In Search of Heroes

California is not just any “blue state.” By many measures, California is a blue nation. It boasts the world’s sixth largest economy, isolated from the rest of the nation by mountains and deserts that were virtually impassable before modern times. It is blessed with diverse industries, abundant natural resources, and the most attractive weather in North America. California is nearly a nation unto itself.

And it is an occupied nation. California is ruled by a coalition of monopolistic businesses, public sector unions, and the environmentalist lobby. These Occupiers control a Democratic super-majority in the state legislature, as well as nearly all of California’s major cities, counties and school boards. To enrich and empower themselves, the Occupiers have oppressed California’s dwindling middle class and small business sectors, and condemned millions more to poverty and dependence.

For the average working family, no state in America is harder to live in than California. It has the highest cost-of-living, the highest taxes, the most onerous regulations, one of the worst systems of public education, congested freeways and failing infrastructure.  It will take heroic efforts to turn this around. And heroic efforts require heroes.

In the face of this overwhelming power, this alliance of oligarchs and government bureaucrats that has conned voters into embracing their servitude, where do you begin? What steps can you take? How do you rescue education, cut taxes, encourage new homes and new infrastructure, and save small businesses from crippling regulations?

As it turns out, a lot has been done in select locales, where heroes stepped up and successfully fought for reforms. And if those reforms could be replicated in other cities and counties, things would begin to change. To borrow a quote from Winston Churchill, if small local reforms began to spread across this great state, it would “not be the beginning of the end, but it would be the end of the beginning.” Here are some examples:

(1) Turning failing schools into charter schools:

As recently reported by CPC general counsel Craig Alexander, in 2015 parents at the Palm Lane Elementary School of the Anaheim City School District turned in far more signatures than needed under the Parent Trigger Law. The goal of the law and the parents at Palm Lane was to convert a public school that had failed their children for over a decade into a charter school. But the district, as a pretext to denying the Parent’s Petitions, improperly disallowed many signatures. It took a few years for parent volunteers and pro-bono attorneys, all of them heroically volunteering their time, to fight in court. But on Friday, April 28, 2017, the Court of Appeals issued a 34-page opinion that upheld in full the trial court’s ruling in favor of the parents and against the Anaheim Elementary School District. The Appeals Court found the trial court’s initial ruling, including the court’s findings of the bad faith tactics of the district, was correct in all aspects. Palm Lane Elementary school will start the 2017-2018 school year as a charter school.

(2) Stopping secret negotiations between cities and counties and public sector unions:

It wasn’t easy, but a few years ago, heroic progress was made. Orange County, Costa Mesa, and Fullerton all adopted so called “COIN” ordinances. COIN stands for “civic openness in negotiations.” This prevented elected officials from approving sweetheart deals with the government unions whose campaign contributions got them elected, all behind closed doors with minimal opportunities for public review. And to explain what happened next, one may borrow a quote from Tolkien: “Sauron’s [the Occupiers] wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift.” California’s union-controlled legislature passed a law they termed “CRONEY” (Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act), which mandates government agencies with COIN ordinances make public all negotiations with private vendors involving contracts over $250,000. There’s no comparison, of course. Private vendors disclose proprietary cost information in negotiations, and public entities are already required to take multiple bids in a competitive process. By contrast, public sector compensation, benefits and work rules are by definition not proprietary, they are public. And public sector unions, regrettably, have no competitors.

(3) Reforming financially unsustainable pension benefits:

If someone told you that they were going to invest their money, but if that money didn’t earn enough interest, they were going to take your money to make up the difference, would you think that was fair? Of course not. But that’s how a couple of million unionized public sector workers are treating the rest of us. California’s annual pension costs have risen from 3% of all state and local government revenue (i.e., “taxes”) to nearly 10% today, and there is no end in sight. But heroes are out there. In June 2012 voters in San Diego and San Jose passed pension reform initiatives. In both cases, to borrow some Star Wars terminology, “The Empire [The Occupiers] Strikes Back.” After relentless attacks in court, San Diego’s reforms were left largely intact, and San Jose’s were severely undermined, although some important provisions were preserved.

The people who fought for these reforms are too numerous to mention. They are all heroes. Some of them, like San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, San Diego councilmember Carl DeMaio, Costa Mesa mayor Jim Righeimer, and California state senator Gloria Romero, were elected officials whose courage has earned them the permanent enmity of the Occupiers. Other heroes, far more numerous, were the citizens, parents, and activists who dedicated countless hours to these causes.

Turning California back into a place where ordinary citizens can afford homes and get quality public education is not going to be easy. But there is no chance unless heroic individuals band together and fight the Occupiers, one issue at a time, one city at a time, one school district at a time.

Over the next several months, the California Policy Center intends to find more examples of heroic local reforms. It is our intention to not only compile these stories, but for each of them, distill them to the essential steps that were taken, so that these winning formulas can serve as an example to others.

We are in search of heroes. Contact us. Tell us your story.

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Ed Ring can be reached at


Los Angeles Could Use a COIN Ordinance – But That Will Only Come When Its Voters Demand It

We in Orange County have seen several versions of the COIN Ordinance (Community Openness In Negotiations). COIN ordinances provide for more and earlier disclosure to the taxpayers during and in the run up to the final approval of a contract between the public entity employer and a government employee union. This allows the citizens to know and understand the costs of the “deal” they will have to pay for.  It also gives them time to give their opinions to their own elected officials about the deal the officials negotiated on the voters behalf.

The City of Costa Mesa was the first to put a COIN ordinance in place.  The County of Orange also put one in place only to have the employee’s union challenge it before a Labor Commissioner who ruled against the ordinance – that is currently on appeal by the County.

It was with some surprise that I saw that the Los Angeles Times (no fan of conservative ideals and principles) called for the implementation of a COIN ordinance in the City of Los Angeles.  Here is a link to the editorial: Los Angeles Could Use More COIN.  As the LA Times editorial points out, the back room deal of 2007 was a financial disaster for the City and its taxpayers.  It looks like a similar secret negotiation then quick City Council approval process is going on again.  A COIN ordinance would likely allow for the taxpayers who are going to foot the bill for this deal to know what they are being obligated to pay for before their elected officials vote for the labor contract.  In other words, so the voters and taxpayers of the City of Los Angeles could have time to communicate to their elected representatives what they think of the deal.

Lets put some numbers to all of this:  According to the 2013 median income of Los Angeles residents was $38,939.  The average salary for City employees in 2013 (there were 35,919 full time and 46, 918 total employees in 2013) was $90,167 and when benefits (pension and health care costs) are added that rises to $101,675 not including future payments for retiree pensions and retiree health care costs.  Los Angeles total employee compensation for 2013 was $3,866,476,670.  That’s right: almost 4 billion dollars (and down from almost 5 billion dollars for 2011 and 2012).  With 3,827,261 residents in the City of Los Angeles, that means the total employee compensation cost per resident is $1,010.  Here is the link for the summary page for 2013 from Transparent California.  By comparison the 2013 cost per resident in Orange County was $577.  Orange County summary. The City of Orange: $597.  City of Orange summary.  And perhaps no surprise: Los Angeles County for 2013: $933.  Los Angeles County summary.

So it would appear that in the City of Los Angeles city employees are paid more than twice the median salary of taxpayers of that city.  Plus the public employees also receive all of the city paid health care and pension benefits now and in the future.

When will the citizens of Los Angeles get a COIN ordinance – likely never unless the voters of Los Angeles demand it by making big changes in their City Council and the Mayor’s office.  This would mean that the generally left leaning voters of Los Angeles would need to ignore the labor union financed campaign ads for City Council and Mayor candidates.  They would need to stop those nice labor union bosses with their labor friendly politicians cutting these deals behind closed doors.  How?  By electing City Council members and a Mayor who are not beholden to the unions for their political fortunes and futures.

Voters of the City (and County) of Los Angeles – the decision is in your hands.

About the Author:  Craig Alexander is the principal of the Law Offices of Craig P. Alexander and has practiced law for over twenty five years. He represents clients in litigation and non-litigation matters regarding construction defects, insurance coverage, personal injury, property damages, business litigation and general civil litigation matters and professional liability cases. Craig is a graduate of Santa Clara University’s School of Law and he was admitted to the California State Bar in December of 1987. This article originally appeared in OC Political, and is republished here with permission.

Exclusive Interview with Jim Righeimer on Transparency in Government

Jim Righeimer was elected to the Costa Mesa City Council in 2010, where he currently serves as Mayor. In Costa Mesa, Jim has led the charge to shrink government and provide more transparency and efficiency to the Citizens of the City. Labor union leaders now say Costa Mesa is “Wisconsin in California.” Costa Mesa has been called a battleground for reform, and numerous national news publications have printed front page stories about the debate. As part of Righeimer’s program to increase transparency, Costa Mesa enacted one of the first “COIN” ordinances back in 2012. In this exclusive interview for UnionWatch, Righeimer explains COIN, and comments on prospects for similar transparency ordinances in other cities and counties.

(1)  What does COIN stand for, and what other terms are used to describe this?

Civic Openness in Negotiation. It is also referred to as “open public employee negotiations.”

(2)  Was Costa Mesa, where you currently serve as mayor, the first city you are aware of in California (or in Orange County) to adopt a COIN ordinance?

Costa Mesa was the first that we know of. It was created by Steve Mensinger, who is the mayor pro-tem for Costa Mesa.

(3)  What inspired you guys to propose a COIN ordinance, who else was involved, and where did you go for guidance?

Steve is a businessman who does a lot of contract work, which in the business world is a very deliberate process. When he would talk with previous councilmembers about their votes, they would often have forgotten what they’d voted for. There was almost no process for how deals were reviewed and voted on. He decided something needed to change. He got guidance from attorneys at Leesberg Cassidy, the attorneys who currently handle a lot of negotiations for Costa Mesa and many other cities. Steve was the inspiration, but they had a lot of good ideas. For example, the union membership gets three weeks to review and vote on an agreement, but as soon as they approve it, the city has to vote within a week. That’s even in their bylaws.

(4)  When was Costa Mesa’s COIN ordinance adopted?

It was adopted in September of 2012, and 2013 was the first year we’ve been using it in negotiations.

(5)  What are the key provisions of Costa Mesa’s COIN ordinance?

The first one is the requirement for an outside auditor calculate what the existing contract costs, right down to each line item. That needs to be in front of the public 30 days before negotiations begin. Then after that, you have to hire a nonbiased, independent person to conduct the negotiations. Nobody who may be impacted by the negotiations, such as management employees of the city, can be the prime negotiator. Also, every time there is an offer or counter offer that’s been countered or rejected, the details are made public. Finally, once an agreement is made it has to be scored at least seven days before any council agenda, and it requires two readings in council meetings before the public before it can be approved – just like an ordinance.

(6)  What tangible examples can you point to so far as a result of Costa Mesa’s COIN ordinance?

The first contract that has been reviewed under the new COIN process hasn’t been finalized. But before it is in front of the public, both parties are more reasonable in their offers and counteroffers because they know the public sees it. In the past, one side might ask for 50 items just to overwhelm the city. They don’t do that any more.

(7)  The City of Fullerton has recently adopted a COIN ordinance. What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of their version of a COIN ordinance compared to Costa Mesa’s?

Our city had already had a lot of confrontations and a lot of previous back room dealing, so when mayor pro-tem Mensinger first drafted this for us, he covered every contingency he could think of. Whether or not all those contingencies were needed is debatable. the most important thing to have in coin is a third party negotiator, a total accounting of all the costs of the contract, and to have it presented at at least two council meetings so the public has a chance to look at it before its voted on

(8)  Orange County is considering adopting a COIN ordinance. What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of their proposed version of a COIN ordinance compared to Costa Mesa’s?

They’ve removed the sunset provision, which was important to remove, and now it’s going back for another 2nd reading. There’s no reason to put a sunset on this type of law. If it needs to be modified or repealed later that can be done. As it is, there may not be any significant contract renewal negotiations coming up between now and 2017. So with a sunset provision, COIN can expire right before it’s needed! It is also really important to calculate and report the total contract costs, which Orange County’s COIN ordinance provides for. For example, the county recently voted to approve the deputy sheriff’s contract – they say they’re going to save 22.6 million over the two year term of the contract by increasing employee pension contributions. If they had already had COIN during these just completed negotiations, however, you would have seen that the county is giving them an offsetting raise and other benefits to pay for it.

(9)  Over time, just how much benefit do you believe can come from tough COIN ordinances?

Well, a big benefit that could have occurred is that we would not have the pension problem we have today if we had had COIN back when the pension enhancements were being negotiated. COIN also slows down the ability of unions to come back in the future and repeal agreements they don’t like.

(10)  Do you consider a COIN ordinance to be of bipartisan benefit, and if so, who opposes COIN ordinances?

For the honest brokers on both sides, transparency is not bad. The people who are against it are the people who like the system the way it was – they would just make political endorsements or attacks in order to get a vote where a politician would not have any other input. The guys who like the backroom deals don’t like COIN

(11)  Do you predict that COIN ordinances will proliferate throughout Orange County and California’s cities and counties?

Huntington Beach looks like they are going to be the next city to put COIN on their agenda. Dave Sullivan, one of their councilmembers, has just brought that up to his staff to work on. I expect this process to become normal procedure, everywhere, within the next ten years. It’s going to be the new standard.

Secret Sheriff Union Negotiations Endanger Orange County’s Financial Future

The Orange County Board of Supervisors has tentatively approved a transparency ordinance, known as COIN (for Civic Openness In Negotiations) that would require negotiations with government employee unions to be open to the public. Boy, do they need it.

The current negotiations between the sheriffs’ union and the Orange County Board of Supervisors are a perfect example of why COIN is needed. On Friday, after two years of secret negotiations with the Sheriffs’ union, the proposed terms of the contract being offered by the union were revealed to the public for the first time. And now the Board proposes to take a final vote this Tuesday!

That’s right, fellow taxpayers. We get one business day to review the complex business deal that will bind our County for years to come, and then our elected officials will vote.

This not nearly enough time for the taxpayers, who are going to be on the hook for these salaries and pensions, to understand the costs of what is being offered or fully weigh in. Which is, of course, the point of keeping the details secret until the last minute. Secret negotiations, followed by sudden and final votes, is how business has always been done in Orange County and throughout California’s cities and counties. So we should not be surprised that our County again faces grave financial challenges.

The unions do not want those of us who pay the bill to have the time to calculate how much this new contract will add to the current average full time compensation, including benefits, of $186,682 per year for sworn sheriffs, compared to the average Orange County household income, with two wage earners in many households, of $75,566 (ref. U.S. Census).

And the last thing the unions want the public to fully digest is how this deal may affect Orange County’s unfunded pension liability. The officially recognized amount of this debt – that must be paid by taxpayers – is over $5 billion dollars, but it grows to almost $8 billion if you assume a more reasonable 6.2% return on investments rather than the highly optimistic 7.25%. It might have been an impediment to their negotiations, after all, if more people understood how much needs to be paid in order to eventually eliminate this debt. To pay it off in twenty years requires annual payments estimated between $500 million and $800 million, which equates to a $500 to $800 per year payment for each of Orange County’s roughly 1.0 million households.

Pension costs constitute a mortal threat to Orange County’s financial health. The county has already been bankrupt once because of a lack of transparency regarding its finances. The public should have more than a long weekend and contract bullet points to consider so that everyone knows how much our children and grandchildren are going to have to pay to fund this contract.

Here are a few things we know about this proposal thanks to an email from Supervisor Moorlach sent on Friday:

“It adds two new steps to the salary schedule, a thirteenth and a fourteenth. This creates two problems. The first is that it benefits all of those who are at the top of their pay scale (step 12), which represents some 77 percent of the workforce in this union. The second is that the pay increases to these impacted employees would be effective immediately, which is a pay raise, but not implemented until the following year.

The retiree medical strategy for AOCDS [Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs] is different than that of the other bargaining units. The County’s assumption of the employees’ portion, the Annual Required Contribution (ARC), assumes that this annual commitment of 3.6 percent will remain flat. That is not the case, as it will most likely continue to increase over time, based on actuarial studies. By the County assuming 2 percent of the cost (more than half), another pay raise, there is a blurring effect that, in future negotiations, could have the County picking up all of the costs. This may subject the taxpayers to an ever-increasing cost that this Board may initiate in perpetuity for subsequent Boards.

Now the costs of the “3% @ 50” pension enhancement have come home to roost and it must be addressed. Consequently, all employees should at least pick up the employee portion that the employer had previously, and generously, subsidized. In 2001, AOCDS determined that a pension increase, retroactive to the date of hire, was more important than salaries. Therefore, dealing with this growing fiscal tumor will require an impact on wages. Every other bargaining unit has stepped up to the plate. This proposal provides an almost full offset for this maneuver, a point that may not settle well with the other bargaining units in future deliberations.”

And it is not just private citizens who should be allowed to digest the agreement. The county only has a limited amount of money, so what is negotiated with the sheriffs union will impact other county employees and vital services. Supervisor Moorlach said it best “This is not an equitable proposal. Someone has to sacrifice to pay the Sheriff Department’s employees, and it would be the employees of all the other County departments.”

Moorlach also made this observation: “The contract cities will have to budget for this proposal. I hope that they have an opportunity to weigh in and provide their counsel before the Board of Supervisors votes on this matter.”

The reality, of course, is that the cities, county employees, and the public will not have an adequate opportunity to understand this proposal and have their voices heard. The vote is tomorrow. The consequences will last for decades.

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Mark Bucher is the President of the California Policy Center.

Fullerton Councilmember Responds: New COIN Ordinance Has Teeth

This website recently posted articles criticizing Fullerton’s newly passed COIN ordinance, the Fullerton Transparency and Accountability in Labor Negotiations Ordinance. The author used Supervisor John Moorlach’s earlier writing to guide his criticism of our achievement. For the sake of clarity, I use the same template to correct the record. Supervisor Moorlach’s essential elements are, in fact, included in the Fullerton COIN ordinance. Below is a list of what the Fullerton ordinance accomplishes:

1. Independent Negotiator:  Even before the passage of this ordinance, Fullerton has had the practice of using independent negotiators for collective bargaining and now this ordinance requires the City Council to utilize an independent negotiator when either an employee organization or the City proposes significant changes to wages, hours or other conditions of employment, or when when the employee association is represented by a third-party negotiator or legal counsel, or at any other time the Council deems appropriate. Independent negotiator: check!

2. Cost of Contracts:  The Fullerton Transparency and Accountability in Negotiations Ordinance includes a requirement for independent audits of each and every negotiated agreement between the City and an employee organization. Our ordinance goes further, though, to keep the Council, employees and taxpayers aware of the financial implications of current labor agreements. We added a new requirement that the city post on-line and provide to Council annually, an analysis of those mid-contract labor agreements with updated CALPERS rates and other real-time benefit cost increases or decreases. With this new requirement, specifically, taxpayers will be able to see how changes at CaLPERS and with city health benefit providers directly impact the City’s financial liabilities. Cost of contracts: check!

3. Offers and Counter Offers:  In the Fullerton ordinance all rejected offers and counter offers are required to be made public immediately after the Closed Session of Council during which they were rejected. Offers and Counter Offers: check!

4. Board Disclosure:  The Fullerton ordinance requires Council Members to disclose any and all private communications one might have had with a member of an employee organization regarding a potential contract both in our Closed Session and in our public, Open Session. Council Members are also required to sign a written acknowledgment that he or she has read all of the financial analysis of the proposed negotiated contract. Board Disclosure: check!

5. Contract Approval:  The Fullerton ordinance requires that any tentative agreement be posted on the city website and given to the public at least 7 days before the first City Council meeting at which it is publicly considered. Additionally, each tentative agreement must be heard at two consecutive City Council public, Open Sessions before it is voted on in order to increase the public’s time to analyze the information. Contract Approval: check!

Here is a link to the Fullerton ordinance so you can see for yourself, it’s all there:

The effort in Costa Mesa, Fullerton and the County of Orange to bring more transparency and accountability to the labor negotiation process is an important one. 32 cities in Orange County have yet to consider an ordinance of this kind. Perhaps our focus should be in getting more cities to join our cause.

About the Author:  Jennifer Fitzgerald was elected to the Fullerton City Council in 2012. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of California Cities-Orange County Chapter and the Orange County Taxpayers Association and is a Past President of the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband, Sean, are longtime residents of Fullerton where they’re raising their two sons.

Civic Openness in Negotiations Ordinances Hold Elected Officials Accountable

Eight years ago, then Orange County Register reporter Norberto Santana opened his piece, “The Art of the O.C. Deal (Orange County Register, August 6, 2006),” with the following observation: “When people see the board of supervisors vote on a labor deal, what they don’t know is that most often, an agreement has already been reached in private. And it’s perfectly legal.”

The root cause of fiscal distress for many municipalities is the negotiated bargaining unit agreements. The promise of future benefits could not be feasibly be paid. And most would have told you so if they were asked about the sustainability of the deal points. But when the public is not aware of the contract details until after they are agreed to, it is too late. Shouldn’t the experience of this obvious flaw in the process give those who come after a strong reason to open the negotiation process? Yes, it should.

Can you imagine a private sector business allowing a third-party to negotiate contracts on its behalf with no say in the process? Of course not. Yet, when dealing with labor negotiations, the general public, whose tax money is being spent, allows their elected officials to negotiate without any real say in the process.

As a county supervisor, one of the most serious responsibilities that I have been entrusted with is negotiating with employee organizations representing more than 17,000 county employees. To put this in context, salary and employee benefits represents 35.2 percent of the County’s $5.4 billion budget.

These negotiations, which happen behind closed doors, are shrouded in secrecy, with the general public only being able to give input after a deal is already agreed upon. For this reason, I have introduced the Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN) ordinance for consideration by the Orange County Board of Supervisors at its June 17, 2014, meeting. The idea is not new. It was first adopted by the city of Costa Mesa.

The ordinance has five main components:

  1. Independent Negotiator – As is current policy, the County will hire an independent negotiator that is not impacted by any outcome in the negotiation process. Past practice had county staff, who were subject to the same provisions as the bargaining unit they were negotiating with, negotiate on behalf of the Board of Supervisors. Independent negotiators remove this conflict.
  2. Cost of Contracts – Current practice has the county budget office analyze the costs of any contract proposal. Under COIN, the independently elected Auditor-Controller will take on this responsibility. This ensures an equal playing ground for both labor organizations and the county as both will be given the ability to comment about the analysis.
  3. Offers and Counteroffers – This ordinance would require that all offers and counteroffers be disclosed to the public within 24 hours.
  4. Board Disclosure – Each member of the Board of Supervisors will be required to disclose any and all verbal, written, or electronic communications they have had with an official representative of a recognized employee organization.
  5. Contract Approval – This ordinance will require that, before the final proposed contract is placed on the Board agenda, the Memorandum of Understanding will be posted to the County website.

This ordinance is intended to not only make the negotiation process more transparent, but to allow the public to hold elected officials accountable for the actions they take in regard to taxpayer funds.

We universally agree on transparency and scrutiny. By implementing COIN, the negotiation process will improve for all the impacted parties.

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About the Author: John M. W. Moorlach is a Republican member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and represents the Second District on the board. He serves on the Orange County Transportation Authority, OC LAFCO, CalOptima, and Southern California Regional Airport Authority boards. Moorlach has the distinction of having predicted the largest municipal bond portfolio loss and bankruptcy in U.S. history while campaigning for the office of Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector against incumbent Democrat Robert Citron in 1994. Citron resigned later that year. In 1995 Moorlach was appointed to fill the vacancy, was elected by the voters in 1996 to complete the unexpired term, and re-elected in 1998 and 2002, serving nearly twelve years. In 2006, he opted not to run for re-election as Treasurer-Tax Collector and instead ran for Orange County Supervisor, winning 70% of the vote. He is recognized as a leading expert on municipal bankruptcies.