Fear and Loathing of Carl DeMaio’s November Ballot Initiative

by on June 18, 2010 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Health, Labor, Media, Organizing, San Diego

carl demaio

San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio displaying list of who signed his petition. (Photo: SDNN)

Will It Stop Labor Union Goons From Beating Puppies, Bring Wealth To All and Guarantee Good Surf on the Weekends, While Lowering Taxes and Building a New Chargers Stadium?

San Diego used to be a reliably Republican City. Forty years ago, with a solid backbone of active and retired military as its most important demographic, America’s Finest City was so reliably Republican that former President Richard Milhaus Nixon called it his “lucky” city.

The times, they have changed in our berg. The City isn’t quite so white. High tech industries have attracted a more educated and diverse upper middle class that doesn’t always favor the Party of NO. In fact, there are now more registered Democrats than Republicans within the City limits. “Decline to State” also characterizes a rapidly growing part of the electorate.

This shifting political landscape has made life more challenging for developers and corporations long used to having their way with the City’s government. In the old days all it took to get a deal done was a few phone calls, followed by a few political donations and most projects were summarily approved. (Unless, of course, a few community rabble rousers made enough noise, as happened with the “Precise Plan” to tear down much of OB and replace it with high rises and a marina.)

rich guy cartoonSan Diego earned its reputation as “Scam Diego” the old fashioned way, with lots of cold, hard cash and a blatant disregard for any laws that happened to get in the way. Over the past few years voters and a decidedly less developer friendly City Council have enacted a series of laws that have made life decidedly more difficult for tycoons to loot and plunder the local landscape.

But fear not, for a new breed of politicos have climbed out of the swamps and are offering to lead to charge to restore the right of these wannabe bandits to pillage without restraint. Utilizing and hiding behind focus group tested monikers like the “Committee for Reforming City Hall” and “San Diegans for Fair and Open City Contracting”, they’re cranking out ballot measures full of deception reminiscent of Rumpelstiltskin, the fairy tale dwarf who set the gold standard for contractual doublespeak.

Their latest masterpiece headed for the November ballot goes by the title the “Competition and Transparency in City Contracting” initiative. Listening to their spin-meisters, this act would save our beleaguered berg hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing “true competition” for City services. Who could possible object to that?

Great_Depression_Soup_LineExcept that the “Competition and Transparency in City Contracting” initiative does no such thing. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from various contractors groups like the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, (a Poway-based contractor-financed advocacy group) kicking in $45,237, the Infrastructure PAC of the Associated General Contractors with an additional $63,000, the Western Electrical Contractors Association donating $20,000, Helix Electric contributing $10,000 and City Councilman/Ringmaster Carl DeMaio’s personal political committee topping off the pot with an extra $15,000, there should be little doubt who’s pulling the strings here.

Last week DeMaio went before the press to tout the success of the group’s “grass roots” campaign, turning in an estimated 138,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the fall elections. I guess I missed the memo altering the press that “grass roots” is a new euphemism for paid political consultants. The La Jolla Group, a company specializing in collecting signatures for (mostly) right wing measures has thus far collected a cool $161,000, presumably for lawn fertilizer to keep the “grass roots” happy.

I encountered one of these “grass roots” signature collectors for this initiative a few months ago near City Hall.(Story link here) The bottom line with this deal is that the public was duped into signing petitions that seemed well-meaning. A reliable source told me that these phony “citizens” were being paid $2.50 for every signature collected.

Before I delve into the depths of the doublespeak that DeMaio is delivering with this measure, let me digress a moment, lest you, the reader, think that I’m simply being a union (yes, they’re opposed to it) shill: I happen to think that outsourcing (some) City services is a worthy idea. I just don’t think that this particular measure has anything to do with that subject.

In the meantime, local politicos are working themselves into a frenzy coming off a confrontation between DeMaio and Councilwoman Marti Emerald on KPBS Thursday morning after Emerald said the measure would undermine San Diego’s living wage ordinance.

She went on to say the initiative’s real intent was to:

“…create minimum wage jobs with no benefits so that we can line the pockets of Mr. DeMaio’s friends in big business. This is about maximizing profits to big contractors who are lining up at the government trough right now.”

At one point Emerald also accused DeMaio and his friends of planning to launch a recall effort against her for speaking out against his initiative. He claimed she was being paranoid.

Meanwhile over at conservative blog sdrostra.com they wrote this:

Well, remember how I said DeMaio submitted 135,000 signatures, turns out that the number of signatures needed to recall Marti Emerald is less than 8% of that, or 10,808. Now, ‘the Marti Emerald recall’ has been the subject of much debate for some time now, but today after the signatures were turned in a conference call occurred to discuss the current situation. Business and community leaders far and wide were involved and one point was made abundantly clear: no more wishful thinking, no more questioning, no more discussion, if Marti Emerald votes to put these measures (that would negate the prop) on the ballot there will be an unwavering fully funded recall effort. End of story.

Maybe Marti’s not so paranoid, after all. Maybe Carl is just a well dressed Darth Vader.

living wages signNow, to the depths of the doo-doo dripping from DeMaio’s domain. Here are the unadvertised implications of the Competition and Transparency in City Contracting initiative, courtesy of the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI):

1. Ban the City’s use of state or federal funds in public works. The initiative would cost the city millions of dollars in state or federal funds, because those funds require prevailing wage or apprenticeship standards.

2. Ban the Living Wage Ordinance. Overturns San Diego’s successful Living Wage law and makes it illegal to legislate living wages or healthcare benefits for any contract or development agreement, except through another ballot measure.

3. Ban local jobs requirements. Makes it illegal to require contractors on public works projects to hire San Diegans. It bans community workforce agreements that create pathways to construction careers for local residents.

4. Ban health and safety training requirements. The city would be unable to require the minimum safety training prescribed by OSHA (which is not required in state law), even for high-risk work such at sewage treatment facilities or installing high-voltage electricity lines.

5. Create public safety problems. The initiative creates severe problems for the city’s paramedic service contracts, which affect the fire department. The city would be unable to establish standard-of-care obligations and EMT training requirements.

6. Ban requirements of minimum contractor or worker qualifications. This initiative bans the city from requiring any licensing or training program above that required by state law, including certified apprenticeship programs used by other California cities for utility workers, electricians and skilled mechanical workers.

7. Ban requirements for equitable employee benefits. Makes it illegal for the city to require contractors to offer the same benefits for domestic partners as they do for spouses.

8. Make contracting less accountable, less transparent and more vulnerable to contractors’ political influence. Eliminates oversight protections and guts the accountability measures in the Managed Competition program; allows direct outsourcing without maintaining the quality of city services. It also allows sole-source privatization with no independent review of the bid proposal and no accounting of actual taxpayer savings.

9. Prevent the community from benefiting from developer subsidies. For projects receiving significant public subsidies through development agreements, this initiative prohibits the city from imposing any conditions on developers for local hiring, living wages or workplace standards.

10. Promote mass layoffs when contractors change. Bans service worker retention requirements, which prevent mass layoffs when city contracts change hands through no fault of the workers.

I should note here that CPI, a local policy think tank, was one of the prime supporters of the Living Wage Act, so, of course, they’re pissed about this wannabe ballot proposition.

Also worth noting is the main argument used by the “grass roots” signature collectors was that this act would force the City to post all contracts on line was negated last month when the City of San Diego DID post all contracts on line. No signatures were required.

A local group has formed to oppose the ballot proposition. For more information, go here.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill June 18, 2010 at 10:16 am

The “living wage” should be renamed as the “union wage” since only union workers get it.

You claim to be the a supporter of the working class but you only support that class if they have a union card. hard working non-union families count for nothing in your book.

shame on you


doug porter June 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm

NONE of the people currently benefiting from the City’s Living Wage law are union members. I triple dog dare you to find even one. (The Living Wage – $11 hr- would be a pay cut for union members.)
I am not a union member and certainly have plenty of issues with the leadership of many of those organizations. For most of my professional life I have been part of management.
This bill is really about lining the pockets of a few at the expense of many. Smart managers know that you get what you pay for when it comes to paying your workforce.


JEC June 18, 2010 at 10:21 am

As a professional public Finance Officer I participated in some of the largest “outsourcing” contracts ever under-taken – on the behalf of the County of San Diego. Consider the facts (which DeMaio misses) – to truly “outsource” is for the public (government) to stop providing the service – to leave it to the private sector. To contract out is contracting with the private sector to perform public sector responsibilities. Granted, these definitions are garbbled. But dear Carl, consider your position – you advocate paying the people who actually do the job less while facilitiating and encouraging corruption. To contract out the city must monitor the contract ($$$), the contractor must pay property and income taxes the city does not pay ($$$), must pay for their own management ($$$) and in most cases the contractor has investors to which they must pay dividends ($$$). How can this be done for less money? Pay those who actually work less; less pay, less benefits, less skill, less eduation but more turnover. You save a little, you lose everything – quality, control, AND transparency. Oh yes, transparency – the private sector, even when doing public work, expects complete confidentiality – CSC (Computer Sciences Corp.) emprinted the words “confidential” on every piece of paper they produced for the county in the course of operating the county’s IT systems. But perhaps Carl DeMaio sees something the rest of us do not. Perhaps why San Diego is such a poorly run city (bad streets, bad sewers, expensive water, expensive electricity) is that it’s not corrupt enough – really, think about it.


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