As a reflection of the fiscal crisis that has city and state governments across the country in its grip, the town of Costa Mesa in southern California has sent out layoff notices to almost half of its public employees.
City officials plan to outsource work to contractors in order to reduce future pension obligations and try to reduce a budget deficit of $1.4-million this year.
One worker who received the notice has apparently committed suicide.
More than two-hundred city workers (who provide 18 city services) will lose their jobs following a vote by City Council to cut staffing. Costa Mesa currently has 472 full-time employees.
This has been coming on for a long time, and we're coming to a point that's rock bottom, Mayor Gary Monahan told city employees recently.
Firefighters, maintenance workers, prison staff, dogcatchers were all hit with layoff notices. “We feel like the metaphoric red-headed stepchildren,” Helen Nenadal of the Costa Mesa Employees Association told reporters.
What happens here is going to happen through all the cities in Orange County and California. That's what you call politics.
Costa Mesa is only one of dozens of cities across Orange County facing tough decisions and runaway public health care and pension costs. Out of the city’s $93-million budget this year, $15-million is expected to be paid out to retirees – and this figure is set to climb to $25-million within just five years.
Joe Nation, a professor of public policy at Stanford University, said Costa Mesa appears to have gone with the nuclear option,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “Cities are being forced to look at things that would've been unthinkable before.”
Union leaders attacked the job cuts, adding that the city didn’t even want to negotiate with them over any alternative measures.
Clearly they are trying a new model, said Stuart Drown, executive director of the Little Hoover Commission, a bipartisan state public policy oversight agency. A city that lays off half its staff — by any standard that's got to be considered a big move.
Some conservatives are applauding Costa Mesa City Council’s decision.
Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County GOP, circulated an e-mail which said: the good news is that a team of conservatives on the City Council led by our endorsed candidate, Jim Righeimer, is fixing the problem in Costa Mesa.”
The reported suicide was a 29-year-old maintenance worker who jumped out the window from the fifth floor of City Hall after receiving his layoff notice. He was later identified as Huy Pham, according to the Orange County Register.
City Councilmen Stephen Mensinger called the suicide heartbreaking. It's a tragedy for all of us here in Costa Mesa. Our prayers go out to the family at this difficult time.
A commenter on a local blog said: “Just a sign of the times. Many more cities will follow suit. The Nation, state and cities are broke. What do they have in common? Huge budgets with dwindling resources. You cannot spend what you don't have.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.