Santa Paula Times

Council splits on public safety binding arbitration legislation

August 11, 2000
Santa Paula City Council
Called the “mother of all mandates” in a letter signed by the Mayor and sent to state elected officials, the issue of binding arbitration for police and firefighters caused discussion at the August 7 City Council meeting where an official position against the pending bill was approved by a majority of the council. Councilwoman Laura Flores Espinosa asked that the item be pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion and comment, noting she wanted a roll call vote on the agenda item.The bill, SB402, includes compulsory and binding arbitration in police and fire negotiations, a move that City Manager Peter Cosentini’s report noted will take “out of the hands of the elective representatives, who are accountable to the people, the largest fiscal matter of the city.”Under the pending legislation, “fiscal matters for police and fire collective bargaining will be determined by an independent third party who is not elected by the citizens of Santa Paula and not accountable to them.”If passed, the legislation could result in the city paying police and fire personnel more than the city can afford, noted Cosentini, causing an “ever decreasing reduction in service to the community,” through the layoffs he “envisions within the municipal organization. . .”Attached to the report was a missive from the League of California Cities, letters from Mayor Rick Cook to Gov. Gray Davis, Sen. Jack O’Connell and Assemblyman Tom McClintock, who does not represent Santa Paula.The city’s letter, provided by the League of California Cities to all members, notes that the legislation does not apply to state public safety personnel and the state is “more than willing to mandate this costly process and remove a city’s authority authority to manage its most expensive services, but is unwilling to commit to a long-term revenue source to pay for local services. . .this irresponsible action [is] truly the ‘mother of all mandates’.Espinosa said she pulled the item to “voice support of the measure instead of the recommended action,” of staff’s to approve opposing the bill. When asked, most elected officials voice support of binding arbitration, she added, but when it comes to reality they change course.
Espinosa made a motion to deny staff’s recommended action and the motion died for the lack of a second.“My objection is very simple,” said Vice Mayor Don Johnson. “I do not want a third party to come in and tell the city how to handle their budget. There’s a better way to do it,” and not opposing the legislation would be “dangerous precedent setting and dangerous to the city.”Councilwoman Robin Sullivan said the proposed legislation is “just of example” of the state’s repeated taking of monies from cities, and Mayor Cook agreed, noting that costs are an unknown factor as well as taking “away from somebody else.”The council split 4-1 with Espinosa casting the lone no vote.