Tag Archives: billboards

Special budget meetings, where good ideas go to die

16 Feb

Tonight, the Oakland City Council will have yet another special budget meeting. Somehow, in just one hour, they’re expected to make progress on the seemingly unending and ever-growing budget gap that the City faces.

I’m getting sick of these budget meetings. They seem increasingly pointless, because not only do they keep getting delayed and then no decisions are made at them, but when councilmembers do offer substantive ideas at these meetings, they seem to be talking to themselves since their ideas are almost never incorporated into subsequent budget proposals.

The December 17th budget meeting, for example, mostly consisted of a depressing procession of public speakers explaining why one program or another shouldn’t be cut. Then the councilmembers went on and on about what a bad situation the City is and wondered how they’d ever get out of it. But there were also a couple of legitimate revenue raising ideas proposed by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Ignacio De La Fuente.

Kaplan proposed an increase of billboards, an increase in medical cannabis dispensaries, and licensing of medical cannabis grow operations:

De La Fuente proposed selling golf courses (which Max Allstadt had proposed in his public comments earlier that morning):

Fast forward to the current budget proposal – none of these ideas are incorporated or even mentioned. So someone please tell me, what is the point of these budget meetings? Is it just a place for the public and Council to vent? Or a place where good ideas go to die?

I’ll be attending the meeting tonight to ask staff and the Council why these substantive ideas were completely ignored. If you’d like to join me, the meeting runs from 5-6pm in the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza. You can also watch online via KTOP.

Tonight’s Council Meetings: Budget, billboards, and OFCY

17 Nov

UPDATE: The budget workshop just ended, but you can follow the City Council meeting on Twitter #oakmtg. I finally gave in and joined Twitter, after months of being harassed, just so I could get in on the discussion there. You can find me @oaklandbecks

Tonight there will be not one but two Council meetings, and plenty will be covered. From 4-6pm, the Council will hold a special budget workshop, and from 7pm until late in the night, they’ll have a regular Council meeting. Here’s an explanation of some of the items that will be discussed.

Special Meeting: Budget Workshop

You probably know by now that Oakland is again facing a huge deficit – this time we’re $19 million in the hole. And for the past few weeks I’ve been extremely concerned about what would be cut, considering we’ve already cut services to below reasonable levels and I’m not sure how the city could function after further serious cuts. Well, somehow staff has come up with one-time gimmicks to avoid major cuts:

The City can come up with $6.62 million in one-time money by pillaging some funds that happen to have available balances, including money from an insurance settlement after the earthquake ($3.2 million), the telecommunications land use fund ($0.5 million) that can be used for park maintenance, the Parks and Recreation self-sustaining fund ($0.5 million), and Measure Q ($1.5 million), which can be used to maintain library services while reducing the Library’s General Fund appropriation to $9.06 million, the minimum permitted by Measure Q.

So that still leaves us with what, $12.5 million to come up with? Staff proposes raising another $11.6 million by selling off City property, like the Kaiser Convention Center and the Scotlan Convention Center. If, of course, they can find anyone to buy them.

The remaining deficit would be closed by forcing towing companies to start collecting our existing 18.5% parking tax on towed cars and leasing as yet unspecified City property to cell phone companies for them to put cell phone towers on.

Read the rest of V Smoothe’s post for further details on the proposal. It’s clear that this kind of budgeting isn’t sustainable and the Council does not have easy decisions to make tomorrow night. I don’t think they’ll love the staff proposal, but I’m not sure they’ll have any better ideas for budgeting.

Item 15: Clear Channel Outdoor – Billboard Agreement

This item was supposed to come to Council two weeks ago, but it was delayed, and I wrote about it then:

[The proposed billboard at the Bay Bridge entrance] doesn’t bring the City of Oakland any revenue. But it does bring revenue to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), and it doesn’t hurt Oakland financially. In exchange for approving this agreement, Clear Channel will remove 16 billboards throughout the city (the full list can be found in the staff report). Apparently, it is fairly common for Clear Channel to get new billboard space in exchange for getting rid of other billboards, as this was done in 2003 and 2007, though the City did receive revenue out of both of those agreements.

UPDATE: The new proposal includes a one-time $400,00 payment from Clear Channel to the City and an ongoing annual payment of a yet to be determined percentage of revenue from the lease, which is probably why Kaplan held this over until this week’s meeting. Otherwise, the proposal appears to be the same as the one that was initially headed for Council two weeks ago.

Item 22: Oakland Fund For Children And Youth 2010-2013 Strategic Plan

The Oakland Fund for Children and Youth Planning and Oversight Committee is responsible for distributing funds to various youth programs, based on the funding from Kids First! (Measure K, Measure OO, and Measure D). Tonight, OFCY will be presenting its strategic plan for 2010-2013.

This item came before the Life Enrichment Committee last week and the most contentious part of the plan was the restriction on which school-based programs OFCY funds could be directed to. The request for proposals states, “High percentage of students (and/or # of students) on Free and Reduced lunch- students with a FRL at 49% or below are not eligible to apply.” This means that schools where less than 50% of students receive free or reduced lunches will be ineligible for OFCY funds for after-school programs.

Jean Quan really didn’t like this because she quickly realized that several schools in her district just barely missed the mark, and she argued that the difference between a school with 48% FRL and 50% FRL is not so great. She argued, quite reasonably, that this threshold was arbitrary and didn’t take into account the many children, especially from immigrant families, that could qualify for free lunches but didn’t apply. Staff responded that they needed to create some threshold because otherwise the money would be spread too thin. So Quan recommended changing the cut-off to 45%, and staff said they could do that.

But then Jane Brunner looked more closely at her chart and realized that a few schools in her district would still be left out (it seemed that she had little understanding of the situation going into the meeting). So she argued for the cut-off to be 40%. Staff again explained that this would stretch resources more and impact all of the programs, but the committee voted unanimously to move the item to Council with the change. Of course, that’s not reflected in the OFCY packet for tonight, but I’m sure it will come up.

The Rest of the Agenda…

I had hoped to have some time to write about the obesity and tobacco preventions program grant because this item was discussed in length at the Life Enrichment Committee and I’m guessing there will be lengthy discussions tonight. Unfortunately, I’m having some serious mouse issues and am unable to copy and paste and do lots of other things so it’s not going to be possible. Watch the Council meeting tonight to see what happens.

Tonight’s Council Meeting: World Cup, billboards, and performance measure tracking

3 Nov

Remember about a month and a half ago when I asked you if you wanted more City Council coverage and promised I would provide it? Well, things got busy for me after that, and then I took a couple week break from blogging, so I’ve yet to follow through on my promise to cover some Council items in-depth before the Council meeting.

I’ve thought about it a lot and last night started working on a post for tonight’s Council meeting, and I realized that this is going to be harder than I thought, especially since I haven’t watched most of the committee meetings for the past month. I looked at the agenda and realized that I didn’t even know where to begin, since few of the items stood out as particularly controversial and many of them are very important.

I slept on it, and this morning I woke up and decided that I was just going to dive in. I’m picking a few agenda items and will cover them in some detail. If I don’t pick the most important items, oh well. If I miss some nuances of an item, hopefully a reader will catch that and weigh in. So as you read this, remember that it is a work in progress, and as I do these more regularly, they’ll get better with your input.

Item 16: World Cup Host City

Council meetings have been overall pretty depressing this year, as the budget crisis has hung over so many decisions. But sometimes the Council discusses exciting new projects, and tonight is one of those times. The City is applying to be one of the US cities to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

I’m not going to cover this item in too much detail because V Smoothe already did such a thorough job of it at In Oakland, and you should really read her post. But the short story is that Oakland is one of the 27 finalists chose by the USA Bid Committee, and the committee will ultimately choose 18 host cities. Even if Oakland is chosen as one of the 18 though, the US would still need to be chosen over several other countries to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. V Smoothe thinks that’s likely, “based on our large stadium capacities and the tremendous success of the US-hosted 1994 World Cup, which set financial and attendance records for the event that still stand today.”

The great thing about this opportunity is that it costs the City very little to apply (about $20,000) and we could reap huge benefits if chosen. The staff report, citing another study, states that “the total economic impact projected for any one Host City range from approximately $300-$500 million using 2009 dollars. It is also expected that between 5,000 and 8,000 new jobs would be created by the preparation and operation of the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup.”

Oakland, if chosen, would also have to host a “Fanfest” event to show all 64 World Cup games on large screens. This would be done at Jack London Square or Lake Merritt and could be incredibly fun. I was lucky enough to be in Salvador, Brazil in 2002 when Brazil won the World Cup, and the City showed the game on large screens in the center of the city. It was a phenomenal experience that I will never forget, and the thought of having a similar experience here in Oakland is enough to convince me that Oakland should do whatever it can to become a Host City.

Tonight, the Council will be voting on entering into a Host City Agreement. Assuming that vote passes, the USA Bid Committee will choose the 18 cities in December 2009, and FIFA will decide on Host Nations for 2018 and 2022 in December 2010.

Item 18: Clear Channel Outdoor – Billboard Agreement

Normally this item wouldn’t be of much interest to me, but I looked into it because at first I thought it was the billboard agreement that had been proposed to close the budget gap that was opened up by rolling the meter times back from 8pm to 6pm. At the time, it had been proposed that nearly half a million in revenue, which was half of the missing revenue left by the meter roll back, would be gained through future billboard agreements, and if I remember correctly, a billboard was supposed to be built on our side of the Bay Bridge.

Well, this item does involve a billboard at the toll plaza, but it’s a different billboard and doesn’t bring the City of Oakland any revenue. But it does bring revenue to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), and it doesn’t hurt Oakland financially. In exchange for approving this agreement, Clear Channel will remove 16 billboards throughout the city (the full list can be found in the staff report). Apparently, it is fairly common for Clear Channel to get new billboard space in exchange for getting rid of other billboards, as this was done in 2003 and 2007, though the City did receive revenue out of both of those agreements.

If only the City could make its approval of this agreement contingent upon EBMUD not building a new dam and instead forcing suburban customers to conserve water or pay their fair share…

Item 20: Citywide Performance Measures Tracking

I think we can all agree that the City, overall, could do better. The City could improve on its interactions with constituents, on communication between departments, on data collection… ugh, the City could do better on pretty much everything. Tonight, the Council will not discuss how to improve on actual performance but how to improve the tracking of performance because it’s pretty difficult to know what or how to improve if you don’t know how you’re doing in the first place.

Via the staff report, here are some of the ideas for improving performance measure tracking that will be presented tonight:

  • Strengthening the focus on continuous improvement by following the cycle of planning, measuring, monitoring/managing and reporting on progress internally and externally;
  • Convening a Task Force representing departments and elected offices to review and further define departmental performance measures and select indicators for Council and community reporting;
  • Re-launching systematic citywide data gathering and reporting of the performance measures in an online system;
  • Implementing OakStat, a performance-based leadership strategy that involves monthly reviews of departmental performance by management to focus attention on improving operational effectiveness and efficiency and delivering outcomes of importance to policy makers and the public; and
  • Re-launching an annual citizen survey to assess resident satisfaction with government service provision and provide input for program and process improvement.

These improvements, if fully implemented, sound like they could make a difference, and the price tag on them, at less than $20,000 is already included in the 2009-11 budget. But some of the stuff in the staff report sounds so basic that it’s frightening that it hasn’t already been implemented, like a monthly meeting between department heads to review performance data.

I guess it’s better late than never though and data from the internal reviews and the citizen survey could make the City much more effective and efficient if changes are made based on this data. Unfortunately, I’m a bit skeptical of that, though I hope for the best.

If I was on the task force, my first recommendation would be to stop printing out every damn staff report and then scanning it in to put on the website! It’s a huge waste of time and paper and makes the files less useful because you can’t search them or copy and paste (which made writing this blog post take nearly twice as long). I’m sure there are many other simple inefficiencies like this that could be easily fixed and the above plans could be a good start for finding them.

The Rest of the Agenda…

There’s no way I can get to everything else, but the rest of the agenda includes park improvement projects, the Oakland Community Land Trust, and amending the CalPERS firefighter contract. Watch the Council meeting tonight to see what happens. And for the next Council meeting, email me at oaklandbecks at gmail dot com if you have an input on what I should cover.