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By Miriam Raftery

October 14, 2013 (San Diego’s East County ) – Governor Jerry Brown today signed into law Senate Bill 7, which requires charter cities to pay prevailing wages for public works construction projects or lose state funds. 

In East County, the measure will impact El Cajon, which last year passed a ballot measure to become a charter.  Now projects such as a new animal shelter will have to be built by workers paid the region’s prevailing wage.

The bill, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), was supported by labor unions who sought to protect middle class jobs. Opponents including the League of California Cities countered that the measure diminishes local control.

California has about 50 charter cities which don’t currently require contractors to pay prevailing wages on civic projects. In San Diego County, this includes the cities of San Diego, Carlsbad, Escondido, El Cajon, and San Marcos. 

With the economy improving, El Cajon is now back in the black, generating significant new sales tax revenues in recent months, thus a city insider advised ECM that SB 7 should not have a significant effect on the city’s bottom line.

Bonnie Price with Citizens Oversight opposed El Cajon's charter measure, Prop D. Asked about the new state law, she said, "While we working against Prop D, I raised the question about the prevailing wage issue with the city council." Price added that a city representative advised her that "the wording of the new charter would not prevent the application of the prevailing wage law to the city projects."

The measure was sold to voters as a way for the city to save money on public works contracts to fund other services.  But Price told ECM, "What the charter was really about was the no-bid contract issue. The council wanted to legalize giving their developer-supporters city contracts without going the legal hoops.  So, the voters put their stamp of approval on a charter legalizing what had formerly been illegal."

But some city officials have cited other advantages of charter city status beyond wage issues.  During his election campaign, Councilman Tony Ambrose, then a planning commissioner, said, "If handled properly, a charter can be beneficial to local jurisdictions. One thing we can do is use general fund money for economic development; you couldn’t do that before as a general law city and without it, it would be tough to move redevelopment forward."

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