Costa Mesa continues outsourcing efforts

The Costa Mesa City Council will consider Tuesday whether to outsource five city services, more than a year since the wheels were first set in motion amid furious protests from city workers and local activists.

City staff are recommending Costa Mesa outsource its jail services and street sweeping but keep its animal control, building inspections and video production in-house.

Staff recommend that the city contract with G4S Secure Solutions, a worldwide company owned by Danish security firm Group 4 Falck. According to the city staff report, the city ignored an unofficial offer to partner with Newport Beach for jail services and picked G4S over one other private bidder.

The company's proposal could save Costa Mesa more than $600,000 annually in the long run, but in the short term it would be about $410,000 because the city would likely have to keep a police sergeant on staff for the first year to oversee the transition to the firm.

G4S has more than 45,000 employees and earns more than $2.5 billion annually. The city staff notes, among other things, that the company's decades of experience in providing private security, its work with federal immigration authorities and its labor costs make it the ideal choice.

The company does have marks on its reputation, however. A newspaper in Birmingham, England, last October reported that the staff there lost the key to one of the jail cells, and a February 2011 report by the Center for Media and Democracy reported misconduct by Wackenhut Security — G4S' former name — while guarding an American embassy in Afghanistan.

In 2010, an Angolan asylum seeker died while in G4S custody as he was being deported on a British Airways flight.

G4S would accept millions in liability if it contracts with Costa Mesa, according to the proposed contract.

The council is also expected to agree to contract out its street sweeping. The city received more than half a dozen bids for the work and staff suggested signing on with Athens Services, a family-owned company that provides street sweeping for Newport Beach and Lake Forest, among other municipalities.

The shift to privatization could generate $10,000 to $20,000 annually by parking Athens Services' equipment on city property and save the city almost $90,000 annually in lowered costs. Costa Mesa would still need a dedicated supervisor to manage the contract, which would lower the savings between $12,000 and $30,000, staff estimated.

Shifting the work away from city workers would also free up over-worked staff. Since Costa Mesa's belt-tightening began more than two years ago with the recession, maintenance workers have seen their staffing reduced through attrition but their work levels stay the same. With outsourced street sweeping, two full-time employees could go back to their respective assignments in other divisions, according to the staff report.

City staff recommended that the city keep its video production — with its growing list of responsibilities, like the daily "Costa Mesa Minute" video segment — in-house, along with building inspection, which has been converted to a half-city worker, half-contract worker model.

A bid from Orange County Animal Care found that Costa Mesa provides the same services for less.

After reviewing OCAC's bid, the city may explore ways to increase dog licensing to boost revenue, the report suggested.

No matter what the council decides Tuesday, nothing will immediately change for city workers. Since last March, many have been receiving intermittent notices that their jobs may be outsourced in the next six months. After the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. sued last May, a judge issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the city from replacing any of association's employees with a private employee.

The city will argue to the state Court of Appeal in Santa Ana later this month why it feels that injunction should be lifted. If Costa Mesa is not successful, it may have to wait until the conclusion of the lawsuit, which won't be until August at the earliest.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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