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City to seek to invalidate landmark pension reform

Posted at 5:41 PM, Jun 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-10 20:41:12-04

San Diego will seek to invalidate its landmark pension law, a citizens' initiative 65 percent of voters approved in 2012.

The City Council voted 6-3 Monday to go to court to invalidate 2012's Proposition B, which switched most new hires from a pension to a 401(k) style plan.

The decision came after multiple courts ruled the city skipped a key step in the campaign. The courts said then-Mayor Jerry Sanders' involvement meant the city needed to meet and confer with unions, but didn't.

The courts required the city to make employees whole plus a seven percent penalty, but didn't invalidate the law. The city will now to go to court along side its employee associations to get it off the books.

"It's illogical for the city to believe that having broken the law in order to get Prop B into the charter that you should be allowed to keep it in there," said attorney Ann Smith, representing the Municipal Employees Association.

Firefighter John Hernandez II said he's seen a number of his colleagues leave for other departments, which offer better benefits - namely a pension.

"In my line of work, we can't work as long as most people, and that's why we need pensions," he said.

But Councilman Scott Sherman, who voted to protect Prop B, said ultimately going back to pensions could cripple the city.

"Every single year we make a $350 million minimum payment on our pension debt from the old system that too us to that point, and now they're asking us to go right back to that system," he said.

Sherman said it's low unemployment, not a lack of benefits, leading to the city's worker retention issues.

Former City Councilman Carl DeMaio, a major proponent of Prop B, said he would seek to defend the measure in court.