In a shortsighted and ill-considered party-line vote, the California Assembly recently adopted resolution HR29 urging lawmakers to resist contracting out for public services.

While nonbinding, the resolution states that, as a policy matter, the Assembly " ... opposes outsourcing of public services and assets ... " in California.

According to author Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, the measure is needed because "outsourcing has left taxpayers without transparency or accountability to where the taxpayer money is being used."

HR29 represents a real and significant threat to California's cities and, by extension, to its residents. That's because just about every city in the state now contracts with private-sector companies for some or many of the services it delivers to its residents.

Some communities outsource for big budget items including portions of police, fire protection, and emergency medical services; others employ private vendors to provide special services, and in many cities contractors deliver everything from tree-trimming to traffic signal repair, from legal advice to architectural services, and from Web design to computer repairs.

Some cities even outsource their library services to private, for-profit companies.

Cities do this because it allows them to benefit from special experts, capitalize on shared resources and capture economies of scale. Lafayette, for example, contracts with the county sheriff for police services and, by doing so, has access to a SWAT team, a bomb squad, a crime lab, helicopters and other specialty equipment.


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Without the contract, none of these services would be affordable or available to our small city.

Contracting also saves money because, as we all know, competitive bidding drives down prices.

Lafayette has, on several occasions, compared its cost of service delivery to similarly sized cities that contract for fewer services than we do, and concluded, every time, that we save thousands of taxpayer dollars annually because we contract for most of our services.

At a time when local government budgets are collapsing under the weight of onerous pension obligations and California's municipalities are under tremendous pressure to deliver services more efficiently, the last thing cities need are impediments, dictated on high from Sacramento, to delivering quality, cost-effective service.

HR29 is antithetical to efficiency. If converted into legislation -- and that clearly seems to be the direction this is heading -- the state would put roadblocks between cities and the many public- and private-sector vendors that provide critical municipal services.

Costs would rise, service levels would drop and taxpayers would pay more.

The Assembly's vote on this measure was a vote to tie the hands of local leaders and to promote inefficient government. There are better ways to improve outsourcing than what the Assembly approved.

If you agree, drop an email to or call your state legislators and let them know how you feel.

Don Tatzin is the mayor of Lafayette. Steven Falk is the city manager of Lafayette.