Just weeks ago, Carl DeMaio stood side-by-side with Mayor Jerry Sanders to champion Proposition C, which will allow private companies to compete with city employees for municipal jobs.

Now, DeMaio said he will take the mayor on at the ballot box if he doesn’t tweak his proposal to raise sewer fees by 35 percent and water rates by 29 percent so that it includes the safeguards he wants.

DeMaio said he will collect the signatures of 5 percent of the city’s registered voters, effectively stopping the proposal until voters affirmatively supported Sanders’ measures at the ballot box. He said San Diegans don’t trust that the increased fees would be spent appropriately.

“It would be the easiest thing to collect signatures for,” said DeMaio, who heads the Performance Institute, a private think tank that advocates against taxes.

DeMaio said he wants to overhaul the city’s Public Utilities Advisory Commission and replace it with a panel of sewer and water ratepayers that is appointed by a retired judge, similar to the county grand jury. He said allowing an outside consultant or a board of political appointees – like Sanders is proposing – to oversee the water and sewer expenditures does not allow the independence that is needed for objective scrutiny.

He also said Sanders’ plan should come after the water and wastewater agencies shed payroll costs to make themselves more efficient and after the city trades in some other non-essential capital assets to pay for the slated system repairs.

DeMaio also said the city’s everyday budget, which a grand jury found to have inappropriately received funds from the water and sewer departments, should pay back the two enterprise funds.

“I’m appalled by the lack of reform in the city’s proposal,” said DeMaio, who added that he was “confident” that Sanders would see things his way by the time his plan is submitted to the City Council in January.

Sanders spokesman Fred Sainz said he thought “the vast majority of his concerns are included” in the mayor’s plan.

“The mechanics still have to be worked out,” he said.

Sainz panned the idea of reimbursing the water and sewer funds with general fund money. He said the fund’s projected $87 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins next July should not be “exacerbated” by a repayment of those monies.

“It’s water under the bridge and I don’t know if it would be productive to revisit that issue,” Sainz said.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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