MAYWOOD, CA - JUNE 23: A damaged police car is seen in a body shop yard on June 23, 2010 in Maywood, California. Facing a $450,000 budget deficit, the Maywood City Council approved the most drastic action yet of any California city to wrest control of its fiscal crisis by firing all its employees, disbanding its police department and contracting out its entire municipal operations to a neighboring city. County sheriffs will replace Maywood police officers but council members will remain on the payroll to set policy. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
The big local government news in California this week? The decision by the small city of Maywood, in Los Angeles County, to fire nearly all its workers and contract out for services with its neighbors. In most quarters, Maywood's decision was seen as more bad news -- an example of the fiscal pressures that California cities are under in these times.
Here's another perspective: the effective shutdown of Maywood's city government is good news -- and should be a model for strapped local governments around the state. California simply has too many local governments -- there are literally thousands -- that serve no useful purpose. It's not just all the cities and towns, but the variety of special districts, water districts and other entities that duplicate efforts and make it difficult for citizens to know who's in charge, and hold those in charge accountable.
Maywood is one of 88 cities in Los Angeles alone -- a municipal diversity that has long served little purpose other than to let irresponsible businesses play off cities against each other (and to let criminal enterprises jump back and forth across jurisdictions, a favorite tactic of the infamous LA gangster Mickey Cohen).
California's local governments do need, as has been argued here, more control over taxation and spending. But the state also could use many fewer local governments. There has been a fair amount of conversation in California over the last century of consolidating local governments, but politically, it has proven just too difficult. Perhaps one benefit of the Great Recession -- and the California budget crisis -- may be a real effort at consolidation. Let's hope Maywood is only the first to go.