Oakland considers cutting park rangers

October 13, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
As officials struggle to close a $42 million budget deficit in Oakland, hundreds of city workers face possible layoffs -- including the city's three remaining park rangers. The union that represents many of those employees plans to take a strike vote on Tuesday.

"We've been here since 1945 serving the public," says Officer Mark Oliver, an Oakland Park Ranger.

Officer Oliver is part of a dying breed in Oakland, where there once were 16 rangers patrolling the city's parks, but now Oliver is one of just three.

"That's our primary responsibility, making sure the parks are safe, so that moms and kids and nannies and senior citizens, when they go out and use the parks, they can feel safe," says Officer Oliver.

In an effort to close a $42 million budget gap, Mayor Ron Dellums proposed eliminating the city's Park Ranger Program and instead have police officers do the job-- a move that would save an additional $1 million.

"We're in a crisis in Oakland," says Jane Brunner, with the Oakland City Council.

It's now up to the city council to decide their fate.

"If we choose to keep the park rangers or not close the parks, we just have to find some other employees in a different area to layoff," says Brunner.

It's more than just the three park rangers facing layoffs. Other city positions that could be cut include two police dispatchers, seven librarians and an animal control officer.

In all, city officials in Oakland are considering laying off more than 200 city workers. So on Tuesday, the union representing many of those employees is holding a strike vote.

"A strike is an option that we have that is a defensive mechanism for the employees, as well as to show what the city would look like under these drastic conditions," says Dwight McElroy, Vice President of SEIU Local 1021.

Oliver says it's too much to ask that Oakland Police Officers patrol the city's more than 120 parks.

"They have other responsibilities and they need to tend to those things. To add our duties on top of that, it's just unrealistic," says Officer Oliver.

It's a job he's loved for 21 years and is hoping it's not his last.


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