Charter could cost city funding

New law allows state to deny money for public works projects overseen by language like that proposed in Costa Mesa.

October 16, 2013|By Emily Foxhall

New California legislation could cut off some state funding for Costa Mesa based on language the city's Charter Committee has voted to include in a new draft charter.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 7 into law over the weekend, turning the tables on a local debate over how construction workers should be paid. The legislation allows the state to withhold funds for public works projects executed by cities whose charters include ordinances or provisions that allow contractors to pay other than prevailing wages.

These wages reflect rates paid to the majority of workers in a craft, such as metal roofing, telecommunications technical work and tree trimming, and are determined by the state's director of the department of industrial relations, according to the department's website. They are meant to ensure that construction contracts are not awarded because a competitor offers a low wage rate.


The state Supreme Court determined last year that charter cities could waive the requirement on city-funded projects. However, the new law permits the state to deny money for public works projects overseen by those cities.

This change could affect 51 charter cities, according to the League of California Cities, an association of city officials in the state. If the proposed charter passes unchanged, Costa Mesa could be added to this list.


Committee's Decision

In a 10-1 vote Oct. 9, with committee member Harold Weitzberg dissenting and committee members William Fancher and Mary Ann O'Connell absent, the Costa Mesa Charter Committee decided city-funded construction projects would not necessarily require the payment of prevailing wages.

Specifically, Costa Mesa would be free under the proposal to determine wages for projects that "are not of statewide concern, unless payment of prevailing wages is compelled by terms of the funding source," the draft charter reads.

The vote came after discussion of the issue at several previous meetings.

Committee member Ron Amburgey said Friday that he believed the measure would allow the city to save significantly.

"Bottom line is it adds to the cost of construction projects," Amburgey said of prevailing wage.

Not all agreed. Weitzberg, the only committee member who voted in dissent, explained Friday that the cost savings are more blurry than they seem.

"They claim you'll save millions of dollars, but no one is actually showing me you'll save millions of dollars," he said.

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