San Diego 'Pothole' Issues: Work for Private Firms?

Mayor to seek bids for infrastructure maintenance, clerical tasks

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Potholes.

    San Diego's 'pothole issues' may eventually become the job of private companies who replace city workers.

    Mayor Sanders announced Thursday that he'll seek outside bids for street and sidewalk maintenance, and clerical work in public utility departments.

    His plans widen the scope of 'managed competition', which San Diego voters approved four years ago.

    San Diego 'Pothole' Issues: Work for Private Firms?

    [DGO] San Diego 'Pothole' Issues: Work for Private Firms?
    Mayor Sanders pits city workers against private companies.

    The process pits city workers against private companies that -- in order to win a contract -- would have to do the work at a ten percent savings under what the city departments bid.

    Can the municipal employees hang onto their jobs?

    "We think if we have to re-look at it as a city and our employees have to come up with a bid, that they're going to come up with a competitive bid," Sanders told reporters at a City Hall news conference. "And we think we save money on that. And if not, and the private industry comes up with a better bid, then we'll save money that way."

    Repairs to streets, alleys and sidewalks cost the city upwards of $14 million a year, and are performed by 102 full-time employees.

    Street sweeping costs about $4.5 million annually, utilizing 32 full-timers.

    Sanders noted that he's spoken personally with street-sweeping staffers, who told him "If you get the bureaucracy out of our way, nobody can beat us."

    Added the mayor: "I'm banking on the fact that they're right."

    The city's water and sewer departments employ 34 clerical workers who handle billing and customer service, for $3 million a year.

    However the managed competition goes, City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said she's "absolutely 100 percent confident that not only will we have cost-savings, we will be having a happier workforce and a more efficient workforce."

    For their part, city union union representatives say private firms don't bring what their members do 'to the table'.

    "Everything isn't down on paper," said Joan Raymond, president of Local 127 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, which represents about 2,000 city employees.

    "Our blue-collar workers know how things work, how changes are made through the years," Raymond said. "That is something they have in their heads and they pass on from worker to worker -- the institutional knowledge. A private contractor is not going to have that."

    Meantime, preparations for managed competition for the city's print-shop functions and vehicle-maintenance work are well under way.

    Under city rules, at least two private firms must submit qualified bids in order for the process to begin.