Pension Reform Initiative Set For June Vote

Initiative To Be Placed On June 5 Primary Election Ballot

An initiative to reform the city's debt-ridden pension system was tentatively scheduled to be placed on the June 5 primary election ballot, following a 5-3 vote by the City Council on Monday.

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The measure, which qualified for the ballot with 115,000 petition signatures, would, if passed, give 401(k) plans to new employees other than police officers, instead of having them enrolled in the employee pension system.

It would also place a five-year lid on pay for current employees that can later be used to base their pension benefits. The employees will still be eligible for raises and bonuses, but those extra dollars won't help determine the money they receive after they retire.

The vote signaled the City Council's intent to schedule the vote to coincide with the June primary -- a technicality because the election hasn't officially been called. That will happen early in the new year.

The timing of when the measure would go before the public was a main point of contention among council members.

The dissenters -- council President Tony Young, David Alvarez and Marti Emerald -- said scheduling it for the November general election would cost the city less money and attract more voters.

Emerald cited voter turnout statistics showing that many more people cast ballots in general elections than primaries. She also said just 17 percent of San Diego residents signed the petitions.

"What we want to do is hear from the other 83 percent of the voters," Emerald said.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf called that argument "a red herring."

"It's irrelevant to the decision and action we're being asked to take today," Zapf said. "If we looked at (turnout), we'd never put anything on the June ballot."

Councilman Kevin Faulconer said another measure, one to ban so-called Project Labor Agreements in the city, was placed on the June ballot without any cost or turnout arguments in opposition.

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association believes the measure, if passed, will save the city at least $1.2 billion through 2040. City officials say increasing contributions to the pension system are using up funds that would otherwise be spent on public safety, libraries and road repairs.

"I believe without question it will save the city hundreds of millions of dollars," Faulconer said.

The initiative is opposed by the city's labor leaders.

Michael Zucchet, head of the Municipal Employees Association, said he would file an unfair labor practices grievance over the unwillingness of Mayor Jerry Sanders -- a backer of the initiative -- to meet and confer with public employee unions.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the initiative comes from the public, not the city, so there is no legal requirement to meet with unions and nothing to discuss. He said the law is that if the council had sponsored the measure, the city would have to talk to the unions.

Zucchet countered that since Sanders was a leading proponent Zucchet referred to him as "Mayor Sanders, not Jerry Sanders, private citizen."

Goldsmith, who offered to have outside counsel review the measure's legal analysis to allay concerns of conflicts of interest, said the city would have to meet and confer with labor if the measure is passed to discuss legislation that implements its provisions.

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