Are the Santa Ana City Council members dumber than worms?

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O.C. Register opinion writer Steven Greehut mused about worms in a new editorial today.  Apparently it has been proven that even worms, who haven’t got much in the brains department, can learn, if you poke them with sticks, to alter their course.  Greenhut compared the lowly worms to the City Council members in Santa Ana and Fullerton – who appear to be unable to learn from what has happened in the City of Vallejo, which filed for bankruptcy this year after raising public employee pensions to an unsustainable level over the last few years.

Here are a few excerpts from Greenhut’s editorial:

A 2004 USA Today article captured the problem succinctly: “The long-term economic health of the United States is threatened by $53 trillion in government debts and liabilities that start to come due in four years when baby boomers begin to retire.” Those four years are up, by the way.

The Bay Area city of Vallejo has been in the news lately for declaring bankruptcy and perhaps facing a state takeover after city officials gave government unions – especially police and fire unions – CEO-level pay and benefit packages that have consumed more than three-quarters of the city’s $80 million general-fund budget and have led to massive shortfalls. As Governing magazine reported in July, “Other troubled municipalities – particularly those in California – are watching Vallejo to see if bankruptcy is a viable approach to freeing the city from what Vallejo officials see as burdensome employee contracts.” In the private sector, excessive benefits paid to union employees are threatening the continued existence of such iconic corporations as General Motors and Ford.

So what are local city officials doing in the face of this daunting evidence that pension-spiking is unsustainable? Spiking pensions, of course, and putting their taxpayers at risk of a Vallejo-like scenario. They’ve learned nothing. The offenders in recent days include Santa Ana council members, who Monday gave final approval to a plan to increase city worker pensions to a “2.7 at 55” formula. That means that city workers can retire at age 55 with as much as 81 percent of their final year’s pay (2.7 percent times the final year’s salary times the number of years worked) after 30 years on the job. Those who are about to retire get the new enhancement, anyway, thanks to the retroactive portion. (This is the old law enforcement formula. Now, police and firefighters can retire with 90 percent or more of their pay at age 50.)

This new benefit increase, granted with little debate, will impose enormous new taxpayer-backed liabilities on residents of a city that’s already incapable of even meeting its most basic responsibilities.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, one of the few nonwormlike politicians willing to stand up to union demands, had this to say in a recent e-mail about Santa Ana’s plan: “What is infuriating to me is that some cities can’t even afford to fix the potholes in their streets. How can they afford to take on additional pension liabilities? In the near future, when a city council votes to put a ‘pothole tax’ on their ballot, don’t you buy it; it will really be a ‘pension enhancement/wealth transfer tax.'”

Even the lone Republican on the Santa Ana City Council, Carlos Bustamante, did not oppose this week’s pension spike.  Instead he took off for Mexico and had himself a little vacation, according to pajaritos, while his chums on the City Council tossed gasoline on their budget fire.  The City of Santa Ana is already $17 to $28 million in debt.  The pension spike, on top of giving big raises to Santa Ana City Manager Dave Ream and City Clerk Pat Healy, will only make things worse.

If the City of Santa Ana was doing a great job providing basic city services that would be one thing, but such is not the case.  We have management by press release going on right now.  First Ream decides to fix the streets that barely need fixing, ignoring crumbling inner city streets, then he finally unleashes the SAPD on a gang sweep, but he does so only after 18 people have been killed.  Why weren’t we going after the gangs a year ago?  Why wait until now when the election is right around the corner?  It is simply maddening.

No one has all the answers but I do know this – there are no answers coming from the Santa Ana City Hall.  They’re all fiddling while the town implodes in deficits and violence.  Ream and his cronies have blown the last twenty to thirty years and it is going to take decades to undo the harm they have wrought on our City.

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.