El Cajon says no to county’s ‘Families’ ordinance

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The El Cajon City Council unanimously adopted a resolution opposing San Diego County’s Working Families Ordinance, due to the County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 5.

The opposition was supported in a staff report prepared by City Manager Graham Mitchell who then also encouraged Council to work with staff to develop a coalition of interest groups, hold a press conference, provide testimony at the October meeting, to oppose the resolution because of its disproportionately disadvantage to the city of El Cajon.

“We are bearing more burden than anywhere else in the county,” he said.

Mitchell said the draft ordinance was prepared and presented in July by Supervisor Terra Lawson Remer (District 2) and Chair Nathan Fletcher (District 4).

“Staff believes that this ordinance is actually inherently unfair. It just ain’t right. It stinks. It is unfair to many communities, but especially unfair to the city of El Cajon,” Mitchell said.

The proposed ordinance requires businesses on county property to use skilled and trained workforce, requires lessees to pay prevailing wages to employees and their contractors, and businesses leasing property from the County to provide a minimum of 56 hours of annual sick leave for employees, when the state minimum is 48. Mitchell said that this would be for any property in the county, that there is no definition of prevailing wages, or a definition of skilled trained workforce. The staff report states that the proposed ordinance also impacts construction projects on County owned land. Requiring skilled and trained workforce and prevailing wages applies to a contract over $500,000 and single-craft projects over $25,000, the ordinance includes provisions that make it applicable to existing county agreements, and if legally permissible, be incorporated into existing agreements as a condition of any amendment to extend or renew the agreement’s terms.

“The staff report identifies out of the 1,000 acres of industrial and manufacturing that exist in the city of El Cajon, half of that is owned and controlled and leased out by the county of San Diego,” said Mitchell. “Over 300 businesses that lease property from the county that we call our businesses. That generate income for our city, jobs for our city, and employ about 3,500 employees based on our business license records. A minimum of three supervisors, who do not even represent El Cajon, have the ability to influence 50% of the city’s industrial land. That is a pretty significant issue. That meets the definition of unfairness.”

The County operates six airports, including Gillespie Field which is located within the El Cajon city limits. The airport complex is home to more than 50 aircraft hangars with approximately 30 small businesses that pay rent to the County. The County also owns and land surrounding the airport.

Mitchell said 60% of all leases that the County possesses are around Gillespie Field, most of those in the city of El Cajon.

“Business located specifically in El Cajon have a disadvantage to their competitors outside who are playing by a completely different set of rules,” he said. “El Cajon’s unemployment rate is 40% higher than the region. Our medium house income is 27% less. Our number of low income individuals is almost 50% higher. Our educational attainment is 43% less. We have a higher rate of housing stock as apartments and almost double the number of renters in the region. We clearly have a need for jobs in our community.”

Mayor Bill Wells said it was clear to him the county ordinance was designed to “attack” the city of El Cajon.

“We all know that the county has gone radically left, woke, and we know that the city of El Cajon is conservative,” he said. “I contend that this is blatant pure politics. But they are not attacking me. They are not attacking this council. They are attacking the people that are trying to put food on their table. They are taking their woke politics and they are destroying lives.”

Wells said that Fletcher and Lawson-Remer prepared an ordinance that was “purely evil” and challenged either of them to debate him in public over the ordinance but did not believe either would accept.

“Let’s let everybody know what is happening,” he said. “You know you have nothing to stand on. You know I have the facts on my side, that I will destroy you.”

Council member Phil Ortiz said the level of arrogance that Fletcher and Lawson-Remer was astonishing.

“You are going to go into these businesses and tell them they have to pay this amount,” he said. “Shame on you. After they are trying to pick themselves up after the shutdown, after COVID ravaged our communities.”

Ortiz said he was “boiled over angry,” and that this ordinance would cost hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees. He said he is not looking for an exemption for airport property and refused “to give them an inch” of support of the proposed policy. He said this ordinance would destroy businesses for people of color and immigrants.

“This is outrageous,” he said. “This policy will shut them down. It will move them out of the city and cost people their entire lives.”

In an opposition letter to the ordinance, Taylor Guitars Chief Financial Officer Barbara Wight stated the proposed ordinance creates “significant risk and uncertainty” for the business as it recently transitioned to 100% employee ownership to ensure its employees have fair compensation and is able to continue to manufacture in California.

“We have been manufacturing in San Diego’s East County for 47 years, have grown into a world-renowned company and widely respected employer, and want to stay here forever,” Wight stated. “Thus far, we have been able to make our own business decisions to control our own destiny while providing for our employees and families. We are absolutely opposed to government policies that eliminate our ability to manage our operations in ways that are best for our business and our employee-owners.”

Staff reported that in preparing the resolution it contacted the East County Economic Development Council, the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the County’s General Services Department and the County’s Office of Equity and Racial Justice, identifying three significant impacts of the proposed ordinance.

The staff reports states that SANDAG data shows that East County currently “exports” employees to job centers to the west of East County. This imbalance will be exacerbated by the County’s proposed ordinance. This daily migration of workforce out of East County is a generator of greenhouse gas emissions and will likely increase.

The staff report also states, “The manufacturing and industrial area of El Cajon has been recognized and valued as perhaps the single most important job center in the entire East County region. It provides jobs locally, reducing commute distances and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. If this proposed ordinance is adopted and businesses leave to other competing areas in the County such as Otay Mesa, Chula Vista, San Diego, and Escondido, the housing/jobs balance will become even more uneven in East County and will put more vehicles on already burdened highways such as SR-52, I-8, and SR-94, ultimately increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the region.”

“This is an ordinance that we should not be supporting,” said Mitchell. “We think that our regional partners at MTS and SANDAG should oppose this. This undermines all of the work that they have been trying to do. If you believe in protecting the environment, you should oppose this ordinance. Communities of color should be outraged. Immigrant communities should be fearful and feel more vulnerable. And the business community, and any rational person in this county should oppose this.”

El Cajon says no to county’s ‘Families’ ordinance