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Lobdell: Poor execution of an idea worth considering

March 07, 2011|By William Lobdell

Since then, Newport's trees — and its residents — haven't noticed much of a difference, and the city saved some money. I imagine that would be the case for at least some of the services that the Costa Mesa council is exploring to privatize.

Besides — and here I'm agreeing with the super-majority and, I'm guessing, dissenting Councilwoman Wendy Leece — the city probably has no other option for balancing its budget in the long term than privatizing a sizeable chunk of city jobs — and ridding itself of skyrocketing pension liabilities it won't be able to meet in the not-too-distant future.

The quality of the services may or may not suffer, but Costa Mesa residents simply might not have a choice.

Quick side note: For those lobbying to save the city jobs, you'd do well to come up with a budget plan taking into account the looming pension bubble that will put Costa Mesa in good financial health five and 10 years from now, not just in 2011-12.

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There's a pension tsunami coming that's threatening to wipe out government at all levels, and Costa Mesa needs to head for the high ground. But the council needs to do so in an orderly fashion without trampling over its constituents. Council members can't decide, using two-person committees, what's right for the residents and then turn the committees' views into city policy in just four days.

In the past, it's taken longer in Costa Mesa to decide how to paint its police cars.

Last week, Leece gave the council an opportunity for a do-over. She asked that the council review the two controversial items from its last meeting: whether to send pink slips to employees and whether to explore allowing private paramedics in Costa Mesa.

She'll need two other votes to revive debate on the issues. Mayor Gary Monahan would be the most likely candidate, but Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger would undo a ton of political damage if they simply voted to review the issues.

Leece's grounds seem solid enough: insufficient notice to the public, inadequate staff reports, complaints from residents that they didn't have enough notice or information, and some legal questions.

"Costa Mesans are not used to being treated like this, and they are upset," Leece wrote in an e-mail. "Their input is valuable too and should not be discounted."

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