MOORLACH UPDATE — Super Editorial — May 4, 2011

It’s difficult to shape ideas and consider out-of-the-box initiatives in the public sector.  The Brown Act prohibits elected officials from discussing certain matters with more than one of their four colleagues.  If you try to persuade a second elected colleague, you’ve now talked to a majority of the council or board, when you consider yourself.  The media, however, does provide a forum to communicate ideas and the OC Register does that today with a topic you saw last week (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Public Safety Consolidation — April 25, 2011).

The Seal Beach-Los Alamitos Patch provides a subscriber editorial submission that does an excellent job of explaining the Super City proposal.  Thank you, Michael Rice, for a job well done.  Mr. Rice’s erudite piece is the second below.


Council members left out of loop in police merger talks


The city managers of three cities knew about it. So did council members in Seal Beach and Cypress. But Los Alamitos council members Gerri-Graham Mejia and Warren Kusumoto were not apprised that their city manager and fellow Councilman Troy Edgar were coordinating a meeting to discuss the idea of merging three city police departments.

And they did not like being left out of the loop.

"It should have been brought to this council first," said Los Alamitos Councilwoman Graham-Mejia, who said she was taken aback to learn about last week’s gathering.

Kusumoto also told City Manager Jeff Stewart at Monday’s council meeting that he would appreciate notification in the future.

Edgar, who coordinated the informal meeting with other city leaders, said in an interview Tuesday that there was no slight intended.

He said he told Mayor Ken Stephens about the April 25 get-together but said he did not share the information with other council members to avoid violating the California Brown Act, a law that requires a meeting be made open to the public if a majority of the members are present.

Informal meetings are common among city officials and an important tool in establishing working relationships, Edgar said. "This was not supposed to be a formal discussion," he said.

Originally scheduled as a lunch at a restaurant, the meeting was moved to Los Alamitos City Hall. It didn’t last long.

Seal Beach Mayor Michael Levitt, Councilman Gary Miller and Interim City Manager Jill Ingram were emphatically opposed. In what Ingram called "a loud and clear message," Seal Beach said no, thanks.

With Seal Beach out of the picture, it was a "dead issue" for Cypress City Manager John Bahorski and Councilman Doug Bailey, both of whom attended the meeting, said Andrew Tse, Cypress administrative services manager.

"This is something initiated by Los Alamitos," Tse said Tuesday. "Our people went there to listen. This is a non issue for us. Our council is focused on other issues."

While they won’t pursue it this fiscal year, Edgar and Stewart said this week it’s an idea worth considering in the future.

The three cities now spend about $30 million annually on police services, more than half of that is spent by the largest city, Cypress, according to Edgar. Cypress, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach already share an emergency dispatch service and could save more money if they consolidate other services, he said.

In Cypress, the police chief was hired by the city of Alhambra last week, and in Seal Beach, the police chief is retiring this summer. Edgar said the timing "posed an opportunity to work together."

Edgar suggested holding off on hiring those police chiefs and conducting a joint study to see if the data supported a consolidation of departments. Cypress and Seal Beach officials declined the idea.

In the past two years, Fountain Valley has considered merging its fire department with either the Huntington Beach department or the Orange County Fire Authority.

And in Los Alamitos, the city’s second smallest city, Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach has suggested the municipality can save money by switching its police services to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

But Los Alamitos residents like their police department, council members said. Mejia suggested that if the issue of a merger comes back that it be placed on the ballot.

Mayor Ken Stephens said in an interview Tuesday that he supports the idea of combining resources to save money, including joint purchases, maintenance and continued use of the joint dispatch system. But that doesn’t mean the elimination of the Los Alamitos Police Department, he said.

"Just because you’re looking at possibility of savings, that doesn’t mean necessarily, they’re going to be joined under one badge," he said.

Meanwhile, in Seal Beach, the interim city manager read a prepared statement at that council’s meeting last week, which read in part: "While our elected officials and city staff are fortunate to enjoy a collaborative working relationship with our neighbors in Los Alamitos and Cypress, we strongly desire for city services to remain local, in our city, with our elected officials, with our staff, with our resources, and to maintain Seal Beach with its own community identity that it has enjoyed for the past 95 years."

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A Rossmoor Resident’s Take on the Supercity

Rossmoor Resident Michael Rice outlines his case for the Supercity or joint powers agreements.

Government today is all about the best use of taxpayer dollars and requires a radically new approach to funding and providing services.

Residents, taxpayers and business owners in Seal Beach, Rossmoor, and Los Alamitos have a unique opportunity to consider Supervisor John Moorlach’s brilliant proposal to create a “Super City” by combining these three areas into one model city.

As radical as it may seem, a Super City is clearly a stroke of genius from a leader who was the only one with the foresight to warn Orange County residents of the financial crisis of the early 1990s.  Once again, he clearly has the vision to see an opportunity to benefit his constituents and we owe it to him to seriously listen to what he has to say.

Providing “boutique” style governmental services such as small police departments in a piecemeal fashion to tiny areas such as Seal Beach and Los Alamitos (Rossmoor contracts with the Sheriff’s Department at a savings for its taxpayers, which something several South Orange County Cities have also figured out) is inefficient, costly and clearly out of touch with current economic realities. Consider the fact that the Seal Beach Jail alone cost taxpayers $111,000 in 2010 and has been run at a deficit since 2008.  No one is talking about to total expense over the last three years, but taxpayers have a right to know.  Private industry would never run a business this way.  

A new Super City governmental entity should be modeled after the Rossmoor Community Services District (RCSD) which, in addition to saving money by contracting with the Sheriff’s Department, does not pay any pension or matching 401K plan benefits for any of its district employees and will never be required to pay those costs in the future.  Many Cities and counties across the country, including Orange County, would love to be Rossmoor’s position now instead of being on the hook for costly pension benefits in perpetuity.  Orange County lost its appeal to the California Supreme Court in a desperate attempt to undo pension enhancements to its employees that threaten the financial stability of the County. Starting fresh with non-pension employees will put a certain end to the cost of skyrocketing pension costs that virtually all governmental entities are trying to get under control.

Consider the costly salaries, benefits, and pension costs of redundant public employees in Los Alamitos and Seal Beach (again, Rossmoor pays no pension or matching 401K benefits to its employees who are still grateful to be employed by the RCSD).  Typically, city managers, assistant city managers, police chiefs, parks and recreation directors, public works directors, human resources directors, and city planners, etc., etc. have a much larger area and scope of responsibility than those in these three tiny areas combined.

The entire area of Seal Beach, Rossmoor and Los Alamitos could easily be managed by one administrative staff, thereby eliminating the exorbitant cost of two unnecessary administrative staffs.  The savings in public employee salaries, benefits, and pension costs alone easily exceed several million dollars a year and will only increase in the future by avoiding skyrocketing public employee pension liabilities (LAFCO could easily determine the actual savings to taxpayers).  Rossmoor has already wisely avoided the direct costs of public employee’s benefits and pensions. By contrast, the City of Costa Mesa is frantically trying to lay off public employees, privatize and get out from underneath the crushing burden of public employee salaries, benefits and pensions.  The County, Seal Beach and Los Alamitos are all sitting on future pension liabilities that are ticking time bombs.  A Super City gives taxpayers an opportunity to be proactive and head off a certain budgetary disaster.

Can governmental services be administered efficiently across artificial city boundaries and save taxpayer money?  Absolutely.  That is why a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) called “WESTCOM” was established to handle emergency dispatch services for the Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Cypress police departments.  Even if a Super City is disregarded by the politicians and bureaucrats protecting their offices and perks, why can’t JPA’s be established to cost effectively provide other services to these areas?

This proposal in no way diminishes the “exclusivity” and unique identities of Seal Beach, Rossmoor and Los Alamitos, which would retain their individual names and zip codes, just as Newport Beach, Corona Del Mar, Balboa, and Newport Coast (which was annexed by Newport Beach) do.  This proposal is strictly about the most cost effective method of funding and delivering government services to these three areas which utilize the same schools, shopping areas, hospitals, and businesses and support two military bases.

Additional benefits of this approach include:

  • More comprehensive, efficient and coherent planning of developments, traffic flow, and other necessary infrastructure for the entire area as a whole, as opposed to the current fragmented, piecemeal approach.
  • Much greater regional influence on issues directly affecting the area due to a larger, more cohesive voting population.
  • Economies of scale resulting from combining the city functions would result in elimination of costly duplication of salaries and services and would more efficiently utilize existing resources and infrastructure.  These same savings and efficiency occur when smaller companies merge for greater efficiency in private industry.
  • A city with an efficient governmental structure will result in lower taxes, and more value returned to the community in terms of services, maintenance projects and capital improvements.  This, in turn, will attract home buyers and raise property values.  Higher quality businesses would also be attracted to the area, increasing sales tax revenues.

Taxpayers should not look to their City Staffs or even Councilpersons to embrace this proposal.  The reason is obvious.  Council members want to retain their offices and the bureaucrats will understandably seek to protect their salaries, benefits, and pensions at your continued expense.  Taxpayers need to see through this obvious conflict of interest.  If the Councilpersons and the City Administrative staffs were completely honest with taxpayers, they would acknowledge that Supervisor Moorlach’s proposal makes perfect sense.  But to do so would most certainly eliminate many city employee positions, possibly even their own.

The combined Super City can begin anew in the hiring of employees who will not put the taxpayers on the hook for the costs of pensions or matching 401K or 457 plans (which is what private industry and the RCSD already practices in order to keep expenses to a minimum). The combined areas could also easily contract with the world class Orange County Sheriff’s department (just as Cota de Caza, Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Sunset Beach and Rossmoor do) which already provides SWAT and Crime Lab services to Seal Beach and Los Alamitos.  Contracting with a world-class Sheriff’s Department is far more cost effective than trying to maintain two small, limited and costly police departments with redundant management staffs.  A more costly alternative would be to create a police agency for the area which would still cost less.

Supervisor Moorlach is the only one with a “big-picture” view of the situation that does not have a vested interest in maintaining bloated, inefficient, redundant city staffs with their high salaries, benefits and skyrocketing pension costs.  This is why you elected him and why you should take him seriously.

As the former Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector, Moorlach is clearly savvy when it comes to government finance and only wants his constituents to get the most bang from their hard earned tax dollars.  The question is, just as it was when he warned of Orange County’s impending financial collapse in the early 1990’s, is anybody listening?

You, as an enlightened taxpayer, must decide whether Supervisor Moorlach, or the highly paid bureaucrats, have your best interests at heart.  The question is, who among the current Councilpersons and bureaucrats will be the first to publicly support Supervisor Moorlach’s proposal?  When these people reveal themselves, you will know who your true leaders are, who has your best interests at heart, and who you should support in the future.

When was the last time a bureaucrat came up with a brilliant proposal such as Supervisor Moorlach’s Super City concept to save the taxpayers money and improve services?  I thought so.

This proposal is definitely the best solution yet to local government finance and service issues.  It may take a while for constituents to warm up to the proposal, but once they fully understand it, they will realize that it is an idea that will truly result in not only a Super City, but a “Model City,” and an example that others will most certainly follow.

The bottom line is, it is time for taxpayers to wake up and stop throwing millions of dollars down the drain on unnecessary public employee salaries, benefits, and skyrocketing pensions costs, and start enjoying lower taxes and the benefits of a streamlined, efficient, cost effective governmental structure such as the RCSD.

It is time for people to come up with viable budget solutions instead of forcing annexations which are not innovative and do nothing to save tax dollars.  Simply decrying public salaries, benefits and pensions that are difficult to retract is not productive when the only solution is to start over without them.

Michael Rice is a Rossmoor residnet.

Editor’s Note: Opinion Editorials are submissions to Patch, and they are not intended to reflect the views of

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