City Attorney: Pension ruling places obstacles on initiatives

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A ruling by a state Public Employment Relations Board
administrative law judge against voter-passed Proposition B is part of an
effort to make it harder for citizens to place pension reform initiatives on
the ballot in the future, San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith charged Wednesday.

The city attorney told reporters that he would go to court to defend the
pension reform ballot measure, which was passed with two-thirds support last
June. He said the City Council gave him that authority last year.

Goldsmith and other backers of the proposition have characterized PERB
as an agency biased in favor of public employee unions. The city attorney said
the ruling was expected.

“I view this with the fact that PERB acted so quickly last February in
suing the city, I look at it as somebody at PERB or some group got together and
said, `My God, the floodgates are beginning to open,”' Goldsmith said.

“I think what they look at in this case is an effort to close the
floodgates and to not allow citizens initiatives in the future — at least put
so many roadblocks in front of it that they're going to be less likely to
happen,” he said. “I think that's been what this is about since day one.”

PERB Administrative Law Judge Donn Ginoza ruled Monday that the city
failed to negotiate in good faith with its public employee unions before
Proposition B was placed on the ballot. The decision, which was released late
Tuesday, is not binding on the city but does set up a future court battle.

The Municipal Employees Association, which represents many of the city's
white-collar workers, issued a statement calling the PERB ruling “a sweeping
vindication” of its opposition to Proposition B. The unions, now backed by the
PERB ruling, contend that city officials should have negotiated the terms of
the initiative with them before it was placed on the ballot.

Goldsmith had advised city officials that the meet-and-confer
requirement did not apply before the election, since it was put forth by
private citizens. The city would have to meet with labor if it passed,
something that has happened, according to the city attorney.

He said the ruling was “poorly written” and not based upon the law.

Goldsmith said he was “very confident” about his court case, noting
that PERB attempts to keep the proposition off the ballot and stop its
implementation were rejected by judges.

PERB doesn't have the authority to deny the constitutional rights of
citizens to put initiatives on the ballot, he said.

The ballot measure directed the city to provide new employees — other
than police officers — with 401(k)-style retirement plans, instead of
enrolling them in the deficit-ridden pension system. It also placed a five-year
freeze on the type of pay workers could eventually use to calculate their
pension payouts.

Supports believe that after some initial costs associated with changing
retirement plans, the proposition will save the city around $1 billion through

It was fiercely contested legally and during the election campaign by
unions and a handful of City Council members. Current Mayor Bob Filner
criticized the measure.

It was supported by former Mayor Jerry Sanders, Councilman Kevin
Faulconer, ex-Councilman Carl DeMaio, the pro-business Lincoln Club of San
Diego County and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

DeMaio, the Lincoln Club's T.J. Zane and SDCTA Executive Director Lani
Lutar said in a joint statement they will fight for the ballot measure.

“We are, however, disappointed to see tax dollars wasted on an effort
to trample constitutional rights and we strongly urge the government employee
unions to call off this futile and costly effort,” their statement said. They
accused the unions of trying to “turn back the will of the voters.”

Categories: KUSI