Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao unveils her first budget amid historic deficit

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao on Monday released her proposed $4 billion budget for the next two fiscal years – outlining her vision and priorities for the city as she grapples with a $360 million shortfall.

But even with the historic deficit, the mayor emphasized that she does not plan major cuts to vital city resources – like public safety – as Oakland continues to struggle with crime and homelessness

Thao said she plans to make up the deficit by consolidating city departments and not filling hundreds of vacant positions that have been frozen for years. 

"We had to make some tough choices in this budget but in the end, we not only avoided catastrophic closures and cuts, we made real investments in our shared future," Thao said in a statement.

The city council will hold a series of forums, then discuss and make changes to the mayor’s budget through the months of May and June. The council will vote on a final budget on June 30. 

Community stakeholders have been waiting for the mayor’s budget to see how she plans to take on the city’s challenges since taking office at the beginning of the year.   

"In our downtown area, public safety has been the No. 1 issue, particularly as we bring employees back into town, as well as we encourage more people to come downtown," Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Barbara Leslie told KTVU. 

She was optimistic the mayor has budgeted for six police academy classes while carving out funding for homeless and housing services. She thinks those will have a positive impact on the city’s downtown, and help dig Oakland out of its fiscal hole. 

"We have to grow that tax base," Leslie said. "We have to grow that pie. We talk a lot about that in the chamber. It is essential for continued economic sustainability."

While Thao has found money for more beat cops, her budget seeks to save money by turning some sworn officer positions into civilian positions – particularly in the internal affairs bureau. 

That piece of the budget prompted mixed feelings from groups like the Anti Police-Terror Project, which has advocated against funding more officers in Oakland for years. 

"All of the other departments inside of our city administration have been cut to the point that they cannot be cut anymore – with the exception of the Oakland Police Department," executive director Cat Brooks told KTVU. "If there’s any more money to be got, that’s where it needs to be gotten from."

Thao also set aside $10 million over the next two years to upgrade, modernize and harden cybersecurity protections following a ransomware attack that paralyzed many of the city’s computer systems from months. 

Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at evan.sernoffsky@fox.com and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky