City of Oakland Cuts Ties to Oakland Museum of California

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June 9, 2011; Source: San Francisco Chronicle | In a break with 42 years of history and an indication of the city’s bleak economic situation, last week Oakland relinquished control of the Oakland Museum of California. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that beginning July 1 “the museum will be entirely run by the nonprofit Oakland Museum of California Foundation, which had been dividing museum responsibilities, oversight, and payrolls with the city.”

The new agreement between the two entities stipulates that Oakland will still own the museum’s building and collection and will pay the Oakland Museum of California Foundation $5 million beginning in the next fiscal year and for the next nine years, with a final payment of $3 million in 2022.

The change has been controversial according to the Chronicle, in part because of the mixed sources of funding that have gone into staff salaries and benefit plans, all of which will now be restructured. The Chronicle notes that before last week, 44 of the museum’s 110 staff members were city employees, some of whom will now move to other city jobs, some will retire and still others will be laid off. Executive Director Lori Fogarty has said that laid off workers will be eligible to apply for available positions at the museum and at the foundation, although all job descriptions will be revised.

Still, IFPTE Local 21, a union that represents 21 of the museum’s former city workers, has filed an unfair labor practices claim with the state claiming that the move is an attempt to outsource city jobs, which is prohibited in Oakland’s charter. "I think what they've done tonight is shameful," Jeff Levin, vice president for IFPTE Local 21, told the Chronicle.

Citing City Council member Ignacio De La Fuente, the Chronicle reports that Oakland has projected a $58 million deficit for the coming year and a $76 million deficit for the following year.

This story has generated many comments on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, including one from a riled up reader who wondered whether a final step in the transition for this museum might be to rename itself the “Museum of California” – dropping “Oakland” from the museum’s name entirely.—Anne Eigeman