“We were in denial”

Last night I caught much of the Oakland City Council/Redevelopment Agency special session, which was held to discuss the impending shutdown of ORA and CEDA, the City’s economic development arm. Plenty of angry citizens and city employees were on hand to voice their displeasure with the 105 layoffs and cutbacks to numerous programs and nonprofits. It was an alternately sad and angry meeting, and the presence of Occupy Oakland protestors didn’t help advance the discourse.

The Council passed a resolution in support of SB 659 (Padilla), a bill requesting a two month “stay of execution” of RDAs. It appears to be symbolic, as numerous legislators have said that it’s unlikely that the bill will make it out of committee and Governor Brown would reject it if it ever landed on his desk.

Of the Mayor and City Council, only Councilmember Libby Schaaf actually pegged the situation down cold. She said that the City Council was in denial about the future of redevelopment. Mayor Jean Quan tried to deflect any criticism early on by saying that the City had set aside the $40 million “ransom” payment and was planning to move forward with reduced scope redevelopment, as many other cities and counties were. Quan also mentioned that the City had heard in November (probably around the time of the oral arguments) that there was a possibility that RDAs throughout the state would be shuttered. Puzzlingly, the Mayor and Council did not make any contingency plans at that point or at any other time through the end of the year.

Worse, Quan has had limited discussions with the public employees unions about the impact. Today on KQED’s Forum, host Michael Krasny asked about those limited and belated discussions. Quan replied that she made a call to a union rep the night the Supreme Court’s decision to shutter RDAs was handed down, plus one meeting last Saturday and one other meeting between City Administrator Deanna Santana and SEIU on the 9th. That’s it. Things really got testy at the session when Councilmember Nancy Nadel asked Santana if she would be willing to take a paycut from her $278,000 salary. Santana didn’t answer directly and said she’d have to consult her attorney. To the City’s credit, they already done 10% across the board cuts in the last budget cycle. Unfortunately, that didn’t take into account the redevelopment shutdown. Now, just as last year, the City is looking at three different budget scenarios and will vote on one to put forward including redevelopment shutdown-related impacts. It’s also in a special kind of flux as it has 450 redevelopment projects that it is waiting for the State to determine whether some or all of them can move forward.

Callers on Forum echoed many of the sentiments of commenters at the session last night. The City was late to react, took things for granted, had their heads in the sand, etc. And that’s where it gets me. There is a clear pattern of behavior here. On three very disparate issues: Occupy Oakland, the budget post-redevelopment, and the state of the sports franchises, the City has routinely and consistently been late to react and lacking in its planning efforts. It has also waffled on occasion, something directly related to confusion that comes from the lack of planning. That is simply pathetic. Oakland needs clearer, more focused leadership now more than ever. Its residents deserve that. Forget the sports franchises for a moment. There are life and death, real quality-of-life issues at stake here. Hiding and not having an ongoing dialogue with your employees and constituents is thoroughly inexcusable.

During the radio interview, Quan was quick to mention Oakland’s place on the NY Times’ 2012 45 Places to Go list. Which is great, one of the mayor’s jobs is to sell the city every chance she gets. At no time during that hour or during the session last night did the fates of the sports franchises come up. No surprise there. When people say that Oakland has more important things to do than worry about pro sports, there is substance to that argument. That’s not a sign of weakness. That’s an acknowledgement of reality.

P.S. San Jose voted Tuesday to shutter its own redevelopment agency. The lion’s share of cuts that needed to be made were done six months ago.

3 thoughts on ““We were in denial”

  1. I’m very disappointed to hear about planned cuts to Children’s Fairyland and the zoo. Two of Oakland’s greatest assets….

  2. A good summary of the basic problem. Some would say in denial, some would say heads in the sand, and some would doubtless use more colorful language to describe where Oakland’s leadership has been for far too long.

  3. I looked up the articles about San Jose Redevelopment Agency. After the state first started taking money from redevelopment agencies in 2009, San Jose started cutting positions. Each year they realized that the state would continue to take money, they continued to cut positions. They assumed the pay to continue redevelopment plan would happen going forward. They realized that they couldn’t afford the money to pay the $40 million so they were planning on shutting down the agency. By the time the court decision came down, they only had a small number of employees left.

    If the courts would have allowed redevelopment agencies without state payments, they would have rebuilt the agency.

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