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Not so fast 

City leaders in Arroyo Grande put the brakes on a plan to go charter.

The plan was to draft a new city charter, which would go to voters in November. But city leaders decided at the June 12 City Council meeting to slow the process.

If approved, Arroyo Grande would join San Luis Obispo as the only other charter city in the county. All other cities in the county are general law cities, meaning their authority is derived directly from the state. Arroyo Grande, on the other hand, hopes to draft its own city charter and move away from the parental control of a whackadoo state Legislature.

Additionally, a city charter would allow Arroyo Grande to shirk state prevailing wage requirements on future projects that don’t use state or federal funds. City Manager Steve Adams said going charter, particularly sidestepping prevailing wage requirements, would save the city between $50,000 and $300,000 every year.

That proposal drew ire from local and outside laborers and union representatives, who protested the city’s proposal and questioned the savings Adams and other officials were advertising.

Steve Weiner of the Tri Counties Building & Construction Trades Council said “promised savings never materialize.” He and other construction workers and union representatives said prevailing wage helps ensure a good final product for the city, and cost overruns by non-prevailing wage contractors can easily nullify any initial savings.

Adams said other cities that have gone charter—or attempted to—have confronted strong opposition from unions.

Members of the City Council—still reeling from a defeat at the polls on an initiative to refinance city bonds and pay for a new police station—had too many hanging questions to move forward on the lightning-quick timeline set before them.

“I’m gravely concerned about us making the same mistakes here,” Councilwoman Caren Ray said.

Ray said she was “absolutely behind” the proposal to go charter, but she wanted more time to comb through the proposed language and to gauge the community, as did the rest of the City Council. Ray joked: “If we’re just doing this because it’s cost saving, a dictatorship is cost saving.”

Adams told council members that the accelerated timeline was necessary to realize savings quickly. If the city misses the November election, he said, it could be two years before Arroyo Grande can go to voters with a charter proposal.

But to date, the city has had virtually no public input and actually doesn’t have time to feel the pulse of residents before November.

The city was scheduled to hold another public hearing on July 10, at which time it would have put the proposal on the November ballot. Instead, City Council members voted unanimously (Councilman Joe Costello was absent) to meet in July and set a new schedule to move forward without rushing the measure onto this year’s ballot.

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