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Friday, June 28, 2013

Oakland Strike: It Couldn't Happen in San Francisco

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 12:15 PM

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The news that Oakland city workers are slated on Monday to go on strike for the first time since the oldest baby boomers were in diapers is staggering.* Combined with BART workers, the striking municipal employees will contribute to what figures to be a day of legion inactivity over in the East Bay. But, hey, at least the weather's gonna be nice. (Expect a fair share of little Oaklanders to be born nine months from Monday).

We like to point out the shortcomings of San Francisco government -- but it's clear, compared with the cheaper and hipper city across the dilapidated Bay Bridge, we're leading the National League West of city government. It's a weak division -- but, damn it, we're leading it!

For one thing, city workers in San Francisco are forbidden via the City Charter to go out on strike. Following a divisive strike by public safety workers in the mid-1970s, the city's bylaws were rewritten so disputes are now handled by binding arbitration.

Oakland's municipal workforce would probably hella want to be in the position of San Francisco's with regard to binding arbitration. But Oaklanders have another disadvantage: Their city budgeted recklessly in the past, and it's causing problems in the present.

See Also: Oakland Bracing for Day of Legion Inactivity

In San Francisco, Redevelopment funds were, straightforwardly, used for redevelopment projects. And when Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated that agency -- and the money to support it -- there was pain and suffering.

But not as much as in Oakland, where the city siphoned redevelopment dollars into paying salaries of workers it couldn't otherwise budget for. As noted in this great Bay Citizen article from 2011:

Oakland's redevelopment agency is paying $3.5 million for the 17 police officers. It pays half of Mayor Jean Quan's $183,000 salary. It pays $1.65 million to cover the salaries of four City Council members and six of their staff members. Oakland's city administrator, the city attorney and several public works employees are also partially on the redevelopment agency's payroll.

All told, redevelopment funds cover about $14 million of Oakland's payroll.

In San Francisco, unions tend to not get what they want from an arbitrator when times are bad, and management tends to not get what it wants when times are good. But in Oakland, even when times are good -- and its city workers want to enjoy the good times -- the city is hard-pressed to unravel itself from this kind of budgeting morass.

Also, as you'd expect, when you use redevelopment dollars for non-redevelopment purposes, you aren't redeveloping things. This takes a bite out of your tax base; projects tend to enrich a city more than holes in the ground.

These are all things to think about on Monday. It'll be 82 degrees and gorgeous in Oakland. At least on a municipal level, it's hard to mismanage the weather. 

*Update: It turns out AC Transit is also set for a potential Monday strike. A period of legion inactivity may now be upgraded to epic inactivity. Those unable to work from home will likely remember these days for quite some time. 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more


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