In my column last week, I wrote about what we might have done differently in the past in the Garden Grove-Stanton-Westminster area that would have paid off to the benefit of today’s cities and citizens.
I spent 3800 characters crying over spilt milk, but only for the purpose of illustrating how new opportunities present themselves everyday, and that if we don’t see things clearly now, we (or our heirs) will look back on today’s decision-making and wonder just what we were thinking. Or not thinking.
Looking at the financial problems facing this area, some of them are simply tied to the slowwwwwwly-recovering economy. But other are more systemic that will survive into next upswing which is inevitable, if a bit tardy.
Westminster recently announced it was laying off 37 full-time employees, and hoping that another 12 will take early retirement. Stanton is planning to slash $1 million (or more) annually from its budget. A major factor in the financial woes of both cities is the rising cost of “protective services” – police and fire.
Even without giving employees raises, the costs go up and up. The price of gasoline, workers’ compensation insurance, medical coverage are all factors somewhat beyond the control of local government, so the only alternative seems to be to slash payroll.
Stanton, for example, gets both its fire and police protection from the County of Orange, through the Orange County Fire Authority and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Westminster has its own police department, but is served by the OCFA.
Some smaller cities have abandoned their own public safety agencies in favor of county control as a cost-cutting measure, although in the case of Westminster, a political battle between the city and the local firefighters union was a factor as well. But now, since most civic entities spend the big bulk of their budgets on police and fire, having to go along with whatever the County of Orange decides for wages, protection, benefits has made the original cost-savings less and less relevant today.
One solution that presents itself, which would extend beyond just the issue of how much to pay a fireman or police officer, is the possibility of splitting the difference: forming a joint powers agency among our three cities to share resources and services.
Section 6500 of the California State Code allows for such sharing of power among cities or other government agencies. They have been used in reducing insurance costs, building regional transportation systems and increasing political leverage.
The cities of Garden Grove, Stanton and Westminster are not only geographically contigious (and, incidentally, served by the good ‘ol Journal) but share much in terms of ethnic composition, housing stock, economic advantages and challenges, etc. They are already linked by multiple governmental ties. The Garden Grove Unified School District for example, serves not only most of Garden Grove but also parts of Stanton and Westminster. Conversely, part of Garden Grove is in the Westminster School District and there are two WSD elementary schools located in The Big Strawberry.
Governments with common experiences tend to be more effective than those that don’t. That’s why NATO works and the UN is, well, a little less respected.
Because of mutual aid and response agreements, police and fire services often cross city lines in those cities. It’s not unusual to see an OCFA fire truck from Westminster in Garden Grove, or a Garden Grove police car in Stanton. There’s a spot at Beach and Garden Grove boulevards where if you jog a bit, you can cross from Garden Grove to Stanton to Westminster in around 30 seconds.
Some cities already share police departments. The Brea PD provides law enforcement in Yorba Linda, for example. Could Garden Grove provide cost-effective public safety services to Stanton or Westminster as an alternative to the OCFA or OCSD? Very possibly. It would mean broader resources, more personnel available, and potentially better service. The three cities together have a population of over 300,000. As a joint powers authority, it would be the third-largest political entity in Orange County, behind only Anaheim and Santa Ana, and among the largest in the state.
A “West Orange County JPA” wouldn’t need to limit itself to sirens and emergencies. It could also attack the issue of public transit. The Orange County Transit Authority has, over the years, given this area little love. The remaking of the Garden Grove Freeway was the last major freeway update in the county; our Pacific Electric right-of-way has been a weedy eyesore under the “control” of the OCTA.
I’m not suggesting that we dissolve our municipalities and create a new west county supercity. I’m just saying that pooling resources and ideas might be a way of getting a better deal for the public, while retaining local control.