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In this blog I and multiple commenters have broached the subject of the suspect constitutionality of PSPRS' replacement of the old perma...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Will PSPRS members see their future engineered by Silicon Valley?

Here is an interesting way one city provides public safety services to its residents:

Sunnyvale Public Safety Officers Fight Both Fires and Crime

According to US Census Bureau estimates, the source for all data unless stated otherwise, the city of Sunnyvale had a 2011 population of 142,299.  By comparison, Phoenix had a population of 1,469,484 and Tucson, 525,798.  The 2011 estimated median household income in Sunnyvale is $93,836; Phoenix's is $43,960, and Tucson's is $35,362.  The CQ Press 2011-12 list of the safest cities, based on crime rate, ranked Sunnyvale as 37th safest with Phoenix 271st and Tucson 305th.  Flint, Michigan was the least safe at number 405.  According to Zillow's Home Value Index (HVI), the median valuation of a home in Sunnyvale is $823,700: Phoenix's HVI is $123,900, and Tucson's HVI is $114,500.  From just this data showing relatively small population, high income, low crime, and high home prices, combined with a Silicon Valley economy, we can see that Sunnyvale has major advantages over Arizona's two largest cities.  Sunnyvale has been using this combined police/fire model for decades and has apparently made it work well enough that it is getting more publicity about its unique approach.

I do not think that this public safety model could ever work in Phoenix or Tucson, but it may be possible in some smaller Arizona communities with lower crime rates and lower fire and EMS call loads.  However, the real significance of this model is that it is coming out a city like Sunnyvale.  Sunnyvale is hardly a bastion of Tea Party "radicals" attempting to shrink city government and outsource every service possible.  According to Wikipedia, in 2009 there were 25,677 registered Democrats, 18,073 independents, and only 12,716 registered Republicans.   All of Sunnyvale's state and federal legislators are Democrat.  Sunnyvale is part of Santa Clara County, where Barack Obama received 70% of the 2012 presidential vote and Jerry Brown won 61% of the 2010 gubernatorial vote.

Sunnyvale borders another heavily Democratic city, San Jose, which approved a pension reform initiative in June 2012.  Measure B, which passed 69% to 31%, gives city workers the option of switching to a new plan with lower benefits or maintaining their current plan with greatly increased contributions.  This basically told city workers that their pension is going broke, and employees are going to help pay to fix it with either decreased retirement benefits or lower paychecks.  Measure B is, of course, being challenged in court, but it is a landmark measure, not only because it attempts to change benefits for current employees, but because it passed so easily in what most would consider a liberal, well-to-do community.  Even more conservative San Diego's successful 2012 pension reform initiative mostly affected new hires only.

So what does this mean for Arizona's public safety employees?  California, unfortunately, is often a bellwether for the rest of the country.  Arizona is a right-to-work state with more a conservative population than California, so any successful ways to cut costs in the delivery of public safety services will meet with more serious consideration here than in a lot of other states.  More importantly, the ease with which San Jose's pension reform passed showed that there is a limit to what city residents, even progressive ones, will tolerate in paying for public pensions.  If San Jose's pension reforms are upheld in court, we will most likely see more reforms like Measure B spread across California.  And if it can work in liberal California, why not in more conservative Arizona?

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