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Erica Holloway

Pension Reform Initiative | Publicly Popular, Judicially Jacked

The Californian initiative process pains me.

Great idea on paper, but in reality – we’ve allowed idle lawmakers to relinquish responsibilities to the public, which supposedly hired them for the job.

Yet, even when voters “decide” (measure proponents love to say that), it’s rarely the end of the discussion.

Days, weeks or months later, a psuedo-lamaker legislates from the bench and we’re back where we started with just a dash more bitterness.

It’s a wonder voters show up at all anymore.

In good old San Diego, there’s an epic battle playing out over an initiative that’s got all the makings of a daytime drama.

The initiative proposes reforming the City’s guaranteed pension system and replacing it with a 401(k)-style plan for “most” new hires.

Basically, the so-called “comprehensive pension reform” eliminates pensions in favor of 401(k)s for all new hires but police officers (one of the proponents, Mayor Jerry Sanders, is a former police chief) and proposes a five-year hold on current employee salaries used to calculate future pensions.

A poll released yesterday shows that 56 percent of city voters “favor” the idea. The poll was conducted by the Center for Education Policy and Law and the U-T San Diego.

Great news for the likes of Councilman Carl DeMaio, a candidate for mayor, who’s become labor’s public enemy Numero Uno.

But will it stick?

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, a former state assemblyman, recently wrote about the initiative process in the U-T San Diego noting that the citizens’ initiative process, no matter how flawed, is a protected right of the people.

And yet, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) recently crusaded to block the San Diego pension reform measure, Proposition B, through various avenues including judicial and city administrative interference.


Well, as today’s poll shows – the measure’s not beloved by liberal and union households. The liberal-heavy PERB argued that the ballot measure is de facto city sponsored, and San Diego is violating the requirement that officials meet and confer prior to any changes to the pension system.


But it gets funny when you consider Gov. Jerry Brown, in recognizing the need to reform public pensions, proposed a thoughtful 12-point plan during his State of the State address.

Were that to evolve into an initiative, would that be a de factor state sponsored measure? Would PERB be tossing out injunctions then?

As Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, noted in a recent opinion piece – one could argue such.

But elected officials, like any member of the California public, still have the right to support measures.

Again, I’m an admitted initiative cynic and don’t expect the final, instituted product of Prop. B to look remotely like the measure put before voters in June.

It’s all rather phony. The public gets excited into voting for a proposal only to see it killed in the courts, perhaps resurrected in later years for yet another vote to “decide” the matter once and for all.

More than 115,000 voters signed the petitions for Proposition B to qualify, amid severe labor opposition tactics.

I tip my cap to the San Diego voters who signed the petition. Shows faith and hope still exists in our system.

Yet, the PERB case still prevents me from popping the champagne just yet on pension reform.

The judge tossed out the argument based on lack of case law.

Bad news.

California’s lousy with case law.

Should one crop up that properly fits the argument – before or after June – passage of the measure’s likely just another step in the latest initiative war.

Then the U-T San Diego headline just might read: “56 Percent of Voters in Favor of Pension Reform Overturned by One Judge.”

Power to the people.

Chalk up another victory, Emperor, in the name of abdication.

Erica Holloway is the principal of Galvanized Strategies, a San Diego-based public relations firm.

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One Response to “Pension Reform Initiative | Publicly Popular, Judicially Jacked”

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