Grover Beach City Council moves ahead on charter city proposal

A sign greets people entering Grover Beach.
A sign greets people entering Grover Beach. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

About a year after four votes stopped Grover Beach from becoming a charter city, a group of local citizens recommended this week that city officials try again.

However, it was clear that any new effort to adopt a charter will face a challenge from labor union representatives if local officials include prevailing wage exemptions.

After four heated, emotional meetings earlier this year, a 10-member committee on Monday recommended the Grover Beach City Council place a ballot measure before voters next November, with straightforward language and a broader effort to raise public awareness as part of the process.

“The consensus was that the council should move forward,” said Grover Beach resident Steve Lieberman, a former councilman who headed up the committee.

On Monday, the council agreed to move ahead and will likely appoint a committee at its Jan. 21 meeting to work on a new draft charter, using the failed 2012 measure as a base.

“A charter is basically our constitution,” Mayor Debbie Peterson said. “We’re looking for a simple document that’s broad … that actually withstands the test of time.”

If successful, the measure would change the city from a general law to a charter city, allowing local officials to draft their own rules on election procedures, bidding for contracts and rules for use of city property. City officials also hope the change will protect them from state money grabs and unfunded mandates, and give them more local control.

In San Luis Obispo County, only the city of San Luis Obispo is a charter city, though Arroyo Grande is pursuing the idea.

“It insulates us in some fashion from Sacramento,” Councilman Jeff Lee said. “It’s about the local community and whatever we can do to support the local community.”

When city leaders first placed the charter on the ballot in 2012, they mentioned the benefits of having local control as well as possible cost savings from not paying a prevailing wage on certain construction projects.

But the council will likely face resistance if it adopts language similar to the 2012 measure on prevailing wage. The failed measure included an exemption from paying the prevailing wage to workers on construction projects when using only locally generated dollars.

State law defines the prevailing wage as the hourly rate within the local labor market that most workers in a particular trade are paid. The law ensures that contractors don’t pay their workers less in order to underbid competitors on public projects.

“We’d rather work with the city to pass a fair charter that does not single out building trades workers and puts a burden on them for working for less,” said Steven M.Weiner, executive secretary-treasurer of the Tri-Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents 33 craft unions in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.

The prevailing wage debate, however, could be irrelevant because of a bill signed into law Oct. 13. Senate Bill 7 prohibits a charter city from using state funding for construction projects if the city’s charter allows contractors to skirt state prevailing wage laws

In 2012, City Manager Bob Perrault said that about 80 percent of the city's capital improvement projects involve state or federal funds.

“With the passage of SB 7, we will be paying prevailing wages,” Councilman Bill Nicolls said Monday. “We’re not going to jump out there and cut off our nose. There’s an awful lot to the charter besides prevailing wage.”

City officials said the council still must decide whether a new committee will fall under the purview of the state’s open-meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act. The city was recently criticized by two advocacy groups for failing to notify the public of the committee meetings to examine drafting a city charter.

City officials said the Brown Act was not applicable because the charter review committee was not created by the City Council but only discussed at a council meeting.

Peter Scheer, executive director for First Amendment Coalition, disagreed. He told The Tribune that even though the City Council did not formally vote to create the committee, its description, function and organization as an advisor y body to the council make it subject to the Brown Act.