A view of a dimly lit Melrose Place in southeastern San Diego. / File photo by Sam Hodgson

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This post originally appeared in the Feb. 25 Politics Report. The weekly newsletter is available to Voice of San Diego members only, but we’ve opened this post to all readers. Support our work here and subscribe to the Politics Report.

It’s really some 3D chess by local conservatives: Push for city contractors to take over some of the jobs of city workers. Come up short but also push city to offer employees less benefits. City becomes a less attractive place to work. Then, a few years down the road, the city experiences a staggering staffing crisis and … decides to hire private contractors so it can provide basic services.

A fascinating cycle and if it was the grand master plan, it is playing out to perfection. Sort of.

First, the mayor announced that the permitting backlog in the city’s Development Services Department had reached an emergency stage and he was bringing in a private contractor to help process permits. Then, this week, Gloria announced he was bringing in a contractor to help work through a list of 5,900 broken streetlights.

“While we hire more electricians, this will help us fix streetlights faster,” he wrote.

But does this mean the now-all-Democratic leadership of the city is down with the idea of outsourcing city jobs? Not really. The unions expect that the city will ramp up efforts to improve pay and benefits to attract people to reduce it’s more than 20 percent vacancy rate. Yes, its open, budgeted positions now hovers above 20 percent.

And, other unions are getting the jobs. The streetlight contractor is CTE Inc., and the jobs will go to IBEW Local 569 workers.

“We applaud Mayor Gloria for fixing the backlog of broken streetlights,” said Gretchen Newsom the political director for IBEW 569. “The contractor will hire IBEW 569 electricians and power professionals through our hiring hall and ensure the work gets done right and with our skilled and trained local workforce.”

There is a City Charter provision that requires City Council approval and a whole process for bringing in private contractors to do the work normally done by city workers “more economically and efficiently” – that was the language put into the City Charter during the push for what became known as “managed competition.” The idea was to put city services up to bid and city workers would produce a bid and private contractors would bid and the city would get the services more economically and efficiently no matter who won. City employees ended up winning and the idea fizzled.

But in this case, the jobs will likely cost more and unions are assured it is temporary. And most importantly, they agreed.

“We’re now close to filling the vacant positions that caused this situation, and once the backlog is cleared with the help of contract workers, fully staffed departments will be able to fulfill the service requests in a timely manner as they come in,” said Rachel Laing, Gloria’s director of communications

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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