Santa Ana city council voted in favor of a three-year, $25.6 million contract with the Santa Ana Police Officers Association (POA) during last night’s meeting. How they’ll pay for the first year of proposed raises and benefits? That’s a question mayor Miguel Pulido delayed a vote on for two more weeks.
A controversial contract amid budget shortfalls prompted hundreds of residents to fill seats both inside and outside council chambers. Two recently termed out council members counted themselves among the critics and spoke before former colleagues.
“The proposed increases to wages and benefits will not make Santa Ana safer,” said Michele Martinez, a former councilwoman. “It does not properly incentivize entry level police officers.” Despite a Democrat majority on the dais, Martinez put her faith in two Republicans to oppose the contract, calling councilman Juan Villegas the “voice of reason” and councilwoman Ceci Iglesias “the fiscal watchdog.”
A staff report on the proposed contract outlined the terms agreed upon by the POA and a majority of council members. Under the wage scale, base salaries for department employees would see a 13 percent increase through July 2020. Longevity pay for sworn officers with 15 to 20 years experience and other benefit increases bring the contract to its $25.6 million total sum.
There’s only one catch. Santa Ana doesn’t have the money to cover the $4.3 million in police pay raises and benefits retroactive to last July under its current budget. And the city might consider dipping into future revenues generated by a sales tax hike approved by Santa Ana voters in November for the remaining costs.
“My intention is to try to give modest raises, along the lines of what’s already been agreed to, with existing dollars, not Measure X dollars,” said Jose Solorio, a councilman who opposed the sales tax ballot initiative. He questioned if funds really needed to be appropriated to cover the cop contract, something that entailed a five-vote majority, while only a simple four-vote majority was needed to approve it.
“It doesn’t do you any good to approve a contract, if you don’t have the money to pay for it,” Sonia Carvalho, Santa Ana city attorney, later clarified. “In order to actually allocate the money in the right buckets so that we can actually pay the officers and the non-sworn employees, we have to move money around.” When that becomes necessary, Carvalho further explained, the city charter requires five votes on council.
Thanks to Republicans on the dais, and with councilman Roman Reyna absent, that vote majority proved out of reach for now. Iglesias, an enemy of union teachers while a Santa Ana Unified School District trustee, brought a critical lens to the police union contract, earning applause from the audience.
“If we go into bankruptcy, all is null and void,” she said. “This is something fiscally irresponsible.” Iglesias put tough questions to city staff about pension liability costs, past POA raises and how the contract might result in rising pay for police management down the line. She also expressed skepticism about Measure X’s expected revenues of $60 million annually, especially if Santa Ana shoppers know that they’ll be paying, in part, to cover police pay hikes.
Santa Ana police chief David Valentin argued that the cop contract would make his department more competitive and efficient with regards to public safety. “It would have a direct impact on our ability to recruit and retain quality officers,” he said. “It would have a direct impact on lowering our response times.”
Villegas, a veteran of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department whose election to council in 2016 enjoyed POA-backing like Solorio and Pulido, made for the most unlikely stickler. “I’m charged with doing what’s right,” he said, while noting he’d always be with the city’s law enforcement. “Sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions. This contract here is not the right contract. The police officers deserve a raise, but this is kind of steep here.” Villegas mused about skimming benefits in order to clear a path for doable pay raises.
But the contract needed no such tweaking for Pulido. “It’ll put the chief in a position where he can be more aggressive about recruiting,” the mayor said. “If we have four votes to approve the contract we ought to do that. Whether there’s an appropriation adjustment in two months or three months or we take cannabis money that did not used to exist…let’s make this city a better city, a safer city. ”
Pulido made a motion to approve the contract; a 4-2 vote followed with Iglesias and Villegas dissenting. How to cover the costs is a matter for another day. “We’re going to leave that for two weeks from now,” Pulido added.
One way or another, the council is now legally obliged to honor the pay raises in the approved cop contract, lest they be in breach of it.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!