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San Diego Pension Reform Headed for California Supreme Court

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Photo by Katie Orr

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and supporters announce their pension reform measure on April 5, 2011.

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a case challenging San Diego's voter-approved pension reform measure, Proposition B.

The case originated with a lawsuit filed by the city's largest public sector union, the Municipal Employees Association. It argued that Jerry Sanders, mayor when the measure was on the ballot in 2012, was the de facto author of Proposition B, and thus obliged to negotiate with the union over the measure's terms.

Proposition B was a citizens' initiative that eliminated guaranteed pensions for all new city employees, except police officers, and replaced those benefits with 401(k)-style retirement plans.

Ann Smith, the attorney representing MEA, said the Supreme Court has a high bar for reviewing cases.

"It's very encouraging and so difficult to get review because of the number of petitioners who seek the high court's review on any given case," she said. "We're delighted."

An appeals court ruled in favor of the city and against the unions last April. That ruling reversed a ruling by the quasi-judicial Public Employees Relations Board in December 2015 in favor of the unions. PERB also ordered the city to pay retroactive pensions to thousands of employees hired since Proposition B was approved — something that would likely cost tens of millions of dollars.

PERB is now the main party representing the unions' interests in the lawsuit — something Gerry Braun, spokesman for the San Diego City Attorney's Office, said may have influenced the court's decision to review the case.

"It is understandable that the Supreme Court would want to review a case where an appellate court and a state agency have such different views of the law, particularly in a matter of statewide significance," Braun said in an email. "We expect oral arguments will be heard sometime in 2019."

San Diego's voter-approved pension reform measure, Proposition B, is going before the state Supreme Court. The case could have a major impact on California labor law, and big financial consequences for San Diego.


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Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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