San Francisco Chronicle

Big Oakland bond, but little scrutiny

$600 million street, housing funds lack oversight

- By Kimberly Veklerov

Oakland voters in 2016 overwhelmi­ngly approved a $600 million bond to fix city streets and build affordable housing.

The ballot measure promised regular audits of the public funds and scrutiny of the spending by a citizen oversight commission. So far, neither of those has happened, even though the city has already allocated tens of millions of the Measure KK funds.

The oversight commission hasn’t yet met. Most of the residents nominated by city officials to serve on the panel told The Chronicle they were unaware the City Council had confirmed their appointmen­ts last year.

“I don’t know if I’ve been confirmed. I’m still waiting to hear,” architect Michael Pyatok said last week.

“I have not received that email or phone call from the city,” Ken Lupoff, executive director of Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, said last week.

Members of the panel also said they did not know when they would meet or what their specific tasks would include.

“I’m concerned,” said commission member Carroll Fife. “It feels like there’s very little community input that goes into the city process as it happens.”

Last summer, the City Council authorized the first round of bonds — up to $125 million — to be issued. Tens of millions have already been allocated in the city’s current two-year budget to

“We’ve seen what a difference investment­s can make in communitie­s. We want to see that especially for communitie­s that haven’t been traditiona­lly invested in.” Ellen Wu, executive director of Urban Habitat

projects including library renovation­s, a transition­al housing facility for the homeless and paving and concrete crews.

Measure KK was widely supported by unions, community organizati­ons and elected officials. Its funds are for streets repaves, city facility renovation­s and new affordable housing units, among other programs. The city attorney’s analysis said it requires annual audits and a citizen oversight commission that reports to the council.

Mayor Libby Schaaf was tasked with appointing the nine commission members, but she allowed each council member to select one. That process wrapped up in December.

The mayor’s spokesman said the fact that the commission hasn’t met was not concerning.

“My understand­ing is no, this is not an unusual amount of time for an oversight committee to get seated, particular­ly since this is a ‘post facto’ committee that will analyze how the funds were spent, as opposed to an oversight committee that determines how to spend the funds,” the spokesman, Justin Berton, said in an email.

But some commission members want an active say in how the expenditur­es are made. They are tasked with reviewing financial reports, expenditur­es of bond proceeds, reporting to the City Council and evaluating the spending’s impact on social equity, anti-displaceme­nt and affordable housing.

“We’ve seen what a difference investment­s can make in communitie­s,” said Ellen Wu, a committee member and executive director of the nonprofit Urban Habitat. “We want to see that especially for communitie­s that haven’t been traditiona­lly invested in.”

She and Lupoff said they weren’t too concerned about how the city is handling the bond money so far. Still, Lupoff said, “The sooner we meet, the better. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Appropriat­ions of the bond money continue to change. Last week, a City Council committee voted to take more than $2 million from a different bond measure — meant for parks and trails — and put it toward a recreation center’s renovation. The missing parks and trails project funding would then be backfilled with KK dollars if it gets the full City Council’s approval.

The shifting of funds troubled community members who said youth were being pitted against the environmen­t and the loser would be infrastruc­ture.

This isn’t the first time the city has not promptly convened an oversight commission.

Last year, after Schaaf’s initial budget proposed pouring soda-tax revenue into the general fund rather than health programs promised to voters, three council members accused her of pulling a baitand-switch. Attention then shifted to the fact that a citizen advisory committee that was supposed to make recommenda­tions on expenditur­es of the soda tax — which voters also passed in 2016 — hadn’t yet been set up.

After the outcry, city officials convened the committee, and it’s been meeting regularly since last fall.

 ?? Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle ?? A car approaches a potholed section of Harold Street in Oakland. A bond to repair roads has little public oversight.
Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle A car approaches a potholed section of Harold Street in Oakland. A bond to repair roads has little public oversight.
 ?? Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle ?? Pedestrian­s pass a pothole on 18th Street in Oakland. Voters OKd $600 million for infrastruc­ture and affordable housing.
Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle Pedestrian­s pass a pothole on 18th Street in Oakland. Voters OKd $600 million for infrastruc­ture and affordable housing.

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