dispensaries and a 5 percent tax on medical cannabis growers and producers. But Brooks, Brunner, De La Fuente, and Larry Reid wanted a 5 percent rate across the board. The councilors only appeared to agree on setting a 10 percent rate for recreational pot use should Proposition 19 pass this fall.

Finally, most councilmembers appeared to support asking voters to approve a “fix” to Measure Y so that the city can start collecting the $20-million-a-year parcel tax again without having to maintain specific police staffing levels. The city had to suspend collection of the 2004-voter-approved measure earlier this month when the council voted to lay off eighty cops. The fix also would allow the city to redeploy officers back to community policing positions. The officers were pulled out of those spots when the Measure Y funding dried up. However, if voters reject the fix, which also requires a two-thirds vote to pass, then the city will have to lay off another 122 cops, City Administrator Dan Lindheim said last night.

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