A crumbling road in Sherman Heights / Photo by Dustin Michelson

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When it comes to infrastructure, San Diego has big plans and even bigger needs. 

City Council is working to improve our city today and protect our future with innovative projects like Pure Water that will make our city more water resilient in the face of a changing climate, while also keeping our city moving with urgent repairs to aging roads, bridges, and other key infrastructure needs. 

But our ability to meet our neighborhoods’ infrastructure needs is threatened by a 2012 law that’s out of step with California State law and threatens funding for some of our most pressing priorities. 

San Diego relies on state funds to undertake and complete public works projects. In 2019 alone, the city received $64 million for local infrastructure projects, and the state is already slated to contribute more than $140 million for Pure Water alone. That funding and more, could dry up if we do not update our own city codes to meet state requirements.

Here’s the good news: the fix is a simple, common-sense update to city contracting rules, that has already been made by other cities in our region. And that’s exactly what we’re proposing with the Safeguard San Diego Infrastructure Ballot Measure – a simple fix with a massive positive impact. 

How did we get here? In 2012, during the depths of the Great Recession, special interests successfully pushed through a measure to ban Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) in public works projects, falsely claiming it would save taxpayers money. The measure took away the city’s ability to enter into PLAs for public works and construction projects, putting infrastructure funding at risk.

So what are Project Labor Agreements anyway? In short, project labor agreements hold contractors to high standards for how they treat workers. A PLA might require that contractors pay decent wages. It could require local hiring, so that city funds are used to pay local workers, rather than out-of-state workers. Often, they require that contractors participate in apprenticeship programs that open the doors to good-paying construction jobs to veterans, women, and workers of color.

At the time Prop A was passed, we were assured this law didn’t put city projects at risk. But a decade later, state law has changed, and our infrastructure funding is in jeopardy. Today, California can cut off public works funding to cities or counties, like the City of San Diego, that ban the use of PLAs. That puts us in danger of losing hundreds of millions in state funds — money that San Diego taxpayers contributed to the state in the first place, and money we need to deliver the infrastructure upgrades San Diegans expect and deserve. 

Updating the law is simple: just lift the ban. Our measure doesn’t require using project labor agreements, it simply says that the city can evaluate each city construction project and gives the city the ability to decide what best serves taxpayers’ interests. Doing so will protect our infrastructure and protect San Diego’s state funding.

Those are values we certainly share, but the Safeguard San Diego Infrastructure measure isn’t even really about that – it’s focused on keeping state dollars flowing for San Diego projects, and our local tax dollars. The measure also strengthens citizen oversight to protect public projects from fraud and corruption. It requires full taxpayer transparency on any construction contract over $10,000. And it prohibits discrimination of any kind on public works projects, so every worker has a fair chance to get ahead. 

A broad, city-wide coalition has formed to “Safeguard San Diego,” representing people across partisan and ideological lines. We even have support from people like the former Executive Director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, who supported the PLA ban in 2012 but recognizes the need to align the city’s contracting laws with state law so we don’t lose state funds. 

The small cadre of developers and contractors who profit from the ban will try to convince you this is controversial, but it’s not. Once our colleagues on City Council put this measure on the ballot, it will be up to the voters to choose between corporate profits and San Diego’s future. 

And we trust the voters to decide. Together, we can safeguard state funding to keep San Diego strong and our economy growing today and in the future.

Raul A. Campillo

Councilmember Raul A. Campillo represents the communities of District 7 including Allied Gardens, Del Cerro, Grantville, Linda Vista, Mission Valley, San...

Joe LaCava

Councilmember Joe LaCava represents the neighborhoods of District 1 that make up the northwest part of the city of San Diego such as La Jolla, Carmel Valley...

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1 Comment

  1. We increasingly live in a community of haves and have nots. I am flummoxed as to how workers on the lower end of the economic scale can afford to live in the county in which they work. The anti-PLA group’s goal was to be able to pay the lowest possible wages and benefits. Should we, who benefit from and pay for this work through our taxes want to impoverish those on the lower end of the scale? I think not.

    Separately though, I’ve got a friend who is a high level executive at a major local construction company that builds hotels, business centers, and the like. She says they always go with PLAs because they ensure that the work will be done by properly trained people on time.

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