OAKLAND -- What was already the biggest budget crisis in Oakland history, in terms of a projected $58 million deficit, heated up this week as the City Council put off public discussion of any fiscal details with just over a week left to reach an agreement before the next fiscal year.
Mayor Jean Quan released three budget scenarios in April, detailing what she called a "worst-case" plan that closes the deficit entirely by service cuts, as well as what she hoped the city could do to reduce those cuts with a new parcel tax and contributions from city employee unions. She came under fire from some councilmembers, including Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), who said the multiple options didn't show decisive leadership or provide the council the line-item budget detail they've used in the past to make their decisions.
As of Wednesday, with the council split into two teams both working on detailed budgets, no line-item details had been made public by anybody.
Meanwhile, at least four huge budget variables remain unresolved.
First, Quan's proposed parcel tax was stalled or voted down more than once by the City Council. Although the council may still agree to hold a special citywide election, it will come several weeks into the new fiscal year that begins July 1, and the city can't make a budget relying on a tax Oakland voters may reject.
Second, progress in the city's negotiations with employee unions is unclear. It's common practice to keep everything at the bargaining table out of the public eye until an agreement is reached, but three of the city's biggest civilian unions stormed a meeting of city councilmembers last week and demanded a "fair share" solution, criticizing what they said is city negotiators' unresponsiveness to them. And the "fair share" they demand includes concessions from the police and fire unions, although neither of those contract has expired.
Those public safety unions are sitting down to negotiate anyway, but it's unclear whether either will budge, especially on the contentious issue of whether police will begin paying into their pensions, as the other unions do.
Third, the council has not yet established a strategy for dealing with the Police and Fire Retirement System, a long-closed retirement plan still responsible for about 1,000 retired officers and their widows or widowers. Oakland is projected to owe $46 million to the plan to keep it funded.
Finally, federal and state budgets that could hit Oakland with millions of dollars in reduced funding remain unresolved.
What looked like an imminent threat last week from Sacramento to Oakland's redevelopment agency -- with its expected revenue stream of $108 million in the next year -- appeared to stall as lawmakers feud among themselves and with the governor.
Oakland City Council President Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) began saying this week that the city's budget could be missing in action until some time in July.
If that happens, it would be the first time in recent history the city has run late, and the legal implications are unclear.
Zoo project progresses
Despite all the budget pressures, the council took some pleasure Tuesday night in unanimously supporting a multimillion-dollar expansion of the Oakland Zoo into Knowland Park.
The plan is funded by a variety of sources, including private donations and local bond measures, but asks for no additional money from the city.
The East Bay Zoological Society, which runs the Oakland Zoo and maintains the 500-acre Knowland Park, asked the council to approve its new master plan, which includes expansion into 54 acres of the park.
Scores of supporters and opponents made their case to the council at Tuesday's meeting.
Opponents had appealed the planning commission's approval of the project, which brought it to the council -- where all eight members voted to deny the appeal.
Reid, whose district is home to the zoo, said the plan's proponents did as he requested and got community input.
He asked backers to continue to engage the community.
Council members are each scheduled to receive a raise of about $2,000 beginning July 1, but several said Wednesday they won't be taking them.
The pay increases will be automatic if the council doesn't take some action, and nothing addressing the issue is on any meeting agenda. However, councilmembers may individually tell the city they wish to forego their increase, according to the city administrator's office. That would leave their positions slated for an increase, so future councilmembers could be paid more, but in the meantime, the money could be spent elsewhere.
Oakland pays each councilmember about $73,000 annually.
Councilmembers Reid, Rebecca Kaplan (At-large), Jane Brunner (North Oakland) and Libby Schaaf (Montclair-Laurel) all immediately returned phone messages Wednesday asking if they would take their personal raises, and all had the same answer: absolutely not.
"I am not going to take a raise if we are not giving one to employees," Brunner said.
Kaplan said media reports that "the council is getting a raise" are misleading.
"The reality is (the Public Ethics Commission) voted to recommend a raise," Kaplan said.
"When it comes to council, it is entirely possible we might all vote not to do it."
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.