Huntington's helicopter will patrol Costa Mesa

COSTA MESA — Costa Mesa residents will still have a police helicopter overhead after July 1, thanks to a deal with neighboring Huntington Beach.

The City Council voted 3 to 2 Tuesday to contract with the Huntington Beach Police Department so that Surf City's helicopter can respond to Costa Mesa calls for $700 an hour through Dec. 31. Council members Wendy Leece and Steve Mensinger dissented.

Since the council voted in February to dissolve AirBorne Law Enforcement (ABLE), which it shares with Newport Beach, the program's commanders had searched for a way to keep police aerial coverage aloft.

ABLE's helicopters cost about $1,800 an hour to operate.

Aid from Huntington Beach gives ABLE commanders more time to find a permanent solution. The city is exploring partnerships with the private sector to provide air coverage.

The city's contract with Huntington Beach will not exceed $150,000. Residents and council members alike were skeptical of the deal because the details — such as when the helicopter would be in Costa Mesa — have yet to be worked out.

The presumption is the city will use the helicopter on an as-needed basis, similar to how Santa Ana used ABLE's helicopter before the program was set to dissolve. Newport Beach is pursuing its own partnership with Huntington Beach as well.

Costa Mesa can start to sell ABLE equipment July 1, the day after the program ends, but can't officially execute the sale until October. Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley told the council that the city likely wouldn't offload the equipment until next spring anyway.

"There's not a huge market for police helicopters," he said.

The Huntington Beach deal makes economic sense, Mayor Gary Monahan said.

Leece argued Tuesday that residents will be less safe with Huntington Beach because the pilots aren't familiar with the area and its helicopter won't be regularly patrolling Costa Mesa.

Mensinger pointed out that ABLE helicopters are only in the air for five hours a day and called her argument disingenuous.

"In the end, we're talking about balancing a budget and everybody keeps forgetting we're trying to figure out how to balance a budget and not lay off people," Mensinger said.

Though the city has approved outsourcing up to about 40% of the city's workforce as part of a broad austerity program, more jobs could go if the city had to continue funding the expensive ABLE service, he said.

In the end Mensinger also opposed the deal, indicating that he was open to continuing ABLE for another three months while the city tried to find a private partner.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer rejected a suggestion from Mensinger to continue ABLE through the Fourth of July weekend, when fireworks are permitted to be set off, starting July 2.

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