Oakland officials back away from bond proposal after legal warning

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Oakland, California, city officials are backing away from a proposal to use bond funds for a job training program that had come under fire as possibly illegal.

The City Council will revisit the plan at its June 5 meeting but two bond measures and a gas tax will no longer be considered as funding sources.

At a May 15 meeting Councilwoman Desley Brooks agreed to remove those provisions from the proposal she co-authored to take 5% from a variety of city funds for jobs training.

The council also voted to delay a vote on the plan for a few weeks so city staff can conduct a fiscal analysis of how much money it would raise and how it would affect the city budget.

In a May 10 memo, City Attorney Barbara Parker raised concerns about the original plan that would have taken 5% from two voter-approved general obligation bond measures.

Measure DD, a $198.2 million bond is dedicated for parks and waterfront projects along the city’s Lake Merritt while Measure KK raised $600 million for street, city facilities and affordable housing improvements.

Parker told the council that tapping into those bond revenues would violate state and federal law that restrict bond money for specific purposes.

At the council meeting, Brooks said removing those funding sources should address those concerns even as she accused the city attorney’s office of “gamesmanship.”

“We got the last city attorney’s opinion that was long on opinion and sometimes short on law but we made some adjustments based on that opinion,” she said.

Doryanna Moreno, the chief assistant city attorney, responded: “I respectfully disagree. We are not playing games.”

Several residents spoke in favor of the proposal at the meeting which Brooks said was aimed at dealing with a jobs crisis in the city where many residents don’t have the skills for construction jobs.

Her proposal would take 5% from capital improvement budgets, parking revenue funds and development services funds. It would also charge city contractors 30 cents per hour worked.

The funds would go to private, nonprofit groups in the city that provide job training in the construction industry.

Despite the changes, some council members are still unsure about the plan. They said it was unclear how much money it would raise, which funding sources could be tapped and how it would cut funding available for other programs.

Some also sought more oversight of the groups that would receive the job training money. The plan designates three nonprofit groups that would get the funds.

But Councilman Dan Kalb said the city should choose recipients through its standard competitive bidding process in which different groups can apply. Without that process, he would not support it, he said.

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Training General obligation bonds Government finance City of Oakland, CA California