Last Tuesday, City Council voted unanimously to add 31 more full-time employees – with even more to come – to the city’s already bloated workforce. The new employees would provide mostly maintenance work currently done either by outside contractors or hourly workers.
Santa Monica employs 2,169 persons (in 2012-13) according to the Los Angeles Business Journal. That’s one employee for every 41.37 residents. It’s an employee-to-resident ratio that’s excessive and way out of line when compared to similar municipalities.
The current 2014-2015 city budget is $575-million. Of that budget, 51 percent is employee expense including wages and benefits – or over $291-million! And now were going to add a couple more million in expense to that figure. And, by the way, the cost of these new city workers doesn’t include administrative costs, equipment, work space, vehicles and other requirements needed when new employees are hired which could easily add up to another million bucks or more, annually.
I wrote in this space last September 8 that city leaders have been warning us about upcoming deficits due to rising employee-related costs including benefits such as retirement, health care and pension expense. Council’s action adds to the pensions and benefits crisis. Expect more municipal tax and fee increases.
City Hall has received excellent work from its contractors while taxpayers saved money. The contractors in turn have been able to provide jobs for entry level workers who in many cases are not well educated, trained or who can speak English – persons who would probably wouldn’t meet the city’s more demanding requirements for employment.
City Council’s number one obligation to citizens is to govern efficiently, provide needed services and be good stewards of the purse. Our ideological City Council thinks it’s running a charity for low-wage workers.
The whole issue of runaway government expense is likely to become a campaign issue in 2016. Many voters already think we have way too many city employees. This irresponsible giveaway doesn’t bode well for Terry O’Day, Gleam Davis, Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer who are up for reelection next year.
City Council will explore a 77 percent increase in water fees in late February, however, there’s a serious drought at hand. That means getting everyone to conserve by cutting water use by 20 percent – starting now. A plan approved by council last Tuesday would also establish water conservation thresholds for single family and multi-family residential customers. Penalties would apply to water customers who overuse water. Businesses would be exempt.
Residents will be required to reduce water consumption from their 2013 water usage. Single family homes would also be subject to severe fines and penalties for exceeding city-mandated conservation goals. In apartment buildings, overuse penalties may be passed to tenants. The Rent Control Board will determine pass-alongs and their amount.
There’s more. Santa Monica’s sustainable Water Master Plan includes new water conservation programs and enhancements to help reach City hall’s goal of complete water self-sufficiency by 2020. The thinking is that millions of gallons of water a day can be saved through ordinances, public relations/education programs, rebates, hiring additional city employees for a new Water Conservation Unit (water police?) and by penalizing residents who use too much water. Bah, Humbug!
What about 300,000 visitors to the city and their use of water in hotels, motels, restaurants and bars that aren’t part of the program? They’re exempt. Many older apartment buildings have a single water meter, so there’s no incentive for tenants to reduce water usage. One tenant who wastes water could trigger penalties for all tenants in the building.
If the city is ever to reach its goal of water self-suffiency by 2020 as stated in the sustainable Water Master Plan, future development will have to be taken into account. But, it appears that the only way this can be accomplished right now is by penalizing existing water users (us) into reducing our consumption so that the demand created by new residents in thousands of new apartments is neutralized.
It’s an unfair and unattainable policy ruled by agenda and ideology as evidenced by council’s unanimous vote for penalties last Tuesday. If you ask me, they’re all wet.
School board votes for more mediocrity
Last Thursday night, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education voted for Ralph Mechur to replace Ben Allen who was elected to the State Senate in November. It’s exactly what I expected. Although there were some excellent applicants who applied for Allen’s seat, the six (remaining) board members went with Mechur who had been on the board since 2007 but failed in his reelection bid last Fall.
Regular readers of this column know that I don’t have much respect for this clubby school board. In addition to being slow to close the achievement gap and solve other basic problems, it’s failed to properly manage the district, financially. Schools are always in the hole and short of money and that’s because of inept oversight. The old guard has no interest in or ability to find new, independent sources of revenue beyond taxes and contributions.
But with Mechur back, expect the same, tired routine. Next year, we’ll have another opportunity to bring some new blood to the current “do nothing” board and that’s by replacing Maria Leon-Vazquez and Jose Escarce (whose terms will be up) with persons like newly elected Craig Foster who love education and have a strong business sense. Then, the district can provide the resources for the quality education that our kids deserve.
Bill can be reached at email@example.com