UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: The letter I posted below has been circulating online and has been misconstrued as to be from Libby Schaaf as a candidate and formatted in a way that makes it look like Libby herself was a signer to this letter. Libby is Ignacio’s staffer and the email was sent from her City account. It was clear to me that she was acting on the direction of her boss in sending this email so I didn’t even mention her in the post below. This is Ignacio’s fight, not hers. But since I’ve received a few emails asking me what’s going on, I thought it was worth clarifying.
Yesterday, I wrote a somewhat lukewarm action alert about the IRV vote tonight because I was really hoping that the Council would just do the right thing and vote to implement. But this morning I found out that at least one Councilmember is putting up a fight.
Ignacio De La Fuente’s office is circulating the following sign-on letter to Oakland non-profits:
Ranked Choice Voting – Right Idea, Wrong Time
An Open Letter to the Oakland City Council
We represent a broad coalition of community organizations that provide vital services to citizens throughout Oakland. We write about the City’s unprecedented fiscal crisis that threatens to reduce vital services – services your citizens need now more than ever. For this reason, we urge you to reject the $1.5 million contract with Alameda County to implement Ranked Choice Voting (“RCV”) until the City can better afford it. Many of us still believe RCV is a good idea, but now is the wrong time.
Only weeks ago, the City Council held a special budget session to discuss cutting another $18.9 million shortfall from this year’s budget and $25.4 million from next year’s budget. The report warned that a cut this size “essentially means that General Purpose-Funded City services and departmental operations not outlined above [i.e., legally mandated,] would cease – an untenable proposition.”
When we supported Measure O in 2006 it was with the promise that it would “save hundreds of thousands of tax dollars each election year,” (Ballot Arguments for Measure O). The Measure’s Title stated this system would be used “without holding a prior June election.” But times have changed, now it looks like there won’t be any savings, since Oakland officials are planning to put revenue-generating measures on the June ballot. And unfortunately, due to the timing of tax collections, these measures can’t wait until a November election.
Now, not only will there be no savings, Alameda County is requiring Oakland to pay up to $1.5 million to implement this new voting system. This cost wasn’t included in the City’s current budget – the same budget that is already running a $18.9 million deficit. So, the RCV implementation costs will have to come out of vital city services – services that have already been cut to the bone and are at risk of being eliminated entirely. Clearly this means even more cuts to libraries, senior centers, parks, recreation programs, the arts, and vital services for seniors, youth and people in need.
Many of us who have signed below continue to support RCV as a best practice, but we urge you to delay its implementation to a year when we can better afford its costs. At least let’s wait until RCV is in the City’s budget, so we know what the trade-offs are.
[This paragraph will not be submitted to the newspaper as an op-ed, but will be included in version for Councilmembers]: Finally, should RCV be implemented, we are concerned about how voter education and outreach is conducted. Oakland’s Charter requires “The City shall conduct a voter education campaign to familiarize voters with ranked choice voting.” We believe you cannot and should not delegate this responsibility to Alameda County. While Alameda County has claimed to have worked with “community organizations” on an outreach plan, not one of our organizations has been contacted or consulted. However, some of us have been contacted by the Department of Justice, which is investigating claims that Alameda County has violated voting rights for non-English speaking voters in past elections. We urge the Council to take every precaution in voter outreach until this investigation is resolved. We urge the Oakland City Council to adopt an effective, accountable education and outreach plan that is responsive to our communities before adopting RCV.
As I explained yesterday, implementing IRV should not be seen as a choice, regardless of the economic implications (which are grossly overstated in the letter above. It is the law and the City Attorney’s opinion clearly states that there is no wiggle room here – the City Charter mandates the immediate implementation of IRV. If you haven’t already, call your Councilmembers today to urge them to vote yes tonight on IRV implementation. See my previous post for contact info and further information.