When Government Fails: The Orange County Bankruptcy

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When Orange County, California, filed for Chapter 9 protection on December 6, , it became the largest municipality in United States history to declare bankruptcy. By Mark Baldassare. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. When Orange County, California, filed for Chapter 9 protection on December 6, , it became the largest municipality in United States history to declare.

Berkeley: University of California Press, xvii, pp. Book Review. Baldassare, Mark. Other Authors.

When Government Fails The Orange County Bankruptcy.

Public Policy Institute of California. Trove: Find and get Australian resources. Books, images, historic newspapers, maps, archives and more. Orange County's Obligations and Allowed Claims Orange County's Lawsuits against Financial Institutions Direct Costs of the Bankruptcy Indirect Costs of the Bankruptcy State Legislation for County Treasurer Reform Events of Leading Up to the Bankruptcy A The Road to Bankruptcy Recovery A Legal Actions against County Officials A Reforming Local Government B Attitudes toward Local Government before the Bankruptcy B Ratings of Local Services, September B Perceived Impacts of the Bankruptcy, December C Political Fallout, January C Preferred Solutions, January C Perceptions of the Root Causes, January C Ratings of County Officials, April 1 C Perceived Impacts of the Bankruptcy, April C Perceived Impacts of the Bankruptcy, June C When Government Fails: The Orange County Bankruptcy by Mark Baldassare is a compelling account of how voters' fiscal conservatism and the pressure for high-quality public services came into conflict.

This story is being played out in numerous local governments throughout California and, increasingly, throughout America. As California legislators and administrators at the city and county levels struggle with severe restrictions on their ability to raise local revenues, recently tightened by the passage of Proposition , the temptation to search for "creative solutions" will only intensify. Orange County's creative solution was dramatic, short-lived, and riskya gamble with the taxpayers' money and trust. Like most gambles with the public trust, it did not pay off.

Mark Baldassare joined the Public Policy Institute of California PPIC as a visiting fellow with a commitment to analyze what had happened in Orange County and to place that experience in the broader context of changing local government in California. He is uniquely positioned to carry out such a study, given his many years as a recognized scholar on suburban America and his thorough knowledge of Orange County gained from his experience as director of the highly regarded Orange County Annual Survey.

When PPIC was launched in mid, state and local governance was the subject most frequently cited as worthy of immediate attention. This analysis of the Orange County bankruptcy is especially satisfying in that it meets three of our initial criteria for establishing a research agenda. First, the topic is of long-term significance, but the findings are also timely and relevant to the ongoing debate.

Second, a whole chapter is devoted to practical recommendations of immediate use at the county and state levels. And third, PPIC was able to support someone who had substantial knowledge of the subject before embarking on the project. This represented both an efficient use of PPIC resources and an opportunity for a scholar to take on a subject that might otherwise not have been his highest priority.


This book represents one of many studies now under way at PPIC addressing the financial future of state and local government in California. Much has been written about the implications of the fiscal limitation movement, but the documentation and analysis needed to provide an understanding of what is happening are still rather thin.

PPIC was created by its cofounders, Roger Heyns and William Hewlett, for the specific purpose of providing the numbers, analysis, and talent needed to improve our knowledge of issues such as the one addressed in this bookthe management of local government in an atmosphere of long-term fiscal retrenchment. We trust that its findings and recommendations will be a well-received and constructive contribution.

David W. This project would never have been possible without financial support, research assistance, and encouragement from a variety of people and institutions. The institute provided me with partial funding for a sabbatical from teaching, an office and library, and administrative support. I am very grateful to David Lyon, the president, for his belief in the importance of this project and for all of his words of encouragement along the way.

I benefited from the many experts on the state's population, governance, and the economy on site.

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I received valuable comments about the book during a roundtable discussion that was held at the Public Policy Institute of California on March 7, I appreciate the careful reading and editing of the copy-edited manuscript by Arabella Cureton. Berkeley during my sabbatical year.

They provided me with a steady stream of books, government reports, articles, and news clips on the bankruptcy. I had a number of conversations with Terry while working on this project.

He provided me with his earlier papers and shared his ideas. His writings have influenced my thoughts about the governance issues that are evident in the Orange County bankruptcy, especially the role of New Fiscal Populists and state fiscal austerity.

When Government Fails: The Orange County Bankruptcy by Mark Baldassare (Paperback, 1998)

The University of California at Irvine allowed me to take a nine-month sabbatical leave from my duties as chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. I am grateful to Dan Stokols for his continuing support of my research endeavors and to several department colleagues. I received library and research assistance from Christine Maher and Mandy Krawitz in our department staff. I could not have written this book without the background information from the U. Irvine Orange County Annual Survey. I am appreciative of the financial support that I received from the University of California at Irvine and the many local corporations, foundations, and government agencies that helped to fund this study.

The Orange County Annual Survey is a random telephone survey of 1, households that I have directed each year since This ongoing project on political, social, and economic trends has played a major role in my developing knowledge and ideas about the Orange County region and U. Shortly after I arrived in Orange County in , it became obvious to me that Orange County was a trend-setting suburb and that my time and energy as an urban scholar should be directed toward monitoring the trends in public opinion, demographics, and governance in this region.

I had no idea that the books, papers, and reports from this project would one day make a major contribution to understanding the worst municipal bankruptcy in modern U. I talked to many of these community leaders on a regular basis during the crisis and interviewed some in the summer of , after the county exited from bankruptcy. Much useful information and many interesting insights were offered in their behind-the-scenes accounts.

They took a great deal of time off from their busy schedules to talk to me and gather documents that could contribute knowledge for this book. The primary motivation for most of these individuals was to pass along to others what they had learned from the financial crisis.

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I thank these local leaders for transferring the trust they had in me as a local public opinion expert to the very different domain of an independent scholar writing a book about a delicate and controversial local issue. Several people close to the bankruptcy were so kind as to offer their files, notes, news clips, press releases, and reports. I also received useful information from Dr. These news surveys provide a record of public opinion from December to November that is integral to this book.

I wish to thank Carol Stogsdill, senior editor, for allowing me to conduct these polls. Martin Baron, the Orange County editor, provided many good ideas about survey questions and gave me considerable freedom in the survey design. Marty Baron also loaned me all of the transcripts from the Orange County grand jury investigation of the financial crisis, which are an important source of information about the causes and initial responses to the bankruptcy.

Michael Fried provided me with demographic trends during the financial crisis. Elliott Blair Smith shared with me some of the knowledge he had gained in covering the bankruptcy. I would like to thank Cheryl Katz for her assistance at every stage of this project. Cheryl also provided some library research for relevant books and journal articles and a search for newspaper articles on the bankruptcy.

She also offered suggestions on how to conduct the in-depth interviews, was a good listener throughout the project, and provided honest feedback and advice after reading the manuscript. Our children, Benjamin and Daniel, motivated me with their curiosity about all of the time I was devoting to writing and to my daily progress. I hope they will someday read this book and find lessons for life in these pages.

Municipal bankruptcies are rare events that generally occur only in rural places. Large cities had always sidestepped bankruptcies when their state governments came to the rescue. On that date in December , the fifth most populous county in the United States, a suburban region with two and a half million residents, began an odyssey that may well rewrite the books on local fiscal crises in the United States.

This Southern California county, in between Los Angeles and San Diego, is best known as the home of Disneyland and the rich and famous who live in its million-dollar ''Gold Coast" homes. It is also the unofficial capital of Republican politics, claiming Richard Nixon as a native son and electing a string of outspoken conservatives to Congress. A municipal bankruptcy was a shocking turn of events for a county with a national reputation for its affluent residents and conservative politicians.

When Government Fails provides a comprehensive analysis of the Orange County bankruptcy.

When Government Fails : The Orange County Bankruptcy

This introductory chapter presents a framework for understanding the unique nature and outcome of this fi-nancial crisis. The chapters that follow delve into the underlying causes of the fiscal catastrophe. We then follow the dramatic story from the events that led up to the bankruptcy, through the local officials' response to the fiscal emergency and the road to recovery, to the local government reforms implemented in response to the crisis.

The Orange County government backed into a massive financial crisis in a most unusual manner. Citron had a track record of providing high-interest income to his local government investors. He boasted, "We have perfected the reverse repo procedure to new levels. Then he borrowed more money with the borrowed money.