City Council declines to hold public vote in November general election amidst controversy
By Anthony King | Downtown News
The San Diego City Council voted 7-1 on Jan. 30 to send the controversial pension reform initiative to a public vote for the June 5 ballot. The Comprehensive Pension Reform (CPR) initiative is in response to a petition signed by approximately 116,000 registered city voters filed last year.
Councilmember Carl DeMaio led the signature campaign and DeMaio, along with Mayor Jerry Sanders and Council President Pro Tem Kevin Faulconer, drafted the initiative.
Councilmember Marti Emerald, the lone dissent vote, said it would cost the city less money if it the vote was placed on the general election ballot in November. The Council is required by law to place the initiative for public vote as the petition received enough signatures from registered voters.
“Let me just say that I intend to vote against this going on the June ballot,” Emerald said at the Council meeting, “We have an opportunity to save considerable money… at a time when the City is cash-strapped. I think this is a legitimate way to save a considerable amount of money.” Emerald said placing the initiative on the November ballot could have saved up to $300,000.
At the meeting, Emerald also voiced concern about voter turnout in June versus November. “In the interest of representative democracy,” she said, “we know we have 50 percent more voters turn out in November and this is an opportunity for more voters to step up and be heard on this issue.”
Mike Zucchet, general manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association (MEA), said the Council was wrong to put the initiative on the June ballot without consultation with unions. “We believe the City has violated state law with respect with bargaining with employees before putting this on the ballot,” Zucchet said. Zucchet filed an Unfair Practice Charge against the City with the Calif. Public Employment Relations Board on Jan. 18.
In the filing, Zucchet said, “With clear precedent in place related to the obligation of public employers to meet and confer over matters within the scope of representation prior to placing an initiative on the ballot seeking voter approval to amend or revise a City Charter… the City has refused to meet and confer with MEA over a so-called ‘Comprehensive Pension Reform’ (‘CPR’) ballot initiative headed to the June 2012 ballot because City claims that it is a ‘citizen’s initiative’ not ‘City’s initiative’.”
At the Jan. 30 Council meeting, DeMaio criticized the move. “The notion that labor unions would demand they have veto power on the citizens’ initiative process is patently laughable and, I would argue, offensive,” he said. “This council should not be influenced by their assertion of a veto over a constitutionally protected right to the initiative process by San Diego citizens.”
The Comprehensive Pension Reform initiative, if passed, would eliminate pensions for new City employees and institute a five-year salary freeze for current workers. Police officers would be exempt from these provisions.
Councilmember David Alvarez announced at the Jan. 30 meeting he intends to introduce an alternate pension reform plan to be placed on the June ballot as well. Alvarez’s plan, which has yet to be formally outlined, would not eliminate pensions.
“I think this council owes it to the voter to give them a choice on pension reform by providing an alternative, one that I refer to as cap and freeze,” Alvarez said at the meeting. “Cap and freeze would combine a five-year freeze on pensionable pay with a cap on pensions to prohibit anyone from taking home a six-figure pension,” he said.
The City Council will need to vote to put Alvarez’s measure on the ballot and must be turned into election officials by March 9.