OAKLAND — The chances that scores of police will be laid off as the city navigates its budget crisis now appear almost certain.
Talks between the city and the Oakland Police Officers Association appear at a standstill. City Council President Jane Brunner and three of her colleagues released a budget proposal Monday that, absent concessions, asks the eight-member panel to cut 179 to 202 officers over the next six months unless voters approve measures to help solve the crisis.
"I've always said from Day 1 that I'm not willing to lay off police unless we cut everything else we can," Brunner said. "I think that's what we've done."
Joining Brunner in offering the proposal were council members Jean Quan, Ignacio De La Fuente and Pat Kernighan. The plan includes $18.7 million in budget-balancing proposals unrelated to police officer cuts. The other measures include renting vacant office space; reducing by 10 percent the hours during which senior centers are open; and slashing jobs in parks and recreation, information technology and other departments.
Laying off police will be the most controversial portion. Oakland's crime rate remains high, despite a 10 percent drop in reports of serious crime in 2009 and a 17 percent decline through June 13 compared with the same point last year.
The council members' plan offers two solutions for closing the final portion of the deficit:
The council meets Thursday to address a $31.5 million shortfall in the city's $400 million general fund. A proposal from the city administration is expected today.
Neither the proposed Measure Y change nor a possible tax measure have been released. The Measure Y change would eliminate the requirement that Oakland pay for at least 739 officers before collecting the tax. A new tax measure could be either a parcel tax, sales tax or utility users' tax.
Not everyone agrees on what needs to be done before asking voters for a tax. De La Fuente said he would demand concessions from police before supporting such a measure. Brunner said she wouldn't.
For now, city and union officials seem stuck on the possibility of reopening the officers' contract. Council members want police to contribute 9 percent of their salaries toward their retirement. Union leadership says it only would be willing to negotiate on their pension payments if guarantees against layoffs were made.
The union is holding a jobs fair today for officers who could get pink slips. Federal agencies are expected to participate along with the Berkeley, Fremont, Richmond and Long Beach police departments, among others.
The union went on the offensive Monday morning, before the latest budget proposal was released, holding a news conference near the site of a recent shooting death in West Oakland.
"A budget is not just a column of numbers; it is a list of community priorities," said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, head of the union. "It is wrong, it is dangerous, it is shortsighted and it sends absolutely the wrong message if the City Council adopts a budget that lays off 200 police officers."
Arotzarena and other police were joined by Oakland mayoral candidate and former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, religious leaders and Gwendolyn Randle, whose son's father was killed near Adeline and 8th streets in West Oakland. Randle said she fears if the department had been depleted when the man was killed, police might not have been able to track down the suspects.
De La Fuente called it "outrageous" and "unacceptable" that the union held the news conference near the site of a slaying. He also said the council is not in a position to offer a no-layoff guarantee because deficits could continue to grow.
"There's no way that we can guarantee there won't be layoffs when we have even bigger budget deficits next year and the following year," he said.
City figures show projected deficits of $51.2 million in the 2011-12 year and $54.6 million in 2012-13.
However the crisis is resolved, it will play a big role in Nov. 2 city elections, including the mayor's race.
Perata, who has the support of the police union, said the council should have placed a half-cent sales tax measure on the June ballot. He said he still believes a mail-only special election in September on a half-cent sales tax measure could help the city avoid laying off police.
To which Quan, also a leading candidate for mayor, replied: "If you don't take on the long-term costs of the police including their pensions, you may be able to avoid (cutting police) this year, but you won't be able to avoid it next year. The question is whether Don will ever take on the long-term costs of the Police Department."
Perata said if the council makes the kind of cuts outlined in the proposal and puts a sales-tax increase on the ballot, police should make concessions on their retirement contributions.
"That should be part of the package," he said.
This Oakland City Council proposal to fill a $31.5 million deficit was released Monday and includes the possibility of massive cuts to the Police Department.