Important information regarding Vegetation Management (formerly WPAD Audit)

My office has received several calls inquiring as to the release date of the Vegetation Inspection Audit. It is my hope that this post clarifies the scope of the upcoming audit report. The report will be released in mid-November.

In the spring of 2012 I announced the initiation of a performance audit of the Oakland Wildfire Prevention Assessment District (WPAD). Due to resource limitations, in August 2012 my office put the audit on hold. In June 2013 we reinitiated the audit, however, during our initial work it became clear that our audit to determine if the Oakland Fire Department (OFD) effectively manages the City’s vegetation inspection process would not include a review of the WPAD. OFD's Fire Prevention Bureau, in its role in mitigating the risk and safeguarding Oakland from another catastrophic disaster, is responsible for vegetation management which includes the inspection process. Inspections are performed by Firefighters funded through the General Fund, not the tax assessed through the WPAD. While the WPAD provides funding for some support services to the inspection process, its involvement was insignificant to our audit scope. The WPAD collects monies from property owners in the District to pay for additional fire prevention, suppression, and preparedness activities generally beyond what is provided by OFD. Specifically, regarding the inspection process, the WPAD only provides limited funding for database support services (approximately $35,000 and $45,000 for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013).

Wildfire Prevention

As summer is quickly approaching, it also means fire season is right around the corner (May 1 – November 1). This past October marked the 20th anniversary of the Firestorm and we were all reminded of its incredible devastation of life and property.

Tragically, 25 lives were lost during that event, along with more than 3,000 homes, condos and apartments. The Firestorm destroyed more than 1,500 acres, with a total economic loss estimated at more than $1.5 billion.

To prevent a fire of this magnitude from ever happening again, the City established the Oakland WildFire Prevention Assessment District. Property owners within this district pay an assessment for additional services, as well as have special rules and requirements governing fire prevention as they are located in a high hazard severity zone.

In March, my Office initiated a performance audit of the Oakland Wildfire Prevention Assessment District to determine whether Oakland’s Fire Prevention Bureau’s inspection process and properties within the district comply with Charter requirements and existing fire code.

It is my hope that this performance audit will help us understand the effectiveness of our fire prevention efforts and provide Oakland residents a measure of confidence in the City’s efforts to prevent future tragedies like the Firestorm for occurring again.

To learn about the WildFire Prevention Assessment District’s resources for homeowners, click here.

City Council Non-Interference

For democracy to work, we must have functioning separation of powers and checks and balances. At the local level, this means city councils make policies and appropriate funds, while administrations run the day-to-day operations. Each branch of government has its function, and laws have been enacted to prohibit the overstepping of another's authority.

In Oakland, there have been many signs that problems exist with City Council interference. Since becoming City Auditor, I have had employees consistently voice concerns to me over Council interference as well as received reports on my Office's Fraud, Waste + Abuse's hotline about this issue. Both the 2010 and 2011 Ethical Climate Surveys found Council interference to be one of Oakland's most troubled ethical areas.

During last year's budget deliberations, I warned Council of a potential interference violation relating to staffing assignments for the Revenue Division [hyperlink]. Most recently, the City Attorney issued a memo regarding non-interference in administrative affairs and outlined prohibitions set forth in the City Charter Section 218. The same day, the City Administrator reminded everyone of the current Administrative Instruction on appropriate procedures for staff when reporting interference [hyperlink].

In light of all these factors, today my Office has initiated an audit to evaluate violations of City Charter Section 218 (Non-interference in Administrative Affairs).This audit is not an investigation of any one incident of Council interference. It is, however, a tool to determine the extent of violations of City Charter Section 218 and offer possible remedies to mitigate their occurrence. As part of this audit, we will be conducting direct outreach to employees and asking them to provide examples of interference so that we might better understand the challenges they face in executing their jobs.

It is essential that each branch of Oakland’s city government stay within its role so that, together, we may move Oakland forward.

Welcome to my Blog

This space has been created to share my thoughts with concerned residents and members of the business community on issues impacting Oakland, government, and our community as a whole.

I hope this forum helps readers think of new ways to address old problems and promulgates a constructive, community-based dialogue so that together we can move this city forward.

I’m excited to embark on this new communication format and look forward to hearing from you about future posts.

In the News

Daniel Borenstein: City Auditor warns pension threaten Oakland's solvency
Oakland Tribune - April 20, 2014

Oakland auditor sounds pension alarm 
Oakland Tribune - April 20, 2014

Oakland cannot tolerate lax fire inspections in hills
Oakland Tribune - January 14, 2014

Oakland owes many refunds for overpaid tickets
San Francisco Chronicle - December 19, 2013

Oakland "gangapreneur" pleads no contest to fraud charges
Oakland Tribune - December 10, 2013

Editorial: Don't forget the lessons  of the 1991 East Bay fire 
San Francisco Chronicle - December 3, 2013

Audit slams inspection for fire fuels 
San Francisco Chronicle - November 19, 2013

City Auditor says lax oversight hampering prevention efforts
Oakland Tribune - November 19, 2013

Oakland city office went 'unchecked' 
San Francisco Chronicle - October 1, 2013

Oakland auditor accuses Reid, Brooks  of violating city  rules
Oakland Tribune - March  21, 2013

Auditor: Officials violated charter 
San Francisco Chronicle - March 21, 2013

Oakland not returning overpaid parking tickets
Oakland Tribune - December 20, 2012

Overpaid tickets were not refunded 
San Francisco Chronicle - December 20, 2012

Auditor assails police technology mistakes
Oakland Tribune - Augst 1, 2012

Money spent on unused tech gear
San Francisco Chronicle - August 1, 2012

Business owner accused of fraud
Oakland Tribune - May 18, 2012

Council members' activities to be audited
Oakland Tribune - March 29, 2012

Council members face audit
San Francisco Chronicle - March 29, 2012 

Auditor: Oakland risks double-paying vendors
Oakland Tribune - March 28, 2012

Oakland's Invoices: Report faults city's payment system
Oakland Tribune - March 28, 2012

Editorial: City can learn from Fox renovation
Oakland Tribune - Oct. 9, 2011

Tagami, City Hall fire back over audit of $91 Fox Theater Project
Oakland Tribune - Oct. 7, 2011

Oakland auditor: Fox Theater costs poorly screened
San Francisco Chronicle - Oct. 4, 2011

Audit: Oakland investment in Fox Theater quadrupled without strategy
Oakland Tribune - Oct. 4, 2011

Oakland City Auditor Blasts Fox Theater Renovation
Bay Citizen - Oct. 4, 2011

Oakland City Contract Process Indeed a Mess
San Francisco Chronicle - Mar. 29, 2011

Oakland City Council Should Reject Security Contract (editorial)
Oakland Tribune - Mar. 24, 2011

Oakland Auditor: Campaign Donations May Be Illegal
The Associated Press - Mar. 23, 2011

Oakland Auditor Questions Campaign Donations
KQED Radio - Mar. 23, 2011

Questions about Donations to Oakland Politicians
San Francisco Chronicle - Mar. 23, 2011

Oakland Security Firm Contributed to City Council Members and Candidates while Competing for Contract
Oakland Tribune - Mar. 22, 2011

Oakland Must Drop Excuses and Create a Game Plan
Oakland Tribune - Jan. 5, 2011

Audit: Oakland Fails to Collect on Citations
Oakland Tribune - Dec. 16, 2010

Oakland Auditor Doing Job - to the shame of some
San Francisco Chronicle - Nov. 23, 2010

Oakland May Double Down Its Faulty Bet
Oakland Tribune - Nov. 20, 2010

Oakland Needs Tighter Financial Controls, Report Says
Oakland Tribune - Nov. 18, 2010

Oakland Auditor, Courtney Ruby, Receives Leadership Oakland Alumni Award
Oakland Tribune - Jun. 18, 2010

Merritt Bakery Loan, $150,000. What Would You Do?
Oakland Local News Blog - May 17, 2010

State Report Criticizes Oakland Recovery Act Programs
Mercury News Tribune - Apr. 21, 2010

City Officials, Citizens Need to Define Core Services
San Francisco Chronicle - Mar. 8, 2010

Tips Help find Fraud, Corruption and Save Money
Oakland Tribune - Jan. 29, 2010

Audit Shows Abuses of Hiring Rules
San Francisco Chronicle - Oct. 24, 2009

Oakland Auditor Knocks City Hiring Process
Oakland Tribune - Oct. 22, 2009

Auditor Criticizes Oakland's Hiring Practices
San Francisco Chronicle - Oct. 22, 2009

Auditor Finds Unfair Oakland City Hiring
CBS - Ch.5 - Oct. 21, 2009

Scathing Report on Oakland's Hiring Practices
KCBS radio - Oct. 21, 2009

Favoritism and Nepotism Get City in Hot Water
NBC - Bay City News  Oct. 21, 2009

A Report is Accusing People in City Government of Favoritism and Nepotism for Hiring (external link)
KGO-TV - Oct. 21, 2009

My Word: Oakland Must Reform Its Record Keeping
Oakland Tribune - Oct. 21, 2009

Oakland Should Tighten Violence-Prevention Grant Controls, Auditor says
Oakland Tribune - Sept. 1, 2009

San Francisco Chronicle - Aug. 13, 2009

CityWise: Stimulus Watch
Oakland Tribune - Aug.14, 2009

More City Jobs Slashed in Latest Round of Oakland Cuts
Oakland Tribune - July 29, 2009

The Sisterhood of Auditors
Goverining magazine - Jul. 2009

Audit Shows Deficit Runs Deeper - Measure K 2.5% Set-Aside
Oakland Tribune - Jul. 7, 2009

Letter to the LA Times Regarding Court Ruling on Auditor's Authority
LA Times - Jul. 2, 2009

Auditor: Oakland's Infrastructure in Dire State
San Francisco Chronicle - Apr. 30, 2009‎

City Auditor Unveils 573-page Report on Oakland Public Works
Oakland Tribune - Apr. 30, 2009‎

Auditor Seeks Residents' Pressure on Nepotism
San Francisco Chronicle - ‎Mar. 3, 2009‎

Berkeley City Council Votes to Explore Ways to Protect Whistleblowers
Daily Californian on-line - Dec. 9, 2008

Oakland OKs Whistle-Blower Program
San Francisco Chronicle - Sept. 17, 2008

Fostering a Culture of Everyday Ethics and Integrity in Government
Association of Local Government Auditors - Fall 2008

Assembly Moves to Protect Whistle-Blowers
San Francisco Chronicle - Aug. 13, 2008

Oakland Moves to Cut Nepotism, Fraud
San Francisco Chronicle - Jul. 10, 2008

Oakland Officials Propose Reforms, Mayor Supports
CBS 5 - Jul. 9, 2008

A Year in Office as Oakland's City Auditor
Oakland Business Review - Apr., 2008

Oakland Council Vows More Oversight on Pay, Bonuses
San Francisco Chronicle - Dec. 12, 2007

Oakland Payroll Audit a Welcome Challenge
San Francisco Chronicle - Nov. 30, 2007

Oakland City Auditor Criticizes Payroll Procedures - Nov. 29, 2007