Sparring starts over proposed ballot measure on city contracts


Battle lines are being drawn in San Diego over a possible November ballot measure that supporters say would ensure competitive bidding for municipal contracts, but which opponents argue is deceptive and has hidden consequences.

Councilman Carl DeMaio plans to submit more than 138,000 signatures to the San Diego City Clerk’s Office on Monday to qualify his so-called “Competition and Transparency in City Contracting” measure for the November ballot.

Supporters need 96,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

The measure would make it easier for San Diego to outsource municipal services and essentially prohibit the city from entering into taxpayer-funded contracts that favor union labor. It would also require that contracts be posted online and mandate that elected officials disclose campaign contributions from contract bidders.

Opponents say the measure is misleading and would dismantle an ordinance approved by the City Council in 2005 requiring companies doing business with San Diego pay employees a “living wage.”

The law mandates that companies seeking city contracts pay their workers at least $11 an hour plus $2.20 an hour for health benefits, or $13.20 an hour without.

Councilwoman Donna Frye contends that supporters have deliberately concealed information that the measure would ban the city’s “living wage” ordinance, choosing instead to tout transparency in contracting.

“Let me tell you, I have read a lot of ballot initiatives in my time, and this one is about as transparent as a brick wall,” Frye said.

She pointed to a provision in the measure stating that the city shall not enter into any contract that requires employees receive compensation above state or federal minimum wage.

DeMaio argues the measure is needed because San Diego has been unable to implement the voter-approved managed competition program, which allows private companies to compete for work now performed by city employees.

“Our city government faces a massive budget deficit and we have seen our neighborhood services cut to unacceptable levels,” he said. “We could be saving millions each year through fair and open competitive bidding — something voters overwhelmingly approved with Prop C in 2006.’’

Implementation of managed competition has been stalled by San Diego’s employee labor unions through what’s called the “meet and confer” process. The unions aren’t happy with the rules the mayor’s office has proposed by which managed competition could be instituted, arguing that there is an un-level playing field.

Frye was joined at a news conference outside City Hall Thursday by fellow City Council members Marti Emerald and Todd Gloria, San Diego Unified School

District Board of Education President Richard Barrera and local clergy members

to speak out against the proposed ballot measure.

The news conference was organized by the Center on Policy Initiatives, a nonprofit think tank that advocates for San Diego workers.

Emerald called the proposed ballot measure a “boondoggle” that would “sell out the lowest paid workers in this city so that big business can make bigger profits.”