Anyone who has attended a city-run meeting in Irvine has heard elected officials, especially City Councilman and Orange County Great Park Corporation chairman Larry Agran, boast about overseeing "America's safest city."
Likewise, anyone who complains about the shady, back-room, ethically challenged way the city of Irvine is run, or the plastic, uninspiring, Stepfordesque way the city of Irvine is, often gets showered with "At least we're America's safest city" or "At least we're not Santa Ana" or "Get off of my goddamn lawn, hippie!"
One group that has apparently heard the "America's safest city" line over and over are the men and women of the Irvine Police Association, which represents 190 of the department's 203 employees. And, frankly, it's beginning to piss them off.
"America's safest city is also the country's biggest anomaly, as the men and women in blue who protect and gave Irvine its national distinction are now caught in the crosshairs of an indifferent and ungrateful City Council," states a media statement issued Friday afternoon with the headline "America's Safest City Showing No Gratitude to Its Police." It is signed by association president Shane Barrows and counselor Robert M. Wexler.
The pair accuses the council members of "playing political games" with their contract. Among the offenses they cite is "mulling over yanking an existing holiday."
But as Sean Emery reported in the Orange County Register, union leaders are most upset that city leaders are threatening layoffs if the cops don't forgo raises. Wage freezes imposed on other city workers have reportedly saved nearly $2 million.
Negotiations began in mid-February and the police association's last contract expired on June 30. Barrows and his crew--who represent employees in the fifth highest paid force in the county--want an extension they estimate would cost the city $720,000. With talks at an impasse, a mediator was brought in last week.
Now, it would be one thing if the city was like so many others in California, suffering the ravages of decimated budgets amid the national financial meltdown and the state government implosion. But the thing second on to "America's safest city" you hear from city leaders and their robotic supporters is that shrewd fiscal planning has left the city with a $100 million budget surplus (and a Great Park property you'd swear was made of gold, to hear them tell it).
"We are the ones on the front lines who have played one of the largest parts in having made Irvine the safest city in America for the past five consecutive years--not just by doing our job, but by also striving for excellence," says Barrows in the release. "When the taxpayers demanded 'pay for performance,' we are the ones who delivered proven, excellent results."
He said it "boggles the mind" why the five-member City Council "would want to compromise Irvine's national reputation by holding up our contract."
Barrows then singles out three council members--Mayor Sukhee Kang, Beth Krom and Agran--for "not practicing what they preach."
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"We were told police would remain the No. 1 priority," Barrows writes, "but instead they went off to build their bridges to nowhere by spending money on shuttles with no ridership and other questionable projects."
These are dangerous times, Barrows warns, as crime is rising and the state is about to cut felons loose from prison due to budget constraints.
"Now is not the time to handcuff police with the petty politics that we always must stomach in Irvine," Barrows says, "but to assist them every way possible. Unlike almost every city in the county, state and nation, Irvine does not have a revenue problem. The City Council's conduct is inexcusable and is putting the public in harm's way, and officer morale is dropping."
Residents will get to gauge how much it has dropped should police association members carry through with a threat to descend on the next City Council meeting at City Hall. No matter how heated it may get, at least everyone can rest assured they are in America's safest city.