Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana, right, answers a question during a press conference at City Hall in Oakland, Calif, on Wednesday, October 26, 2011. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, center, interim Police Chief Howard Jordan, left, Santana anwered questions, Wednesday, after police used tear gas and non-lethal weapons against demonstrators from the Occupy Oakland group the previous night.
In a drastic move to prepare for the loss of millions of dollars in state redevelopment funds this year, Oakland will hand layoff notices to 1,500 city employees next week, and 200 will eventually be dismissed, city leaders said Thursday.
The unusual move is necessary because, unlike some cities, Oakland uses redevelopment funds to help pay for the salaries of more than 200 workers in nearly a dozen city departments, including police, fire, City Council members, public works and the mayor’s office.
But to comply with seniority layoff rules, the city must give notice to half of its 3,000-worker force. Only police and firefighters will be exempt from receiving notices.
The cuts are so deep, they will force a complete overhaul of City Hall, said Sue Piper, spokeswoman for Mayor Jean Quan.
“We had a great, two-year balanced budget, and then the state pulled the rug out from us,” she said. “This is forcing us to make some very tough decisions.”
The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown approved a plan last summer to eliminate redevelopment agencies across the state, and the plan included a compromise option for cities to keep their agencies if they agreed to give up some cash to the state.
Cities and counties sued the state, and this month the state Supreme Court ruled in the state’s favor, saying it was within its right to eliminate the agencies. The court, however, invalidated the compromise option that would have allowed cities to keep smaller agencies.
The state has a Feb. 1 deadline for redevelopment agencies to be dissolved. To meet that deadline, Oakland plans to issue the pink slips by Wednesday.
200 to be dismissed
About 200 city workers will lose their jobs and departments will be reorganized as a result, said city spokeswoman Karen Boyd.
“We’re looking at across-the-board realignment,” said Boyd, who also expects to receive a pink slip next week.
The City Council will decide over the next two weeks how the layoffs will be distributed and what the city’s funding priorities will be.
“It’s going to be devastating, not just for Oakland but all the other 399 cities in California with redevelopment agencies,” said Council President Larry Reid. “Will Oakland have to be revamped? It has to be.”
Reid and other city officials hope the Legislature will extend redevelopment another four months so cities have a chance to phase out their projects. But Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told reporters that extending the deadline was not likely.
“The question of extending the deadline is problematic. It’s problematic for a couple of reasons. No. 1, it’s a little bit of the tail wagging the dog. Any discussion about delaying the current deadline ought to only be had after we’ve seen whether we have real partners to work with in creating something new,” Steinberg said, an apparent reference to the lawsuit filed even after the Legislature worked out a compromise last summer.
Forced to prioritize
The cutbacks will be difficult, but leaner budgets are a reality for nearly everyone these days, said Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente.
“This is not short-term,” he said. “It’ll force us to prioritize, be more efficient. It doesn’t matter how much money we have or don’t have – those are things we should be doing anyway.”
Oakland’s redevelopment funding, which totals up to $30 million annually, covers employee salaries in 11 departments, though most of the redevelopment-funded workers are employed in the Community and Economic Development office.
City Administrator Deanna Santana has also ordered other cutbacks, including an immediate citywide hiring freeze and a 5 percent budget reduction in every department. She also plans to ask the City Council’s permission to renegotiate union contracts.
Union will fight
Union representatives said Thursday they plan to fight the layoffs.
“It’s not unusual at all for a city to pull the trigger and create mass confusion, scaring workers and their families as well as residents,” said Carlos Riviera, spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents library, public works, parks and other Oakland city employees.
“They’re jumping the gun,” he said. “None of us have enough details to know what these cuts will mean. Right now they’re just threatening people.”
Wendy Johnson, 55, who’s been a customer service worker in the Office of Parks and Recreation for 17 years, said the cuts could be devastating for her and her family.
“I love Oakland. It’s a part of me, my heritage,” said Johnson, a lifelong Oakland resident. “But I worry about my grandkids, that they won’t have the same great city to grow up in that I did.”
E-mail Carolyn Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle