Home Rule for Whom?

It’s difficult to decide which Councilmember was most incoherent tonight—Mayor Sam Abed or Ed Gallo. Gallo started off the evening by voting “absent” again, while meaning to vote “yes” on approval of the consent calendar, but Abed probably won.

The highlight of the meeting was the “Council Work Program Item: Charter City Proposal.” Evidently, at their November, 2013, workshop, the Council’s male majority instructed staff to bring forward a revised Charter City proposal, that will require public hearings. State laws about putting such proposals on the November ballot, and the necessary public hearings for such a move, made it necessary for the Council to move on this item at tonight’s meeting. Well, they didn’t actually move, Mayor Abed sort of dictated that it would be brought forward as agreed at the November workshop.

Councilmember Olga Diaz questioned the estimated cost of putting a charter proposal on the ballot, which was much lower than the actual cost of the charter proposal in 2012. She also wondered what would be the point of such a charter proposal, since the California Legislature had recently passed SB7, which denies state funding from any charter city that specifically denied prevailing wage restrictions on city projects. Neither of her questions were answered, satisfactorily, by either the staff or other councilmembers, in my judgment.

Eight citizens commented on the proposal. All wondered why there should be such a rush, why would a charter be good for Escondido, and all emphasized the need to have considerable public input into the development of such a charter. Several cited the success of the Independent Districting Commission. A similar charter commission could be elected and charged with the development of such a charter. Several noted that the citizens of Escondido had voted against the charter proposal in 2012, why would the Council expect a different vote for a similar charter in 2014?

Well, Gallo is sure he knows why the charter was defeated in 2012—because it would have called for district elections for Councilmembers. So, now that such elections are a fait accompli, the charter will pass, because, by doing so, Escondido will wean itself off of the State of California, away from a nanny state. Umm, does Gallo envision the Republic of Escondido where state regulations can be ignored?

Diaz noted that she did favor district elections, and felt that to be one of the 2012 charter proposal’s strengths, but she could not support that charter because it was poorly crafted, and questioned the wisdom of putting another such proposal forward. She noted that every time a minor change seemed needed for a city’s charter, such a change had to be approved by the electorate. She recommended the Council, if they insisted on pushing the charter proposal forward, should do so through an elected independent citizens’ commission. She referred to one of the public commenters, who had noted that the citizens could place the proposal of such a charter commission on the November ballot by obtaining the signatures of 15% of Escondido’s registered voters on a petition for such a ballot initiative.

Councilman Mike Morasco asked City Attorney Jeff Epp to explain the legal possibilities for putting a charter forward. Epp said the Council could, first, place a charter proposal on the ballots, as they did in 2012. Second, the Council could appoint a commission to hold public hearings, and draw up a charter. Third, Epp concurred, the citizens of Escondido could place a proposition to create a charter commission on the November ballot if they could obtain the necessary 15%.

Then Abed began. He noted that there would be a “political disagreement” that was a question of pleasing out-of-town unions or protecting tax-payers. He then ventured further into irrationality by avowing that the city would save $50 million on proposed projects by not having to pay prevailing wage—begging the question of how many millions in state funding would be lost to gain the speculative saving on projects that were not now, nor in the near future, funded? Just to be sure he was clear about the matter, he reiterated that the Charter City had two major goals, home rule and prevailing wages. (Non-payment of prevailing wages is what he meant, I guess.) Continuing to rant, Abed then declared that we (by we did he mean the Council? The City? The citizens?) have a Constitutional right to place this charter on the ballot, and nobody could deny that right! The Charter City would stop the state from micromanaging the city. The City could determine its own election methods, etc. The state had restricted Escondido’s ability to take drunk drivers from the streets. A commission would “derail” the charter process. The state had passed some 4,000 laws this year—was anyone asking the state for a commission? The city was in good financial state—while the state overreached financially. He ended by avowing that “we know best how to govern the city.”

Councilman John Masson returned the discussion to some rationality. He noted that the 2012 Charter would have provided relief from the “prevailing wage” required for General Law cities. (Relief for the developers—the workers, as usual, don’t rate consideration by this Council majority.) He echoed Abed’s praise for “home rule”. He then expressed his belief that if a charter were to go to a commission, it would “get lost in never-never land.” No, he concluded, a charter shouldn’t get bogged down in a commission.

Morasco concurred with Abed and Masson, noting that anything they could do to protect Escondido from unfunded state mandates would be good. Gallo said the people could decide with a yes or no vote on the charter—that there would be two public workshops. Gallo got a little more personal with his vituperation for the state claiming that all Brown wanted to know was a new plan to screw cities.

So these four Councilmen all claim to want to have local control, and not be dictated to by the state. But, they are all quite willing to dictate to Escondido’s citizens what should go into the proposed charter, without any messy commission, or excessive public input. Have they never read Orwell? “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” seems to be their rational.

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