More Charter “stuff”

At this Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the presenter of the “moment of reflection” AKA invocation, did draw my attention away from my crossword. He hoped that his god would grant the City Council to understand the importance and amount of good done by the Education Compact when considering their difficult budget decisions. Even though I agree entirely with this sentiment, I find it as inappropriate in this setting as a previous presenter’s plea to contain the evil of the Mission Park District. I am all for open discourse, and the presentation of the facts supporting or weakening any program, but I find the suggestion than any program or action of the City Council to be the preference of a higher power to be disturbing. I cannot think of any war in history in which both sides of said war didn’t believe that their side was the one preferred by their god. Most of the Founding Fathers of this nation were deists. They believed in a creator who left the affairs of mankind to the decisions of mankind. I wish that this were the attitude of today’s politicians. I wish they would make their decisions based upon fact, not their peculiar conceit of what Jesus would do.

There were five “oral communications”. Tom Armstrong argued that Mayor Sam Abed’s insistence upon no applause during public testimony during council meetings was a denial of First Amendment rights. He ended by saying that everyone would wish to applaud the brave firefighters and police who had responded to last week’s fires. Everyone in the audience did applaud. Abed did not object.

Tom Cowan praised the City for its fiscal health, then asked, that in view of that health, the Tiny Tots program be excused from the no-cost recovery policy, and its participation fees be reduced.

Former Fire Chief Mike O’Conner, citing the recent fires, noted again the need for four-man engine companies, and the efficacy of such companies—and Escondido’s failure to ensure such companies.

I could not catch the name of the fourth person to speak to the Council, but she was an owner of a property on Juniper who seems to have been caught in a “Catch 22” situation. The situation seemed to be about whether or not the City owned the fence and the tree that had destroyed said fence in a recent storm or not. She spent several minutes after her testimony talking to the City Clerk—hope she gets some satisfaction.

Colleen Windsor, Director of Communications for SANDAG, presented a report of a new express bus service from Escondido to San Diego. A service that would run every 15 minutes during peak times and every 30 minutes the rest of the time and weekends. Sounds good.

Fire Chief Michael Lowry gave a detailed report on how the Escondido Fire Department had responded to last week’s fires. It was awe inspiring.

The “Second public hearing on proposed city charter” was started at 6:00 pm as required by law—to be after working hours. Few of the public showed up for this hearing, a reflection of the City‘s lack of communication on the matter. Although City Councilman John Masson would later claim it to be a lack of opposition to the Charter. Masson also wistfully asked if the anti-prevailing wage clause could be reinserted into the Charter.

First to speak against the Charter was Nichole Downey. She noted that Masson had not been elected, but appointed.

Mark Skok asked Abed to name one specific way in which the proposed Charter would improve the lot of Escondido taxpayers. Abed then went into a diatribe about the “over-reach of state government” and how being a charter would protect Escondido from such over-reach. Skok patiently asked him to name a specific case. Well—two years ago, Abed said, we had a list of projected projects in which there would be $10 or $20 million saved if Escondido does not have to comply with the State’s living wage restrictions. Skok persevered—name one specific project. Abed blathered a bit, then said he would certainly get an update on the list from two years ago.

Don Greene noted a Center on Policy Initiatives study which had determined that the hourly wage needed to maintain the basic need of a four-person household, in San Diego County, was over $20 an hour. How could Abed, the highest paid mayor in North County (over $50K per year) complain about the payment of a living wage? Abed interrupted Greene at this point (clearly irritated) asking Green to confine his comments to the matter of the Charter adding that his salary had nothing to do with the Charter. Greene then replied that it had everything to do with the Charter—since that Charter was a blank check for the Council to write themselves whatever salary they deemed appropriate. Abed responded that the Charter had addressed that issue—specifically stating that the salaries of City Council and Mayor would be left to California law. Of course, such state law does not impose any restrictions on what “perks” other than salary the Council might vote for themselves.

And so, after three more speakers against the Charter, the public part of the second hearing on the Charter ended. Abed insisted that the public had plenty of opportunity to give their input on the Charter. Abed opined that if there were a liberal majority on the City Council, Greene would be all for the Charter, since it would give more power to the City Council. He said this without blushing, evidently oblivious to the fact that this statement directly contradicted his previous insistence that the Charter would give more power to the people of Escondido, not the Council. He and Councilman John Masson both bemoaned the fact that the prevailing wage issue was not mentioned in the proposed Charter. Abed trotted out the old conservative line about how it wasn’t the government’s job to insure a living wage—that should be left up to the free market. Abed railed a bit more about the lack of response from California’s legislature—we only have one representative he avowed. (Well, actually we have two- Assemblyperson Marie Waldron, and State Senator Mark Wyland. Redistricting will change Wyland’s district, and Escondido will fall into State Senator Joel Anderson’s district.)

Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she found the process odd. There had been no wide public demand for a charter. She had two concerns. First, if as Masson had posed, the prevailing wage issue be reinserted into the Charter, there might be a tremendous loss of funds—as SB 7 specifically disallows any state funds going to a Charter City that allows any contractor for a city construction project over $25K to a contractor who does not comply with the state’s prevailing wage requirements. Several cities have sued California claiming SB 7 to be unconstitutional. A process that could take years. No, no, Abed consoled, there would be no mention of prevailing wage in the proposed Charter. So, Diaz continued, if the prevailing wage issue was one of the prime motivations behind becoming a charter city, and this charter could not include a reference to prevailing wage for fear of losing state money, why did Abed et.al. wish to rush it to the ballot in November? Diaz went on to her second concern, that a charter should protect citizens from a corrupt city council no matter if the council was progressive or conservative. Becoming a charter city would mean that the council could change the dates of city elections, or give contracts to other than the lowest bidder in non-construction city purchases. Assistant City Attorney Jennifer McCain tried to reassure Diaz that just because a charter gave the city power to change elections or award other than the lowest bidders didn’t mean that they would. The Escondido Municipal code was stronger than California code in many ways, and case law—which she had given the council examples of, would have to be considered. Diaz responded, that becoming a charter city would allow the Escondido City Council to change any municipal codes that were not a matter of state law.

Evidently somewhat miffed at Downey’s statement, Masson agreed that, no, he had not been elected—but he had been selected by a majority of the City Council in 2012. I wrote about this event http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/Dec/16/forum-escondidos-great-appointment-disappointment/. Masson went on to declare that paying a prevailing wage was a taxpayer subsidy of 20 to 30% to the workers on a city project. He went on to say that the city could save this worker subsidy there would be more money for recreation, etc. This from a Councilman who enthusiastically subsidized developers by waiving their impact fees and passing them on to taxpayers. It is not the taxpayers who save the 20 to 30% when developers do no pay prevailing wages—it is the developers. The workers who do not receive a living wage will cost the taxpayers in community support for childcare, health services, food and housing subsidies, etc. All the empirical evidence supports the Keynesian economic theory. There is little evidence to support supply-side, Reagonomics, trickle-down or voodoo economics that has been practiced in the USA during the last thirty some years. Masson then went on into a very weird argument as to why it would be a good thing for Escondido to be able to determine when its elections be held, and a not-so-weird argument about why being able to award a bid to the non-lowest bidder would be a good thing.

Evidently Abed had been trying to think of Skok’s request for a specific way that the charter would help Escondido, because, after Masson’s harangue, he piped up that he did have such an example. The nefarious state had recently brought forth a bill that would require all non-charter cities with a population of over 100,000 to hold district elections. Ummmmh—Mayor Abed—do you understand that the City of Escondido has already been required to hold district elections?

With his characteristic lackadaisical manner, Councilman Ed Gallo allowed as how Abed and Masson had covered most of the “stuff”. He could not understand why people would not want to save money with a charter.

The answer to Diaz’s question as to why the rush to put the charter on the November ballot is pretty evident. It will bring out the base voters that support the conservative anti-union majority—even though the proposed charter does not specifically mention not paying prevailing wages.

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