In Escondido, CA, residents will have the chance to vote on whether or not to become a “charter city” via Proposition P in November. A majority of the members of the Escondido city council claim the move is necessary to save money but the electorate isn’t wholly taking their word for it. Escondido resident Chris Nava supplied his opinion on the matter to the North County Times. He points out that the prevailing wage, which charter city status aims to undermine, will still apply to a majority of construction projects:
What they do not spell out is that the prevailing wage exemption applies only to locally funded projects where no state or federal monies are used (Senate Bill 922). These are few and represent only a small portion of the budget.
The city has provided a capital projects list which City Manager Clay Phillips claims will save more than $16 million on $163 million in planned projects in coming years if the city does not pay prevailing wages.
The difficulty is that it is only a “wish list” of projects for which there is little or no money. There are also discrepancies in the eligibility of the projects listed. Take, for example, the undercrossings at Ash Street. The city’s own CIP 2011/12 (p. 26 and 73) identifies the funding source as TN/TDA —- codes for TransNet and Transportation Development Act State Grants. The city covered $250,000, the rest was state grant money, which requires that prevailing wages be paid. The city has failed to prove the claimed savings. How is it possible to claim savings on a “wish list” and for which funds not available? It’s like saying that I saved $1 million because I didn’t buy that mansion on the beach
As Nava notes, the devil is in the details here and upon detailed inspection Proposition P is a poorly written, ideologically driven measure. This, coupled with what he views as the city council’s poor track record, result in Nava’s strong opposition to Prop. P:
Voters should also be aware that Prop. P is poorly written. The language disregards citizen input. The Citizens Committee Against Prop. P considers the proposition a power grab by a council whose track record in decision-making has cost the city dearly.
The proponents argue that state regulations are onerous and costly. Which specific regulations? What specific costs? Why would we want to give this council, and future councils, power without state supervision?
The devil is in the details not spelled out, and there are many. The city has not proven the savings. Escondido has operated as a general law city since its inception. There is no need to change now. Giving more power to a council that has a legacy of bad decisions is wrong for Escondido. Vote No on Prop P.
A week earlier, Escondido Resident Nova Morgan had similar criticisms and suggested that a lack of oversight often causes charter cities to fall prey to corruption:
Becoming a charter city would strip fiscal rules that general law cities are required to follow. Charter cities have more flexibility in how to invest revenue, need not balance their budgets and can incur deficit spending that carries over year after year. The city did nothing to correct potential abuses in writing their new charter before it was pushed out to voters.
If Escondido becomes a charter city, it can solicit bids with no obligation to choose the lowest bidder, a blatant invitation to corruption that can end up costing Escondido taxpayers millions of dollars, especially on large projects.
As we wrote in August, a Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury report found that many charter cities lack strategic planning and have spotty financial controls which often leads to imbalanced budgets, bankruptcy, and scandal.