With the support of councilmembers Carroll Fife, Noel Gallo, and Dan Kalb, Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas announced her proposed amendments to the 2021-2023 budget. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas unveiled her proposed amendments to Mayor Libby Schaaf’s 2021-2023 budget at a press conference in downtown Oakland on Monday.

Joined by District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo, and District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, who all support Bas’s plan, the council president said her adjustments to Schaaf’s proposal are the “start of a clear path towards community safety infrastructure.”

The biggest difference between Bas and Schaaf’s proposals concerns police spending. Bas wants to reduce OPD’s budget by about $18 million over the next two years. Her plan does this by cutting two of the six police academies Schaaf wanted, for a savings of $7.5 million, and by freezing currently vacant police officer positions in the “Tactical Operations Units,” which respond to 911 calls city-wide, creating savings of $10.9 million.

According to Bas, reductions to the Tactical Operations Units are possible without impacting public safety because about 75% of the 911 calls OPD officers respond to are “low level, non criminal, including false alarms, blocked driveways and noise disturbances.”

This money, along with $30 million in “contingency” revenue that Schaaf set aside in her budget proposal for the council to freely allocate, would be used to pay for a variety of non-police services, including an additional $17 million for the Department of Violence Prevention over the next two years, raising that department’s total budget from $6.6 million to about $23 million. The DVP uses a public health approach to reduce violence and treat community trauma by deploying counselors, life coaches, and street outreach teams. Bas, Fife, Gallo, and Kalb also want to spend much more on MACRO, the non-police emergency response team that will be housed in the Oakland Fire Department. Schaaf’s budget called for $2.6 million over the next two years, whereas the councilmembers’ plan would spend $6.2 million.

The councilmembers’ proposed budget adjustments aren’t the massive shift away from police spending that some groups have advocated for. Last year, Bas floated a plan to cut $25 million from OPD for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, but she couldn’t gain a majority of support from her colleagues. In the end, the council trimmed police spending by about $12 million. However, the council also voted in favor of a resolution committing to cut the police department’s share of the city’s general fund expenditures by about $150 million in the 2021-2023 budget cycle. 

Groups like the DeFund OPD coalition, which has been campaigning for cuts to police spending for over five years, noted that Schaaf’s budget proposal would allocate about 45% of the city’s general purpose fund to the police in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, slightly more than the 41% average over the past 20 years. The $10.9 million cut proposed by the councilmembers for that year would reduce OPD’s share of the general fund to 43%.

“While many elements of Council President Bas’s budget proposal are promising, there is still much work to be done to even begin the process of defunding the police,” wrote members of the Anti Police-Terror Project in a press release today.

But Bas and her colleagues say the plan will be transformational in the long-run because it includes funding and a directive to audit the police department “to ensure public dollars are being effectively spent on deterring and responding to violence and solving serious and violent crime.” It would also, they say,  continue the reimagining public safety process of mapping out strategies to further reduce police spending.

The four councilmembers also called for budget legislation that would put a measure on the 2022 ballot to “modernize” Oakland’s business tax, so that larger corporations pay more. Bas proposed a similar plan last year, saying it could raise millions in revenue, but it was put on hold after business groups complained the idea was being rushed.

The entire package of budget amendments from Bas, Fife, Gallo, and Kalb is available online.

Under Oakland’s fiscal rules, the mayor proposes a detailed budget plan in May, but the councilmembers have the power to amend the mayor’s budget. A majority of the council’s eight members is required to pass a final budget before June 30, and if there’s a four-four deadlock, the mayor casts the tie-breaking vote.
Under state law, no more than four councilmembers can talk to each other outside of public meetings about the budget or other legislation, therefore it’s too early to tell if Bas’s plan will gain majority support. The Oakland City Council will hold a hearing on the budget this Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.