Tag Archive for Home Rule for California Cities

The Context for California’s Senate Bill 7: California Unions Advance Plot to Neuter City Charters (My Article in www.UnionWatch.org)

My article With Senate Bill 7, California Unions Advance Plot to Neuter City Charters was posted on www.UnionWatch.org on February 28, 2013.

More than 30 California cities are likely to defy top union officials by asking their citizens in 2014 to vote on enacting a “home rule” charter for local control. Cities want to free their purely municipal affairs from costly union-backed state mandates…

It includes links to recent news stories about cities in California that are considering bringing a proposed charter before voters for approval in 2014:

Murrieta

A Former Mayor of a Southern California City Provides an Intellectual Argument for City Charters and Local Government Authority – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – February 19, 2013 (a commentary on Reasons to Consider Becoming a Charter City – San Diego Union-Tribune – February 19, 2013).

Costa Mesa

Outsourcing Back in for Costa MesaOrange County Register (editorial) – February 6, 2013

…passage of Measure V would have made the privatization task easier. But the union outspent Measure V proponents by more than seven-to-one. However, Mr. [Councilman Jim] Righeimer said he hopes a new charter measure will be put on the June 2014 ballot…Within 60 days the council will hold a study session on how to set up the independent committee for the new charter measure.

Stanford Professor Warns Costa Mesa about Pension DebtOrange County Register – February 27, 2013 and City’s Pension Outlook Called ‘Stark’ – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – February 27, 2013. (With the failure of the Measure V charter in November 2012, Costa Mesa is now in the union paradigm with a proposed solution to raise taxes.)

Redding

Unions Rise to Defense of “Prevailing Wage” Rates Jeopardizing Hotel Project in Reddingwww.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – February 15, 2013 and Redding Needs a Charter to End Nonsense Definition of Private Hotel as a “Public Works” Project – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – January 31, 2013.

Escondido

Escondido Mayor Touts Urban Renewal, Embracing DiversitySan Diego Union-Tribune – February 20, 2013

Delivering his annual State of the City address to nearly 300 residents and business leaders gathered at the city’s arts center… [Mayor Sam] Abed said he also wants the city to take another shot at becoming a charter city, which would increase Escondido’s independence from Sacramento and reduce the cost of some city construction projects.

Moreno Valley

Moreno Valley: City to Explore Becoming Charter City – Riverside Press-Enterprise – February 26, 2013

The Moreno Valley City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 26, unanimously approved establishing a subcommittee that would explore becoming a charter city and appointing two council members to it.

Moreno Valley: Charter City Committee Could Be Created  – Riverside Press-Enterprise – February 25, 2013

The Moreno Valley City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 26, is to follow through on plans to determine whether to become a charter city. The council is set to vote on whether to establish a charter exploratory subcommittee and appoint two council members to it.

Buellton

Buellton Continues “Home Rule’ Talk – Santa Ynez Valley News – February 7, 2013

The idea of changing Buellton to a “home-rule” city is on hold again after City Council members decided to set up a workshop for more discussion about a draft plan…City Manager John Kunkel said the committee wants voters to be comfortable with the measure and, if the council wants to have a dialogue with unions, there is no rush.

Charting Best Path to Buellton’s Future – Santa Ynez Valley News (editorial) – February 7, 2013

…being a charter city does mean that local elected officials and voters can make more of their own decisions, and are therefore better able to tailor policy to fit specific local needs…Being a charter city also lets local government off the hook for paying a prevailing wage. Labor unions don’t like that possibility…

Arroyo Grande

Arroyo Grande Considering City Charter – www.CalCoastNews.com – January 28, 2013

The Arroyo Grande City Council has created a committee to explore the idea of becoming a charter city in order to cut costs…Many union members oppose city charters because they allow exemptions from state-mandated prevailing wage agreements. City staff says adopting a charter could save Arroyo Grande $50,000 to $300,000 annually.

Study Under Way to Find Out if Arroyo Grande Should Try to Become a Charter CitySan Luis Obispo Tribune – January 27, 2013

A committee has been convened to study whether Arroyo Grande should try to become a charter city, a move that officials say could save money and give it more local control. The idea, however, faces stiff opposition from local union members…

Bakersfield Becomes Latest of California’s 121 Charter Cities to Free Itself from Government-Mandated Construction Wage Rates (So-Called “Prevailing Wage”)

As I anticipated in my July 2, 2012 article Prediction: An Explosion of California Cities Freeing Themselves from Costly State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate Laws, the past three months have seen a flood of California cities seeking voter approval for charters, as well as existing charter cities establishing their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”) for purely municipal construction (or private projects that receive government assistance only from the city).

These recent www.CalWatchdogs.com articles summarize what’s happening in California: Push for Charter Cities Enrages Unions and Cities Vying for Local Control on November Ballot.

Through its July 2012 decision in State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, ALF-CIO v. City of Vista, the California Supreme Court affirmed the right of California’s 121 charter cities to set their own prevailing wage policies for municipal construction and thereby free themselves from the costly, complicated, and nonsensical way that the State of California calculates state-mandated construction wage rates and defines public works.

For comprehensive information, see the 92-page guidebook Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

Bakersfield is the latest charter city to establish its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates. Hoping to sustain its economic boom and resist union-backed public policies dragging down economic growth and job creation in the state and other cities, the Bakersfield City Council voted 4-2 (with one city council member recusing himself) on October 17, 2012 to set its own policy. Here is the city’s agenda item description: Resolution exempting the City from prevailing wage requirements for locally funded public works contracts except where required by law.

Here’s a July 17, 2009 video report on KBAK Channel 29 (CBS) news featuring a comment from me about the need for the City of Bakersfield to free itself from state-mandated construction wage rates set based on collective bargaining agreements for urban areas: Prevailing Wage Wastes Tax Dollars in Bakersfield.

It was reported to me that unions brought busloads of people from Los Angeles to pack the council chamber, but the city council majority was not fooled and not intimidated. Here’s news coverage, with excerpts (bold highlights are mine):

Council Shakes Off Prevailing Wage Requirement – Bakersfield Californian – October 17, 2012

City staff also informally surveyed local contractors and were told that without the prevailing wage requirement, project costs could be cut by 3.5 percent to 30 percent

But just as many people spoke in favor of the resolution as against it, saying it would result in more efficient use of taxpayer money and wouldn’t lead to unfair construction wages or lower quality in projects.

“As a city council member, I have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers and the community to utilize funds with care and strive to provide the best value possible,” Weir said in an email earlier Wednesday. “With the approval of tonight’s resolution, we will be able to build better parks with more amenities, increase the amount of street repaving, and provide other benefits without additional cost to the taxpayers. To not pursue this opportunity would be a breach of my responsibility.”

Councilmembers added a late amendment to the resolution as a step to better protect against unqualified contractors bidding for city work. Before the resolution passed, projects valued at $1 million or more required that contractors be “pre-qualified” for their suitability to do the type of project at hand before being allowed to submit a bid. With the resolution, that threshold was lowered to $250,000.

Contractors, Unions Object to City Prevailing Wage Proposal – Bakersfield Californian –  October 16, 2012

City Manager Alan Tandy said savings for the city means more work can be done. Taking an example of 20 percent savings, he said, “If we save 20 percent on resurfacing a street, we can resurface 20 percent more streets. We have more that need resurfacing than we have money to resurface.”

Council Members Tackle High Speed Rail, Prevailing Wages in Heated Debate – KGET Channel 17 (NBC) news – October 18, 2012

Congratulations to the Bakersfield City Council. Under pressure and threats, they refused to payoff the unionsCalifornia Political News and Views – October 19, 2012

Will This Charter City Movement Lead to Genuine (or Any?) Prevailing Wage Reform?

Perhaps union officials in Bakersfield are realizing that “prevailing wage” as calculated under state law and “public works” as defined under state law are so outrageous that cities are intent on escaping them. Bakersfield’s own Assemblywoman Shannon Grove introduced two thoughtful and reasonable prevailing wage reform bills (Assembly Bill 987 and Assembly Bill 988) to make state-mandated government wage rates only apply to legitimate government projects and be more reflective of actual local market rates, but union lobbyists opposed these bills and Democrats defeated them in committee in January 2012.

In fact, as I reported in my April 20, 2012 article State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate Requirements Remain on California Projects Worth $1001 to $2000, union lobbyists and Legislative Democrats wouldn’t even support Assemblywoman Grove’s Assembly Bill 1958, which made two very modest changes to the state’s prevailing wage laws. That bill increased the project cost threshold for coverage from $1000 to $2000 to match the $2000 threshold set by the federal prevailing wage law called the Davis-Bacon Act. It also indexed the threshold to the same measure of inflation that the Democrats want to use for indexing the state minimum wage.

There WILL be a day when unions no longer control the California State Legislature and the Governor’s office. In the meantime, charter cities are exercising their own right to determine their economic destiny, and many of them don’t want to follow the direction of the State of California to inevitable bankruptcy.

Project Underway to Create a Cutting-Edge Model Charter for California Cities to Free Their Municipal Affairs from the State Legislature – YOU Can Help!

For more than a year, I’ve talked and written about developing a model charter that city councils and appointed charter commissions in California’s general law cities can use as a basis to develop their own proposed charters to bring before voters for consideration.

A model charter would also help city councils and appointed charter commissions in 121 California cities to amend and freshen their existing charters. (Note: voters in three more cities – Escondido, Costa Mesa, and Grover Beach – will consider enacting proposed charters in the November 6, 2012 election; there may be 124 charter cities in California at the end of 2012.)

Generally, the dozen cities that brought charters before their voters in the past six years obtained existing charters from other cities and tweaked them a little. City council members and staff have not started from scratch in developing their proposed charters, perhaps to avoid the political and legal risks of trying new concepts, and perhaps in part because developing a constitution from scratch is a time-consuming intellectual exercise better suited to James Madison or modern policy institutes.

Significant and recent developments in proposed city charters in California have been related to explicit provisions concerning the establishment of policies for government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”), prohibitions on requiring contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions, and requirements for unions to get permission from city employees to deduct money from their paychecks to use for political purposes. In addition, some charters have contained provisions meant to prevent the kind of corruption among city council members and city staff that occurred in the City of Bell in the late 2000s.

As I wrote in the Auburn Journal newspaper on September 26, 2011, cities in California need to consider asking voters to enact a charter that would be “a searing and unprecedented manifesto in support of fair and open competition, free enterprise, economic growth and job creation.” A charter needs to give a city full control of its municipal affairs, so it can implement “lower taxes, reasonable regulation, fiscal responsibility, limited government, local control and more freedom from corrupt urban legislators.”

Defenders of the status quo prefer California’s advocates of economic and personal freedom to be apologetic, mealy-mouthed, submissive and ineffective. I noted that an ideal charter, with its “defiance of excessive state authority,” would enrage numerous special interest groups.

Of course, aggressive opposition from special interest groups indicates a proposed charter would be effective in expanding local control. Should city councils and city staff regard this opposition as an insurmountable obstacle to achieving meaningful home rule?

My thinking is that even a slightly effective proposed city charter will agitate the unions, the environmental extremists, and any other parties who use the California State Legislature as an agent to impose their utopian visions on communities where a majority of people just want to mind their own business. Opposition from powerful special interest groups will come if the proposed charter is 100% effective or 10% effective in changing things. So why not pursue a goal of claiming 100% of the potential for a city’s governing authority over municipal affairs?

I Need Your Help to Develop the Ultimate Model City Charter for California!

Almost everyone squatting in the state legislature for the duration of their term limit wants to leave a legacy of some sort of accomplishment; that is, something inserted in California law that they can proudly show their grandchildren and cite in speeches to inspire youths to pursue public service. Think about how the California State Legislature enacts a parade of inane laws every year that interferes with or intrudes in municipal affairs.

In Sacramento today, I spoke to a group of free market-oriented policy intellectuals based in California about my plan to collect ideas for provisions in a model charter. I expect to get some great recommendations from them concerning transportation, land use and zoning, air quality, etc. You can help too. Below are resources to help you develop ideas to send me for the model charter:

1. At the end of this post, I cite relevant language from the July 2012 California Supreme Court case State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista about the Constitutional right of charter cities to control their own municipal affairs. This citation also includes the four criteria under which an issue is a municipal affair versus an issue of statewide concern. Read the criteria and think about problems in your city that the city council can’t fix or evade under the status quo.

2. Here are links to a few of the city charters recently enacted by voters or to be considered by voters in the November 6, 2012 election. These are the current examples of charters now being circulated among California local officials:

City of Oceanside

City of Vista

City of Costa Mesa

City of Escondido

City of Grover Beach

3. Here is a link to my 94-page report (third edition) published by the California Construction Compliance Group about the status of policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”) in California’s 121 charter cities. It’s the first and only comprehensive report ever written about this right of charter cities:

Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions? – 3rd Edition – Summer 2012

4. The League of California Cities (which is NOT part of this project) has excellent information about charter cities and home rule: Resources on Charter Cities from the League of California Cities.

5. To send me your ideas for charter provisions, call me or go here on this web site and use the form to contact me in writing. Thank you for your ideas to advance economic and personal freedom!

California’s Home Rule Doctrine

(Excerpts from pages 6 and 7 of the City of Vista California Supreme Court Decision on charter cities and prevailing wages – citations removed and language simplified – see the decision itself for more technical guidance.)

Charter cities are specifically authorized by our state Constitution to govern themselves, free of state legislative intrusion, as to those matters deemed municipal affairs.

Article XI, section 5, subdivision (a) of the California Constitution provides: “It shall be competent in any city charter to provide that the city governed thereunder may make and enforce all ordinances and regulations in respect to municipal affairs, subject only to restrictions and limitations provided in their several charters and in respect to other matters they shall be subject to general laws. City charters adopted pursuant to this Constitution shall supersede any existing charter, and with respect to municipal affairs shall supersede all laws inconsistent therewith.”

The roots of this provision trace back more than 100 years. It was originally enacted upon the principle that the municipality itself knew better what it wanted and needed than the state at large, and to give that municipality the exclusive privilege and right to enact direct legislation which would carry out and satisfy its wants and needs. The provision represents an affirmative constitutional grant to charter cities of all powers appropriate for a municipality to possess and includes the important corollary that so far as municipal affairs are concerned, charter cities are supreme and beyond the reach of legislative enactment.

We set forth an analytical framework for resolving whether or not a matter falls within the home rule authority of charter cities.

  1. Does the city ordinance at issue regulate an activity that can be characterized as a municipal affair?
  2. Does the case present an actual conflict between local and state law?
  3. Does the state law address a matter of statewide concern?
  4. Is the law reasonably related to resolution of that concern and narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessary interference in local governance? If the subject of the state statute is one of statewide concern and that the statute is reasonably related to its resolution (and not unduly broad in its sweep), then the conflicting charter city measure ceases to be a municipal affair and the Legislature is not prohibited by Article XI, section 5(a), from addressing the statewide dimension by its own tailored enactments.”
Note: in the City of Vista case, the court ruled that “no statewide concern has been presented justifying the state’s regulation of the wages that charter cities require their contractors to pay to workers hired to construct locally funded public works. In light of our conclusion that there is no statewide concern here, we need not determine whether the state’s prevailing wage law is “reasonably related to . . . resolution” of that concern and is “narrowly tailored” to avoid unnecessary interference in local governance. The court didn’t need to consider #4 in the analytical framework listed above because the answer to #3 was NO.