By Kelly Rayburn
OAKLAND — The City Council continued to grapple late Tuesday with an estimated $42 million budget deficit as officials seemed poised to vote on a package of budget reductions that would include nearly 100 layoffs, hiring freezes and once-a-month City Hall closures.
The meeting came about a month after Mayor Ron Dellums offered his suggestions on how to close a massive midyear deficit.
Council members — who had not taken a vote on the budget as of 10 p.m. — were mostly focused on how to close the final $10 million of the gap after Dellums offered detailed suggestions on how to chop down $32 million and provided broader outlines on the final $10 million.
Few seemed happy to be doing the difficult work.
"None of us want to cut people," said Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland). "This is really difficult, but I feel like we listened."
In particular, the council — after hearing loudly from the city's arts community — seemed prepared to restore some funding to the city's Cultural Arts Program after council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) and Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel) suggested last week that the program get the hatchet.
Brunner, De La Fuente, Quan and Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) put up a proposal Tuesday to restore $1.1 million in arts grants funding, while still eliminating some jobs
Among other budget changes, the four council members proposed: cutting a total of $430,000 from the mayor and city administrator's offices; ending a $325,000 contract with the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau; reducing pay for elected officials by 5 percent; cutting the council's discretionary "Pay-Go" accounts by 50 percent; and restoring funding for three park ranger positions and $100,000 for AIDS prevention and education.
Councilmember Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary) offered a separate proposal to avoid cuts to the arts programs and the monthly City Hall closures, while looking at cuts to Dellums' office, the police department and City Council staff.
"This budget spreads around the pain so that everybody shares in it," she said, "and (so) that no one group feels like they've been put upon to the favor of another group."
Dellums announced Sept. 26 that the city was facing an estimated $42 million budge deficit after officials in June overestimated revenues and underestimated how much money the police department would need to meet the city's public-safety goals.
Dellums recommended closing $32 million of the deficit by eliminating or freezing vacant positions, laying off 84 employees, transferring general fund costs to other funds and increasing rates for parking meters and parking citations.
He suggested the final $10 million could be cut by closing City Hall once a week (with exceptions for police, fire and other essential services), laying off 120 more employees or negotiating with unions for employee concessions.
Council members did not wholly accept any of those options, looking instead for more detailed cuts throughout Oakland's roughly $475 million annual general fund.
About $37 million of the city's deficit comes from its general fund, while about $5 million comes from its Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District.
Critics of the idea to cut arts crowded the council chamber wearing stickers reading, "Save Oakland Arts Vote No," and arguing the programs were critical in a city known as a haven for artists.
"There's a misunderstanding that arts are a frill, that they're nonessential and also that arts money — to cut it doesn't have a tremendous impact," said Steven Huss, acting Cultural Arts Programs Coordinator. "But it has an incredible, exponential effect. We found that every dollar we award in grants leverages $9 in other (funding) sources."