Putting the P-U in Public/Private Partnerships

Illustration by Bob AulA few Orange Countians still blindly adhere to the notion that “government should be run more like a business.” Thus do we have a city (Huntington Beach) that proudly boasts a corporate sponsor (Coca-Cola); a municipal bankruptcy—and a bankruptcy solution—overseen by a cadre of foolish politicians and greedy Wall Street analysts; private developers who slurp up corporate welfare as they play kingmakers to said foolish politicians, who are bent on killing social welfare to free up taxpayer funds for more corporate welfare.

So it should surprise no one that Representative Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) played the privatization card last week in the debate over the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Rather than allow the county to continue planning a scary, noisy, stinky international airport for the base the Marines surrendered on July 2, Cox wants the Navy to sell the land to a private company so that it may plan a scary, noisy, stinky international airport there.

Cox says the sale is necessary to swipe airport planning away from a county government nobody trusts—as if putting a profit-driven company at the helm would democratize airport planning.

Clockwork has heard that like-a-good-neighbor crap about business before, and we have four words for you: Lincoln Savings and Loan. And it's not as if Cox has kept the concerns of consumers in mind—ever. One of his main missions in Congress has been to stop regular folks from suing corporations for wrongdoing.

Imagine: a Christopher Cox International Airport that cannot be held accountable to voters and is liability-proof to boot. It would be the perfect hub for a resurrected ValuJet Airlines.

The other thing that got our public/private mojo working last week was the news that the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) board has green-lighted a plan to refinance the ostensibly private $1.75 billion Foothill/Eastern toll roads project. Why? Because ridership will reportedly be 22 percent less than originally forecast over the next 40 years, resulting in 43 percent less revenue. The time over which motorists must pay tolls will be extended up to five years—to 2040—under the plan.

According to the Times Orange County, TCA board members actually praised the lowered figures. Yeah, that happens all the time in corporate boardrooms. “Gosh, mammoth stockholders, we don't know what we were smoking when we cooked up that first set of numbers, but you'll be earning 43 percent less than we told you and serving 22 percent fewer customers. But we'll play with the math, and everything will be peachy again. Honest.”

If the TCA were truly run like a business, heads would be rolling like Michelins down Santa Ana's Flower Street about now.

Of course, a constant theme in the Weekly has been that toll-road ridership and revenue figures have always been much too optimistic. You can imagine what a trip it was for us to hear the same toll-road officials who once pooh-poohed our stories eating their words like stoners at a Shakey's Bunch-a-Lunch. Even more bizarre was the agencies' excuse for the shortfalls: according to The Orange County Register, they failed to account for the state's 1990-94 recession when they made their projections in 1995.

Who are these people? The Reagan administration? They're either gross liars or gross incompetents. Or both.

But Clockwork has never been one to name call. We offer solutions. We're glass-half-full types. Team players. Our Bucks for Bucks Campaign would allow the TCA to recoup lost revenues by simply canning and peddling venison from the deer carcasses that litter the tollways. And nothing goes better with canned venison than a hot cup of Diedrich Coffee—which you get free when you redeem your toll-road voucher. See details in your Sunday Times.

Public/private partnerships work, people!

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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