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El Cajon restricts public contracting by becoming charter city

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El Cajon voters in June approved the city’s Proposition D, a ballot initiative that makes it a charter city, thereby increasing its discretion with public contracts.

After 58.2 percent of voters supported the initiative, El Cajon is no longer a general law city. That means its voters in the future will be able to adopt local ordinances without seeking state authority.

Issues that could come up for the city include public bidding and contract requirements, changes to local zoning regulations, establishing its own election dates, general city personnel issues and outlining procedures for future city ordinances, according to analysis from the El Cajon city attorney’s office that clarified the issue to voters on the June ballot.

Issues that are unchanged in the city — in addition to what’s outlined in both the California and U.S. Constitutions — include employer-employee relations, legal conflicts of interest, environmental protection, and government-related open records and public meeting laws.

The city maintains its current city manager-city council form of government, and it will continue to elect its own mayor.

Perhaps the biggest change for El Cajon as a charter city will be related to public contracting and purchasing: The city is no longer bound by state statutes, unless the city’s charter, a bill passed by ordinance or the city council says otherwise.

“Public works contracts with a total value of $50,000 or less will be exempt from public bidding and follow procedures for open market hiring of contractors, or purchase of supplies, set by the City Council,” is a key provision of the charter, according to the City Attorney-provided ballot explanation.

Likewise, the charter would prohibit the city council from requiring the payment of prevailing wages on public works contracts in El Cajon, unless they’re required on the federal or state level, if the contract doesn’t involve a municipal project, if the project includes partial state or federal funding, or if the city council authorizes otherwise.

The argument in favor of the initiative, written by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, said its benefits included: reducing local construction costs to provide more funding for local projects, ensuring greater efficiency for city government, placing greater limits on politician pay raises and reducing local control from Sacramento politicians.

The San Diego County Grand Jury also recommended that El Cajon join the 120 other cities statewide that transitioned to charter cities.

“The citizens of El Cajon understand the needs of our city and how our local government should operate far better than Sacramento politicians,” read the pro-Prop. D argument signed by SDCTA CEO Lani Lutar, and others. “El Cajon citizens can take control of local priorities by voting to become a charter city.”

No formal arguments against the proposal were submitted for inclusion with the ballot materials.

The specific language in the bill that says prevailing wage laws can’t be required unless they’re required on the state or federal level was a direct reaction to a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed this spring to combat local efforts to restrict the use of project labor agreements — as San Diego later voted to do when it approved Proposition A.

The bill would withhold state funding for projects if cities had project labor agreements in place. El Cajon leaders altered the charter’s wording to exempt themselves from the provision.

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