Even Santa Claus can’t dodge these tough economic times.
The Redondo Beach Police Officers’ Association announced last week that it has canceled Santa’s annual sleigh visits to neighborhoods because of the city’s budget cuts.
Sgt. Dave Taneman, president of the police union, said furloughs, pay cuts and a reduction in the force have reduced the number of officers available to volunteer in their free time.
“It takes at least five officers per night to put the sleigh out,” Taneman said.
The association said officers will instead hold two afternoon events in local parks where parents can bring children to see Santa.
In a statement, officers said they, along with the Redondo Beach Firefighters Association and residents, had volunteered their time for 20 years to chaperone Santa’s sleigh throughout the city each night between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“This year, however, because of the city’s ongoing budget cuts and concessions from the RBPOA, Santa will have to shorten his visit to Redondo Beach,” the association said.
Taneman said some officers have taken side jobs to make up for the loss in 6 percent pay cuts and furloughs. Some prefer to spend their time with their own families.
“We just can’t get the manpower to do it,” he said. “We know it affects the community and we apologize for that.”
The 18-night event requires about 1,500 hours, police said. In the past 20 years, the number of officers in the city has dropped from 106 to 90.
The sleigh visits, Taneman said, are paid for entirely by the association. Officers are not on the city’s clock.
“We do it because we do it for the community. I also play Santa when I can,” Taneman said. “I’m going to miss it, but I also understand I have to represent my membership. We just don’t have the numbers to mathematically do it.”
Officers said they will “continue the long-standing practice of bringing cheer to the families and children of our city” with two events set for 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Alta Vista Park baseball diamond, and 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Anderson Park baseball diamond.
Police officers said the Salvation Army will collect unwrapped toys and clothing for less fortunate children.
City Councilman Pat Aust, a former firefighter who participated in and supervised the Santa sleigh rounds in the past, said the officers’ decision was “understandable” because there are fewer on duty.
“I don’t think it’s a negative statement on their part,” Aust said. “The contract situation has been going on now for three years. We wouldn’t have been able to be in the place we are today having balanced our budget … without the help of the city employees. I think it’s just the reality of where we are in this economy.”
City Manager Bill Workman said the Santa program is run by the Police Officers’ Association and is not related to budget cuts.
“We are disappointed for the children in town who will miss seeing Santa’s special tradition in Redondo Beach, and we hope the police association would reconsider this year or renew the tradition next year,” Workman said.