Escondido Council approves charter for ballot

Escondido Council approves charter for ballot
At the Jan. 15 City Council meeting, Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz and Mayor Sam Abed exchange differing ideas about how public input should be incorporated into Escondido's forthcoming charter proposal. Photo by Rachel Stine

ESCONDIDO — Despite debate over how the charter would be written and what would be included, the City Council directed staff to place a revised city charter proposal on the upcoming November ballot.

Charter cities, as opposed to general law cities, gain local authority over municipal affairs, including the city’s organizations, elected offices, fees and zoning. The state only retains powers expressly granted by the state or federal constitution.

Charter agreements have the option of addressing a wide range of matters including elections, administrative power, finance, and retirement pertaining to city employees.

“I want the independence from the state,” said Mayor Sam Abed at Wednesday’s city council meeting.

All of Council spoke in favor of considering a city charter for an upcoming election.

Vista, Carlsbad, Oceanside, San Marcos, and Del Mar have elected to become charter cities, leaving Escondido as one of the few remaining general law cities in North County.

Escondido City Council previously proposed a charter in the 2012 election, which was turned down by voters.

Two main aspects of the previous charter included dividing the city into voting districts and exempting contractors from paying prevailing wages on city projects. Yet, voting districts were instituted because of a court ruling late last year. And the newly-passed Senate Bill 7 denies state construction funding from cities with charter provisions exempting them from prevailing wage requirements.

With those two matters off the table, Council suggested term limits for its members and adjusting the role of the city treasurer for consideration on the charter.

During the meeting, several residents spoke in support of enhanced public input on the charter. They requested that the city set up a committee or postpone the matter to allow voters to elect a commission to write the charter.

Council disagreed on how to best incorporate public input into the charter.

Abed asserted that public hearings and workshops would be sufficient for incorporating the public’s opinion into the document before the upcoming election.

“We (City Council) have a constitutional right to put a charter on the ballot and we are going to do it,” he said. “You the public, have the last authority to approve it or disapprove it.”

Councilmember John Masson agreed that the charter needs to include the wants of the public and be created with transparency, but did not think that creating a commission was the best way to achieve that.

“I don’t want to see it (the charter) go to a commission and get lost in ‘Never Never Land,’” he said.

Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz voiced support for the public charter commission. She said that the last time the charter was on the ballot, it did not incorporate any of the public comments received during public meetings.

“We’re not the only five people in town with ideas,” she said of city council.

Abed concluded the discussion by directing staff to set up public hearings and begin work on drafting the city charter without a vote from Council.

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