The scrum of serious City Council candidates was thick at this Labor Day pancake breakfast in Heisler Park. For the past two decades you’d usually just see Steve Dicterow greeting the crowd in non-election years.
Another campaigning tradition is candidates vying for endorsements from various community groups. These endorsements can be helpful deciding who to vote for.
An endorsement from the Taxpayers Association could help a fiscally conservative voter decide on one candidate while, an endorsement from Village Laguna may steer a voter of the green persuasion to another candidate.
This gets confusing when those endorsements come from city employee associations, which are also known as labor unions. These endorsements can look a lot like the inmates selecting the guards.
Consider the source and motivations of those endorsements. What promises and relationships grow from council candidates soliciting and receiving support from the city’s employee labor unions? Is this a good thing that serves the best interests of the tax-paying public?
You could find an answer in the results from past administrations. The city’s own financial projections show Laguna going down the fiscal drain because of unfunded employee defined benefit pension obligations. This has been an issue for quite some time but nothing substantial is ever done. The great recession could have been a good time for a makeover. That didn’t happen.
Look at cities near us. You’ll find some of them moving away from city employees to outside contractors. City employees with their higher paychecks, generous medical benefits, and defined benefit pension plans have become prohibitively expensive. Defined benefit pension plans are almost extinct in private industry. They’ve been replaced by defined contribution plans like your 401k.
City jobs once provided lifetime job security at a tradeoff for lower wages and adequate employee benefits. Now they combine that lifetime job security with better pay and more generous benefits than tax-paying citizens can earn in similar private employment.
Our city also suffers from an expensive lack of economies of scale. Laguna’s small fire and police departments suffer higher costs arising from the requirements for supervisory personnel to be on duty at all times. The lack of opportunities to move up in position also motivates the loss of experienced personal moving to larger agencies with more avenues for advancement
This council campaign should be a good time to explore Laguna using outside contractors to provide more cost-effective city services, including police and fire protection. Don’t hold your breath.
J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.