Eds Note: The City of Escondido is at the epicenter of a power struggle focused on the future direction of the North County. After losing a battle to have city council members elected by district (which opens up the possibility of fair representation for the Latino population), the right-wing is seeking to make Escondido a charter city and thus exempt from California’s prevailing wage statutes.
After listening to eight residents who urged citizen input into any charter proposal, and after sparring with Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz over the need for a charter, Mayor Sam Abed instructed city staff January 15 to lay the groundwork for placing a charter proposal before Escondido voters in November 2014.
Abed dismissed suggestions that the city create a charter commission or committee to allow a document that reflected the needs and desires of residents. “A commission would derail the process and have a different charter than the Council majority wants,” he said. “It is our constitutional right to do it (bring forward a charter) and we’re going to exercise it.”
The staff proposal presented to the Council called for public hearings April 9 and May 21 (state law requires two public hearings), with final language being approved June 18 and being sent to the Registrar of Voters June 20, 2014. As he wrapped up, Abed seemed to instruct staff to add a “workshop” to that schedule to increase public input, but was otherwise not diverted from his path. “I want home rule. I want independence from the state. We want to protect our city,” he emphasized.
Escondido voters defeated a 2012 charter proposal by 53 to 47 percent. Abed said his primary motivation for that charter was to save money by escaping prevailing wages. Senate Bill 7, passed in October 2013, prohibits a city from receiving state funding if it has a charter provision or ordinance that avoids paying prevailing wages on construction projects. The issue is expected to be litigated. Abed agreed that the prevailing wage clause would be removed from the new charter proposal, but said he wants a “very basic charter” much like the 2012 version, without prevailing wage or project labor agreement language. The previous charter also contained language about district elections, which is now unnecessary because a court has ordered districts and they have been created. Read the 2012 charter language.
Diaz said her first choice was “not to take this issue on.” “It is not clear there would be any savings and there really isn’t any critical need.” If the Council majority persists, she said she agreed with the speakers that citizen input is needed. “I think it would be more effective if we let the residents drive this process,” she advised. She predicted that concerned residents might gather signatures to force creation of a charter commission and place that on the ballot in opposition to Abed’s proposal. “I don’t want to play chicken with the residents,” she added. She predicted that avoiding public input through a commission “would be more divisive than going through the process they want.”