Fair and open competition is a core American value

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Chula Vistans will vote on the Fair and Open Competition Ordinance as part of the June 8, 2010 statewide primary election. For more on the ordinance, visit http://fairnessforchulavista.com/  The following was submitted to SD Rostra as a guest commentary…

Guest Column
by Hon. Larry Breitfelder

Fair and open competition is not a slogan or a political tactic. It is a core American value.

I sit on the Board of Directors of a local water district that does millions of dollars of infrastructure construction every year. I was motivated to become a proponent for fair and open competition for taxpayer funded construction projects in Chula Vista because I know from experience that fair and open competition allows us to build what the public needs for the lowest possible price. No special interest group should stand in the way of all of us getting the best possible value for our tax dollars.

As you may recall, in the last election labor unions spent about $300,000 to unseat San Diego Unified School Board Representative Mitz Lee. I’m sure you can imagine that she could not begin to defend herself against the TV barrage that kind of money can buy. Her replacement resulted in a solid labor backed majority on the San Diego School Board.

What agenda would inspire such a huge financial investment to get a majority on a school board?

Well times are hard for almost everyone now. One of the few bright sides of what has been described as “..the worst recession in the San Diego construction industry’s history” is that you can get a lot of important work done inexpensively because hungry companies tend to bid very low to get the work.

In this environment it was not shocking when 17 bids were cast for a San Diego Community College District building project. The lowest bid through fair and open competition came from a San Diego company and was 25% less expensive than expected. This was to the San Diego Community College District, not San Diego Unified.

Only a short time after, San Diego Unified received only five bids for a similar construction project. The lowest bid here was about 35% more expensive than expected.

What happened? The new union sponsored majority on the San Diego Unified School Board rejected fair and open competition to adopt their version of a “union-only” Project Labor Agreement” (it was called a “PSA”, but it’s essentially the same thing) for the $2.1 billion in construction spending that will result from recent voter approved school bonds.

Many millions of dollars of union dues are to be had from a monopoly on $2.1 billion in construction spending. The $300,000 in political campaign spending was obviously a good investment for the unions. It sure didn’t do much for the kids or the taxpayers.

The immensely higher spending that can occur under a “union-only” system was not the only lesson taught by the recent bidding fiasco.

The “Union-only” Project Labor Agreement system was sold as the “the only way” to ensure “local participation”. I’m sure you guessed it…the expensive winning company is based in a suburd of Los Angeles.

At this point, momentum is on the side of protecting the public interest. Just recently, the San Diego Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to direct staff to draft an ordinance that would immediately mandate fair and open competition instead of PLA’s or alternatively, an initiative that would require a vote of the people to make such a change less immediately, but much harder for a future board majority to reverse.

Unions throughout the country are expected to pour millions of dollars into San Diego to suffocate the movement against wasteful PLA’s out of fear that our resolve will catch fire nationally. If we keep our courage in the face of what promises to be a viscous onslaught, the public interest can and will prevail.

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Breitfelder is a member of the Otay Water District Board of Directors and a candidate for Chula Vista City Council.  Visit him on the web at http://www.larrybforcouncil.com/

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