A view of Lake Merritt and downtown Oakland, with San Francisco in the background, as seen from Joaquin Miller Park. Credit: Amir Aziz

Oakland is facing a potential budget shortfall of over $200 million in the next several years, a situation that could require large cuts. At the same time, a majority of residents say they’re unhappy with the city’s job providing services like police 911 response, violence prevention, mental health crisis response, cleanup around encampments, and shelter and housing for the homeless. This demand for a more effective government appears to be on a collision course with Oakland’s fiscal reality.

The City Council will convene for a special meeting Friday to discuss budget priorities—what services need to be protected or expanded, and where cuts can be made if revenues do come up short, as they’re currently projected to.

In preparation for the council retreat, the city had FM3 Research, a professional polling firm, survey 1,270 residents’ opinions on Oakland’s state of affairs and what changes to the budget should look like.

According to the results, 63% of residents disapprove of the job city government is doing. Most people say violent crime, homelessness, and housing costs are the top issues they’d like to see the council and mayor tackle.

Credit: Courtesy of FM3 Research and city of Oakland

Most Oaklanders feel the city is still a good or excellent place to live, but at 54%, this is the lowest level of positivity since 2000, when polling on the question began.

The survey was conducted in December and the first week of January, just before Oakland’s new mayor Sheng Thao took office along with two new councilmembers, Janani Ramachandran in District 4 and Kevin Jenkins in District 6.

Asked what could be cut to balance the city’s budget, a majority said it would be acceptable to reduce spending on fairs, festivals, concerts, and art events; to trim spending on graffiti cleanup; and to reduce assistance to small businesses for things like facade improvements and repairs.

But there are few other services that Oaklanders want cut. By a majority, residents said they oppose reductions in the budget for scooping up illegal dumping, homeless camp cleanups, and shelter and housing programs for the unhoused.

Eighty percent or more of residents say it would not be acceptable to reduce spending on programs that address gun violence, police investigations of violent crime, services for domestic violence and gender-based violence survivors.

Only 14% of residents say cuts to food security programs for seniors and families in need would be ok.

In an open-ended question asking residents what would make them feel safer, 26%—the highest level of any answer—said “more services/community involvement/rehabilitation/health services is their biggest priority, followed by “more police presence.”

The survey also asked residents which Reimagining Public Safety Task Force recommendations they’d like to see prioritized in the budget. The top-ranked answer: improving mental health services.

Credit: Courtesy of FM3 Research and city of Oakland

The survey was carried out in English, Chinese, and Spanish over the phone and online. Similar polls were conducted in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2015, 2017, 2018, and during the 2020-21 budget cycle.

As in past years, results revealed that white people have a much more positive view of Oakland as a place to live than other racial groups—71% of white people ages 18 to 49 and 69% of white people aged 50 and up said Oakland is an excellent or good place to live. That dropped to 47% and 46% for Latinos of the same age groups, 46% and 52% for Black people, and 50% and 48% for Asians. This could be due to racial inequities evident in everything from jobs and housing to schools, crime, and access to healthcare. 

But residents’ feelings about the how city government is serving them is consistent across all racial groups and ages with majorities disapproving.
Read the survey for yourself.

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.