“No, Watson! The Queen wouldn't like it!”
—Sherlock Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
When words like “embarrassing” and “insulting” and “bittersweet” get thrown around, you know it doesn't bode well.Last week, San Diego's municipal labor unions pretty much took it in the shorts, metaphorically speaking. Bad economy, they were told. Tough luck, old boy. But you have a choice: Take an across-the-board 6-percent pay cut. (Didn't say it was a good choice.)
But what also seemed apparent is labor and its supporters on the City Council aren't about to give up this fight. Mark Spin Cycle's words—the revenue side of the city ledger is about to get poked and prodded like a colonoscopy patient with excellent healthcare coverage.
The irony is, Mayor Jerry Sanders most likely triggered what will likely be a council backlash after last week's unanimous vote to impose contracts on the police and blue-collar unions. He did it, simply, by using economic hypocrisy—and it did not sit well with some council members.
During a hearing of the City Council's Budget Committee last week on the fiscal 2010 budget, which could run a deficit as high as $100 million beginning in July, Councilmember Todd Gloria was clearly annoyed by the mayor's proposal to use one-time reserves to patch the budget holes.
As recently as late last year, the mayor viewed with disdain such a practice, opting instead to propose closing seven libraries and nine recreation centers to close a $31-million midyear budget gap. The idea of closures was eventually dropped, but recent revelations that the mayor's office had somehow “discovered” nearly $18 million in untapped “internal stabilization reserves” to help plug budget holes had Gloria steaming.
“I shudder to think what would have happened if the council consented to [closing facilities] only to find $17.8 million that is currently available,” he snapped.
This week, the mayor rolled out the poster boards to point out how the new labor contracts for the five city unions will save taxpayers millions, to which said taxpayers will no doubt respond, “Yippee!” But if you ask, for example, the San Diego Police Officers Association (POA), which represents rank-and-file cops, its members will tell you to be careful what you wish for.
The mayor's “big mantra has always been, ‘I'm not going to cut services,'” POA President Brian Marvel told Spin Cycle this week. “Well, you know what? When you have a 20-percent vacancy rate on a police department that's already as thin as it possibly can be, there's going to be service cuts.
“If it takes us nine minutes to get to a 911 [call], I'd say that's a service cut, especially if your life is in danger.”Darren Pudgil, the mayor's spokesperson, responded by saying, “The police chief has assured the mayor that there is no threat to public safety.”
That could be true or perhaps wishful thinking, but Marvel notes that the city was already short 179 police officers before the latest rounds of negotiations. Now with the new labor contract that goes into effect July 1, he said 92 cops have already indicated they will retire prior to that date to lock in their health benefits under the current contract, which includes yearly increases. “I'm sure you're aware that health-insurance costs, not just in the city but nationwide, continue to go up every year,” Marvel said dryly.
In fiscal-year 2006, police agreed to consolidate an unwieldy 21 health-care plans down to four. Even so, that year saw 212 officers leave the force, Marvel said. A study then determined that to return the department to full staffing by 2010, the city's Police Academy would need to churn out 50 recruits annually. Reduce that number to 40, the study found, and full staffing wouldn't occur until 2014.
This year, the Police Academy will likely graduate 25 new cops. That means full staffing isn't happening anytime soon, Marvel said. “Our attrition rate right now is about 13 or 14 [officers] a month, so you do the math,” he added.During that earlier mass exodus, most departing cops “were the ones that could find other jobs and transfer to other departments. Heck, [District Attorney] Bonnie Dumanis cherry picked our department the last time all these people left.”
This time, however, what the department is likely to lose are those officers closer to retirement. “They're the ones with all the years of experience,” Marvel said. “They're the ones working all the specialized assignments—homicide units, gang details, sex crimes, child abuse…. These are the crime solvers.”
As to the argument that this pathetic economic climate will make job searches more difficult, Marvel scoffs. “Good investigators have a lot of opportunities, whether it's other agencies or working for insurance companies on fraud cases,” he said.The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, is “on a huge hiring spree, trying to bulk up their ranks. In the amount of time that we've lost almost 500 cops, they've hired 1,000,” he added.
To his credit, Marvel said he held no ill will toward the mayor when it was revealed recently that Sanders has begun taking his full mayoral salary as well as his pension from his police days, a double-dipping practice that the mayor demanded other city employees eliminate during the recent contract negotiations. “If anybody had any concerns about it, it was never told to me,” Marvel said. “Look, he earned his pension for, I think, 26 years on the police force. The only thing we're trying to preserve is the same retiree health-care benefits that he has.”
Marvel said police-union negotiators had even suggested moving cops and retirees—through the Public Employees Medical and Hospital Care Act of 2006—into health-care programs run by the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) or the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), which he argued “offer medical plans that are far superior to what the city offers—and they're cheaper.”
But “the city didn't want to hear it,” Marvel said. “This was by far the worst negotiations I've ever been in. We could have finished negotiations in one week. The mayor could have come and said, ‘Here's your contract. Either you ratify it or I impose it. Have a nice day.”
Pudgil said he'd check on the cops' proposal, but Spin Cycle didn't hear back by press time.
So where does this leave a city so clearly on the precipice of economic rack and ruin, particularly when perhaps 10 percent of San Diego's police force might be gone come July? “If the members don't leave as we're projecting, then it's a non-story,” Marvel said. “If they do leave, then it becomes a big story, and the mayor's gonna have to justify it.”Update: You might recall that the last edition of Spin Cycle, noted that Mayor Sanders had failed to mention, as per state law, his wife's business interests on his Statement of Economic Interests.
Well, spokesman Pudgil, after weeks of silence on the topic, told Spin Cycle Tuesday that the mayor has amended his Form 700 to reflect Rana Sampson's firm, Community Policing Associates—in fact, he amended it the day the column was published.
For the record, the mayor listed his wife's business value at between $10,001 and $100,000 with an annual gross income of between $1,001 and $10,000 for last year. Got a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.