OAKLAND — Layoffs and monthly City Hall closures are in store for Oakland after the City Council approved a package of budget-reduction proposals late Tuesday night.
The vote came about a month after Mayor Ron Dellums announced the city was looking at a $42 million deficit in the current fiscal year and that swift action was needed to fend off deeper problems. It was unhappy work for Dellums and the council to tackle the budget woes.
"I wish there were more money out there," Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel) said at Tuesday's meeting. "I wish we didn't need to make these decisions. I don't know how many people I counted "... today who said we can't cut anything, but if we don't cut anything, we'll be Vallejo in a few months."
The council did opt against axing Oakland's Cultural Arts Program — something Quan and council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) proposed last week. Throngs of artists and their supporters crowded the council chamber to protest the idea.
The council ultimately decided to provide $1.1 million in grant funding for arts, while eliminating jobs in Oakland's cultural arts and public art programs. It was not a total victory for the arts community, but Lori Zook, acting chairwoman of Oakland's Cultural Affairs Commission, said she was heartened with the level of support artists received.
"I am incredibly happy that we did not lose the grants," Zook said, adding, "I think that it's our duty as artists' supporters to try to show (the council) the value of the arts and that art is not just something people do as a hobby. It's clear that they did listen to the public."
The arts funding was a small piece in the overall budget picture. The cuts approved Tuesday mean about 100 people will be laid off and that City Hall will be closed once a month through June (with exceptions made for police, fire and other essential programs).
Layoffs will be spread across the city, including in the mayor's office, city administrator's office, city attorney's office, finance department, parking and personnel, public works and non-sworn positions in the police and fire departments.
The council's vote — unanimous except for an abstention from Councilmember Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary) — also called for eliminating dozens of vacant positions; transferring general fund costs to other funds; increasing rates for parking meters and parking citations; cutting a total of $430,000 from the mayor's and city administrator's offices; reducing pay for elected officials by 5 percent; and cutting the council's discretionary "Pay-Go" accounts by 50 percent.
Funding for three park ranger positions that were previously on the chopping block was restored. So was $100,000 for AIDS prevention and education.
Unions representing city employees protested the cuts right up to the vote.
Jeff Levin, a vice president of Local 21 of Professional & Technical Engineers, which represents about 1,000 city workers, asked city officials to work with the California Public Employees' Retirement System to provide incentives for early retirement, thereby reducing the number of layoffs.
The city is exploring such a program, though the incentives would not be available until early 2009 at the soonest. Levin suggested that the city could use one-time revenues to bide time to see if retirement incentives could reduce layoffs — and indicated the union felt burned by the way the budget process worked over the past month.
"I have to say that the demoralization, the frustration and the anger that our members feel about this process is likely to haunt us all for a long time," he told the council. "In bad times, budget difficulties like this, what we really need is labor-management cooperation, not a slap in the face."
De La Fuente said he expects the city's budget situation to get worse, however, and that the action Tuesday was needed as Oakland braces for what De La Fuente expects will be even more budget pain when the city plans a two-year spending plan for 2009-2011.
"This was a picnic, really," he said. "This was a picnic. The next one is going to be even tougher."
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.