A colored pencil drawing of the MacArthur Maze: a grey maze of highway overpasses in Oakland.
The MacArthur Maze. Oakland’s new budget has big implications, not just for policing, but also for homelessness, sanitation, public programming, and infrastructural upgrades. (Rodney Bell)

On June 24, The Oakland City Council approved the fiscal year 2021-2023 budget, allocating $3.8 billion in funds that will be spent on homeless services, police, fire, affordable housing, roads, parks, youth programs, and more. This two-year budget was passed after a year of fierce debate about whether and how to defund the police. In the end, the council did not not follow through with the plans they discussed last summer to slash the police budget by up to 50 percent. The council did vote to shift $18 million dollars away from the mayor’s proposed police budget and into other programs. However, the total amount of money that the council voted to allocate to the police will be around $630 million for both years, which is still significantly higher than it was in the last biennial budget. 

The budget was based on a proposed template created by Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration, with final amendments from the city council that somewhat altered Schaaf’s original vision. Here are the highlights of what was in Schaaf’s budget and what was in the amendments by council members. The budget discussed here focuses on the General Purpose Fund (GPF)—the main operating fund for the city, financed by things like sales taxes, property taxes, and business license fees—and how the other funds in the entire budget interact with it.

The Schaaf Administration budget

Schaaf released her original budget in novel digital form nearly a month ago, but since then, as is usually the case, there have been alterations to catch errors, and to change allocations that faced immediate public opposition. Schaaf centered her GPF budget around a showpiece of innovative police budgeting, which she said derived from a process called “zero budgeting.” Schaaf, City Administrator Ed Reiskin and Finance Department representatives have touted a de- and re-construction of the police budget from the ground up. 

Despite the novel rollout, though, Schaaf’s budget was criticized as the institutionalization of Oakland Police Department’s over-spending in previous years. Nearly 50 percent of Schaaf’s GPF budget proposal was earmarked for OPD. Her budget is anchored with significant increases in overtime that closely match previous overtime over-expenditures. Schaaf also wanted six police academies over the two-year budget cycle, as opposed to the usual two per year (COVID excepted). All of this would have drawn $647 million from the General Purpose Fund, in addition to about $44 million in non-discretionary funding from other funds.She also proposed more police spending from other sources. Under Schaaf’s budget, the OPD will directly benefit from the Capital Improvement Projects budget as well, getting another $1 million or so in rehabs for the Police Administration Building downtown and for the Eastmont substation.

Schaaf’s budget template includes a controversial $5 million plan to build out office space for a new “Violence Prevention” office for OPD, which was originally scrapped after backlash, but returned in her final budget proposal. The program was ultimately called “OPD Improvements to County Side PAB.” Together, these items will add another $16 million to the money being spent on OPD this year.

Council President Bas and her budget team’s amendments pass 6 to 2

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and her budget team—composed of D3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, D5 Councilmember Noel Gallo and D1 Councilmember Dan Kalb—put together a response-amended budget that fulfills the spirit, if not the substance, of several demands to defund the police. 

In what became an often personal back and forth between councilmembers, the city council passed the Bas/Fife/Gallo/Kalb amendments to the FY 21-23 budget, with the addition of several amendments from Councilmembers Thao, Reid, and Taylor. The vote took place after four hours of public comment in which the vast majority of speakers supported the Bas amendments—many saying they didn’t go far enough. 

All of the items in the Bas budget were retained, including over $2 million in new encampment sanitation that will more than double the number of encampments serviced.

The team’s budget peeled off the $18 million from OPD by cutting two of Schaaf’s proposed six police academies and freezing 41 vacant positions in police patrol and 911 surge backup in the second budget year. 

Under the council president’s budget, $17 million of the police savings will go to the Department of Violence Prevention (DVP) to amplify the department’s programming in both years. This comes after the DVP’s director recently told the Council’s Public Safety Committee that the department was ten to twenty million short of what they need to fulfill its role in harm reduction, violence mediation and support for victims of violence. 

Bas and her team also allocated $1 million in the first fiscal year of the budget, and $3 million in the second to augment the operating hours of MACRO (Mobile Assistance and Community Responders of Oakland)—the recently-approved program that will send civilians with medical and mental health training to respond to non-violent 911 calls. 

There are several other notable increases in Bas’ budget with these additional funds, including: funds to satisfy calls for the amplification of Department of Workplace and Employment Standards; Oakland Parks, Recreation, and Youth Development; city park upgrades and restorations, as well as amplified expanded homelessness services in the Human Services Department and the City Administrator’s Office. 

The Bas budget does also allocate additional funds to the police. The amendments allocate $390,000 for a Shotspotter expansion that Council approved last week.

The Bas budget also has 27 directives for the city administrator including an analysis of the failures of the academy, and initiation of a process for moving OPD’s internal affairs investigations into the Police Commission’s investigative body. 

Much of Mayor Schaaf’s budget survives, outside of the freezing of the vacant positions and the elimination of the two additional academies. Schaaf’s increase in overtime that matches historically high spending levels from FY 19-20 will also continue. 

The Council also passed a one-year contract extension for the city’s non-sworn unions along with their cost-of-living raises of three percent. The Council also passed the entire Capital Improvement Plan budget with no discussion. That means that about 16 million of those funds will be spent on facilities and services for OPD, including $1 million for feasibility studies and $5 million for new offices in the old courthouse building. 

The budget passed 6 to 2, with both Reid and Taylor voting no.

An extended version of this article was originally published in Hyphenated Republic, an Oakland News blog by Jamie Omar Yassin.

Jamie Omar Yassin is an independent reporter in Oakland covering city politics, public land, homelessness, and the Police Commission.