Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks said 
Mayor Libby Schaaf’s soda tax budget ploy was
“dishonorable and desperate” on Tuesday..

Opposition among Oakland City Council members, and the public, toward Mayor Libby Schaaf’s budget proposal to use soda tax revenues to help close the city’s funding gap may have forced her Tuesday night to change her mind.

Schaaf appeared to concede the point offered by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Anne Campbell Washington and Desley Brooks that the use of Measure HH soda tax dollars for filling budget gaps is not in the “spirit” of the initiative widely approved last November by Oakland voters.

After some harsh words directed at Schaaf by Brooks and a number of public speakers opposing the budget item, she maintained the proposal was legally-sound, but possibly not in the spirit of the measure. Schaaf also vowed to work with the City Council in that effort. The mayor’s proposal to close a $34 million budget deficit was released last Friday. A competing City Council budget proposal is forthcoming.

The trio of councilmember quickly seized upon the use of the Measure HH soda tax fund last Friday, saying, “We must keep our promises and allocate these monies to the intended purposes.”

During the budget presentation, Schaaf rebutted the criticism by telling the council that Measure HH also requires the creation of an oversight committee and none of the councilmembers have yet to make individual appointments to the group. Schaaf asked for nomination within the next 10 days.

But that comment to the council was slapped away by Brooks, who called Schaaf’s actions “dishonorable and desperate.”

“I think it is very desperate of the mayor to pretend that the reason that she allocated the $6 million of ‘HH’ money was because she hadn’t received any nominations from the council,” said Brooks.

“She didn’t talk about health,” said Brooks, recounting a past conversation on the subject with Schaaf. “She didn’t talk about that it sends a bad precedence that we not honor our word.”

Campbell Washington sidestepped the legality of using soda tax revenues for anything other than health programs, but focused on the message it sends to voters who backed the measure last November. “What is completely unacceptable is to completely destroy the public trust when we went door-to-door,” she said.

The barrage of criticism against the soda tax proposal took immediate effect. After public comment, which included a few dozen more pointed jabs at the mayor’s proposal, Schaaf walked back from her stance on soda tax revenues, saying she would work with council within the spirit of the ballot measure and stated a promise to use the money for health issues and programs.

Schaaf also defended another controversial portion of her budget proposal that includes no allocations to the city’s so-called “rainy day fund.” Previously 25 percent of excess revenues from the real estate transfer tax were set aside for the fund. Schaaf said suspension of the rainy day fund contribution would allow the city to keep 45 percent of park employees, and other related city staff positions.