Mayor Libby Schaaf has hired a consultant for $300,000 to work part time for eight months – waiving the competitive bidding process – to establish a new Department of Transportation for the City of Oakland.
Jeffrey Tumlin, who started working in Oakland on July 11, is helping to create the transportation department, which will take over some of the functions of the existing Oakland Public Works Department.
The transportation department would play a major role in the spending much of the $600 million infrastructure bond measure that is on the November ballot.
Tumlin is principal of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, a firm that provides consulting services in “paratransit and mobility management, walking and bicycling facilities and design and parking management,” according to a city staff report.
“Mr. Tumlin…has committed to providing approximately 75 percent of his time for a period of eight months assisting the city to establish the (department),” said a May 2016 report from the City Administrator’s Office.
According to Mayor Schaaf, he is serving as interim director of the Department of Transportation.
Tumlin is being paid from funds allocated by the City Council to establish the Department of Transportation, $500,000 in the 2015-2016 city budget and $1 million in the 2016-2017 budget.
“A better Oakland starts with better streets today, in every part of our city. We need a world-class transportation department to take a fresh look at our streets,” said Mayor Schaaf in a media release.
Carroll Fife, a representative of OaklandWorks, raised concerns about Schaaf’s decision to hire the expensive consultant.
“We have a lot of questions about this,” said Fife. “Why is someone being paid $300,000 out of our taxes to do a part-time job for which there was no transparent bid process? Is this the way the money from the infrastructure bond will be used – as a piggy bank for expensive consultants? And why is there so little diversity in those hired to make major economic and planning decisions for the city?”
Oakland’s exiting Public Works Department has 785 employees, the second largest department in the city after the police department.
Once the new Department of Transportation is fully operational, it is projected to have 270 full time employees, and public works will have 590 employees.
The two departments will have a total of 860 employees, an increase of 75 city staff.
Staff is predicting that the City of Oakland may have trouble in the future paying for the two new departments.
“Both departments may face significant challenges in balancing their funds in FY2017-19 budgets because many of them contain structural deficits,” in addition to a possible “further reduction in State Gas Tax revenues due to low prices and decreasing consumption,” according to the staff report.
The two departments will overlap and coordinate their work but will have separate responsibilities, according to the staff report.
The Department of Transportation will focus “on the surface of the roadway, including services for all users of those roadways,” for example, street paving, bicycle lanes, pedestrian safety, lighting, parking enforcement and signage, the report said.
Public works will focus on “the services underneath and outside the roadway,” for example, sewers, watershed and storm drains, graffiti, facilities, parks and trees, refuse and recycling.
The new transportation department would help spend up to $350 million that is earmarked for transportation in the $600 million November bond measure.
Brian Beveridge of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project raised questions about why the new department was formed. “I think this is a really big shake up that has not been made clear to the people of Oakland,” he said.
“The first question is why is it necessary? What’s wrong with Public Works now? The second question is why do we need an outsider instead of directing the staff to plan this division of responsibilities?” he asked.
In her media release announcing the department of transportation, Mayor Schaaf praised consultant Jeff Tumlin.
“Jeff gets Oakland and understands how to get things done…(We) will benefit from his years of experience in building safer, more vibrant and more equitable communities,” she said.