Oakland firefighter Zac Unger, president of the union that represents Oakland firefighters, on March 25, 2021, demands that Oakland city officials make clear how they are spending American Rescue Plan money. (Catalina Brennan-Gatica)

Oakland workers and community members want to know how city officials spend the $192 million the city will get from the American Rescue Plan, the federal economic stimulus plan.

Workers and community members want city officials to make it clear how the money is spent, and they held a rally Thursday morning at Lincoln Square Park at 10th and Alice streets to say just that.

The two groups are also demanding that the money be spent so residents can get tested for COVID-19 and get vaccinated, homeless people can get help, and the city can maintain important public services. They demand no cuts to the city’s budget and that residents hurt most by the pandemic be the focus of the city’s recovery efforts.

“We want transparency from the mayor and the city,” said Norma Sanchez of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action, a group that advocates for economic, racial, and social justice.

Cat Brooks, outspoken critic of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said, “The mayor does not get a blank check,” which could be spent on, among other things, the police.

Brooks favors cutting the Police Department budget and reinvesting the money in other measures to keep Oakland residents safe.

A common thread at the rally was a demand for an investment in the people of Oakland, especially those hurt most by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Respect us, protect us and invest in us,” said Felipe Cuevas, a heavy equipment mechanic and president of the city of Oakland chapter of Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

He said during the Great Recession Oakland implemented austerity measures, making things worse. He thinks Oakland officials already have in part and are going to do more of the same now.

Oakland firefighter Zac Under, president of the union representing crews in Oakland, said he is concerned city officials in July are going to push for more cuts for fire services.

He’s pleased that President Biden’s administration is sending $192 million to Oakland as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Firefighters understand what rescue means, Unger said.

“A rescue is something you perform at a critical time to people in critical need,” he said.

But firefighters have heard chatter from City Hall that the money may be shelved.

“That is not a rescue,” he said. “A city is not a line item – a city is a collection of people who need services.”

“We are the people,” said Ayodele Nzinga, founding producing director of Lower Bottom Playaz, an Oakland theater company.

It is important that they (elected officials) know they work for us,” Nzinga said.

She wants the arts supported, homelessness addressed and security in jobs for firefighters and others.

“Pay attention to the people who elected you,” she said.

Justin Berton, Schaaf’s spokesperson, said the City Council appropriates the funds.

“The Mayor’s Office urges all residents to continue to engage and make their priorities about the budget known to their local Councilmembers,” Berton said.

“Oakland’s appropriation of the American Rescue Plan funds will be conducted in a transparent and public manner through the normal legislative process, with advance notice of posted meetings–including agendas and reports and public discussion at City Council meetings,” city spokeswoman Karen Boyd said.

“The City Council must pass a resolution to accept the American Rescue Plan funds and then appropriate the spending,” Boyd said.

On Monday, city administrators will recommend to the City Council how to spend the money, which includes closing a $44 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year.

The City Council won’t take any action Monday.