By Mimi Rohr
OAKLAND — Private security patrols, cameras, alarm systems and reinforced doors are all things many hills residents shell out money for to enhance the security of their homes in a city with dwindling police resources.
Some residents have asked about creating a special tax district similar to the Wildfire Prevention Assessment District to hire more police. District 4 Councilmember Libby Schaaf convened a Sunday meeting at Crogan’s Restaurant and Bar in Montclair Village to discuss this issue and lay out possible options for enhancing security in hills neighborhoods.
Schaaf began the meeting by apologizing and said, “The city is not providing the level of security you expect, and I am continuing to work on that. I appreciate that you are willing to dig into your pockets to enhance security in your neighborhoods.”
Options include the creation of a special tax district, organizing neighborhoods and contracting with private security services or taking an active role in the citywide measure that will be put on the ballot to succeed the controversial Measure Y, which is due to expire at the end of 2014.
The success of the Wildfire Assessment Prevention District gives residents hope that the same success could be possible with a public safety district. Ken Benson, the co-chair of Keep Oakland Fire Safe 2013, feels that there is overwhelming support to create a public safety district. When he has phone-banked for the Wildfire Assessment Prevention District, residents often ask him if they can expand the district to include public safety.The current Wildfire Assessment Prevention District brings in $1.7 million in revenue each year based on a $65 assessment. An $80 tax could yield an estimated $2 million annually. A police officer can run $200,000 a year, while a rookie officer can cost $160,000 Schaaf estimated.
“The timeline for hiring an officer is one-and-one-half years before you would see them in your neighborhood,” Schaaf continued.
Other options might include contracting existing police officers on overtime or contracting with officers from other agencies.
Creating a special assessment district is complicated, Schaaf warned. There are a couple of ways to create a district. However, the most promising method falls under the Mello-Roos law, enacted in 1982, providing a financing vehicle for cities, counties and special districts, according to Mark Morodomi, a supervising deputy attorney for the City of Oakland.
Marlene Sachs, an attorney who lives in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood, questioned the legality of enacting such legislation. According to her research, there are no other communities in California that are pursuing similar options.
“I question whether Oakland should be the guinea pig in this political climate,” Sachs said.
But Morodomi said that the statute makes specific references to public safety and argues that the precedent has already been set in Oakland, as there are some 11 business districts within the city that are already paying for enhanced security services. A Mello Roos district must be ratified by two-thirds of voters to pass. Such an undertaking would need to be a grass-roots effort, Schaaf said.
“If you want me to put something on the ballot, you have to show me that you are organized and willing to run a campaign,” Schaaf said. “I have to spend your tax dollars to put this on the ballot. It’s a lot of energy, time and organization. The private patrol route is a lot easier, but it doesn’t give you a city service.”
“I’m disappointed that the city is suggesting that we turn to private patrols. I don’t think the city should be shifting security onto private citizens,” Sachs said.
Private patrols can run an individual household $800 a year, Sachs said, compared with $80 a year with a special tax added to the property tax bill. Rita Liberti, a resident of the Rose Garden neighborhood, near Grand Lake, is frustrated.
“We pay five-figure property taxes, and what are we getting?” Liberti asked. “Private security is not the answer. Oakland has to change.”
Liberti’s property has been broken into twice, and the police didn’t come either time.
“Although individual communities may be wealthy (and can afford to contract private services), the wave will still be out there battering your door.”
Schaaf voiced possible concerns that creating a district may bring up questions of equity. She also pointed out that a more comprehensive approach to enhancing public safety might be to work on the successor measure to the current Measure Y. The flawed measure has helped bankroll some 65 officers, including Problem Solving Officers, in addition to other public safety features.
Schaaf urged residents to take advantage of the opportunity to join the conversation about crafting a more effective measure that will augment security throughout the whole city.