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    New signs of Westminster’s civic failure
    • July 12, 2023

    Westminster has for years struggled with a financial meltdown even as council members squabbled over political matters in the Vietnamese media and a proposed Vietnam War memorial – and verbally chastened one another from the dais. Even the possibility of bankruptcy didn’t stop the infighting.

    Residents bailed out City Council by voting overwhelmingly in November 2022 to extend the city’s “temporary” 1 percent sales tax until 2043. Tax supporters said the tax boost was needed to “prevent cuts to 911 emergency response, police, gang/drug prevention, firefighters, paramedics, emergency response equipment, disaster preparedness” and so forth.

    Unfortunately, council elections that year didn’t yield any significant change in approach. This Editorial Board complained that “none of the candidates running for mayor nor either of the open council seats has anything insightful to say about the city’s woes.” Some craziness has subsided, but the city now is turning to a fiscal gimmick to bolster its budget.

    City Council agreed last month to build two LED billboards along the 405 freeway. As VoiceofOC reports, Westminster is tapping a private firm to operate the signs, with promises of at least $63 million in advertising revenue over 30 years. The council meeting had little public debate, with details mostly hashed out during closed session. So who knows if those estimates are credible?

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    Critics say the signs will create blight and safety issues. The proposal was developed by staff, which was instructed to propose revenue sources when the council in May approved a “strategic plan.” During the May meeting, the city manager and council members sparred over transparency issues in choosing the vendor, but the council was happy with the final choice.

    This isn’t the worst idea in a city that’s home to 29 billboards. But it’s not the best one, either. Well-managed cities look closely at improving their basic functions by, say, reducing pension debt and outsourcing services – not coming up with quick-buck ideas to paper over systemic problems.

    As commuters drive past the bright LED ad messages, they should view the billboards as a sign of Westminster’s poor financial management.

    ​ Orange County Register