Under the guise of “streamlining,” Mayor Jerry Sanders is asking the San Diego City Council to give him more power to make closed-door deals with contractors.
We believe the public is entitled to a seat at the table when decisions are made about spending public money on public works projects. This is especially true given San Diego’s history of contract mismanagement and inequitable distribution of funds among neighborhoods.
We need transparency, more opportunity for public participation and better oversight of contracts. We also need to know our public works spending will create good local jobs and will prioritize the neediest neighborhoods for attention.
The proposal for streamlining capital improvements and public works contracting — scheduled for a vote by the council on Tuesday — takes us in the wrong direction on all those points.
It would allow the mayor to award contracts up to $30 million (page 54) without adequate review by the council or the public. Currently the Council reviews all contracts of more than $1 million. This huge increase in the size of contracts that can be awarded behind closed doors can only benefit contractors.
The proposal also creates a program called Multiple Award Construction Contracts, which would bundle contracts with 3 to 5 large contractors and allow them to decide on all subcontracts. The large contractors would have no obligation to use subcontractors who hire locally or pay wages that cover the cost of living in San Diego.
Our local economy will suffer if we fail to require that companies paid with our tax dollars provide local jobs with middle-class wages and opportunities for local businesses.
As Robbie Robinson from the Broadway Heights Community Council described it, “Instead of the dollar bouncing six or seven times in the San Diego community, it will bounce once and it will bounce out.”
Our organizations are members of a Community Budget Alliance that we formed this year to demand a fair and equitable budget for the city of San Diego. We believe the people affected by budget decisions must have a greater voice in how the budget is designed and that there must be increased accountability for capital improvement projects, particularly to make sure underserved neighborhoods are treated equitably.
These are real issues that cannot be ignored or put off until the next budget session.
With an $898 million backlog in deferred capital projects, many neighborhoods desperately need streamlining of a broken process. But the proposal now before the council fails to address those problems or provide the slightest benefit for struggling communities — while further limiting public input.
We urge the council to reject the mayor’s deeply flawed proposal and work with us to develop a plan that puts San Diego’s people and neighborhoods ahead of the interests of contractors who want the city’s business.
Jeanne Brown is co-president of the League of Women Voters San Diego.
Philip Liburd is vice president of the NAACP San Diego branch.
Rev. Gerald W. Brown is executive director, of the United African American Ministerial Action Council.
The authors are members of the Community Budget Alliance.
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