A worker with West Coast Arborists trims trees on Fifth Street last year. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

MY WRITE — My column last Monday raised some hackles. In “In house or out house?” (SMDP, Sept. 1, Pg. 5.) I criticized City Council for being the pro-union shill it’s become, in part for its general opposition to three contracts that involved outside contractors doing work for the City of Santa Monica.
The contracts with private companies, most of which had been doing work for the city, involved maintenance and janitorial services for a number of city-owned/operated facilities including the Santa Monica Pier, beach restrooms, Public Safety Facility and maintenance for the Big Blue Bus.
I usually take City Hall staff reports with a grain of salt, but when they reported that using private contractors will save the city $1.2-million over five years or about a quarter million dollars a year as opposed to using or hiring direct employees for beach and Pier services, it got my attention. Money saved could reduce the city’s operating budget or be used elsewhere on the beach.
Of course, everything here is subject to a social engineering agenda so whether to outsource or hire/retain city employees has become a philosophical debate.
Council candidate Sue Himmelrich emailed me last week claiming her research on outsourcing seemed to show that that “…we in fact spent more money per year than we had previously and certainly did not save the $500,000 promised by the 2010 staff reports. In my view, this (keeping jobs in house) is not social engineering but simply sound policy,” she wrote.
There’s only one-way to resolve this: conduct an audit of the real costs of outsourcing as opposed to hiring and maintaining an in house workforce for all departments.
Everyone knows that organized labor has an enormous influence on local political policy. Members of labor unions, especially the UNITE HERE hospitality workers union, work hard to convince voters to vote for candidates they support for City Council, School Board and other offices.
They work closely with Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) and persons they endorse are elected, consistently. While many activists complain about the unfair influence of developer money that goes to their favored candidates, the same folks overlook the fact that that most of our elected officials are in office courtesy of labor unions.
Union bargaining organizations, such as The Coalition of Santa Monica City Employees Political Action Committee, also endorse candidates and contribute money to pay for campaign ads and flyers. The Police and Firefighters bargaining units do the same. The goal of these municipal workers unions is to protect jobs, advocate for a safe working environment and insure proper wage and benefits packages for their members.
And, before someone distorts my view — there’s nothing wrong with labor organizations supporting candidates any more than there’s anything wrong with business interests and developers putting their money where their mouths are.
Voters should always be aware of how endorsements are awarded and the strings tied to them. In the case of UNITE HERE, it’s obvious new hotels and hotel worker wages are top priority both with City Hall and SMRR.
Most union leaders and their members don’t care about budgets, deficits or whether we’re going to pay more for government services through higher fees or tax increases. How much do you think hotel workers care about the traffic and congestion that comes with new hotels? Try “zero.”
City Hall politicians, department heads and pro-labor liberals must stop treating members of labor unions as if they’re “special” and deserving of privileges that the rest of us aren’t entitled to.
Shifting gears … There are nearly 2,200 municipal employees in this eight square mile city of 91,000 plus residents. That’s a little over one city employee for every forty residents. It’s way above the average ratio of workers to employees for most cities.
Yeah, I know. There’s at least 100,000 daily visitors and workers who come to Santa Monica to work or play. The employee to resident/visitor ratio is still excessive.
Comparing a few California Cites at random (www.city-data.com). Most employee numbers are dated “2007”, but they generally should hold for the current year, in most cases.
City/resident population Full time employees Part time employees
Santa Monica 91,812 1873 404
Pasadena 138,547 1836 282
Burbank 104,391 1228 261
Santa Barbara 89,639 996 512
Alhambra 84,322 374 156
Berkeley 115,403 1631 518
Buena Park 82,155 300 104
Beverly Hills 34,622 666 282
Thousand Oaks 128,414 419 223
Whittier 86,177 297 319
Newport Beach 87,068 827 358
Culver City 39,913 274 133
Mountain View 76,621 535 241
Anaheim 343,248 2008 1767
I’m surprised that someone hasn’t raised the issue of consultants. Despite having a large and very well paid city staff, it seems that the Planning and Community Development and Housing and Economic Development departments especially can’t get anything done without hiring an overpriced consultant or two.
Speeders on Berkeley Street? Hire a consultant to develop a remedy. I got your remedy: speed bumps. There, it didn’t cost City Hall a cent.
Spruce up Reed Park? Hire a consultant. Need an urban plan for the Bergamot area? Hire a consultant. At a hundred thou here, and a couple hundred thou there, who cares? It’s only money.
If you think that maybe Santa Monica has too many employees, check the pay levels and benefits for the various department heads and supervisors. They’re among the highest in the nation for a city of our size ‚Äì and we’re paying dearly for it, too.
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Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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