Hayward approves budget that includes police officer hiring freeze

Demonstrators protesting the Hayward Police Department in 2019 after the killing of Agustin Gonsalez by members of the police force. PHOTO/Steven Tavares

Hayward councilmembers approved a $169 million budget for the next fiscal year that includes a $4.1 million cut to the Hayward Police Department. The move comes following several weeks of advocacy by Hayward residents for the City Council to incorporate a list of seven demands to defund the police department.

Hayward beatThe cut approved on Tuesday night amounts to 4.9 percent reduction in funding to the department over the previous fiscal year. A coalition of Hayward activist groups had urged for a 10 percent cut to the department that included calls to demilitarize the police force, enact a hiring freeze on incoming police academy graduates, and a prohibition of paid leave to officer accused of misconduct, among the demands.

The bulk of the cuts are derived from an existing hiring freeze for 12 vacant police officers positions. The reduction in officers equals $2.9 million for the fiscal year. In addition, the cuts include a $980,000 decrease in capital improvement project budget, and a $260,000 reduction in supplies and services for the police department.

“Eliminating the police is extreme as is increasing funding for the department. The middle ground is really this: We would like a more efficient and effective police department,” Councilmember Aisha Wahab said, who added, “That change looks different for a lot of different people.”

The council also directed staff to allocate $1 million from the general reserve fund for social services, but directed staff not spend the additional funding until the second quarter of the next fiscal year, which begins in October. The cautious direction was signaled by councilmembers and staff who said worries about the ongoing economic upheaval due to covid-19 may persist into the fall.

A number of speakers on Tuesday night, criticized some councilmembers and the city administration for falling to listen to their concerns. To meet the group’s demands of a 10 percent cut to the police department, Dustin Claussen, the city’s director of finance, said such a cut would likely include layoffs of sworn police officers. However, the prospect of police layoffs was met with oppositions from a number of councilmembers on Tuesday night.

Councilmember Elisa Marquez later offered language to the resolution approving the budget that commits the council to beginning a more fulsome discussion of the role of police in Hayward and the list of seven demands urged by members of the public. The council approved the budget, 6-1, with Councilmember Aisha Wahab voting no out of concerns about the budget being balanced with the use of the city’s reserve fund.

Like other cities, the pandemic has hit Hayward’s finances hard. Its reserve fund now sits at $24 million after expending roughly $12 million to balance the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. Hayward’s reserves rest at 14 percent of its total general fund, which is below the council-set policy of 20 percent.

The closure of the local economy has translated into an estimated decrease of $9.6 million in total new revenue. The city’s finance department expects sales tax revenue to fall by nearly 16 percent over last year. The Real Property Transfer Tax, the proceeds paid by both buyer and seller of property, is expected to fall by 13 percent.

With travel virtually non-existent, Hayward’s hotel tax is predicted to drop 30 percent. To fill the gap, city leaders are contemplating a ballot measure in November to boost the hotel tax. They argue the additional tax does not affect Hayward residents since most hotel rooms would presumably be occupied by visitors from out-of-town.