Costa Mesa City Council Chambers are filled to capacity as city officials prepare to vote on outsourcing city services in March 2011.

Costa Mesa City Council Chambers are filled to capacity as city officials prepare to vote on outsourcing city services in March 2011. (DON LEACH / March 1, 2011)

An Orange County city that found itself in the eye of a political firestorm after it explored whether to lay off nearly half of its workforce and replace it with private-sector employees is one step closer to repairing a fissure between workers and elected officials.

Superior Court Judge Luis A. Rodriguez terminated an 18-month-old court order blocking Costa Mesa from outsourcing some of its services. The injunction took effect not long after an organized labor group, the Costa Mesa Employees Assn., sued the city to block some 200 layoff notices.

Attorneys for the employees argued that the city didn’t go through the proper legal steps to outsource and didn’t meet with employee groups before issuing the layoff notices, per their contracts.

Even before the judge's decision, the outsourcing battle had been winding down. The city at first targeted about 200 employees in March 2011, a number that declined to 70 in December, when a post-election City Council agreed to nix the pink slips.

“When the last of the layoff notices were rescinded on Dec. 19, the city had asked the (employee association) to drop its lawsuit, which sought to prevent the outsourcing and related layoffs,” the city stated in a news release Friday. “The association has not dropped the suit.”

That lawsuit is in the hands of lawyers and city workers, said Jennifer Muir, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., which represents Costa Mesa's non-public safety employees.

“We hope that the work gets done quickly,” she said, adding that the associations “hope to get back to the table to begin working with the city immediately on a number of issues.”

Outsourcing, which resulted in national attention for Costa Mesa, may not be off the table.

In December, Mayor Jim Righeimer said he’s still interested in pursuing outsourcing for some city divisions, such as the jail, payroll, park maintenance and street-sweeping services.

-- Jeremiah Dobruck and Bradley Zint, Daily Pilot