The San Clemente City Council, facing a fiery public comments session during a special meeting where several of the 12 speakers expressed frustration with council inaction over the city’s contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), unanimously approved the $16.3 million contract.
“Everyone knows police presence deters crime and that we are grossly understaffed with sheriffs in this town, now more than ever,” Aimee Berberet, a San Clemente resident, told the Council. “Please do whatever it takes to get us more police protection, and that means making sacrifices and cutting the fat at the top.”
Council members were originally scheduled to approve the contract June 18, but failed because of lack of a quorum. Instead, they unanimously approved the contract Wednesday, June 26, at an abruptly-scheduled special meeting.
San Clemente doesn’t have it’s own police department and contracts with the Sheriff for law enforcement services.
The council also agreed to look at any savings from this year as potential funding for increased law enforcement, despite residents pressuring members to make budget cuts to fund more sheriff’s deputies in the upcoming year.
“What’s important is we have [the] sheriff. Asking department members whether they can find cuts is like asking a child, ‘Will you give up ice cream one day a week?’ Of course they’re going to say ‘no’ unless you demand it,” Brad Malamud, a San Clemente resident told the council. “I think that this council has to gain some common sense. You’re our leaders. You need to take that leadership role.”
If council members had failed to approve a 2019-20 Sheriff contract, it may have resulted in San Clemente going without law enforcement services as of July 1.
Residents sounded their frustration with council’s early adjournment June 18, which happened after Councilwoman Kathy Ward walked off the dais while Councilwoman Laura Ferguson was making a motion. Council Member Chris Hamm left the meeting before discussion on the contract.
“Last week was an embarrassment to our town. I’m here to talk about how we govern, I’m here to talk to all four of you, [and tell you] that you need to get together and govern,” said Don Brown, a San Clemente resident. “That’s what you’re elected for…When you come up to that dais, you will govern based on facts.”
Ferguson’s motion was to direct staff to research more ways to fund city law enforcement by the fall. Her motion included the approval of the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Department.
“You [Ferguson] certainly have the right to [make your motion]. But I also have the right to ask you as a colleague of yours, that if you’re going to do something that is so drastic and against what the full council wanted, that you wait for a full council,” Ward said. “You didn’t do that. You just wanted to make your motion, so I chose not to participate. It’s what I had to do.”
Ward’s absence forced the meeting to adjourn early, cutting short public comments and leaving the city without an OCSD contract for the upcoming year. The council has four members and three are needed for a quorum.
The 2019-20 contract includes $442,000 to fund two additional patrol deputies and a patrol vehicle, as well as a crime prevention specialist, according to the contract and city staff report. San Clemente’s current contract with the Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement services for the city, ends June 30.
The special meeting was scheduled two days after San Clemente received a letter from Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes June 19, which notified the city that if a 2019-20 contract was not approved by the 2018-19 contract’s end date, the Sheriff’s Department was under no legal obligation to continue services after July 1.
In his letter, Barnes said OCSD staff will assess how many sheriff’s deputies are needed in San Clemente. The research will be presented to city staff by the end of the year. Council members agreed to hold off on independently researching budget cuts in favor of waiting for the Sheriff’s Department report.
Miranda Andrade is a Voice of OC reporting intern and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.