The San Clemente City Council adopted on Tuesday night, June 6, the city’s $138.3 million operating budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 with a last-minute adjustment.
Through a 4-1 vote, the council approved an amendment to the budget for a contract with Allied Universal Security Services worth up to $350,000 and lasting up to six months, to provide private security at North Beach and within the “T-Zone.”
Mayor Chris Duncan voted against the motion, citing a desire for a more permanent solution.
Councilmember Victor Cabral had initially proposed a yearlong contract costing $696,948, based on information provided in a previous May report from the Private Security Subcommittee comprising him and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock.
That proposal would have contracted four officers to work 12 hours each day. However, the council decided at the time to instead put roughly $1.4 million toward creating a new deputy position and hiring four new deputy sheriffs.
Councilmember Rick Loeffler reminded the council that it had considered bringing in security for more reasons than simply a response to a recent fight in the Pier Bowl involving several local teens and Marines from Camp Pendleton.
“We’ve got the summer starting now, and I just think that any gap that we can fill while we’re figuring the rest of that out is not bad money spent,” said Loeffler. “I agree with a long-term solution—and this is not it—but it might be a short-term Band-Aid.”
Before his motion, Cabral said the city had an obligation to protect San Clemente residents, especially as an increasing number had expressed to him and the council that they felt unsafe over recent weeks.
Those sentiments were undoubtedly impacted by the fight at the Pier Bowl on May 26, during which three Marines were reportedly assaulted by a group of teens. The investigation into the incident, which is ongoing, has so far led to the arrest of five minors.
Cabral said the city failed to protect all who were involved that night.
“The incident that took place at the pier just last week, I think, highlights the importance of better security for our city,” he said, adding: “What we need is security that’s there observing, defusing the situation before it becomes a national or international crisis as we’ve seen.”
He made sure to point out that he didn’t want to downplay the role of the deputy sheriffs in town, led by Chief of Police Services Capt. Jay Christian. The council’s vote in May to fund the hiring of four new officers to create one new position and a new patrol area, Cabral added, was emblematic of the council’s support.
Still, Cabral continued, the city needed private security to be on-site to record when things may get out of hand, and call deputies when necessary. He said the activity that led to the fight at the Pier Bowl would have been stopped early if security personnel had been present.
Loeffler said the city’s current situation, without having private security, was unsustainable.
“(The security) can patrol at North Beach, they can patrol at the Pier Bowl, wherever they’re needed; they can be the observers, they can be the deterrent, they’re going to be uniformed and in marked cars,” Loeffler said, adding: “Out of those 200 kids down at the beach, I’ll bet 175 of them would’ve been gone had there been a deterrent down there.”
He added he was pleased to hear the Orange County Fire Authority would receive roughly $200,000 less than initially projected, which the city could use to put toward paying for security.
Capt. Christian came up to the podium to address the council and answer questions, as Knoblock requested, but he was hesitant to fully endorse Cabral’s notion that private security would be beneficial.
“In my opinion, they’re going to be calling us when things get out of hand just like a citizen would call us,” Christian said. “Hopefully, we can have directed patrol down there doing proactive patrols (so) that we can squash the issue before it (escalates). Having that additional zone with the additional deputy there should help with that.”
He reiterated that even if a deputy was assigned to one location within the patrol area on a call, other deputies from other locations would take on a call for a different location in the area, if necessary.
After the council questioned Christian, Knoblock asked City Manager Andy Hall if he had information on the costs and possibility of hiring more park rangers to take on a similar role to what private security would do.
Hall said he hadn’t completed any analysis on the subject, adding that he thought it would take a few months to find staff to fulfill what would likely be two people working 12-hour shifts.
Hall said the city would need to find people with a different skill set than what park rangers are currently asked to do, including opening locked doors or being “ambassadors” to the people they come across. However, they would be another set of eyes and ears who could call on the police when necessary and provide feedback.
Loeffler said he liked the potential new model of having park rangers with enforcement capabilities, which would require a higher salary in his view, but said the private security was a good idea so it could bridge the new deputies’ arrival to the ramped-up park ranger program.
As Knoblock and Cabral discussed a transition period between private security and city personnel with citation authority, whether it be park rangers or just the new deputies, Cabral said he thought the contract with Allied Universal would include language saying the length was subject to change.
“I think we had guaranteed maybe three months … I think it’s going to take at least six months before we could even find the appropriate staff, train them, and get them able to write citations,” said Cabral. “This company has indicated to us they could probably do it in 30-plus days, which is still a long time, but it’s because of our delay that all this wasn’t done two months ago.”
Both Duncan and Councilmember Mark Enmeier expressed support for a long-term solution, with Duncan adding that he preferred having people with enforcement authority and who have to answer to the city, not a private company.
“It’s easy to think of solutions that may seem good in the short-term, but there’s a reason other cities aren’t doing this,” said Duncan, who stated he wouldn’t support the motion.
Cabral disputed the assertion that other cities or governmental entities don’t use private security, citing what he and Knoblock learned during their interviews with security companies as part of their subcommittee’s research.
Knoblock agreed with Cabral and Loeffler that an immediate need for help existed and asked Cabral if the motion could be altered to include a shorter-term contract. Cabral accepted the friendly amendment.
As for the FY 2023-24 budget itself, the total operating budget, excluding items such as the fund balance and capital outlay, is $138.3 million, up $4.3 million from last year.
General Fund revenues are projected at $79.64 million, a 1% increase from the FY 2022-23 adjusted budget. Money from taxes, including property tax ($43.3 million) and sales tax ($13.3 million), would comprise 80% of operating revenue.
Property and sales-tax revenue are projected to increase by 5% and 3%, respectively, although a decrease in funding from parking violation money and intergovernmental revenues factor into the small overall increase.
Transient occupancy tax revenue (TOT), which comes from a rate of 10% collected from all overnight lodging in San Clemente, is increasing by 18%. FY 2023-24 will also be the first year in which $1.1 million, or 33% of TOT revenue, will be allocated toward paying down the city’s unfunded pension liability, as was recently voted upon by the council.
Including one-time costs, the General Fund expenditures are budgeted to decrease by 6% from FY 2022-23 to $83.9 million.
Public safety again accounts for a significant part of expenses, including $21.1 million for law enforcement (or 25.2%) and $13.9 million for fire (16.5%), in addition to $20.9 million (24.9%) for public works.
The city specifically budgeted $19.6 million for its contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, as the official contract amount decreases, but labor negotiations may bring the number up again.
General Fund expenditures without one-time costs total roughly $79.5 million, leaving the city’s operating position with a slightly positive margin of $152,790.
The adopted budget kicks in on July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.