By Don Greene / Escondido Democratic Club
Part of the pro-city charter mantra we hear from Mayor Abed and the other members of the city council majority is about savings. Especially savings when it comes to eliminating prevailing wages from city construction projects. In a recently released survey, the ‘savings’ that Sam & Co continue to promote are becoming harder and harder to find.
The City of Carlsbad – a charter city in North San Diego county and the favorite, “let’s-be-more-like-them” example promoted by the Mayor – answered a survey on Prevailing Wages and associated savings. The results were somewhat lackluster. When asked the question, “What savings have been realized on average for those contracts where non prevailing wages have been applied?” the answer was telling:
We have found savings to be hard to ascertain. Bid prices might be lower on the front end but there is some suspicion that total project costs may impact initial savings (change orders, costly project delays, more labor by city employees, etc.)
It would seem that the idea pushed by the Mayor and his minions are not ringing true. The Mayor says that the City of Escondido can save $16 million in project costs by not paying prevailing wage. With the evidence that the City of Carlsbad has presented in this survey, and the evidence of actual project cost overruns and problems in the City of Oceanside, the reality that the City of Escondido will be any different is nothing more than a dream.
Let’s understand what these supposed savings are exactly. For the city to save the monies that the Mayor is purporting, the city would have to have the money to begin these projects. And let’s face it, it doesn’t. In other words, to say that paying other than a prevailing wage on a project that hasn’t begun is like saying you saved $150,000 by not buying a Lamborghini; you didn’t have the money to buy the car, you weren’t ever planning on buying the car but what a great shopper you are for racking up those savings.
The argument that the charter is a good thing because it will save money if and when we get around to building something is ridiculous. Look at the list of project costs that the City of Carlsbad mentions: change orders and project delays. This is a laundry list of problems we’ve already seen in Escondido. Look no further than the new Police/Fire Headquarters. The city decided that it would manage the construction of that project on its own and problems were everywhere. Every meeting, change orders were brought before the council. There were a number of delays – including a delay because of ceiling leeks during rain storms – that pushed the project completion further along. This is what we got when we decided to save money and manage the project on our own.
When it comes to more labor by city employees, the question needs to be asked: What city employees? We already have an asphalt contractor filling in pot holes in the city once a month. Our public works department, at last inquiry, was being staffed by a large number of temporary workers to save on benefit and pension costs. Where are these employees going to be found? And why would we expect our city employees to help work on construction projects? The purpose of finding contractors to build “things” for the city is that the project gets completed without the use of city employee labor. If we’re getting low ball bids to save money up front, and end up paying more out of our budget while using city employee labor, where then are the savings?
The problem with the proposed city charter is a simple one, but one that is very important. This proposed city charter initiative had no meaningful citizen oversight. The council held one public workshop and two public hearings on the matter. When the public offered suggestions and alternatives, each and every one was shot down by the council. In his own words, Mayor Abed said that having a citizens commission create the charter would “lead to a different charter than the City Council majority wants.” There is something very wrong when an elected official doesn’t want citizen oversight.
Let’s not be like Carlsbad or any of the other North County charter cities; let’s wait for citizen demands to become a charter city and then, let’s create a citizens commission to evaluate the need for a charter and develop the document if it is deemed necessary. The City of La Mirada enacted a citizens charter commission and they recommended against a city charter; perhaps the same would happen here in Escondido.
You have the say in what becomes of Escondido. Vote NO on Proposition G.