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Purchasing Overview

General guidelines

All City procurement documentation (receipts, invoices, credit card statements) is public record and subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. With every purchase, consider:

  • Is there a good explanation as to why the expenditure is appropriate? Has it been documented?
  • Could the amount spent be comfortably defended under public scrutiny?
  • Would you be free from worry if the expense was selected for audit?
  • If the expense was on the front page of the newspaper, would you feel comfortable explaining it to a taxpayer?

All goods and services, including construction contracts, should be competitively procured or bid. City municipal code requires staff to purchase good or services at the lowest cost. This is why City construction contracts are awarded to the lowest, responsive responsible bidder.

The responsibility to ensure you are procuring City goods and services at the lowest cost available is an ongoing one. Regularly purchased good and contracted services should be routinely re-evaluated and re-advertised.

Per the City’s municipal code Professional Services are not required to be competitively bid and may be instead awarded based on a consultant’s experience, familiarity with the work, personnel, and other criteria specified in the Request for Proposal (RFP). However, it is the City’s business practice to competitively bid professional services whenever possible.

Finally, City procurement policy calls for the periodic evaluation of our in-house services to ensure we are providing services in the most cost-efficient manner (e.g. versus contracting services out).

Prior to proceeding with a major purchase or contract; confirm that funding is available for the project.

If the purchase/contract will be paid out of a division’s annual operating budget, then check your department/division’s latest budget report as to whether sufficient budget is available for the remainder of the fiscal year.

If the purchase/contract will be for a capital project, check the budgeted amount and funding source(s) listed in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) document (

If you are unsure what the funding source is, you should check with the Department’s financial manager for assistance in identifying the funding source(s) prior to going out to bid and/or executing the contract.

As city employees, we are responsible for making thoughtful purchases in compliance with various state and local laws and ordinances that pertain to items like paper products and food service ware.  

SB 1383, the statewide climate pollutant reduction law, requires that all paper products purchased by the city contain a minimum percentage of post-consumer recycled content, generally 30% with some caveats.  

The Marin County and City of San Rafael Reusable Foodware Ordinance contains additional specifications for 100% compostable or reusable food ware.  

More information about SB 1383 compliant paper products as well as compostable food ware can be found on the Green Purchasing Protocols page.

Types of purchases, per the San Rafael Municipal Code

Link to view San Rafael Municipal Code

Professional services

Services of attorneys, physicians, architects, engineers, surveyors and other consultants or individuals or organizations possessing a high degree of technical skill (SRMC 2.55.020(d))

SRMC 2.55.040
Award Authority Requirements
SRMC 2.55.090
<$10,000 Director Competitive bidding preferred, not required
$10,000 - $75,000 City Manager Competitive bidding preferred, not required
>$75,000 City Council Competitive bidding preferred, not required

Public works projects

Note: to qualify as a City "Public works project" the contract does not necessarily need to be executed by the Public Works Department, it just must fit the description(s) below.

SRMC 11.50.020(h)

  • The construction, improvement, alteration, modification and repair of public buildings, works and facilities;
  • Work in or about streams, bays, waterfronts, embankments or other works for protection against overflow;
  • Construction of streets and related improvements including installation of lighting and signaling systems;
  • Construction of drainage systems;
  • Construction of parks, playgrounds and other recreational improvements, scenic improvements, and enhancement projects;
  • Furnishing materials and supplies for any such project;
  • Maintenance and repair of public works; and
  • Other similar work.
SRMC 11.50.020(f)(g)

City Resolution 14416*

Award Authority Requirements
SRMC 11.50.090(a)
$0 -$5,000 Supervisor/Project Manager Competitive bidding preferred, not required
$5,000 -$30,000 Mid-Manager Competitive bidding preferred, not required
$30,000 - $200,000* Maintenance: Director
All other: City Manager
Informal bidding procedures (min. 3 bids)
>$200,000* City Council Formal bidding procedures

* Per the Muni Code, the Public Works Minor and Major contracts threshold can be modified by a City Council Resolution. Therefore, to mirror the Public Works Contracts Code, the City of San Rafael adopted Resolution 14416 on January 17, 2023  to increase the Minor contract threshold to $200,000 from the prior $175,000 threshold

Services, supplies, materials and equipment

Any and all articles or things which shall be furnished to or used by any department of the city (SRMC 2.55.020(h,i)). This includes computer software or similar technology purchases.

  • "Services" means any and all work performed or services rendered by independent contractors, with or without the furnishing of material, excluding contracts for public works projects or professional services. (SRMC 2.55.020(h)).
  • Includes support services: work performed or services rendered by independent contractors, with or without the furnishing of material, such as custodial services, building and equipment maintenance, machinery and equipment rental, and telephone, gas, water, electric light and power services (SRMC 11.50.020 (j), 11.50.030 – “support services”).
  • Services, Supplies, Materials and Equipment purchased for a public works project are exempt from these requirements and fall under the Public Works Projects requirements (SRMC 11.50.020 (h)(6))
SRMC 2.55.110
Award Authority Requirements
SRMC 2.55.110
<$5,000 Director or Designee Competitive bidding not required
$5,000-$10,000 Director or Designee Competitive bidding required, informal bidding procedures
$10,000 - $75,000 City Manager Competitive bidding required, informal bidding procedures
>$75,000 City Council Competitive bidding required, formal bidding procedures

Exceptions to competitive bidding

SRMC 2.55.100

  • Any purchase <$5,000
  • Emergency purchases and contracts: when determined and declared by City Manager that an emergency exists
  • Sole source: Supplies, materials, equipment, and services that can only be obtained from a sole source or that are specialty in nature. Approval of sole source must be given by appropriate level of authority for dollar amount, e.g. for a $50,000 professional services contract City Manager must approve a sole source, and for a $100,000 professional services contract City Council must approve the purchase.
  • Professional services: Competitive bidding is not required for professional services contracts. However, the vendor selected must demonstrate competence and the professional qualifications necessary for the satisfactory performance of the services required.
  • Cooperative purchasing programs: Purchases of supplies, material, equipment or services and sales of surplus property made under a cooperative purchasing program, such as by utilizing purchasing agreements maintained by the United States government or any agency or division thereof, the State of California, County of Marin, or other public agencies, are exempt from the competitive bidding requirements of this chapter. Documentation of the cooperative purchase should be made.
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