Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao wants to freeze many of the roughly 300 vacant positions paid for by the city’s General Fund to help balance the 2023-25 budget, her office said.

Freezing positions will also allow the city to avoid layoffs. About one-third of the frozen jobs would be sworn police roles.

The mayor also wants to delay the start of some city programs and reorganize some city departments to save more money. The reorganization would become effective next year.

The two-year budget deficit is $360 million, the largest in the city’s history, in a budget of $2.1 billion.

“We had to make some tough choices in this budget but in the end, we not only avoided catastrophic closures and cuts, we made some investments in our shared future,” Thao said in a statement last week. “This is a roadmap to weathering this crisis, making us more resilient to future challenges and emerging stronger as a city.”

Digging up spare change

Freezing the roughly 300 positions would save about $133 million over two years. To close the deficit further, the city will use $60 million in savings from the previous budget and $10 million from a rainy-day vital services stabilization fund.

The rest of the savings will come from small cuts in individual departments, according to the mayor’s office.

“It’s very much like shaking the sofa of loose coins,” Leigh Hanson, the mayor’s chief of staff, said Thursday.

The next budget does involve spending increases, too. Thao is proposing over $200 million over the next two years for affordable housing.

She wants to spend $10 million to upgrade and harden the city’s cyber security technology following a ransomware attack against the city earlier this year. But she’s also proposing to freeze one full-time equivalent position in the information technology department, which keeps the department understaffed.

“It’s very much like shaking the sofa of loose coins.”

Leigh Hanson, Oakland mayor’s chief of staff

The proposal to freeze roughly 300 jobs will reduce the full-time equivalent positions in the Police Department by 93, reducing the department’s authorized sworn staffing to 710 full-time equivalent roles.

Patrol will have 29 fewer funded positions, the criminal investigations unit will have 28 fewer and the crime reduction unit will have 21 fewer, according to the budget.

Barry Donelan, president of the city’s police union, said, “In Oakland’s environment of rising crime, reducing the already historically low police officer numbers is not a recipe for public safety success.”

Thao is also proposing to make civilian roles out of 16 police internal investigation positions. The new roles would be in the Police Commission’s Community Police Review Agency to provide greater independent review of Oakland police misconduct.

Thirty-eight vacant sworn firefighter roles and an assistant fire marshal role may be frozen, too. The fire marshal would be responsible for inspecting vegetation at properties in the Oakland hills to prevent wildfires.

Less money for violence prevention

The budget also reduces the amount of spending by the Oakland Department of Violence Prevention by nearly $3 million. That means the department will serve about 2,000 fewer people annually, according to the budget.

The mayor wants to add 10 full-time equivalent jobs to the Oakland Department of Transportation and 24 to the Oakland Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Thao also proposed reducing funding for Lake Merritt Lodge by $1.1 million. The lodge provides 92 shelter beds for formerly homeless people. Many of those served are Black seniors and the seriously mentally ill.

She also wants to create a strike force to fill vacant positions with funding outside of the General Fund. Four analysts would be responsible for filling positions in departments such as Oakland Public Works, Housing and Community Development, Planning and Building, and the Department of Transportation.

The budget must be approved by the City Council on or before June 30. Between now and then, the City Council will hold public forums on the budget and develop alternative proposals for it.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.