OAKLAND -- Eight years after voters passed Oakland's signature public safety tax, the fire department still hasn't implemented one of the tax program's stated objectives -- a youth mentoring program at every fire house.
Chief Teresa Deloach Reed's recent admission to the Measure Y Citizens' Oversight Committee caught people by surprise because it contradicted previous statements from fire and city officials testifying to the program's existence.
Reed's predecessor, Gerald Simon, gave reports about the mentoring program, said Jose Dorado, the oversight committee's chairman. The reports, it turned out, were about volunteer mentoring efforts by firefighters, Dorado said, not the formal program called for in the tax measure.
Marleen Sacks, who twice sued the city over Measure Y, said a fire department official testified in a deposition that the mentoring program existed.
When Sacks requested documentation, however, the city only provided sign-in sheets for fire station open houses, she said. "This is just one more in a long list of Measure Y failures."
Measure Y generates about $20 million a year for public safety and violence prevention programs. The main benefactor is the police department, which receives funds to pay for 63 officers who are supposed to constitute Oakland's community policing program.
The fire department gets $4 million a year. According to the measure, those funds may only be used as part of an "integrated program" that maintains engine and truck companies, expands paramedic service and establishes "a mentorship program at each station."
Although the mentoring program is written into the measure, the wording never legally required the fire department to implement it, according to a city report. The program was just one of the allowable priorities for which the department could spend its share of the tax money.
Dorado said there still was an expectation that the department would follow through with the mentorship program.
"To not have instituted any sort of formal mentoring program after eight years and $32 million bucks, that bothers me," he said.
Dorado added that the program would have been important to help expand the horizons of local teens and preteens and get them interested in firefighting -- a job that offers six-figure salaries. "To me there could be nothing better than having the city of Oakland served by people who are raised here," he said.
Reed, who was hired as chief earlier this year, said a mentorship program at every fire station was logistically impossible because the students would be left alone in the event of a major blaze.
She is developing a formal mentorship program for about 25 students, but still has to identify funding. The $4 million the fire department gets from Measure Y, she says, is paying to keep two engine companies from being "browned out."
The city has faced criticism over Measure Y oversight and expenditures since voters passed it in 2004, although it has prevailed against legal challenges. Several of the biggest issues have cropped up since the financial collapse forced Oakland to lay off police officers.
Voters two years ago had to amend the initiative to preserve funding after police staffing dipped below the floor set by the measure. With fewer officers, police also have nearly cut in half the number of Measure Y-funded officers doing community-based policing.
Although the mentorship program was hardly a main selling point of Measure Y, which costs most property owners about $90 per year, Dorado fears that opponents will harp on it when the city asks voters to renew the measure in 2014.
"This will be one of the charges that will be used against Measure Y," he said. "Mark my words."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.