Thursday, January 28, 2010

Which Oakland does our City Administrator live in?

On Friday January 15th our city administrator, Dan Lindheim, spoke to the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce at a monthly event called "Inside Oakland."

I tried to sit at the back, as is my usual spot, but Administrator Lindheim chose to switch ends of the table, and I found myself sitting next to him.

Mr. Lindheim did not need notes, which was refreshing. He spoke mostly about the budget and the upcoming budget shortfall. As he explained it Oakland has very few options. According to Mr. Lindheim, most of the budget can only be spent on redevelopment projects and is not available for general fund uses. So, we have a half billion dollars that can only spend in certain ways. Most of the other half billion in general funds must be spent on the
police and fire departments.

Lindheim went on at some length describing how the fire fighter's union has made themselves cutback proof --proof of the "horse-trading" that took place in passing Measure Y. He also explained why Measure Y has specific provisions that make it hard to implement.

He then explained why Oakland is out of long term cash. Real estate transfer taxes are down. Property taxes are down, increasing less than expected. Sales taxes are down, according to Lindheim, because of the car sales slump.

Politically, they do not think that they can ask the taxpayers for more revenues. So they are forced to both cut services AND raise revenue through what Mr. Lindheim called "nuisance taxes," such as parking. During his talk, he told us about Oakland's lawsuit with Alameda County
over raising parking fees at Raider's games.

Lindheim also touched on the Oakland A's and how he and Dellums have increased the chance of the team staying. And he told us how the Auditor's report did not really find anything and
is mostly a false alarm. A couple of times he mentioned that the complaints about Oakland City
government having big serious problems are just a bunch of bad hype from people like Chip Johnson.

According to Lindheim, everything is under control; it's just not true; things are fine; and people are doing a great job--except maybe those he had to replace in the Administrator's office who had no idea if they were over or under budget for that year.

On the details of the budget, I generally agree with his diagnosis of the problem. However, I disagree with the way he and others in the current administration throw their hands up and say alternative solutions are impossible.

I do not buy the idea that we are under the hypnotic spell of Chip Johnson turning us into discontents. We are sharper than that. Oakland is small and most of the dissatisfaction with city government is up close and personal.

Kerry Hammil, who lost against Rebecca Kaplan for the at-large seat last year did not think so either. She told Dan that when she walked precincts last year, she found that the police are not popular with Oakland citizens, with many complaining about how they had been treated.
She suggested to not mention the police if they wanted to ask tax payers for more funds. Instead, she recommended talking about parks and pools.

Lindheim needs to visit the waiting rooms of all city buildings if he wants the true depth of discontent. There he will find people who do not read Chip Johnson--and they are not happy.

Dan Lindheim sounded smug to me, and he is blind to the struggles many of our citizens confront daily. Not once did he accept responsibility for his own mistakes, or those of his boss, that have put Oakland in a tight spot. More than once he was disdainful of voters opting for ideas such as Prop Y--apparently without reading it, as he the lawyer should have.

In addition, while the administration had proposed one budget, the council imposed their own alternative budget. Even with this example of poor governance, there was no apology for not being able to cultivate cooperation between the mayor and council.

There were more insults to come, however. It arrived in the form of Lindheim's description of the parking fees, fines, and subsequent booting and repossessions as a "nuisance tax." A "nuisance" for whom? Dan Lindheim is a former congressional aide and a wealthy lawyer from Berkeley. If he pays two bucks an hour, it is a surprise. If he gets a $55 ticket it is a nuisance.
When a working person gets her car towed and impounded for back tickets and fines that is called a "hardship," one of many that Oakland citizens live with daily.

In discussing the budget, Dan Lindheim spoke for an hour without notes on the current economic crisis, foreclosures, homelessness, the lack of social services and cutbacks, crime, and parking. Yet, not once did he mention the word "hardship."

The only hardship Oakland is under is that of detached administrators and elected officials who cannot recognize the most basic of struggles Oakland citizens confront daily. Maybe Chip Johnson has them talked into seeing it that way--because it is that way.