OAKLAND — The first of 13 City Hall closures was met Wednesday with a raucous protest from about 200 city workers who said the shutdowns are a blow to taxpayers expecting needed city services.
The City Council decided Oct. 21 to close City Hall for 13 days this year as part of its efforts to reduce what was a $42 million budget deficit. Police, fire and certain other services were exempted.
Leaders of unions representing city employees said Mayor Ron Dellums and the council acted brashly — a charge the mayor and most members of council deny.
"They put stop signs up for a reason," said Dwight McElroy, a city worker and vice president of SEIU Local 1021. "And the city moved too fast, and I think they had an accident. So they just need to slow down and fix the car, and let the people who really do the good bodywork work on it."
The City Hall closures were combined with about 50 layoffs, program cuts, increases in parking citation rates and other measures to fill the deficit.
Employees criticized officials Wednesday for not cutting more from the upper echelons of City Hall. As they marched around City Hall and down Broadway, employees chanted, "Chop from the top!" and "We're here to work!"
The 13 closures — one a month until July 1, plus five the week between Christmas and New Year's Day — mean a significant dock on employee paychecks. They also mean a reduction in services.
Michael Patterson, an electrician for the city, said Wednesday's closure created a problem when traffic lights went dark at two intersections while PG&E conducted work.
Patterson said normally city crews would respond by putting up stop signs to help control traffic. But in the confusion over who was responsible, that didn't happen, he said. People were lucky there was no collision, he said.
City workers and administrators have gone back and forth for months about whether the drastic cuts were necessary. Mayor Ron Dellums released a statement Wednesday linking the cutbacks to broader economic problems affecting cities across the United States.
"These are hard, painful choices that require a delicate balance between the need to protect jobs and maintain vital services against the reality that we must cut spending to live within our means," Dellums said.
McElroy said Oakland could have avoided shutdowns by cutting back on employee car allowances, travel expenses, consultant fees and by using the money saved when the 166th Oakland Police Academy was postponed, among other budget options.
Acting City Administrator Dan Lindheim said the potential savings from those areas did not come close to the amount Oakland would need to avoid shutdowns or more layoffs.
"We believe we would have been forced to lay off another 50 to 100 people if we didn't do this," he said. "We didn't want to lay off anybody, but for financial reasons we were forced to lay off some number of people, and with the closures, we avoided having to lay off a lot more of them."
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