Mayor Quan released her proposed 2013-2015 city budget earlier this week, on Wednesday, April 17th.  Over the next couple of months, Oakland residents and our elected representatives must work to provide input, present alternative proposals, and pass a balanced budget by June 30th, 2013.

At first glance the Mayor’s budget proposal looks pretty fair and honest given the financial situation and priorities of the city.  The funding allocations definitely align with her budget priorities, which are to:

  1. Invest in public safety
  2. Create jobs and promote economic development
  3. Bolster job-training services so that Oaklanders are a competitive and thriving workforce
  4. Build and restore our infrastructure and the physical environment of Oakland 
  5. Achieve long-term fiscal stability for the City, and 
  6. Foster Oakland youth and care for our most vulnerable populations.

At Oakland Rising, our work is to make sure that the voices and issues of Oakland’s flatland communities, which often face the brunt of local, state and federal budget cuts to the services we depend on, are heard, respected and reflected in the budget.  Moreover, the budget is a statement of our City’s values. What we put tax-payer money into reflects what we, as Oaklanders, care most about. 

Because the quality of life we enjoy in Oakland is directly connected to the public programs and projects we invest in and prioritize, the city budget is an important issue to pay attention to and be involved in. For example, our parks, libraries and community centers are a part of what make the Town a special place to live and work, and a cultural and artistic stronghold on the west coast.  But the parks in East Oakland aren’t as well cared for, well lit and clean as the parks in the hills. The police aren’t protecting and serving the interests of long-term West Oakland families as well as they are families living in Montclair. Prioritizing equity means that we are investing in those places and spaces that need it the most. 

This year the debates around the budget are all about public safety.  What does public safety look like, and how should we fund it? 

The Mayor’s proposed budget clearly states that the top priority is investing in public safety.  It includes funding 4 police academies in the next two years to bring the police force up to 697 officers by July 2015.  This budget also proposes prioritizing funding to services that we count on like Head Start preschools and Affordable Housing – programs that we think are key to public safety because they support healthy children and families. 

We believe that public safety must include strategies beyond just hiring police officers.  The public is not only safer but healthier when our neighborhoods have working streetlights, open libraries, good jobs, healthy housing, after-school programs and senior centers.  Real public safety looks like folks knowing and helping out our neighbors, watching each others’ kids, and feeling free to clean our yards and unload our cars – even after the sun goes down. The creation of public safety comes from strong programs and services that we invest in as a community.

Unfortunately, the popular narrative in Oakland right now is that the best way to improve public safety is only to increase police funding and hire more police officers.  There are even Councilmembers who suggest cutting other services our children and families use everyday to make this happen.  Hiring more police may be part of the solution, but they are only one part of the equation to making our communities and neighborhoods safe.  

So, “How should public safety be funded?,” people might ask? We think the answer is two-fold.  First, we must prioritize equitable funding for programs that provide healthy and safe spaces for our families to grow, learn and play – like libraries, parks, rec centers, senior centers and after-school programs.  Second, our police department needs to work for us by spending their budget more efficiently, solving more crimes, speaking our languages, and deepening their partnership by investing time into understanding the cultures of our diverse communities.  

Now is a critical time to weigh in on these issues, and speak up about what our priorities are and how they should be funded.  Here are a couple ways for you to get involved:

  1. LEARN MORE about what our budget looks like by using these great budget visualization tools created by Open Budget Oakland. 
  2. CALL or write the Mayor and your City Council representative and tell them what you think our priorities should be.  Call 444-CITY to get individual phone numbers and email addresses.  
  3. ATTEND a Budget Town Hall meeting in your neighborhood sometime in May.  Keep an eye out for the announcement of the dates and locations. 
  4. BE ABOUT IT! Talk with your family and friends, introduce yourself to your neighbors, look out for each other, report when a streetlight goes out or illegal dumping happens, and do a little something each day to help strengthen our neighborhoods.

This is our town.  This is our budget.  Together we can make sure our government funds our priorities.