General Crime

* Oakland Attorney Marleen Sacks Files 2nd Suit Against City of Oakland

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An attorney who previously won a lawsuit alleging that the city of Oakland illegally diverted money from a voter-approved public safety measure filed a second suit today alleging that the city is still violating the terms of the measure. Marleen Sacks, who lives in Oakland and has a law office in Pleasanton, said the city is collecting $20 million annually in taxes from Measure Y, which was approved by nearly 70 percent of voters in 2004, but isn’t appropriating funds to maintain the number of police officers required by the measure. Sacks said Measure Y was supposed to fund 63 problem-solving officers in addition to the 739-officer authorized strength that existed in 2004, for a total of at least 802 officers. She said the Oakland Police Department briefly had more than 830 officers in 2008, but through attrition the staffing level has dropped to about 770 officers. Sacks said the department hasn’t held any police academies to train new officers since late 2008, apparently because of budget considerations. Sacks, who filed the new suit in Alameda County Superior Court with co-counsel David A. Stein, said, “There’s no dispute that the city has budget problems, but then the city shouldn’t collect the tax. They owe it to their citizens not to collect the tax.” She said the suit alleges numerous other violations of Measure Y and related illegalities, including the city’s failure to assign dedicated problem-solving officers to each beat, awarding grants to violence prevention
programs in violation of competitive bidding requirements, awarding grants not authorized by the measure and failing to comply with the California Records Act. Alex Katz, a spokesman for Oakland City Attorney John Russo, said the city attorney’s office doesn’t have any comment on the new suit at this time because the city hasn’t been served with the suit and he hasn’t seen it yet. Sacks filed her initial lawsuit against the city in April 2008 after the Oakland City Council approved Mayor Ron Dellums’ plan to use $7.7 million in Measure Y money to help the city’s Police Department reach full staffing by the end of 2008. On April 2, 2009, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that the city of Oakland acted illegally by diverting the $7.7 million to recruit and train new police officers who weren’t specifically assigned to
neighborhood problem solving.Roesch said using funds from Measure Y to train new officers who won’t be used in community policing jobs is not a permissible use of funds that are specifically limited to “hiring and maintaining” community policing officers. Roesch said the city was using Measure Y funds to “backfill patrol assignments in order to free up veterans for Measure Y positions,” and said Oakland officials cannot deviate from Measure Y’s requirements about how
funds should be spent. After Roesch’s ruling, Katz said, “We respectfully disagree with the ruling.” Russo filed an appeal shortly afterward. Katz said Russo believed that the voters’ intent when they approved Measure Y was to put problem-solving officers on the streets of Oakland and that the fund has been spent in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of the law. Katz said Russo also believed that the city was better served by filling Measure Y positions with experienced officers who know their beats and have the skills to act in a problem-solving capacity, rather than with rookie officers. Sacks said today that she estimates that Roesch’s ruling means that the city must repay the Measure Y fund about $15 million but the city
believes it only owes about $10 million. Sacks said she has filed a cross-appeal because she believes the city actually owes at least $60 million to $80 million. She said the city hasn’t had to pay anything so far because the matter is under appeal.
Sacks said she believes, “They only appealed so they wouldn’t have to pay anything because they don’t have any money.”
Sacks said she’s considering seeking a preliminary injunction soon that would stop the city from collecting Measure Y taxes until it complies with the police staffing levels required by the measure.

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