Oakland approves several cuts to budget

October 22, 2008 6:01:19 AM PDT
Hundreds of people packed into the Oakland City Council chambers Tuesday night to plead with the council not to cut funding for city programs, including the arts, animal control, senior services, adult literacy and parks as they attempt to close a $42 million budget deficit.

The council has proposed to cut 159 jobs and trim services in almost every area of city government.

"None of us want to cut people. This is really difficult," Councilwoman Jane Brunner said.

Councilwoman Jean Quan said the council rejected Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums' proposal to close city offices every Friday and instead proposed to close city offices only one additional day a month.

A proposal that was taken with great relief was the council's decision to keep the $1.4 million in cultural arts funding and instead to eliminate funding for parades, runs and street festivals after Jan. 1.

The council has also proposed to restore shuttle services for seniors, restore funding for the senior literacy program and to keep parks open but with reduced maintenance.

Under the proposed plan, employees will be asked to take voluntary time off and elected officials will be asked to take a voluntary 5 percent pay cut.

Dozens of people told council members how important the arts programs were to Oakland, both as a way to make the city a vibrant cultural center and to prevent crime.

Amana Harris with Attitudinal Healing Connection, Inc. said her program served more than 3,000 children each year.

"I believe the arts is essential in dealing with the fear and violence that plague our community," Harris said.

Rosette Costello, principal of Peralta Elementary School, said she believed the city-funded arts program had helped raise test scores and close the achievement gap for black students.

Jeffrey Levin, vice president of Oakland's Professional and Technical Engineers union, said 50 people in his union were about to be unemployed. He urged the Council to address the larger policy issues in city government rather than trimming around the edges and cutting jobs.

His comments were echoed by multiple union representatives and union employees.


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