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Oakland Mayor Jean Quan hosts a town hall meeting at Havenscourt Middle School, in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, March 5, 2011. This is Quan's second town hall meeting in East Oakland since she became mayor in January. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

OAKLAND IS making progress, and we can't afford to go back. The City Council should thoughtfully consider the consequences to Oakland residents if we fail to find workable solutions to the city's budget crisis.

We need to give residents the opportunity to vote on Mayor Jean Quan's proposed $80 parcel tax, which is less than 25 cents a day. It is urgent to engage in meaningful discussion to find workable solutions.

With nearly 50 years of municipal experience between us, we have seen tough budget years. When we joined Mayor Quan's Transition Advisory Committee last winter, federal, state and local governments faced unprecedented financial challenges.

The president proposed, and is now moving to implement, cuts to Community Development Block Grants, summer jobs for youth and children's health care.

The governor has proposed to eliminate redevelopment, one of the few tools that municipal governments have to revitalize local economies and create jobs.

In our discussions with business, labor and community leaders from all sections of the city and all political persuasions, we shared a commitment to Oakland, its people, neighborhoods and future. We said that Oakland needed to come together and put its house in order. We recommended that the new mayor seek the finest city administrator possible, and are thrilled with the choice of P. Lamont Ewell, a principled, experienced leader who has stepped in on an interim basis as we continue our search.

The Transition Committee said Oakland needed to take a serious look at its financial situation and develop a budget that reflects core values and delivers essential services.

The city has faced declining revenues, due to the recession, decreased property values and tax revenues, as well as increased costs for several years.

Over the past four years, Oakland has made substantial cuts to its operations, cutting more than 500 positions. In the past year alone, Oakland has cut most employee compensation by 10 percent through increased contributions to retirement plans and unpaid furlough days.

But Oakland cannot cut its way out of this crisis. The city must reduce departmental costs: Eliminate positions, negotiate continued employee contributions and cut operations and maintenance costs. It also needs a moderate revenue increase.

Our Transition Advisory Committee recommended a parcel tax nearly double Mayor Quan's proposal.

Now is the time to make difficult and pragmatic decisions and put the decision before the voters. Without additional revenues, the scope and scale of cuts required is devastating: Reductions in public safety, including youth violence prevention programs; closure of senior centers, parks and libraries; and elimination of vital services.

City revenues are not expected to recover from the recession until 2015. The temporary parcel tax will bridge this downturn and allow the city to recover as the economy recovers.

Oakland is making progress, and we can't afford to go back. We urge the City Council to place the parcel tax before the voters and let the people decide what kind of city we want.

Henry Gardner served as city manager of Oakland from 1981-93, and as executive director, Association of Bay Area Governments from 2004-10. Richard Spees, an Oakland City Councilman from 1979-2003, is also a retired Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical executive.