Poll: Most voters don't want Costa Mesa to outsource

COSTA MESA — A majority of residents oppose a cost-saving plan to lay off nearly half of the city's workers and replace them with contractors, according to a poll that itself has come under fire because outsourcing opponents paid for it.

About 59% of registered voters opposed the city's plan to lay off 213 employees from 18 city services to balance the budget, while 34% supported it. The sample included 400 registered voters contacted by phone from March 24 to 27.

The Orange County Employees Assn. (OCEA), which represents about 200 city employees, funded the poll conducted by San Francisco-based Tulchin Research.

The OCEA paid for the survey but it will be released Monday by Repair Costa Mesa, a group of city residents who oppose the City Council's plan to lay off hundreds to avoid future pension costs.

"It's not surprising to me given the approach that the council took," said Nick Berardino, general manager for OCEA. "Will it change anything? Change comes, in this situation … once the veil is pulled off. Change comes through the hearts and actions of the citizens, so it'll be up to them."

Councilman Jim Righeimer had little faith in the results, particularly since the city has not yet presented taxpayers with a formal plan for consideration.

"It's just a poll by some group we don't even know — before we have any information about what the cost savings are going to be by outsourcing," said Righeimer, a member of the city's budget committee that recommended the layoffs. "A public opinion poll is premature."

The Daily Pilot obtained an early copy of the results Friday. Full results are expected to be released Monday, but the early numbers showed a trend of dissatisfaction among Costa Mesa's voters with the council's direction.

The recommended layoffs would take effect in September if the city found suitable replacements for city services.

Divided by ideology, respondents who identify as conservative were evenly split: 46% supported the layoffs and 43% opposed them.

Moderates opposed the council's plan by more than 2 to 1, a 66% to 29% difference, and liberals overwhelming disagreed with the plan at 79% opposed.

The survey had a 4.87% margin of error.

Tulchin does polling for Democratic candidates and labor and environmental organizations.

Company President Ben Tulchin said the results surprised him because of Orange County and Costa Mesa's conservative roots.

"This isn't the People's Republic of Berkeley, or Santa Monica," Tulchin said. "We were struck by that. There is a sense, from voters based on this survey, that there needs to be a wholesale change. Voters think this is too far."

More than 80% of residents polled said they considered city services good or excellent, with only 3% saying city services were "poor."

When asked if they were more or less likely to support the budget-balancing plan if the council had not proposed cutting the pay for the top seven city officials, excluding firefighters and police officers, 79% said they were less likely to support the layoffs.

The top seven highest paid city officials, comprised mostly of department heads, totals more than $1.1 million in base pay alone.

One respondent and online commenters, including City Planning Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick, speculated that the survey was a "push poll," meaning that the pollsters were trying to influence the outcome.

The pollster "was presenting it in as negative a light as he could without using negative words," said Tod DeBie, 42, who received a call from Tulchin Research on March 26. "He spent no time about why they're cutting, or the need to cut. Nothing that I would expect to come out of the mouth of someone who had an even view of it was said."

But Tulchin said his firm had no interest in swaying the results.

"I stand behind the numbers, and I'll let them show me their polling numbers that show them differently," Tulchin said. "You don't get a good reputation by spinning your numbers."

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