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Analysis: On Monday, the City Council fought its latest battle over managed competition — a bidding process that pits private contractors against public city employees to see who can most efficiently provide city functions.
The vote was about whether to put the Miramar Landfill’s operations out for bids. Proponents, including the mayor and Republican council members, argued it would save the city money. Critics, including organized labor groups, said the landfill should continue to be operated by city workers to maintain greater oversight. Since the issue had struggled through the committee process, it appeared before Monday’s meeting that the full Democratic-dominated council might reject it.
DeMaio has been the council’s most vocal advocate for outsourcing and pushed his colleagues again Monday to consider it for the landfill. He said they’d already made that pledge last year when they campaigned for Proposition D.
The high-profile ballot measure proposed temporarily increasing the city’s sales tax after the completion of 10 reforms. And even if voters denied the measure at the polls, its proponents promised to see the reforms through.
DeMaio voted against putting the measure before voters, championed the campaign against it and won in the end. Voters roundly rejected Prop. D, handing a major defeat to the mayor, organized labor and DeMaio’s council colleagues.
On Monday, DeMaio brought Prop. D back to the forefront of debate, reminding his peers of the pledge they made along the campaign trail. He said one of the 10 reforms included using managed competition for the landfill.
He followed with an accusation, saying his colleagues who supported Prop. D would be reneging on their promises if they didn’t approve the proposal Monday. With sweeping gestures and a pointed finger, DeMaio said his colleagues were influenced by organized labor.
“One of the 10 conditions included opening Miramar Landfill up to competitive bidding, but here they sit today saying that they’re not willing to support that,” DeMaio said. “My, how things have changed when they’re not trying to get into your wallet. I ask my colleagues to be true to their word. You campaigned for Proposition D and you said you’d open up the landfill to managed competition.”
But using managed competition for the landfill wasn’t one of the 10 reforms. The council members agreed to solicit bidders interested in buying the landfill.
The city followed through on that promise. After seven months of investigation that cost $500,000, they found no one wanted to buy the landfill.
Instead they turned to managed competition.
Though selling the landfill and managed competition both involve bringing the private sector into providing city functions, there are key differences. Managed competition gives city employees a chance to continue operating the landfill while a sale doesn’t.
Selling the landfill would’ve removed the city from the environmental liability of operating the landfill. Outsourcing its operations won’t. If a contractor screws up, the city could still be on the hook legally and face fines from environmental regulators.
Later, after Council President Tony Young blasted DeMaio for his comments, the council voted 5-3 to put the landfill’s operations up for bid. Council members David Alvarez, Marti Emerald and Todd Gloria voted against the proposal.
DeMaio’s statement meets our definition for false. Though outsourcing the landfill and a sale both involve privatization, they’re not the same.
DeMaio said Prop. D proposed using managed competition for the landfill, which is incorrect. The measure directed city officials to solicit bids for selling the landfill. DeMaio said his colleagues hadn’t followed through on their reform promise, which is also incorrect. They agreed to explore a sale and did. It just wasn’t successful.
Ryan Clumpner, a DeMaio spokesman, declined to comment, referring instead to his response of a Union-Tribune story that also questioned DeMaio. The newspaper reported:
[Clumpner] said the councilman was well aware of the difference between a sale of the landfill and managed competition. DeMaio’s point was that the council had agreed to the more aggressive move — a potential sale — last year and now appeared to be balking at the weaker reform of managed competition, he said.
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