DeMaio’s stumble sign of things to come in ‘privatization’ scheme

by on July 10, 2010 · 13 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, San Diego

by Elanor StarmerVoice of San Diego / Originally posted July 7, 2010

If there were ever any doubt about the extent of waste and ineffectiveness in private contracting, San Diego City Council member Carl DeMaio has just given us more proof.

Since his election to City Council, DeMaio has been relentless in his attempts to privatize San Diego’s city services, including the city’s drinking water and wastewater systems. In the latest attempt, DeMaio paid over $160,000 for contractors to gather signatures from San Diegans in support of a proposed ballot measure that would have required the city to take bids from private contractors for services. The measure would have also allowed the city to directly privatize services without taking a public bid and would have eliminated the city’s living wage and domestic partnership benefits ordinances.

With much fanfare, DeMaio delivered 134,000 signatures to City Hall, far more than the 96,800 legally required to get the measure on November’s ballot. On Monday, the city clerk declared that the invalidation rate on the signatures was so high that the measure had failed to qualify. The estimate was that only 75,000 of the signatures were valid — a 44 percent invalidation rate.

The utter incompetence of DeMaio’s hired petitioners is just a sign of things to come if DeMaio’s privatization efforts move forward in San Diego. When public water systems are privatized, profiteering bosses tend to deliver poorer service, stall on completing maintenance and upgrades and raise rates for consumers in order to boost returns for shareholders. Our research has shown that nationwide, consumers in cities with privately-managed water systems pay 20 percent more on average than those in cities where the water systems are public, and sewage spills and leaks are more common in private systems.

In California, at least nine cities have taken back their water systems from private companies because of the failures of privatization. Petaluma ended its wastewater contract with Veolia in 2007 after a cost analysis revealed that public operation was 18 percent cheaper, saving $1.6 million over three years. The Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District ended its private contract with United Water after independent consultants found that public operation would reduce operational costs by 10 to 15% while offering better benefit packages.

Contracted signature gatherers like the ones DeMaio used often give a money back guarantee if more than 25 percent of the signatures are invalid. Since the invalidation rate of his initiative was 44 percent, DeMaio may see the $160,000 he spent flow back into his coffers. But if San Diego city services are privatized, ratepayers won’t be so lucky.4

Elanor Starmer is the Western Region director for Food & Water Watch

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

J July 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm

You constantly attack privatization yet you cannot defend the status quo of operations the City of San Diego has been doing for the past 20 years.

If privatization does not work what is the best option. Keeping the responsibility in the services of the public employee monopoly? Maybe it is just easier for you to attack then to defend your hazardous position.


J July 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Also, if using private paid signature gatherers is so bad then why did the labor unions use the same exact to gather signatures to get Prop B on the June ballot?


La Playa Heritage July 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm

In San Diego the City Unions refuse to allow Volunteers to clean public restrooms for the homeless in the East Village of downtown. Or allow Volunteers to clean the Fire Pits.


doug porter July 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm

funny, we never heard that one before. Got a source?


La Playa Heritage July 10, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Ask Frank G. & Councilman Faulconer.


annagrace July 10, 2010 at 3:52 pm

I’m not buying it that “City Unions refuse to allow Volunteers.” I worked for the City, was a union member, and worked in a department- the Library- that had hundreds of volunteers. I personally worked with volunteers. I also saw a real change about eight years ago in City policy that derived from CITY liability concerns. These were not union driven policies- they were the result of the City’s own legal counsel.


Kenloc July 10, 2010 at 4:05 pm

If a volunteer hurts himself while cleaning a restroom is the city liable? You know when someone throws a back out and can’t work they are going to sue.It’s the American way.Everyone has to cover their ass against lawsuits in this day and age,even against people who mean well.


fss July 11, 2010 at 8:47 am

there may be some truth to the no volunteers in some city jobs but I know there are lots of folks who volunteer with the city.
The lack of signatures on DiMaio’s petition is great. andthe facts quoted about public versus private are so true. Every one wants to do a good job and get an “Atta boy” city and government works are no different. I have seen lots of city workers do overtime for free just to get the job done.


Danny Morales July 11, 2010 at 5:51 pm

…sometimes open, sometimes hidden” the class war continues. If you think having a workforce without the protections that the labor movement struggled for many years (at the cost of many lives I might add) is a workable option…I’m gonna meet you on a slow boat to China :>P


annagrace July 11, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Thank you Danny. I have tried very hard to ignore the knee jerk reaction against the unions, which as you correctly state are responsible for working conditions that most of us take for granted. The “free market” sure as hell didn’t give us child labor laws, a 40 hour work week, or safety standards, just for starters.

We should be thinking about what it means to privatize our drinking water and waste water services. That is downright scary. “Providing clean, accessible affordable water is not only the most basic of all government services, but throughout history, control of water has defined the structure of societies.” It is mind boggling that people can hate unions and be ok with private businesses that are by their very nature designed to provide a profit to their shareholders- which isn’t us. Think rate increases. Think lack of citizen input. Think lack of maintenance, which is absorbed by the public sector. A sweetheart deal, and DeMaio is clearly not very far thinking.

Read about Felton California here


Danny Morales July 12, 2010 at 5:16 am

Thanks Anna 4D link! When “public” broadcasting gives credence to the lie that it takes 60 votes to pass legislation in the U.S. Senate we know we’ve got a real fight in our hands in regards to the reign of ignorance in the information age. Keep up the good fight! Gotta go…to work in the privatized defense industry. (The foundation for new american century) GYHOOYA!


Dave Sparling July 11, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Hey if it works for the Cheney/Rummy Military it should work for everything. Why shouldn’t all politicians give contracts to their family and friends. Think how much more efficient BLACKWATER would be in place of the San Diego Police Department. If you watched the ENRON special on TV you saw how wonderful and efficient politicians and private companies can work to help everyone. So what if it costs a little to change the signs from”WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA REDWOODS STATE PARK” to WELCOME TO HALIBURTON REDWOODS PARK”.


JEC July 13, 2010 at 9:32 am

One thing Carl DeMaio is not is a student of history. But he is good at getting us to talk about him. Isn’t that his goal? There are good and valid reason to not give control of your water supplies to private interests. Their interests are just that, private. Curiously the one thing Carl does not advocate is the public interest. And as a retired Budget Officer I find his budgetary “insights” laughable.


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