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San Diego City Council Votes To Appeal Pension Reform Ruling

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith at council meeting February 25, 2014.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to appeal a recent state Public Employment Relations Board order for the city of San Diego to rescind a voter-approved pension reform measure and once again offer pensions to city employees.

The Dec. 30 ruling called on the city to overturn Proposition B, passed by an overwhelming margin in 2012. The ballot measure shifted new non- police employees from the debt-ridden pension system to a 401(k)-style plan, and was a major part of efforts by city leaders to restructure municipal finances.

Four of the city's six organized labor groups filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board, contending that the city failed to bargain the provisions of the ballot measure with them before it went to a public vote, as required by law.

The city, arguing against the complaint, said the requirement didn't apply, since Proposition B was sponsored by private citizens, and that municipal leaders who campaigned for it weren't acting in their official capacities.

The board affirmed a previous ruling by an administrative law judge that officials, including then-Mayor Jerry Sanders, in fact were acting in their city roles.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the Public Employment Relations Board was trying to create new law by declaring that a citizen initiative should be unwound because its terms were not separately negotiated with union leaders.

"The people's right to initiative is guaranteed by the California Constitution," Goldsmith said. "This right cannot be bargained away in a back room, or stolen from the people by a government agency. Even people who opposed Proposition B understand that the PERB decision is an unconscionable overreach that gives union leaders the power to thwart the public's will."

Councilman David Alvarez, who opposed Proposition B, said going to court was the right decision.

"It is critical that the city receive clarity from the appellate court on the implementation of Prop. B and how retirement programs must be administered for its employees," Alvarez said. "This clarification can only be provided by the court, that's why I voted to move forward in appealing the ruling."

If the ruling is upheld in court, the city would not only have to enroll employees hired in the past couple of years into the pension system, but offer 7 percent interest on differences in benefits.

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