Several youth in black shirts stand in line preparing to speak at an Oakland City Council meeting.
Supporters of the Oakland Department of Violence Prevention attend a Public Safety Committee meeting at City Hall on Sept. 12, 2023 in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Amir Aziz.

A last-minute reprieve has saved Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention from having to cut much of the funding for its nonprofit contractors, who work on the frontline with people experiencing violence and crime. 

When Oakland approved its biennial budget in June, violence prevention was one of the departments that took a big hit. The department was originally envisioning budget cuts of roughly 22% for every contractor it employs, amounting to several million dollars. 

But on Tuesday, the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee unanimously approved $28 million in grant agreements with 24 nonprofit organizations that work for the Department of Violence Prevention. Essentially, the council has restored almost all of the money that the department was slated to lose. 

These grants, which must be approved by the full council next week, will cover services from Oct. 1, 2023, to June 30, 2025. The agreements could be extended through September 2025 with an extra $4 million, assuming Oakland voters renew a public safety funding measure that sunsets next year. 

In a surprising twist, the committee also approved a motion to restore $3.3 million in grant funding for DVP’s employment services. This funding supports organizations such as Youth Employment Partnership, a 50-year-old institution that provides job readiness training and summer jobs to low-income youth. Using one-time salary savings from unfilled department positions, DVP will be able to cover employment services through at least September 30, 2024. This will first be voted on by rules this week, then by the full council next Tuesday. 

“I just want to reiterate how important jobs programs are to community building, violence prevention, and building our long-term future,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee. 

Councilmembers Kaplan, Treva Reid, and Janani Ramachandran voted on the items. Councilmember Carroll Fife was absent.     

The department, which was established in 2017 and tasked with bringing non-police resources to solving Oakland’s most pressing public safety issues, didn’t escape completely unscathed. To cover a $1.4 million gap in its budget, DVP will not continue funding for its mini-grant program at the end of the month. 

According to the department, 56 organizations received mini grants in fiscal year 2022-2023. These grants, which range between $5,000 to $15,000, mostly pay for healing and arts-oriented projects in East Oakland and deep East Oakland, West Oakland, Fruitvale, and elsewhere in the city. Some of the mini grant recipients included Dads Evoking Change, a co-parenting counseling organization for Black parents; Beat the Streets Bay Area, which promotes healing through wrestling; and Third Eye Soul Kitchen, which holds community events.

DVP interim chief Kentrell Killens told The Oaklandside his office is meeting soon with the Oakland Fund for Public Innovation to discuss how the group can potentially fundraise to pay for the mini grants. The fund is a private, nonprofit organization that raises money through contributions from individuals and foundations. There’s no timeline for when—or if—the department will secure funding for the mini grants. 

Killens said the department did its best to prevent cuts, but ultimately, reductions had to happen somewhere. 

“We had to prioritize those services that have the closest impact to those affected by violence,” Killens said. 

“When you feel like you’ve been abandoned by the village, you’ll burn that village down”

The mood at Tuesday night’s committee meeting in Oakland City Hall was at turns ebullient and defiant. 

Dozens of attendees—many from the youth organization, Urban Peace Movement—showed up to protest any potential cuts to the Department of Violence Prevention. Even after Kaplan began the meeting by assuring residents that the worst of the cuts would be avoided, about 50 people spoke in defense of violence prevention programs.

“I can say being in a community-based program has developed my social skills and helped me feel closer and connected to the people around me,” said Taylor, a youth member of Urban Peace Movement.

Richard de Jaurequi, chief operating officer for the Oakland Private Industry Council and a project developer for DVP, said his organization has placed hundreds of young people in jobs over the last decade, with 60% providing full benefits. He noted that workforce development is a mandatory component of Measure Z, a parcel tax passed by voters in 2014 that raised millions for public safety programs.

“Cutting out one part to the exclusion of others is not the appropriate way of doing things,” he said.

Stanley Cox, the legendary Oakland rapper known as Mistah F.A.B., urged the councilmembers to preserve programs geared toward youth. Cox, who recently held a mental health wellness event for Black men called “Thug Therapy,” said youth need to be made to feel part of the community.

“When you feel like you’ve been abandoned by the village, you’ll burn that village down,” Cox said.

Raymond Lankford, a pastor who’s been involved in various community organizations and health initiatives, underscored the point that workforce development and training must be treated as a permanent part of the city’s violence prevention strategy. Driving home what’s at stake, Lankford said he’s buried 19 family members who have been murdered in Oakland, including a 21-year-old earlier this year.

“You think I want to keep burying people in Oakland?” Lankford said.  

Paula Hawthorn, who chairs the Public Safety and Services Violence Prevention Oversight Commission, hugged Killens before the start of Tuesday’s committee meeting. Last month, the commission objected to all the proposed cuts that would be made to DVP, including the mini grants. Hawthorn said it was still an enormous relief to see the employment services spared.

“Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” Hawthorn told The Oaklandside. “Jobs are required to help pull down our violence rate.”

Most of DVP’s funding is safeguarded through next year. Now, city leaders are focused on a bigger money question: how to replace Measure Z. The measure expires next December, and the city must put a replacement on the ballot to continue getting these funds.  

Both Oakland police and the Department of Violence Prevention draw funding from Measure Z, but the latter is more reliant on these dollars. DVP’s biennial budget for grants consists of $22.6 million from Measure Z funding, with about $5.3 million from the general fund. The additional $3.3 million the City Council is expected to approve next week comes from both funds.

City officials wouldn’t discuss details about the ongoing conversations around replacing Measure Z. During a meeting earlier this week with the Violence Prevention Coalition, Killens said there are conversations happening behind the scenes about how to prepare the ballot, and polling to figure out how to split funding between police and violence prevention.

“We do have to get extremely busy on this,” Killens said during the coalition meeting, which preceded the public safety committee meeting. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but we’re not in bad shape compared to where we thought we were.”

Eli Wolfe reports on City Hall for The Oaklandside. He was previously a senior reporter for San José Spotlight, where he had a beat covering Santa Clara County’s government and transportation. He also worked as an investigative reporter for the Pasadena-based newsroom FairWarning, where he covered labor, consumer protection and transportation issues. He started his journalism career as a freelancer based out of Berkeley. Eli’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic,, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Eli graduated from UC Santa Cruz and grew up in San Francisco.