Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Re: Oakland's Budget Woes: an extra $627 per taxpayer?


The article is OK as far as it goes.
That is a good description of his reporting over the last year that I have been watching it.
Reporting on our budget is never very good.

So quickly, there is more than one bomb in the budget future and some of my friends have asked me specifically "are you sure you want that job?"
The answer to that is "of course I do, if not, who is going to clean it up?"

As to how we get ourselves solvent that is not so easy. So on to some of the points:
Yes we are going to end up paying more taxes one way or another.
Yes the pension issue is the big time bomb, but there are many smaller ones.
For example, our infrastructure spending on sewers and sidewalks is way behind.
No, nothing is locked in stone, but we may have to declare a fiscal emergency and go to the state to ask for the temporary lifting of some rules.

What do we do about it?
  • My proposal is a budget summit or convention to bring it into a single plan.
  • A new budget and new budget process will require a 2/3 vote of the public.
  • Things like our current Measure Y would become part of how we do things without the specific, unworkable provisions or the political promises to unrelated parties, such as the fire department.

What I propose to have in that budget is a series of starting positions to kick off the discussion.
I would like to see:
  • A new pension system that is pay as we go and GOES OUT OF OUR HANDS EVERY PAYDAY.
  • A negotiated buy out of the old pension plans that gives the member what funds we do have set aside for them.
  • (Probably a last contribution from the city and a graduated cash-securities payment to the employees depending on how soon they will retire, giving those who will retire soonest the most cash and younger workers the most stocks and such.)
  • PFERS (which Lindheim says is cast in stone) is going to have to be changed. Considering that this same problem affects much of the state, we will probably end up participating in a state wide solution to at least part of our pension and retiree health care cash flow problem. I think we will be looking at something akin to the divestment of the big three automakers.

    For more on this, see the city auditor's recent report:

  • I want a required vote of the people before disposing of publicly owned real estate.
  • I would like to limit special measures and mostly use the public measure process for major changes.
  • Minor changes should be avoided. We need a STABLE tax, zoning, permitting and regulatory environment for investment.
  • We need some kind of graduated, or sliding scale taxes to replace the parcel tax system. We also need split roles for commercial and residential property taxes. It may take the form of a high base rate that then offers discounts based on when the property taxes were last assessed and what the property is being used for (in other word off set from Prop 13)
  • We may have to issue our own credits in the form of a local currency such as they have in Berkshire http://www.berkshares.org/
  • We need the new budget process to have a good times / bad times provision. I would like to pay debts and save when GDP is high, including a spending cap in good economic times, and be allowed to spend reserves and borrow in bad economic times. I think our bigger public works and infrastructure projects should be done in spurts during times of high unemployment (and costs are lowest)
There are a lot more ideas to put forward in a new budget, but that is the general idea. There will also need to be a transition from the mess we are in to a sustainable budget. One idea I would like to look at is a pause in the spending of redevelopment funds. We spend more in the redevelopment committee each year than the whole general fund. That is over a half billion dollars. We could ask Sacramento for an emergency suspension of the redevelopment spending. We could join our request with other cities facing the same problems. The state needs funds badly and so does the city. We could suspend the use of those funds for earmarked projects and split them between the state, city and school board without any strings attached for a couple of years until economic growth picks back up.

I am not in favor of two tier payment or benefit packages. They are very bad for morale. How would you like to have a job where you know you will always be paid worse than those before you no matter how well you do and no matter how poorly they do? We need to offer city employees good jobs, with good wages and benefits where we expect them to settle into a career of public service. We need it to be stable, reliable and we need to get the city out of debt with its employees every payday. Everyone working for the city should get a fair deal and an equal chance to advance.

We need to cut police overtime costs NOW. This can not wait.
We need to cap salaries. I would like to put the mayor's salary down to 100K (from about 160 I think) and make that the most any city employee can make. STOP.
And we need to stop the cuts and layoffs. They are bad for job creation in the private sector.
A little more creativity in the days off and such would be a big help.

Outside of city hall we need more employment whether or not the city gets paid a lot of sales tax from those businesses.
The EXISTING small and medium sized private, non profit and government agencies all need to be cultivated to thrive in Oakland.
Big growth is fine, but not at the expense of small growth over the larger economy. Even a couple percent growth of the small business employment would make a lasting impact on our local economy.

Lastly there is the problem of sales tax "leakage". We need to get people to shop locally as much as we can and explain to people how badly our city is hurt by the tax structure. We also have to advocate that this out of date sales tax equalization structure be changed. We do not ride horses to shop any more and do not need to allocate sales tax revenue by where purchases are made. We should allocate those revenues based on the number of residents measured in the census.

One could go on at length about these issues and unfortunately for my friends, I have a habit of doing so. If we want to keep our city out of bankruptcy, we need to do a lot of things quickly. I did not get a lot of details about the proposals I put forward in the debates from our other candidates. Perata says he will cut CEDA to keep cops. He may need permission from Sacramento to do that and it still sounds very piecemeal to me. Tuman talks about early retirement for the police and I am not sure we have authority to do what he is saying. They all talk about the pension, but I have not heard any proposals, such as my sliding scale cash out, that they want to make public. Quan and Kaplan are both keen to say that the police should have taken the payment of 9% of their pension costs, but that leaves a lot of other aspects of the pension plan a problem. Greg Harland honestly said that we need to be less generous at the top, which I agree with, and we should consider bankruptcy, which I do not trust.

As to the budget measures, I really disagree with the process. This is why I want a budget convention to scrap the system.

That said I will vote for L and BB because the schools and crime prevention programs can not wait or be trashed.
I see this as stop gap on our road to some real budget reform.

At first I was going to vote for the parcel tax for the same reason, but since then the damage of laying off 80 newest police officers has been done and with reassignments, overtime and other big time mistakes, there is no longer any hardship to avoid or reverse quickly.
We now need to rebuild community policing.
So I have changed my mind and will vote against the parcel tax, even as a stop gap measure.

I expect all the tax measures to be defeated, so if elected the declaration of a fiscal emergency will probably be on inauguration day.

Don Macleay
510 290-1200

On 10/25/2010 1:48 PM, Emily Montan wrote:
Why don't you send me a reply to this and I'll forward it to my church's list? Thanks

--- On Sun, 10/24/10, ronwei wrote:

From: ronwei
Subject: [uuoakland] Oakland's Budget Woes: an extra $627 per taxpayer?
To: uuoakland@yahoogroups.com
Date: Sunday, October 24, 2010, 6:19 PM

Hi all,

I happened upon this article about Oakland's budget deficit and am startled at the potential for higher taxs; and, wondering how the various mayorial candidates are addressing this. The article is from the SF Chron May 5 this year and can be viewed:


A few quotes give the flavor:

"Ballooning pension costs will push the city's projected deficit to $58.7 million by July 2011.

The biggest portion of that budget shortfall is a debt payment of $43.9 million due July 1, 2011, to the old Police and Fire Retirement System. The payment would be more than 10 percent of the roughly $400 million city budget.

The costs of benefits to retirees appears to be the single biggest issue facing Oakland. Not only are the costs growing, but the city has not been funding them adequately, some council members said.

Last year, Oakland was supposed to pay $85.7 million for retiree medical care, according to a city staff report. But the city only paid $12.5 million, the report said."

TAXES on the Ballot: According to "ballotpedia":

A City of Oakland parcel tax, Measure X ballot proposition is on the November 2, 2010 ballot for voters in the City of Oakland in Alameda County.

If approved by a 2/3rds supermajority vote, the tax will be $360/parcel per year and will last for four years. Money from the tax would go to police and fire salaries. Landlords would be allowed to pass half of the tax bill on to renters.

The vote on the Oakland City Council to put the tax on the ballot was 5-3. Voting in favor were Nancy Nadel, Jane Brunner, Jean Quan, Pat Kernighan and Larry Reid. Voting against were Councilmembers Kaplan, Brooks, and De La Fuente.

According to Chip Johnson, a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, "...if voters approve every tax measure sought by the city and the Oakland Unified School District this November, the average Oakland resident would have to pay an extra $627 a year. That would nearly double the local tax bill to about $1,400 a year." Other tax measures on the Oakland ballot are Measure BB, Measure L, Measure V and Measure W.

Ron W

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Teachers' Perspective Voters Guide

Teachers' Perspective Voters Guide

Posted by: "Stephen Neat" steve_neat@yahoo.com Steve_Neat

Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:03 am (PDT)

[Attachment(s) from Stephen Neat included below]

Not an OEA Publication

>From a Teacher’s PerspectiveFall 2010 Voters’ Guide
By Steve Neat

So many people (colleagues, parents, friends) have asked me advice on the
upcoming election that I’ve decided to put out a special voters’ guide edition
of From a Teacher’s Perspective. (From a Teacher’s Perspective was a newsletter
for parents that I put out during the last round of contract negotiations
between OUSD & OEA [2005-2006].) I have included an endorsement for many local
and state offices below and more detailed rationales follow. I have started with
offices and issues that I think will be most crucial to the future of public
education and to schools in Oakland. Note: the political opinions expressed
below are my own and do not constitute an endorsement by the Oakland Education

Proposition 24: Yes
School Board District 4: Ben Visnick
OaklandMeasure L: No
Governor: Jerry Brown
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson
Proposition 25: Yes
Oakland Mayor: (1) Don Macleay (2) Rebecca Kaplan (3) Jean Quan (anyone but Don
State Assembly District 16: Sandre Swanson
Propositions 23 & 26: No
Propositions 20 & 27: No on 20, Yes on 27
State Board of Equilization: Sherill Borg
Proposition 21: Yes
Proposition 22: No
Proposition 19: Yes
OaklandMeasure X: No
AlamedaCountyMeasure F: No

Proposition 24: Yes
This is a no-brainer. In the early autumns of 2008 and 2009, in the midst of a
heated budget battle, our elected representatives in Sacramento reached a
sweetheart deal with the corporations that pay for their campaigns. Three tax
loopholes were created that will cost this state at least $1.3 billion annually
when they go into effect next year. These tax breaks will benefit only the
largest corporations and are granted unconditionally. No jobs created. No jobs
saved. Just a hand-out. The No on 24 campaign is making job loss claims that
academic studies (Fisher 2010) call “outlandish.” In fact, Prop 24 would save up
to 25,000 jobs in the public sector. The same corporations that are spending
money on the No on 24 campaign made a total of $65 billion in profits last year.
Times are tough for some, not so tough for others. The fact that students across
California are being crammed 40+ deep into classrooms and having their school
year cut to save a few bucks while the same old greedy people rake in the green
is disgusting. If all you do in this election is fill in one bubble on your
absentee ballot, make it YES on Proposition 24. While 24 wouldn’t raise enough
money to solve all of our funding problems, it would send a clear message to
lawmakers in Sacramento: the people think corporations should pay their fare
share to maintain the society upon which they profit.

School Board District 4: Ben Visnick
Just this previous spring the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of
Directors (school board) voted unanimously to impose a contract on Oakland
public school teachers and other members of the Oakland Education Association
(OEA). This virtually unprecedented move was a slap in the face to the men and
women who work hard with the students of Oakland every day. It is important to
note that the imposed contract did not save a penny more than the expired
contract that would have remained in effect as long as the OUSD and OEA
continued to negotiate. In addition, according to how labor negotiations work,
the employer only imposes when they are through bargaining. For the school board
to come back and claim that now they want to bargain again doesn’t make sense.
The only reason that I have heard school board members give for their imposition
vote is that “we need to start bargaining fresh with a clean slate.” That is a
ridiculous statement. You don’t start with a clean slate by smacking someone
over the head with it. It is also interesting that a group of Oakland teachers
and I were told by one school board member that the idea of imposition was
strongly advocated for by Superintendent Tony Smith. This does jibe well with
some of the confused statements school board members made after their vote. One
school board member even asked, “What did we just do?” What did we just do? So
according to the actual words of school board members, Tony Smith asked for
imposition and the school board went along with it, even though some of them
didn’t fully understand the significance of their actions. If this account of
what happened isn’t true I would love to be publicly corrected. In addition,
school board members continue to push for corporate-funded reforms like test
score pay (even though all the research shows that “merit pay” does not even
improve student test scores, much less actual student learning) and more charter
schools (even though only one-fifth of charter schools outperform traditional
public schools). The only clean slate we need to start with is a brand new OUSD
school board. I urge every parent, teacher, and community member who wants to
bring real reform and real democracy to Oakland Public Schools to vote for Ben
Visnick for school board District 4. In addition, if you live in Districts 1, 3,
5, or 7, and want to work with Oakland teachers and parents for better Oakland
Public Schools, think about a run next time.

OaklandMeasure L: No
I am an officer of the Oakland Education Association, and the OEA has officially
voted to take NO POSITION on Measure L. The opinions below are my own and are
not part of an official statement of the OEA. My opinion is this: why would we
vote to give more money to OUSD through another parcel tax when there has been
little oversight over Measure E/G funds and a significant amount of it has been
misspent (example: staff development for principals)? Why would we vote for a
per-parcel tax which means that working class homeowners in the Fruitvale or
West Oakland pay the same amount as the Port of Oakland and Wells Fargo? Why
would I ask the wonderful, generous people of Oakland to continue being a
co-dependent enabler of a District that spends tens of millions of dollars on
non-mandatory contracts for Si Swun Math, Action Learning Systems Inc., Edusoft,
BayCES, Cambridge Education Group, etc., etc., etc.? Are these contracts
useless? That’s a question that more people should be asking and it’s a question
to which I don’t necessarily know the answer. I will say this: that money would
be better spent keeping teachers in Oakland and keeping kindergarten class sizes
at 20 students. Until OUSD makes a commitment to spend money on what the voters
expected: the classrooms, I’m not even comfortable saying “no position” on
Measure L. Some OEA members will be upset with me for saying this publicly,
because if Measure L fails that would mean, in theory, that less money would be
available for our next contract. However, what is meant by the phrase “effective
teachers” in the parcel tax language? I still haven’t heard an answer. If
“effective” means high test scores, that’s another reason not to vote for
Measure L. If those blankets have smallpox on them, I say we throw ‘em back in
the fort and just be cold.

Governor: Jerry Brown
This is a tough one. I personally often vote for the Green Party candidate for
governor, particularly when the Democratic candidate is “Ten-Shades-of” Grey
Davis. But this election is so crucial. Brown’s opponent is a hypocritical,
corporate-funded demagogue whose TV commercials come across more like a
recruitment video for a cult than a summary of a platform of policies. Whitman
is threatening to turn the state of California into California, Inc. We let the
corporations run the world and look where it’s got us. I don’t understand why
when someone becomes a billionaire doing one thing (and often not a very nice
thing), they are suddenly an expert on everything. Meg Whitman claims she will
cut the state’s budget in half without cutting education (which takes up a
significant proportion of the budget). When her opponents point out that this is
impossible, she threatens to sue them. Meg Whitman fires the undocumented
immigrant she employed for years when she decides to run for governor, telling
her that “you don’t even know me.” When this woman speaks out to call attention
to the plight, Whitman chides the Brown campaign for using her, as if her former
employee is not a grown woman who can make her own decisions. The OEA has had
its differences with Jerry Brown in the past, but Meg Whitman is the Barry
Goldwater of California 2010. She must be stopped.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson
For a democrat, Tom Torlakson actually seems like a decent guy. Unlike OUSD
Superintendent Tony Smith or US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, he was
actually a classroom teacher (what a concept!), and he has worked to put forward
real education reform in California. He authored the Quality Education
Investment Act (QEIA) with the support of the California Teachers Association
(CTA). This law has brought significant new funding and resources—rather than
sanctions and back-door privatization—to lower-performing schools. He has also
done important work around pre-school and after-school programs.

Proposition 25: Yes
This measure is more of a powerful statement than a solution. It would end the
requirement that there be a two-thirds majority to pass a budget in CA. However,
it would not end the two-thirds requirement to find new sources of revenue.
Therefore it is debatable what this measure will achieve apart from taking the
first step towards a time when democracy will finally rule in California. Will
it ever be true that the same simple majority vote in the legislature that is
needed to cut taxes is the same majority vote needed to approve new sources of
revenue, as well as a new budget? The passage of Prop 25 could send a message
that—outside of such unusual measures as impeachment—two-thirds requirements are
a bad idea when it comes to democracy.

Oakland Mayor: (1) Don Macleay (2) Rebecca Kaplan (3) Jean Quan (anyone but Don
Using ranked choice voting (see Note 1 below), we can finally vote our
conscience without having any misgivings about handing over the race to the Meg
Whitmans of this world. I am giving Don Macleay my first-choice vote. Macleay is
a longtime Oakland resident with the best interests of Oakland at heart. He is a
small business owner, an environmentalist, and a former shop steward. He has
been the most thoughtful and open candidate as regards responding to the
community at the grassroots level, even posting on the Oakland parents’ online
listserve. Rebecca Kaplan has been a largely consistent progressive voice in
Oakland, but she has been known to favor political expediency over staying true
to her values (she opposed public election funding in one vote for example).
Jean Quan has the best chance of keeping Don Perata out of the mayor’s office. I
agree with many of her campaign statements and some of her policy decisions over
the past few years (libraries, affordable housing, youth programs). She will get
my 3rd choice vote, despite differences she has had with the teachers of Oakland
in the past. If she had come out and publicly admit that some of the statements
she made and actions she took during the 1996 Oakland teachers’ strike were
wrong, she might have even got my first choice vote.

State Assembly District 16: Sandre Swanson
Sandre Swanson has been a strong advocate for Oakland and Oakland public
schools. Since he was elected to the California State Assembly in 2006, he has
consistently called attention to the sorry state of Oakland Public Schools and
has pushed for the return of democratic control (including still-withheld fiscal
control) to OUSD. His consistency as an ally of working people and public
services (a.k.a. civilization) shouldn’t be such a rarity in the Democratic
Party. If it wasn’t, then perhaps the Dems wouldn’t be about to get their butts
kicked after four years in power.

Propositions 23 & 26: No
Just as one has to admire cockroaches for their tenacity and for their ability
to take advantage of any vulnerability or opportunity in our kitchens, one has
to admire oil companies for their insect-like determination to profit off of any
situation that is hurting the rest of us. People are anxious about the economy.
Okay, say the oil companies, how can we take advantage of this to boost are
already obscene profits? Let’s put lots of money behind some propositions that
will weaken California’s laws on greenhouse gases and on punishing polluters.
California has some of the strongest environmental regulations in the nation,
and oil companies (among others) would love to use the anxiety of the people
over the economy to weaken these laws. Don’t let them. Tell your neighbors, tell
those you worship with, tell your friends. A vote for Props 23 & 26 is a vote
for dirty oil.

Propositions 20 & 27: No on 20, Yes on 27
In 2008, Proposition 11 passed in a very close vote. This removed the
redistricting process from the purview of the state legislature and put it in
the hands of an unelected, unaccountable commission. Some argued that having the
legislature in charge of redistricting just entrenched the party in power.
However, it’s hard to see how putting redistricting in the hands of a commission
appointed by that very same state legislature changes anything. Speaking as a
teacher who has lived under 10 years of state administration and trusteeship, I
would rather have decisions in the hands of those I’ve elected than in the hands
of those they have appointed. Proposition 20 would expand the powers of the
commission. I say vote no on 20. Proposition 27 would repeal the original
Proposition 11 and I will vote yes on 27. This whole circus, however, exposes
the silliness of the proposition system. (see Note 2 below)

State Board of Equilization: Sherill Borg
“The marginal tax rate for businesses is 9.5% for corporate state income tax.
But the effective tax rate for large corporations is much less in practice. For
example Chevron, based in California, paid no state income taxes in California
in 2008—instead sending its taxes—both federal and state—to foreign governments
where rates are cheaper. How’d they do it? It’s complicated—sort of—but
basically they structure their business so that they take a loss in the U.S. and
earn profits abroad. By moving ownership of profitable assets to overseas
subsidiaries while incurring expenses in the U.S. Chevron can avoid being taxed
here where tax rates are relatively high.” This is from Borg’s website. She gets
my vote just for breaking it down even better than Stewart or Colbert.

Proposition 21: Yes
This is a hard one for me. I am getting pretty sick of companies like Chevron
paying 0% and millionaires paying less than 10% on capital gains while we pay
20% on the mediocre salary that we bust our ass for. This is a flat vehicle
license fee of $18 which would fund a trust fund to maintain state parks. So it
would affect those who have too many cars more than it would affect the rest of
us. However, we wouldn’t have to Magiver stuff like this together if we had a
progressive tax structure where the people who made the most money from society
contributed the most to maintain it.

Proposition 22: No
More lazy American democracy. This Proposition is designed to stop state
government from dipping into local money when they can’t raise enough to keep
the state running. Fair enough, but here’s a better idea: if you want money for
your town, neighborhood, city, or county, elect people who will find the revenue
sources to get that money. If they take campaign donations from corporations and
the rich and then refuse to force them to pay their share to maintain
civilization, then don’t vote for them any more. It’s called democracy people.
Let’s start today.

Proposition 19: Yes
Fact: between 1999 and 2009, 570,000 California residents were arrested for
misdemeanor marijuana possession. Fact: enforcing marijuana prohibition in CA
costs our state $1.87 billion per year. Fact: there is no evidence that
marijuana prohibition has resulted in a drop in use. Fact: African Americans are
arrested for pot possession at higher rates than whites even though studies show
marijuana use is more widespread among white youth than black youth. Fact:
marijuana is less harmful to health than alcohol or cigarettes. Marijuana
prohibition makes no sense and Prop 19 would end it.

OaklandMeasure X: No
Here we go with another parcel tax. Million-dollar homeowners in the hills would
pay the same rate as a homeowner in West Oakland. What would they be paying for?
More police officers. But if you call the police from a West Oakland phone
number will you be served as fast as if you call from a phone number in
Montclair? And what if three teens are walking the dog through the fog on
Skyline Dr.? Are they going to be treated the same by all these new police
officers as three kids walking home on 98th? Will more police on the streets
solve anything? No. No on X

AlamedaCountyMeasure F: No
Another increase on the vehicle license fee, this time to pay for road
maintenance, public transit, and pedestrian and bicycle routes. No thanks. How
about Chevron paying a 1% CA tax on its income (Chevron is based in CA, but pays
no taxes here) to maintain the roads that we the taxpayers maintain and from
which Chevron profits. Prop 21 is the last vehicle license fee increase I’m
voting for before corporations pay their fair share.

Note 1: Rank-Choice Voting, Beyond Tweedledum & Tweedledee
Finally, rank-choice voting comes to Oakland. Here’s how it works. If your first
choice doesn’t get close to enough votes to win, your 2nd-ranked vote counts as
if it was your only vote. If neither your 1st- or 2nd- choice vote comes into
play, then your 3rd-choice vote becomes your vote that counts. This could allow
people to vote without fear that they are handing a public office to a corporate
shill or a reactionary demagogue. For example, I get to vote for my personal
choice for Oakland mayor, Don Macleay, even though he will likely have a hard
time mounting a strong challenge. If he doesn’t do well, then my vote reverts to
my 2nd and then my 3rd choices. Republican and Democratic Party machines don’t
really appreciate ranked-choice voting because it encourages independent
thinking and discourages people from voting a straight party ticket. However,
after what Republicans and Democrats have brought us these past 30 years (a
boom-and-bust economic cycle, the collapse of public education in California,
the shredding of the social safety net, expensive foreign military adventures,
etc.), I don’t know how they still feel qualified to speak on anything. It’s
about time they started taking orders from we the people.
Note 2: Propositions, putting the lazy American in democracy
Speaking of we the people, we need to start doing our job as active participants
in democracy. Enough of these propositions. Even when we get a good one passed
(Prop 98 that guarantees minimum school funding for example), the politicians
just ignore it when it suits them (as they ignored Prop 98 when passing this
year’s 100-day-late budget).

This is how democracy works right now:

1) Corporations decide which two candidates we should vote for.

2) We vote for the one with the better ads, or the better speaker, or the
prettier one

3) They do what the corporations paid them to do

4) If we get mad at them or find them out, the people that run the show have
another one ready. Have you ever seen a shark’s mouth? They got another tooth
ready right behind the one you just knocked out.

This is how democracy is supposed to work:

1) We elect them.

2) A. They do what we want. OR B.They stab us in the back.

3) If A, we re-elect them. OR If B, we vote them out.

Propositions are just a lazy short cut. We’re not willing to put in the work to
make democracy work, so we just try and make things happen on a single-issue
basis by passing a proposition every now and again. Of course there are more
important factors that are stifling democracy. Campaign finance reform would be
a big step in the right direction, but now that’s going to take a constitutional
amendment (thanks Supreme Court). Propositions solve nothing, however, and they
allow powerful and monied interests from out of state to influence this
democracy that is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the

Attachment(s) from Stephen Neat

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oakland Mayor Questions Hunger & Poverty Issues Forum

Oakland Mayor Questions Hunger & Poverty Issues Forum

Response from Donald L Macleay, Green Party candidate for Mayor of Oakland.

1. 1 in 6 Alameda County residents rely on the Food Bank to help meet their basic needs. Oakland’s poverty rate is 17.2% while the child poverty rate is 25.2%.

• What is your general philosophy of local government’s role and responsibility in helping families move out of poverty and achieve self sufficiency?

I believe in employment with a living wage as a human right. I do not agree with the kinds of philosophies that treat the poor as the cause of poverty.

It is the powerful and the affluent who run our economy and to blame the poor for not having jobs or treating them as if they have some kind of inherent deficiency in their character, education or personal habits is to shift attention away from those who are responsible for the economic mess the country is in right now.

The problem is not the unemployed not having what it takes to find employment, the problem is the employers not doing what it takes to provide employment.

So what is a city to do about it? Engage the employers and potential employers and become an employer ourselves. We need to have jobs programs and we need to have jobs. We need to make part of the price of receiving any money from our city, our school district, our port and our redevelopment agency the provision of jobs for our people. Not the promise to try to employ locally, not some kind of vague set aside or goal, just flat out employment. Any employer should know that there is one thing that the city wants out of them at all times and that is jobs.

If I become mayor, the business owner that comes through my office door with a proposal that does not include jobs will be making a serious mistake.

• In your view, what is the key to ensuring social equity so that children and families have an equal opportunity to succeed?

We need more than an equal opportunity to succeed. We need a place for every child.
We need schools to have a place for every child, graduation be a goal for every child, security be a goal for every child. Our public schools adult education and our Peralta Junior College district need to make a place for everyone who can get employed to study what they need to keep employed.

Families poverty and/or crisis need support and not admonishment or arrogant “education”.

Families need health care, food, housing, transit and help with marital crisis, substance abuse, truancy, and other common events in our 21st century lives.

The current public environment treats those in need of support as somehow unworthily losers in a winners and losers society. Every step we take towards this post Reganomic anti-social behavior towards families in need is another step we take towards impoverishing our whole country and weakening our sense of community.

We need to go back to a sense of social solidarity. We need to see ourselves in every child in need, every family in need. We need to see how a healthy society cares for us all and raises the standards for everyone in the process. Because we no longer do that we have won a race to the bottom and find our social indicators in education, health, housing and employment lower than all of Canada, Japan, and our European partners. The only social indicator we score higher than a third world nation on is crime, especially violent crime, which can be up to 10 times the level of any other G7 nation.

The key for us now is to understand that the affluent need to contribute more and get less for it and that the bulk of our resources to support families must be spent on those who need them most. This is an old idea and it remains essential.

• How would you leverage resources to assist seniors on fixed incomes in meeting their basic needs?

I am for sliding scale tax relief. Housing is a number one expense for most of seniors and everyone else. I would like to see seniors relieved from any property tax at all. They could carry that to a place that they rent and pass through the credit, both helping the landlord and providing lower rent to the senior. This is but an example of the kind of targeted taxation that could help our community.

2. Only slightly over half of eligible families in Alameda County are participating in the Federal Food Stamp Program. The Food Bank employs a large staff to expressly assist hundreds of clients each month to access this nutrition assistance program. Most of the people we serve at the Food Bank do not know that Food Stamps are an option to provide nutritious food for their families.

• What can the City of Oakland do to ensure that eligible residents are participating in the Food Stamp Program?

This number surprises me (I did not know it was that high) and is upsetting for two reasons. First is that means many families could be receiving help and may be suffering hardships when relief is available. Second is that we need this revenue circulating in our local economy.

Instead of telling people active in this area what I think that they should do, I will ASK them what they would like the city to do to help them get all eligible residents on the program and then do it for them. As mayor I would lead the fight and make all the public noise necessary taking the leadership from the grass roots who really know what we should be doing.

3. Over 50% of food distributed by the Food Bank is fresh fruits and vegetables. The food sector in Oakland is important to the local economy and the food available in Oakland is an important determinant of health. Many residents do not have access to local, healthy foods, which contributes to health inequities.

• How do you see the food sector fitting into economic development and job creation in Oakland?

The “food sector” means many things. Farmer’s markets and other businesses that bring food directly from farm to city are helpful and have many side benefits. Growing food ourselves in the city is also very viable (we can grow a lot more than just marijuana indoors) and we need to address the neighborhoods that are not served with good grocery and produce stores, often abandoned by the big food chains.

There is not one part of this that does not benefit our local economy and breathe more vitality into our neighborhoods and community at large.

• How will you insure that such development also provides improvements to the Oakland food system?

I am not sure we have a food system. We mostly have a “food market” dominated by large retail corporations. What we need is to make from that a food system that includes zoning and permitting to meet our neighborhood needs. I would like to see zoning that allows everyone in the city to walk to a convenient store to buy quality foods at a decent price.

• How would you help create a regulatory environment that supports alternative food access points, such as food trucks or farmer’s markets?

The city has a lot of control here and can set the ground rules in most cases. The city can also be “”very convincing” if it takes an active role demanding that the county and state apply their rules in a practical and prompt fashion.

• How can the City of Oakland provide access to the capital needed to encourage these small businesses?

For one, we could lend it to them. Currently the city spends half a billion a year on “redevelopment” almost always defined as building oversized projects contracted to developers. If we can redefine a part of that money to providing support for all of our small businesses, (not just the new ones or the ones we like most) we could set up some revolving low cost funding.

For another, we can spend it for them. Another part of the redevelopment funds should be pointed towards infrastructure that helps us all. That includes transit, transit centers (buss and/or BART with better facilities) Business distinct facilities such as safe centers and clean, safe public restrooms. If we want people to come to work, shop, go to school and basically live in a reduced car world, we need to find a place to leave the car. Parking, especially parking in residential areas and at transit centers will be key to this kind of development.

There are departments of the city that do some of this already. I think we can do it better and I like what has been done so far with the Business Assistance Center. Just like we need to be getting the families eligible for food stamps on the program, we need to get our local businesses, especially the small businesses, on the kind of programs they could qualify for. This is not just loans, there is also help with health benefits, adding employees, and getting those local government bids and sub-contracts, for example.

With the right infrastructure, and it is less than we are spending now, and good zoning, permitting and public safety these businesses will thrive and we will see much more commercial life in our neighborhoods.

4. The Summer Lunch Program is a program that provides food to children when school is out of session during the summer months. In California, we have some of the lowest utilization rates of this federally funded nutrition program, with only 27% of those eligible participating in 2008.

• How would you work to increase the number of sites where children can eat summer meals?

. I am an advocate of turning most of our schools, parks, libraries and other publicly owned facilities into community centers. By doing this we can provide more services and more opportunities to locate community groups around the city. This is large project and I will skip the major outline and jump to the food program as an example.

By having community centers located all around the city with the goal of having at least one located in walking distance from everyone’s one, we now have a place to operate something like a summer meal program. It can be right where the other summer programs are. By being a multi outreach facility right in the community we will be best placed to find those who qualify and get them connected to the center that serves them. My idea is to have each center have its community outreach group who canvases the neighborhood on all manner of subjects from adult education, getting people signed up for library cards, earthquake preparedness and vaccinations.

• How would you work to improve the quality of the meals provided?

I was not aware that this was more than a policy issue. Is there a price difference? Does there always have to be? Again, I would look to the food policy activists to explain to their mayor what obstacles they face and find a way to help them.

How would you work to increase local food purchasing and leverage the purchasing power of the city?

Going back to the concept of public property as civic centers I think there is more than enough room for the city to put some conditions on access to the markets we set up and fund. We also need to make sure we are respecting the rights of food stamp and other program participants to make their own choices. The participants also have to be partners in health for any project in food price, availability and quality to work.

Note that these ideas are not really my own. Much of what I have described here above is already taking place here in Oakland. My son’s own school has a farmer’s market on site. What I bring to this discussion is a sense of priority and the willingness to place conditions on our private sector partners to make sure we get these markets and programs out to the less served areas. For example, I would make it a condition of having a booth at a highly lucrative farmers market to also turn up and serve a farmer’s market we are trying to establish in another neighborhood.