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This week, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer tried to fulfill a major campaign pledge to restart the city’s moribund process that lets private companies bid on city services.

Faulconer said he would back two dozen recommendations from a consultant hired to make the bidding process, known as managed competition, quicker and more effective. A key reform: Follow San Diego County’s simpler method for competitions between the private and public sector.

This recommendation amounts to a big admission: The city wasted its time the last seven years.

In 2006, voters passed a ballot measure that allowed for competitive bidding. A year later, the city’s white-collar union, the Municipal Employees Association, had a simple idea to cut through the beginnings of what would become an interminable, four-year labor negotiation morass: Why don’t we just use San Diego County’s guide?

White-collar union head Michael Zucchet reminded people of this at a City Council hearing in 2009:

I have to bristle somewhat at the suggestion that MEA has stonewalled this process. I would remind everybody in the room, the Council and the mayor’s negotiating team that MEA came forward two years ago with the much ballyhooed county of San Diego model. They have a managed competition guide. We held it up at the beginning of negotiations and said, “You know what, this ain’t bad. We’ll take this.” The city said, “No.” The city said, “No.”

This is the county of San Diego. Not exactly a socialist state over there. We were willing to adopt it lock, stock and barrel two years ago, and the city said, “No.”

At the time, a staffer for then-Mayor Jerry Sanders confirmed Zucchet’s account. The city didn’t take the union up on its offer because Sanders didn’t want to throw out the work it had already done, and blamed former City Attorney Mike Aguirre for bad legal advice. (Later, the union withdrew its pitch to use the county guide.)

So if the city winds up using the county’s competitive bidding process now, it will do what it could have seven years ago.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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