City Attorney: Pension ruling places obstacles on initiatives
Voters approved Proposition B last year
Last Updated: 99 days ago
SAN DIEGO - A ruling by a state Public Employment Relations Board administrative law judge against voter-passed Proposition B is part of an effort to make it harder for citizens to place pension reform initiatives on the ballot in the future, San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith charged Wednesday.
The city attorney told reporters that he would go to court to defend the pension reform ballot measure, which was passed with two-thirds support last June. He said the City Council gave him that authority last year.
"I would do that even if I agreed with the proposition itself … it has nothing to do with that," Goldsmith told 10News.
Goldsmith and other backers of the proposition have characterized PERB as an agency biased in favor of public employee unions. The city attorney said the ruling was expected.
"I view this with the fact that PERB acted so quickly last February in suing the city, I look at it as somebody at PERB or some group got together and said, 'My God, the floodgates are beginning to open,'" Goldsmith said.
"I think what they look at in this case is an effort to close the floodgates and to not allow citizens initiatives in the future -- at least put so many roadblocks in front of it that they're going to be less likely to
happen," he said. "I think that's been what this is about since day one."
Goldsmith said the unions will fight the reform, adding, "They're afraid that citizen's initiative will change pensions."
PERB Administrative Law Judge Donn Ginoza ruled Monday that the city failed to negotiate in good faith with its public employee unions before Proposition B was placed on the ballot. The decision, which was released late Tuesday, is not binding on the city but does set up a future court battle.
The Municipal Employees Association, which represents many of the city's white-collar workers, issued a statement calling the PERB ruling "a sweeping vindication" of its opposition to Proposition B. The unions, now backed by the PERB ruling, contend that city officials should have negotiated the terms of the initiative with them before it was placed on the ballot.
Goldsmith had advised city officials that the meet-and-confer requirement did not apply before the election, since it was put forth by private citizens. The city would have to meet with labor if it passed, something that has happened, according to the city attorney.
He said the ruling was "poorly written" and not based upon the law.
Goldsmith said he was "very confident" about his court case, noting that PERB attempts to keep the proposition off the ballot and stop its implementation were rejected by judges.
PERB doesn't have the authority to deny the constitutional rights of citizens to put initiatives on the ballot, he said.
Goldsmith said there are only two ways to legally stop it now.
"You can do it by way of an amendment to the Constitution, and give it to the people to vote on -- [but that’s] unlikely -- or the California supreme court," said Goldsmith.
The ballot measure directed the city to provide new employees -- other than police officers -- with 401(k)-style retirement plans, instead of enrolling them in the deficit-ridden pension system. It also placed a five-year freeze on the type of pay workers could eventually use to calculate their pension payouts.
Supports believe that after some initial costs associated with changing retirement plans, the proposition will save the city around $1 billion through 2040.
It was fiercely contested legally and during the election campaign by unions and a handful of City Council members. Current Mayor Bob Filner criticized the measure.
It was supported by former Mayor Jerry Sanders, Councilman Kevin Faulconer, ex-Councilman Carl DeMaio, the pro-business Lincoln Club of San Diego County and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.
DeMaio, the Lincoln Club's T.J. Zane and SDCTA Executive Director Lani Lutar said in a joint statement they will fight for the ballot measure.
"We are, however, disappointed to see tax dollars wasted on an effort to trample constitutional rights and we strongly urge the government employee unions to call off this futile and costly effort," their statement said. They accused the unions of trying to "turn back the will of the voters."
"What's at stake are the very services in every neighborhood that have been cut back over the past decade as the pension bag has ballooned bigger and bigger," said Demaio.
10News reached out to some union leaders, but they were not available for comment.
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