I want to use this month’s column to talk about investing.  What does a Library Commissioner know about investing?

Well, to invest is to commit money or capital in order to gain a financial return.  Our city budget in Oakland is a reflection of our investments, as taxpayers in Oakland, in the future of our city. Budgets also reflect our priorities as a city.

The budget for this year has allocated $204 million to police services, contrasted with $26 million for library services, $61 million to human services, and $15 million to housing and community development.

I live in Oakland, so I am as aware as anyone of the need for police services. But I maintain that we are under-investing in other services in Oakland.

The problem is that the police can’t do it alone.  When we pay for police services, we are addressing symptoms of the problems facing Oakland, such as poverty, homelessness, and lack of opportunity and human capital.

On the other hand, when we pay for libraries, social services and housing, we are investing in building the human capital of Oaklanders; we are addressing root causes and investing in prevention.  If we can focus on preventing people from becoming poor, or addicted, or incarcerated, or illiterate, we can save a lot of money—i.e., ”gain a financial return” on our investments in our city.

As we prepare for Oakland’s mid-cycle budget review, there will be scrambling among the constituents of all city services to try to restore funding that has been cut during the past several years.  The library has lost its Bookmobile and branch locations are now open only five days a week, down from six days per week.

In a city like Oakland with significant crime, our libraries provide safe spaces for youth that are all too rare, where they can spend time after school and get help with schoolwork from caring adults.

Libraries are also critical spaces for the community to gather and learn together, for people to seek and apply for jobs and government services, and to get help with their technological, language, legal and tax needs.

As a proud Oaklander, I hope others will consider this perspective about our need to shift our investment strategy to cultivate more than simply law enforcement. Investing in human capital is a vital part of an effective crime-prevention strategy. Oakland’s public librarians do this vital work every single day—and they could do even more, with more resources.

It’s time to reexamine our priorities.

Shanthi Gonzales is Vice Chair of the Oakland Library Advisory Commission.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

About The Author

The Library Advisory Commission reports and makes recommendations to the Oakland City Council on Oakland Public Library policies; provides citizen oversight of Measure Q tax funds; and advocates on behalf of OPL programs and services. The Commission consists of 15 seats, appointed by the Mayor and Council. The public is welcome to attend the Commission’s meeting which are held on the last Monday of the month at 5:15 p.m. in the Brad Walters Community Room at the Main Library, 125 14th St.

6 Responses

  1. Adrian

    I wholeheartedly agree with this piece. As a student, I can vouch for the fact that library closures on mondays have hurt students and schools. Libraries are great places and they are just as important as police in solving the city’s crime epidemic. Whereas a big investment would be needed to restore the oakland police to their old staffing levels, a small investment in libraries could allow libraries to open six days a week. In an increasingly expensive Bay Area, libraries provide a free place where all aspects of society are welcomed, from the homeless to the affluent. Mayor Quan and the City Council should start realizing that public safety means more than investing in the police. And while they’re at it, they should cut the pay of police officers, so that Oakland can actually afford to hire more police and increase library funding.

    Reply
  2. Len Raphael

    Another perspective on the perennial Oakland programs vs policing debate was provided by a member of the outside team that evaluates Measure Y programs each year. During the presentation a Council member asked the team for a list of priorities for reducing violence here.

    The top two items according to the evaluator were more jobs and cheaper housing. Not more programs. Not more police.

    KTOP video May 28, 2013 http://oakland.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1284&meta_id=61305

    The Council members and the audience listened politely, then went on to declare how very important it was to increase spending on programs while improving policing.

    Reply
  3. OaklandNative

    I support investing in our libraries. We have wonderful librarians and a wonderful system.

    Awhile ago, the city was talking about cutting back on librarians and library hours (even more than just the Mondays). Several have been made part time. Yet, the libraries were what the city needed most.

    Our officials seem to want to brag about Oakland’s being noted for this or that. I want our city to be noted for having the best libraries that serve the schools, adults, etc.

    Who cares if we have the most exciting city if our students don’t have libraries to get information?

    Reply
  4. r2d2ii

    To the writer: do a little library work:

    1. Economics: “investing” or spending money has many more, and I would suggest, more important goals, than gaining financial return.

    2. Politics: the politics of divisiveness is the way things “work” (ie don’t work) in Oakland. Research the political upheavals in the the Middle East currently where governments fail to bring opposing forces together and everyone suffers. Thus in Oakland, it’s hills vs flats, cops vs libraries and so on.

    It isn’t about where the most money is spent, it’s about spending money in a way to move Oakland towards widely-accepted goals with plans specifically to meet those goals. Oakland as a city is essentially without goals and plans needed to meet those goals. Oakland is a divided city without leadership.

    Read up on leadership. It’s an interesting topic.

    3. Public safety costs: It’s not just about the cost of cops. It’s about the cost of 100 murders per year, several times that number in shootings and many thousands of violent property crimes. Murders cost communities somewhere between $100K and $1 million per murder. Add this up and put it into your spreadsheet.

    Abundant violent crime prevents economic investment and growth in Oakland. Oakland has a lively population and a splendid environment but our social problems create our economic problems which keep us poorer than we ought to be. A significantly safer Oakland might well have lots more money to spend on libraries and community policing.

    4. Psychology of trauma (PTSD, etc.): every year hundreds or thousands of young Oaklanders experience the overwhelming emotional devastation of direct or otherwise closely experienced violence. Traumatized youngsters have great difficulty focusing on complex tasks like reading and even attending school and sitting in a class can be a huge challenge.

    Yes Oakland has many needs, but the way to meet those needs is not to get into turf battles between various groups of concerned citizens. What Oakland needs first is some real leaders in city hall so that we can create and complete the knowledge-based plans we need for all of us to move forward together. Sadly our pols play our divisiveness against us and maintain their elected positions by keeping us from moving ahead.

    Time for all of us to go to the library and learn something about how local politics fails us and who is running for office that can bring in some changes.

    Reply
  5. Len Raphael

    At the prior Measure Y evaluation in May 2012, available on KTOP, Dr Patricia Bennett, the head of the MY evaluation firm, essentially said same thing as R2 but much more gently so as not to lose her contract. The point is that many Measure Y programs might achieve great things for the clients served, but that’s not the same as saying those programs are the best use of our limited money to reduce crime and misery. At the May 2013 evaluation session, Dr Bennett kept mostly silent.

    Reply
  6. OaklandNative

    I have a problem with placing the support of libraries in discussions with public safety.

    If libraries increase public safety, that is a secondary benefit.

    By the way, the number of homicides for 2013 was significantly lower than 2012’s.

    Reply

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