Community Commentary: Incident is about union's dislike for me

Editor's note: This corrects the date and number of commuters in the first paragraph.

At 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16, 3,200 commuters sat in an unnecessary traffic jam because the Costa Mesa Police Department decided to run a sobriety check point at a primary intersection to the off-ramps of the San Diego (405) Freeway at Harbor Boulevard.

I was one of those frustrated folks trying to get home, or in my case, the Estancia High School football game. Most concerning to me was the safety of drivers slamming on their brakes on the Harbor off ramp.

It reminds me of the California Department of Transportation running a sweeper train during rush hour — it's poor judgment and lacks common sense.

I decided to ask some difficult questions of the officers conducting this ill-advised check point. They are not used to citizens questioning their authority, which I think is a healthy thing to do.

My concern for the public's safety has become a political toy for our police union.

You see, the police union doesn't like me. I challenge them. I publicly talk about their huge pensions that are bankrupting our state. Since this incident I have been attacked by the Costa Mesa police union president, Alan Rieckhof.

I have received dozens of calls and e-mails from people who were tied up in the traffic jam. They witnessed near-collisions of automobiles, which had to lock up their brakes to avoid rear-ending cars that were backed up onto the off-ramps and freeway.

Rieckhof knows this issue is about salary and benefits. If former police Chief Dave Snowden had pulled over to question a DUI checkpoint at rush hour next to the freeway, do you think we would be having this conversation?

Would Rieckhof have orchestrated a bunch of cops at last week's council meeting to speak out against me?


I have a meeting scheduled Monday morning with police Chief Chris Shawkey and City Manager Alan Roeder. I am sure that the three of us can find a solution for when and where to place DUI checkpoints that are both safe and productive. Coordinating with the traffic and engineering department would be a good first step. I support DUI check points, but we need to make sure they do not unnecessarily create unsafe road conditions

I have a great appreciation for all of our police and firefighters. I grew up in a law enforcement family. My father is a retired deputy sheriff, and my brother is a police officer. I know the tough job they have and dangerous work they do, for which we are all grateful.

The city has not released the latest figures, but in 2008, our average police officer had total earnings, not including pension, of $130,888.18. Plus the citizens of Costa Mesa pay on average $43,509.62 into each officer's pension account annually.

The union members do not contribute $1 toward their pension. The citizens pay 100%.

Someone must have been drunk when they negotiated Costa Mesa's pension deal. They get to retire as early as age 50 at 98% of their highest salary. Costa Mesa taxpayer's pay 100% of their retirement. I'm sure your employer does the same for you … right?

It is not just the police officers. Of the 100 employees at the Fire Department, 60 had a total compensation packages in excess of $180,000. Six of those exceed $250,000.

Go to www. and click on the CalPers $100,000 Pension Club, select Costa Mesa and see that Costa Mesa already has 44 members who have retired on more than $100,000 per year. Deputy Fire Chief Keith Jones, who retired recently, has the highest retirement at $182,528.52 per year.

Here is the bottom line. This is not about a DUI checkpoint. It's about the public employee benefits and overtime and out-of-control pensions. Every dollar that is spent on unsustainable salaries and pensions is a dollar taken from our city's responsibilities.

The city just cut $140,000 of funding to seven Costa Mesa elementary schools, causing them to drop the city's Recreation On Campus for Kids after School program (ROCKS). This program has been successful in keeping kids out of trouble.

In the end, the City Council and the police union need to come to an agreement as adults that we can afford. We cannot continue to defer maintenance on our roads, parks and school facilities because all of our revenue gets sucked up by ever-increasing pay and pension benefits. I'm sure if we all work together, over time, we can straighten out this fiscal mess we have gotten ourselves into.

JIM RIGHEIMER is chairman of Costa Mesa's Planning Commission and a former Daily Pilot columnist.

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