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San Diego County Judge Invalidates Prop B Pension Reform

San Diego's seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018.
Megan Wood
San Diego's seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018.

A San Diego Superior Court judge on Tuesday invalidated San Diego's 2012 pension reform ballot measure Proposition B, setting the stage for thousands of city workers to join a pension system they've been excluded from for nearly a decade.

The ruling was not unexpected and follows a string of defeats for the measure's supporters. The California Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that city officials violated state labor law when they placed it on the ballot without first negotiating with unions representing city workers.

San Diego County Judge Invalidates Prop B Pension Reform
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

The City Council last year also voted 6-3 to seek the measure's invalidation — something the Supreme Court declined to do — arguing that the courts had spoken with abundant clarity and the city should not try to prolong the measure's inevitable demise.

Mayor Todd Gloria said Wednesday that the judge's ruling was a vindication for him and others who opposed Prop B from the beginning.

"I look forward to the opportunity of working with city leaders as well our employees to figure out a path forward that will put this issue to rest and allow us to focus on the many other issues that demand attention here at City Hall," Gloria said.

The city estimated last year that more than 4,000 employees would be entitled to join the pension system if Prop B were ultimately invalidated. The cost of such a move is unclear and will depend on several factors including whether employees' 401(k)-style retirement plans had earned enough money to be converted into pensions.

Supporters of Prop B denounced the ruling, with City Councilmember Chris Cate calling it a "dangerous precedent" to overturn the will of voters. However, none of the supporters, which also include the conservative Lincoln Club, has yet indicated they would appeal Tuesday's ruling.

"San Diego voters were crystal clear when they voted to reform the city pension system," Cate said in a tweet.

Ann Smith, the attorney who argued the case on behalf of city employee unions, countered that Prop B has ultimately cost taxpayers money and hurt the city's ability to recruit and retain qualified employees. Prop B campaigners had predicted other cities would follow suit in rejecting pensions for new employees — but that never happened, putting San Diego at a competitive disadvantage, she said.

"The disservice to the actual work that government provides in San Diego to its residents has been huge by virtue of the implementation of Prop B," Smith said.