Oakland Sued Over Ballot Measure to Allow Noncitizen Voting

Lawsuit says judge struck down similar San Francisco law

A judge’s recent ruling that a San Francisco law allowing noncitizens to vote in school board elections is unconstitutional threatens a similar plan in Oakland, as well as efforts in other cities like San Jose.

The same organizations and law firm that won their case against San Francisco’s 2016 law sued Oakland officials Aug. 16 to keep their proposed measure off the November ballot.

“Oakland’s noncitizen voting measure should be removed from the ballot because it will be a waste of public resources to spend money … to submit a measure to voters that can never be enacted,” the complaint said. “Allowing a vote on an unconstitutional measure will undermine the integrity of the initiative process.”

Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said the city has yet to be served with the complaint and could not comment.

Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, who is leading the effort to get the measure on the ballot, believes it is legally sound because it would not directly extend voting rights to noncitizens, but allow the city to do so if it is not prohibited by state law.

“There’s no legal basis for their lawsuit,” Kalb said.

In January, the San Jose City Council voted to study the possibility of letting noncitizens vote in municipal elections, but they weren’t pressing to get a measure on the November 8 ballot.

San Francisco voters extended voting rights to noncitizens – both legal and unauthorized residents – to cast ballots in school board elections in 2016, and the Board of Supervisors extended the law indefinitely in 2021.

The conservative nonprofits United States Justice Foundation, based in Phoenix, and the California Public Policy Foundation in Laguna Niguel filed suit, arguing the provision was unconstitutional.

In a July 29 ruling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard B. Ulmer, Jr. agreed, citing the California Constitution stating that only “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this state may vote.” Ulmer also noted that several sections of the Elections Code say voters must be U.S. citizens.

Ulmer rejected the city’s argument that the state constitution’s “may vote” language isn’t restrictive.

“By the same logic, children under 18 and residents of other states ‘may also’ vote in California elections, which our constitution does not allow,” Ulmer wrote, adding that had the constitution said “shall vote,” it would have made voting mandatory in the state.

Ulmer’s ruling came just days after the New York Supreme Court justice struck down a New York City law passed in November that would have let 800,000 noncitizens who are permanent legal residents or authorized to work vote in municipal elections, citing similar barriers in the state constitution.

On Aug. 12, Ulmer also rejected San Francisco’s request to stay his ruling while the city appeals, saying he disagreed with the city’s contention that the case presented “difficult questions of law.”

“This is not a difficult or close question,” Ulmer wrote.

The Oakland lawsuit argues that the city’s voters have “a constitutional right in avoiding the vote dilution that flows from extending voting privileges to those not authorized to vote in the state.”

James V. Lacy, the lawyer representing the organizations that sued over the measure, argued it would benefit Asians, Hispanics and Whites who have larger shares of noncitizens among them at the expense of Oakland’s nearly one in four Black residents. But Kalb said the city is home to a large number of noncitizen African immigrants as well.

There is a history of noncitizen voting in the United States. New York allowed it for school elections until 2000. Advocates for the Oakland measure said noncitizens could vote in the United States until 1926. Sin Yen, spokeswoman for Chinese for Affirmative Action, which led the coalition that campaigned for San Francisco’s law, said noncitizen voting efforts are also afoot in Santa Ana, New York, Boston and Chicago.

Advocates argue that immigrant parents of kids in city schools shouldn’t be denied a voice in their governance just because they aren’t citizens. Oakland estimates that 13,000 of 230,000 voting-age residents are noncitizens of various ethnic backgrounds, including Hispanic, African and Asian.

“If you’re a parent or legal guardian of children under 18, you should be able to decide who runs the schools,” Kalb said. “It seems so obvious, like such a no-brainer. It’s sad there are some people who don’t want that to happen.”

Critics say they’re not anti-immigrant but that extending the vote to noncitizens unfairly benefits foreigners at the expense of the country’s own citizens.

“The purpose of our lawsuit is not to denigrate noncitizen rights in the state – noncitizens have all kinds of rights,” Lacy said. “But the idea of voting is something completely different. If you talk to a general person in the state about what is the qualification for voting, the general feeling is, well, you have to be a citizen.”

Click here to read that the full article at the Mercury News

Oakland Now Also Sued On Noncitizen Voting Measure

Judge overturned San Francisco law allowing noncitizens to vote in July

In July, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer overturned a San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections in Lacy et. al. The judge said the California Constitution permits only citizens to vote,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The Globe spoke with Attorney James Lacy who said the local law violates the California Constitution and Elections Code.

Lacy has just filed a second lawsuit in Superior Court in Alameda County against the City of Oakland and the County Registrar of Voters seeking a Court Order to remove from the November ballot a measure that if approved, would allow for the counting of noncitizen votes in Oakland school board elections.

“The City of Oakland proposes a ballot measure that would allow noncitizens to vote in elections for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). This measure is plainly unconstitutional because it violates a constitutional mandate allowing only United States citizens to vote in California elections. This requirement applies to every election in the state, even those conducted by charter cities,” the lawsuit alleges.”

“Oakland’s noncitizen voting measure should be removed from the ballot because it will be a waste of public resources to spend money to consider to submit a measure to voters that can never be enacted, and allowing a vote on an unconstitutional measure will undermine the integrity of the initiative process.”

Lacy said the lawsuit is necessary because “Oakland’s ballot measure violates the fundamental rule that in an election, only citizens vote, and if noncitizens are allowed to vote, the voting rights of all citizens are unconstitutionally deprived, diluted and devalued.” Other plaintiffs in the case include two nonprofit organizations of which Lacy is an officer: the California Public Policy Foundation and the United States Justice Foundation; and Oakland voter Jim Eyer.”

The Oakland lawsuit explains “These interests extend to everyone in the state because integrity of elections is a matter of statewide concern. Additionally, school districts are funded with the taxes paid by each of the state’s taxpayers into the state’s general fund. When OUSD spends taxpayer funds, it is not spending local taxpayer funds; it is spending state taxpayer funds. In this regard, everyone in the state has an interest in OUSD. From that interest, everyone in the state also has an interest in ensuring that OUSD’s governing board is elected in accordance with state law.”

The California Constitution establishes who may vote in the state:

“A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” The plain language of this provision does not allow the Legislature, any charter city, or any other body to establish voting rights for anyone who is not a United States citizen, 18 years of age, or resident of the state.

Pew reports that this part of a trend across the country that is drawing legal challenges. Supporters claim that because non-citizens pay local taxes they should be able to vote in local elections, arguing they deserve a say in who represents them. However, Pew acknowledges “no state explicitly allows noncitizens to vote in statewide elections such as for governor—nor have there been serious proposals to legalize statewide voting by noncitizens.”

In the San Francisco case, the judge told a lawyer for the city that the power of charter cities such as San Francisco to regulate municipal affairs “does not override the Constitution,” the Chronicle reported. “A permanent injunction has been issued to stop San Francisco from processing noncitizen voting and the Court has invited Lacy and the plaintiffs to file a motion to claim attorneys fees against the City for the action.”

“When noncitizens vote in an election, the voting rights of citizens are wrongly diluted,” Lacy said.

It also appears that this issue is divided along party ideology, with Democrats introducing most if not all city proposals seeking to allow non-citizens to vote.

“When California and Illinois implemented laws in recent years that automatically register people to vote when they visit departments of motor vehicles, hundreds of noncitizens were accidentally registered to vote due to technical glitches,” Pew reported.

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Oakland Sued Over Ballot Measure to Allow Noncitizen Voting

Lawsuit says judge struck down similar San Francisco law

A judge’s recent ruling that a San Francisco law allowing noncitizens to vote in school board elections is unconstitutional threatens a similar plan in Oakland, as well as efforts in other cities like San Jose.

The same organizations and law firm that won their case against San Francisco’s 2016 law sued Oakland officials Aug. 16 to keep their proposed measure off the November ballot.

“Oakland’s noncitizen voting measure should be removed from the ballot because it will be a waste of public resources to spend money … to submit a measure to voters that can never be enacted,” the complaint said. “Allowing a vote on an unconstitutional measure will undermine the integrity of the initiative process.”

Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said the city has yet to be served with the complaint and could not comment.

Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, who is leading the effort to get the measure on the ballot, believes it is legally sound because it would not directly extend voting rights to noncitizens, but allow the city to do so if it is not prohibited by state law.

“There’s no legal basis for their lawsuit,” Kalb said.

In January, the San Jose City Council voted to study the possibility of letting noncitizens vote in municipal elections, but they weren’t pressing to get a measure on the November 8 ballot.

San Francisco voters extended voting rights to noncitizens – both legal and unauthorized residents – to cast ballots in school board elections in 2016, and the Board of Supervisors extended the law indefinitely in 2021.

The conservative nonprofits United States Justice Foundation, based in Phoenix, and the California Public Policy Foundation in Laguna Niguel filed suit, arguing the provision was unconstitutional.

In a July 29 ruling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard B. Ulmer, Jr. agreed, citing the California Constitution stating that only “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this state may vote.” Ulmer also noted that several sections of the Elections Code say voters must be U.S. citizens.

Ulmer rejected the city’s argument that the state constitution’s “may vote” language isn’t restrictive.

“By the same logic, children under 18 and residents of other states ‘may also’ vote in California elections, which our constitution does not allow,” Ulmer wrote, adding that had the constitution said “shall vote,” it would have made voting mandatory in the state.

Ulmer’s ruling came just days after the New York Supreme Court justice struck down a New York City law passed in November that would have let 800,000 noncitizens who are permanent legal residents or authorized to work vote in municipal elections, citing similar barriers in the state constitution.

On Aug. 12, Ulmer also rejected San Francisco’s request to stay his ruling while the city appeals, saying he disagreed with the city’s contention that the case presented “difficult questions of law.”

“This is not a difficult or close question,” Ulmer wrote.

The Oakland lawsuit argues that the city’s voters have “a constitutional right in avoiding the vote dilution that flows from extending voting privileges to those not authorized to vote in the state.”

James V. Lacy, the lawyer representing the organizations that sued over the measure, argued it would benefit Asians, Hispanics and Whites who have larger shares of noncitizens among them at the expense of Oakland’s nearly one in four Black residents. But Kalb said the city is home to a large number of noncitizen African immigrants as well.

There is a history of noncitizen voting in the United States. New York allowed it for school elections until 2000. Advocates for the Oakland measure said noncitizens could vote in the United States until 1926. Sin Yen, spokeswoman for Chinese for Affirmative Action, which led the coalition that campaigned for San Francisco’s law, said noncitizen voting efforts are also afoot in Santa Ana, New York, Boston and Chicago.

Advocates argue that immigrant parents of kids in city schools shouldn’t be denied a voice in their governance just because they aren’t citizens. Oakland estimates that 13,000 of 230,000 voting-age residents are noncitizens of various ethnic backgrounds, including Hispanic, African and Asian.

“If you’re a parent or legal guardian of children under 18, you should be able to decide who runs the schools,” Kalb said. “It seems so obvious, like such a no-brainer. It’s sad there are some people who don’t want that to happen.”

Critics say they’re not anti-immigrant but that extending the vote to noncitizens unfairly benefits foreigners at the expense of the country’s own citizens.

“The purpose of our lawsuit is not to denigrate noncitizen rights in the state – noncitizens have all kinds of rights,” Lacy said. “But the idea of voting is something completely different. If you talk to a general person in the state about what is the qualification for voting, the general feeling is, well, you have to be a citizen.”

Click here to read the full article at The Mercury News

Conservative Groups That Successfully Challenged San Francisco’s Noncitizen Voting Law Files Suit Against Oakland

The conservative groups that successfully challenged San Francisco’s law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections have sued Oakland to remove a similar proposal from the city’s November ballot.

The Oakland City Council voted 6-0 on June 21 to place a measure on the ballot that would enable the city to authorize about 13,000 noncitizen parents or guardians of school-age children to vote in elections for the city’s seven school board members. The ballot measure said noncitizens, including legal residents and undocumented immigrants, make up 14% of Oakland’s population and now lack “representation in key decisions that impact their education and their lives.”

But the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, said such a law would violate a provision of the California Constitution that declares “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.”

Qualifications of voters are “an issue of statewide concern, not subject to local regulation by a charter city,” the suit said. It said the proposal also violates the rights of U.S. citizens in Oakland “by unconstitutionally diluting the impact of their votes.”

The suit was filed by James V. Lacy and two organizations he leads, the United States Justice Foundation and the California Public Policy Foundation, with an Oakland resident as an additional plaintiff.

Lacy and his groups also sued San Francisco over its ordinance, the first of its kind in California. It was approved by the city’s voters in 2016, took effect in 2018 and was extended by the Board of Supervisors in 2021. Turnout has been small, reportedly because of concerns about disclosure of information to immigration officers; election officials said a total of only 92 noncitizens voted in three school board elections between 2018 and 2020, though 328 registered and 235 voted this February, when three board members were recalled. Overall, nearly 180,000 votes were cast in the recall election.

Defending the San Francisco ordinance, the city’s lawyers argued that the state Constitution’s “may vote” language does not prohibit a local government from allowing others to vote. But Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer said the constitutional provision bars noncitizens from voting.

“Transcendent law of California, the Constitution … reserves the right to vote to a United States citizen, contrary to (the) San Francisco ordinance,” Ulmer said in a June 29 ruling that prohibited San Francisco from enforcing the ordinance or counting noncitizens’ votes in future elections.

He also cited a state law passed by the Legislature that specified “a person entitled to register to vote shall be a United States citizen.” Such laws “address matters of statewide concern: education and voter qualifications,” and cannot be overridden by a local government, Ulmer said.

The judge has refused to put his ruling on hold while the city prepares to appeal it. City Attorney David Chiu’s office told The Chronicle it will ask a state appeals court to reinstate the ordinance.

Ulmer’s ruling prompted City Council members in Santa Ana to delay plans for a ballot measure that would allow noncitizens to vote in all local elections. The measure had been proposed for the November ballot, but according to news reports, city officials needed time to review the legal issues and try to draft a revised proposal for the 2024 ballot.

“We sense the momentum now in California is against allowing for noncitizen voting,” Lacy said in a statement announcing the Oakland suit.

And on June 27, a judge blocked a law that would allow more than 800,000 noncitizen legal residents of New York City to vote in municipal elections, saying it violates a provision of the state Constitution entitling “every citizen” to vote.

City Council member Dan Kalb, a co-author of the ballot measure, said Wednesday the suit was premature because the measure would merely authorize the council to draft an ordinance enabling noncitizens to vote, If it passes, he said, the council will wait until higher state courts rule on the constitutionality of the San Francisco ordinance before acting.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Alameda County Sued Over Racial Preferences in Awarding Governmental Contracts

CFER, PLF say that the County is violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment

The Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER), along with co-plaintiffs represented by Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), filed a lawsuit against Alameda County on Monday, challenging two public contracting programs that impose race-based preferences for minority-owned companies.

For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against using racial quotas in the awarding of governmental contracts, such as in the 1989 landmark City of Richmond v. J.A. Cronson case, or in the 1996 Adarand Constructors v. Federico Pena decision. Both of those times, the justices found that the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment had been broken. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has even said that such programs are not permitted.

However, since these rulings, many cities and counties have found work-arounds to try to impose racial quotas in governmental contracts. In Alameda County, instead of imposing one of these “set-aside” programs, they went for a different name. Specifically, the Alameda County Public Works Agency implemented the “Construction Compliance Program,” with the General Services Agency overseeing the “Enhanced Construction Outreach Program.”

Both programs have “participation goals” for minority-owned businesses for county construction projects, essentially being a racial quota in all but name. These programs have been found to discriminate against subcontractors by excluding those not minority-owned from being considered for a job because the “participation goal” needing to be met.

As a result, the CFER and PLF filed Californians for Equal Rights Foundation v. Alameda County in the Superior Court of California in Alameda County on Monday.

“Racial quotas in public contracting, just as racial quotas elsewhere, are wrong and unconstitutional,” said PLF senior attorney Wen Fa in a statement on Monday. “The government should not be depriving opportunities for small businesses engaged in public contracting — and the Alameda County public contracting programs are particularly pernicious because they deprive opportunities based on race.”

Like similar prior cases, the CFER/PLF case is challenging the County based on the equal protection clause of the  14th amendment, as well as California’s Constitutional ban on racial preferences, which was recently upheld by voters in 2020 through Prop 16’s failure.

“California’s voters sent a strong message that they are serious about protecting the time-honored right of equality before the law, in 1996 when they approved Proposition 209, and again in 2020 when they defeated its repeal,” added CFER executive Vice President Gail Heriot. “Government favors on racial grounds have a pernicious past and do not belong in the 21st century.”

While many have also rushed to defend the case, affected construction company owners, including many who would benefit from racial quotas, noted that they have been more negative for the County and state.

“Minority-owned company set-asides and quotas have proven to be more harmful than good,” said Andrew Salazar, a mixed-race Construction company planner in Los Angeles, to the Globe on Monday. “These set-asides really do help many minority-owned businesses stay afloat by giving them a part of, say, a construction or renovation job. However, besides being constitutionally illegal, many have been associated with fraud, and taxpayers sometimes have to pay for a more expensive option. Rather than go with quality or the lowest-bidder, they go with a minority-owned firm.”

“And, here, especially in California, a lot of places see regular use of minority-owned companies because they are good and are not expensive. But a quota system muddles that up and quality can go down and cost goes up as a result. A lot of people also conveniently forget that any firm always hires a wide range of people, with many actually having a majority of Latino workers, so people of all races are getting work out of a normal and fair awarding of a contract. Things just become unfair when the quotas are put in place.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Oakland Schools Empty Amid Teacher Strike As District Loses Bid With State Board To Stop Labor Action

Hundreds of teachers, students and parents walked picket lines at Oakland’s public schools Friday in a one-day strike over controversial school closures to save money.

While the district’s nearly 80 schools remained open during the labor action, officials said there weren’t enough substitutes, administrators or other staff to accommodate or keep students safe and so urged families to keep their children home for the day.

While other unionized district workers were not directly participating in the strike, many were expected to be absent Friday as well, with their labor leaders advising them to notify supervisors that they wouldn’t feel safe given the picket lines.

The strike is just the latest challenge for Oakland Unified. It comes months after Oakland teachers planned a “sickout” during January’s Omicron wave, prompting the district to cancel classes and angering some families. It also comes two years after schools shut down due to the pandemic, forcing Oakland families to endure one of the longest school closures in the country.

Oakland Unified said in a statement that a state board had denied the district’s effort to get an injunction to stop the one-day strike. Spokesman John Sasaki said while the district is “disappointed” in the decision, it “will continue to put the needs of kids first and do what it thinks is best for them.”

On Friday morning, about 20 students and teachers were marching in front of Oakland Technical High School just after 8 a.m., carrying signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho ho, school closures have got to go.”

The 2,000-student high school was otherwise quiet.

Junior Satya Zamudio took a break from marching with friends to speak about her opposition to closures.

“We’re so disappointed in what our district is doing,” she said. “It’s very blatant the district doesn’t care about what we say.”

Kaia Palmquist, also in 11th grade, said her statistics professor has been talking to them about the closures in class, about the costs and other ways to save money, like “turning off the lights at night.”

“OUSD isn’t supposed to be a profitable organization,” she said. “They’re treating us like a company.”

Her statistics teacher, Errico Bachicha, was also on the picket line.

“It doesn’t make any sense to effect so many students to save $4 million,” he said. “Among the many things wrong with closing schools is how it will disrupt education. There’s been enough school closures to know it will make things worse.”

Oakland Education Association officials said 75% of the union’s 2,300 educators who participated in the strike vote, supported the one-day walkout, although they declined to say how many teachers submitted a ballot.

District officials said the strike was illegal while union leaders argued they were striking over unfair labor practices related to the school board’s decision to shutter schools without consulting with the community.

The school board voted in February to close or merge 11 schools over the next two years, a decision made in large part to address the district’s declining enrollment and ongoing overspending, which could leave the district in financial ruin in the years to come. The district has lost about 15,000 students over the past 20 years.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

Oakland Homicides Hit A Similar Inflection Point A Decade Ago — Then Violence Plummeted. Can It Happen Again

It was the final City Council meeting of a violent and difficult year, and the people and politicians of Oakland were worked up — about where to build a dog park.

On Dec. 18, 2012, more than five dozen residents signed up to speak about a convoluted journey to bring a play area for furry companions to Lakeview Park, an issue that didn’t get resolved that night, even after a 90-minute discussion that featured three deadlocked votes and council members raising their voices about civic duty.

Despite Oakland reaching 126 criminal homicides that year (two more than police recorded in 2021), no one in attendance remarked on the toll until Hour Eight, when a few patient religious leaders took turns at the podium to urge investment in a promising anti-violence program.

It was called Operation Ceasefire, and it would be credited for a sharp reduction in violence in the years to come.

“We wanted and needed something here in the city of Oakland to curtail the gun violence,” recalled the Rev. Damita Davis-Howard, one of the pastors who pressed the city to adopt a Ceasefire program then and now serves as its director.

In some ways, 2012 stands as a funhouse mirror to 2021. The political discourse around policing is more charged today, but the problems facing the city are familiar. A decade ago, Oakland was still emerging from the Great Recession and dealing with a worse trajectory in violent crime. Then 2013 arrived and the number of homicides began a steady if staggered multiyear decline, reaching lows not seen since the turn of the millennium.

That stayed the case until the COVID-19 pandemic came and warped every aspect of society. With Oakland navigating a new year in the midst of a draining public health quagmire and an ongoing debate about public safety, the question is whether what quieted the gunshots a decade ago can do so again today.

Repeating a ‘miracle’

Like many local religious leaders at the time, Davis-Howard wanted to see the “Boston miracle” replicated out West.

That was the nickname given to a dramatic decline in youth homicides in the Massachusetts capital during the late 1990s, when a working group of researchers, city officials and residents tested the hypothesis that most violence can be traced to a small group of people in neglected and over-policed communities, and that the way to address it was through unified anti-violence messaging, assistance for those who wanted out of the life and focused law enforcement attention for those who didn’t.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland, Near-Broke, Will Use Gas Tax Money to Keep Lights On

The City of Oakland is in such dire financial straits that it is planning to use $2.9 million from state gas tax revenues to keep the city’s lights on, rather than using the money to fix pothole-riddled roads, for which the funding was intended.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that the city is facing severe financial shortfalls, despite a booming economy that has seen wealthier households relocate from San Francisco across the bay to gentrifying neighborhoods.

The problem is that the city’s costs are rising faster than its growing revenues, thanks partly to pension obligations — an increasingly common challenge for large, Democrat-run cities that made ambitious promises to public sector unions.

As Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf — famous for tipping off illegal aliens to an impending federal law enforcement sweep, in an effort to defend her “sanctuary city” — noted in her recent budget statement to the city council last week:

Though cranes are rising across the skyline and Oakland’s revenues are growing at a steady rate due to the strong real estate market, the City’s expenses continue to rise faster than revenues. Personnel-related expenses, particularly the cost of medical benefits and pensions – as well as insurance, utilities, and fuel costs – are growing at 2-3 times the rate of inflation and revenue growth.

The deficit for this year will be $25 million. As a result, the Chronicle notes, Oakland — which is generously extending benefits to illegal aliens — can barely keep its street lights on.

To deal with the crisis, the city is shifting money from pothole repair to street lighting, even though the money raised by the 2017 gas tax must be used for transportation.

The Chronicle notes that Oakland’s believes that street lighting qualifies:

Enter the state gas tax.

The mayor is proposing to use the $2.9 million to pay for the street-lighting portion of the shortfall, then use the savings to keep the parks open.

According to Article 19 of the state Constitution, gas tax money is to be used for the “research, planning, construction, improvement, maintenance and operation of public streets and highways (and their related public facilities for nonmotorized traffic).”

Oakland officials feel that gives them the cover to use the tax money to light the streets as well.

The city will still apparently have other funds, both from the gas tax and its own revenues, to use for pothole repair — though less than it would otherwise have had.

Republicans attempted to repeal the gas tax hike in a 2018 ballot initiative, but the state government gave the measure a misleading title. As a result, the measure failed, though polls showed a majority of Californians opposed the hike.

The budget notes that the city will spend $150,000 per year on a legal fund to assist illegal aliens facing deportation.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Lessons from the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ strikes


Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

After two teachers’ strikes in as many months in California, it is too soon to tell whether the labor disputes in Oakland and Los Angeles presage a new era of school-based activism.

But regardless of what comes next, this year’s strikes had much in common, and yielded valuable lessons and insights for other districts where labor troubles may also be brewing.

  • Both strikes were relatively short, lasting about a week. The timeline was shaped by the troubled finances of both districts that couldn’t afford to lose excessive amounts of state funds they receive based on student attendance.  Teachers also couldn’t afford to lose excessive wages by being out on strike for a lengthy period, or to take money off the bargaining table that could have been used to meet some of their demands. So there was pressure on both sides to resolve the strike within a reasonable amount of time.
  • In both cases, teachers appeared to come out ahead, achieving gains they might not have won without a strike. In Oakland’s case, teachers earned a gradual salary increase of 11 percent  — more than double the 5 percent the district offered before the strike began — although most of the gains will only come in the 3rd year of the agreement. In the case of Los Angeles, on the salary front teachers got less than what they demanded initially, and settled for the 6 percent the district had already offered. But they did get commitments from the district to reduce class sizes and significantly increase support staff like counselors.
  • In both strikes, demands went beyond those more typical of labor strikes which tend to focus on wages and benefits. Those were on the table, but equally important were a range of other issues , including lowering class sizes, providing more counselors, psychologists, nurses and other support staff, limiting school closures in Oakland and creating community schools in Los Angeles.  Both contracts also included provisions tied to regulating charter schools.re
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how the districts will pay for what they agreed to. In Los Angeles, Debra Duardo, the county superintendent of schools, said that the district has yet to address a projected $500 million operating deficit in 2021-22, and that the bargaining agreement “continues to move the district to insolvency.” In Oakland, Najeeb Khoury, in his official fact-finding report issued before the strike, doubted that the district could afford anywhere near a 12 percent salary increase.  Chris Learned, the state trustee appointed to approve budget expenditures, also suggested before the strike that such an increase ran the risk of putting “the district in financial distress.”
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles, the strikes demonstrated deep public support for the teachers. It suggests that the days when teachers were held solely responsible for seemingly every shortcoming in the state’s public schools, along with the success or failure of their students, are over, at least for now.
  • In both conflicts, the teachers unions and their allies are looking to Sacramento, as well as voters, to approve more funds as a key element in making the agreements enforceable. But it is not clear where those funds would come from. Neither Gov. Gavin Newsom nor the Legislature has made any commitments beyond the funding increases that Newsom requested in his proposed budget in January.  In Los Angeles the strike did push the school board to place a long-delay tax on real estate parcels on a June 4 special election ballot.  If approved, it would help erase the district’s projected $500 million shortfall. Whether it will pass is another matter:  it will require voters to approve it by a two-thirds margin, which the last parcel tax measure nearly a decade ago failed to get.

Unaddressed in both Oakland and Los Angeles are deeper structural issues, such as the impact of declining enrollments, the crushing costs of meeting pension obligations, and stratospheric housing costs.

Whether these underlying forces will trigger further strikes — still a relatively rare event in California — is hard to predict. In only one other California district — San Ramon Valley Unified centered in Danville, a wealthy suburban community to Oakland’s east — have teachers actually authorized their union to call a strike if contract negotiations break down, although labor conflicts are brewing in other districts like Sacramento City Unified and Fremont Unified just south of Oakland.

The fact is that even with gains at  the bargaining table like those made in Oakland and Los Angeles, most teachers — and certainly beginning teachers who rely on a single income — will not be able to afford to buy a house in many urban and suburban districts, or even cover rents there.  (In the current salary schedule,teachers in Oakland with a B.A. degree make $46,570, which in three years would rise to just over $50,000 under the new contract.)

Those realities will make recruiting teachers an ongoing challenge, even as districts struggle to find teachers in key areas like math and science and special education. And it will continue to create churn in the labor force, with some teachers being tempted to leave so they can live in districts where living costs are lower — or to leave the profession altogether.

That may help explain the surprisingly large proportion of teachers in Oakland — 42 percent — who voted against ratifying the agreement.  This is one area where the Oakland strike outcome differed from Los Angeles, where only 18 percent of teachers voted against the contract. While making some significant gains at the bargaining table, many Oakland teachers sent a message that they were hoping for more.

Louis Freedberg writes about education reforms in California and nationally, and is the executive director of EdSource.

Despite Budget Crisis, Oakland Teachers Demand 12 Percent Raise


school busWith 95 percent of Oakland Unified teachers already having approved a strike that appears likely to begin Tuesday, the school district could face weeks of turmoil – unless, like Los Angeles Unified leaders did last month, Oakland Unified agrees to give substantial raises to teachers. But there are outside experts that think the district can’t afford to provide the raises.

The teachers union – the Oakland Education Association – wants a 12 percent increase phased in over three years. The district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years. The union and district have been unable to agree on a contract since the last one expired in 2017.

That’s at least partly because Oakland Unified is in a financial bind that is worse than many other districts. It has the same problem as other districts in dealing with the increasingly heavy annual cost of the Legislature’s 2014 bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The bailout – phased in from 2014 to 2021 – requires school districts to increase by more than 130 percent their annual contributions to CalSTRS.

But Oakland Unified also has seen among the sharpest enrollment drops of any state school district, falling from 54,000 to 37,000 since 2003. Because state funds depend on average daily attendance, this has wiped out many non-mandatory programs.

Schools kept open despite huge drop in enrollment

Yet Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and other district officials have been leery of closing schools because of parents’ concerns, leaving nearly 11,000 empty seats in often half-full schools. They’ve also failed to significantly reduce administration and support staff even as enrollment has dropped by more than 30 percent.

That may change soon. According to a Bay Area News Group report, to free up money for raises for the district’s 3,000 teachers, the Oakland school board is prepared to lay off 90 administrators and nearly 60 school support workers to generate annual savings of $21.75 million. Oakland Unified officials say that this will not only pave the way for labor peace, it will help reduce the district’s structural deficit, which is otherwise on track to top $56 million by the 2020-21 school year. They have also vowed to follow through on staff recommendations that 24 schools be closed.

But a 2017 analysis by a state agency that helps school districts in financial distress raises a question that most local coverage of Oakland Unified doesn’t address: Can district staff be trusted to competently manage its $500 million-plus budget?

After looking at district budget information dating back to 2010, the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) depicted the district as on track to a “fiscal emergency” because of its slowness to acknowledge, much less respond to, obvious problems. It noted that the school board had approved pay raises – including boosts of about 15 percent for teachers from June 2014 to January 2017 – without first identifying how they would be funded. FCMAT also cited “constant turnover” in key positions; a lack of district supervision of how schools deal with spending decisions; and an “abundance of budget exceptions granted to sites and departments that overspend.”

District hoping for emergency state loan

In the short term, the district has taken steps to secure an emergency state loan of $34.7 million. But as the EdSource website reported in September, the district still hasn’t fully paid off the $100 million emergency state loan it got in 2003.

State officials may feel that for political reasons, they have no choice but to help Oakland Unified again. But as FCMAT and others have noted, the district’s enrollment is expected to keep plunging – even as pension obligations keep growing. A 12 percent raise for teachers would only make achieving fiscal stability even more daunting for district leaders.

L.A. Unified school board members heard similar warnings last month, but chose to provide a 6 percent raise to teachers –just shy of the 6.5 percent the teachers union had wanted.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com