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Battle Over San Diego City Outsourcing Heats Up Again


San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio delivered thousands of signatures to the city clerk yesterday. It was the opening salvo of an initiative campaign to make it easier for the private sector to bid on city contracts.

San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio delivered thousands of signatures to the city clerk yesterday. It was the opening salvo of an initiative campaign to make it easier for the private sector to bid on city contracts.

DeMaio arrived at city hall in a large white luxury bus and rallied supporters of his “Competition and Transparency in City Contracting” initiative, with shouts of “Competition works, competition works, let’s turn in these signatures, let’s change city hall.”

DeMaio’s initiative is born of frustration that a managed competition measure passed by voters in 2006 has made little headway in outsourcing city jobs. DeMaio argues taxpayers would save if the city subcontracted out services because competition would bring down costs.

But opponents say the initiative is deceptive because it doesn’t mention that it would eliminate the city’s hard- fought living wage.

At a dueling press conference, councilwoman Marti Emerald pointed out taxpayers might have to pick up the tab in social services if wages sink from the living wage of $13 an hour to the minimum wage of $8 or $ 6.50 an hour.

“How will these families survive?” she asked, “and how will the rest of us pick up the slack and pay for the safetynet that will be required to help carry these families? I tell you this is a boondoggle.”

Emerald said the measure is designed to increase profit margins for contractors, developers and big business interests.

But DeMaio is appealing to people who are tired of seeing city services cut. Earlier in the morning he stopped at Mission Beach.

“Something that is quintessentially in San Diegan -- the fire pits at the beach have come under threat of elimination,” he told his supporters, “because of our city’s budget woes, because our city government is incapable of coming up with the funds to clean the fire pits.”

Ted Brengel, Chair of Mira Mesa Town Council, is on board with DeMaio’s Initiative.

“The citizens of Mira Mesa, we have lost a lot of services for our people,” Brengel said.“ Our libraries are closed 36 percent of the time. At times like this it is vital that we get the most out of our city dollars that we can.”

DeMaio said San Diego’s living wage is simply out of line with market forces.

“San Diegans already know what the remedy is for our problems,” he said from behind a podium of filing boxes. “Good old fashioned competition, forcing city workers to compete against outside bidders, to find the cost savings, to cut the waste, to reform their pensions, to make sure their labor costs are in line with the local labor market.”

However, some, like Richard Lawrence of the Southeastern Economic Development Corporation, see other motivations at work.

“I support transparency and competition in awarding city contracts. Do I support this initiative?” he asked. “Absolutely not.”

Lawrence said the initiative does exactly the opposite of offering fair and open competition.

“Instead, it makes an end-run around the competitive bidding process,” he said, “with a new process called ‘direct outsourcing.’ There are no rules there are no standards. The initiative specifically leaves all policies. All policies and procedures up to the discretion of one person. That person is the mayor.”

Voters may have alternative initiatives to vote on in November. Jason Everett has formed the San Diego Middle Class Taxpayers Association. He said under DeMaio’s model, private contractors could reap big profits by cutting worker wages to rock bottom.

“I think San Diego’s middle class should have a voice to say we like better paying jobs for people doing middle class jobs. We don’t want a poverty class of workers, which is exactly what the contractors are hoping to get.”

Everett plans to present three ballot measures to a city committee later this week that he says would offer a fairer model of open competition.

At least voters have five months to figure out where they stand in this battle over how to spend public money to create jobs.

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