From now until May 19, Santa Ana voters will determine whether a fiscal hawk will remain on the City Council. By mail-in vote, they will choose whether to retain in office one of the bravest public servants in Orange County, Councilwoman Cecilia Iglesias — or to recall her.
Along with Councilman Juan Villegas, last year she voted against a $25.6 million pay raise for city police. It passed anyway with the support of the other council members. A recall against Villegas fizzled, leaving Iglesias the sole object of the absurd wrath of the insulated police union that brazenly demanded the pay increase.
As the Orange County Register reported, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association “spent $301,000 on the Iglesias recall through the end of last year, according to a Jan. 28 campaign statement filed with the city.” How’s that for a petty temper tantrum?
The election will waste $710,000 of city taxpayers’ money, which could have covered the salaries of two police officers for one year. That’s what being tone-deaf can cost.
With the coronavirus, everything has changed. Santa Ana, already a poorly managed city, is now in a fiscal free fall. The union should recognize that, pull up its anti-Iglesias signs and work with her and the other councilmembers to deal with this unprecedented economic crisis.
If Iglesias is recalled, even as the enterprises in the rest of Orange County and California start reopening, Santa Ana would be broadcasting: Closed for Business.
Money will be limited for new business reconstruction and will flow to those areas most welcoming investment. Already, with the passage of the Measure X 1.5 cent sales tax increase in 2018, the city removed the welcome mat for businesses.
But that was during the 11-year business expansion, when help-wanted signs were everywhere. That’s all gone.
If Iglesias loses, it will mean the city will be ripe for future tax increases — even more punishment of businesses and citizens. That’s why Iglesias is seeking immediate action to suspend Measure X until this crisis is over.
Isn’t that obvious? With budgets tighter than ever, families will just shift to buying goods in cities without the added sales tax.
Also, Measure X specifically was advertised as funding “fixing streets,” but you should know that it’s going to pay down a pension liability exceeding $681 million!
Even before the coronavirus struck the world, city finances were abysmal. Santa Ana’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for June 30, 2019 showed an unrestricted net deficit of $471 million. That’s $1,416 for every resident, or $5,664 for a family of four.
The negative per-capita number was the third-worst in Orange County, after Costa Mesa’s $2,125 and Anaheim’s $1,545.
The CAFR for the current fiscal year ending June 30, likely to be issued around Christmas, will include the beginning of the coronavirus devastation and it will be shocking.
As the 2019 Santa Ana CAFR notes, “One of the main factors affecting the City’s economic condition is the public pensions and their sustainability.” Indeed, CalPERS data show the city’s pensions are only two-thirds funded.
CalPERS’ portfolio has also taken a hit. That will mean CalPERS will charge the city more every year to pay down an ever-growing debt. The extra cost will mean laying off police officers.
As I recently wrote in The Bond Buyer, many cities, counties and public-school districts in California soon will find filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection the only way to get out from under impossible pension payments and overly generous bargaining unit agreements.
If that happens to Santa Ana, the city will need responsible, experienced and principled City Council members who are free of union control.
Santa Ana residents need to wake up. One city councilmember is not the problem. The city’s Police Officers Association is.
Someone with fiscal acumen and financial foresight, fearless in the face of union retaliation, is needed now. That leader is Cecilia Iglesias.
John M.W. Moorlach represents the 37th State Senate District, which includes parts of Santa Ana, in the California Senate.