"Oakland is broke."
Interim City Administrator Lamont Ewell may have been the first city executive to say it out loud at a public meeting, but it's been well known for years that Oakland finances are in free fall.
Oakland's financial problems include a heavy debt load and flat to negative revenue stream. Even if the city manages to shrink its general fund debt, which is $58 million for the 2011-2013 fiscal period and $72 million for the next, Oakland is still looking at other serious problems that could hold down economic development for years.
For example, Oakland's old police and fire retirement system - PFRS - has an unfunded liability of $494 million. And as of June 30, 2010, the city had more than $138 million in negative fund balances.
Meanwhile, according to the city, Oakland needs roughly $1.6 billion for capital improvement projects.
All of this comes while the while the city's services are desperately needed by a large body of its citizens who are struggling through job loses, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Oakland's back is firmly against the wall and it must aggressively find ways to recovery.
But if the city is ever to thrive and become inclusive to all communities, it has three big issues it must successfully tackle: public education, jobs and crime.
In all three areas, there are signs of hope. The schools and city are collaborating in never before ways to deal with a range of issues, including crime. The Oakland Unified School District has a fairly new superintendent, local board control and slowly rising student test scores, On the job front, both the Port of Oakland and the city are putting greater energy behind developing the former Army Base, which once fully up and running, means thousands of jobs for the city.
It remains to be seen how long and in what fashion the city will recover from this horrible downturn. But, when it does, here may be the stories of how it began.
Special thanks to David Cohn and the Spot.us community for helping to make this project possible.