Mayor Jean Quan said the move is justified because the officers work only in blighted neighborhoods such as "the most dangerous parts of east Oakland."
In fact, redevelopment pays half of Quan's own salary, as well as some of the salaries of several City Council members. It also covers parts of the salaries of planners, building inspectors, graffiti patrols, architects and people in the housing department.
When Brown was mayor of Oakland, redevelopment paid 15% of his salary.
"People think, oh, you're not supposed to use [redevelopment money] for core service, but [what] if economic development is a big part of your core service?" Quan said.
In Long Beach, officials use redevelopment money to pay the salaries of the equivalent of 90 people. The city's leaders have found other novel, highly complicated ways to use the funds.
Two years ago as Long Beach was facing a $40-million budget hole, officials decided that the city's port would take over debt payments that the city general fund had been paying on bonds used to build the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Then, the redevelopment agency stepped in and pledged to reimburse the port for public improvements that will be made there. The result: The city's general fund got to keep $14 million over the next three years.
Such creative maneuvers — which officials argue are quite legal — are becoming increasingly common.
La Mesa and Rohnert Park have sold city land to the redevelopment agency and used the proceeds to balance their budgets. San Jose's redevelopment agency pays for improvements to city streets and roads, allowing the city to use the savings for police officers and gang intervention workers.
It is easy for city council members to convince their redevelopment agency boards to go along with these plans — in most cities, the two bodies are made up the same people.
It is not always clear where the redevelopment money goes. A Times review last year of redevelopment agencies' affordable housing funds found that more than 30 cities spent most of their affordable housing money on "planning administration" — and yet never built a single unit of housing.
A state Senate report noted that some cities "paid salaries … with little additional or improved housing to show for the money."
Some cities already have learned that they poach on redevelopment coffers at their peril.
In tiny Ilseton, which sits on the banks of the Sacramento River, officials long paid their bills with illegal transfers of redevelopment funds, despite warnings to stop from a county grand jury and the state attorney general's office.
Responding to state and county audits, a new city manager managed to pay the redevelopment funds back — but the consequences for the town have been profound. The Fire Department is now made up of volunteers and so is the Police Department.
"These are the kinds of cuts cities have to make," said the new city manager, Bruce Pope.
Still, Pope said he could understand the mindset of officials who break the law to put redevelopment money into their general funds.
"They're looking for ways to pay bills and they just started grabbing money," he said. "They just hid it, or started adopting budgets that weren't real. Or [maybe] they thought they were the state of California."