The San Diego city administration building. Courtesy of the city

The San Diego City Council voted 6-3 in closed session Monday to join a coalition of four local labor unions in their effort to strip 2012’s Proposition B pension reform initiative from the city charter.

The group of labor unions, headed by the Municipal Employees Association, which represents city workers, intend to begin a legal process to have the initiative struck from the charter. Because the council cannot override the voters’ approval of Proposition B, only a court or a second vote on an upcoming ballot can remove the initiative.

The process is likely to begin at a lower court level, assuming an approval by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who must sign off on the city and unions’ request. The initiative’s backers, which include Mayor Kevin Faulconer, could also continue the legal fight to keep it in the charter, launching another lengthy process of appeals up through the court system.

The state Supreme Court ruled last year that Proposition B was placed on the ballot by then-Mayor Jerry Sanders and not simply a coalition of voters, making it subject to state labor laws. Sanders violated state law by avoiding negotiations with local unions while drafting the initiative, which is required under the 1968 Meyers-Milias-Brown Act when an initiative affects the benefits of union workers, the state’s high court found.

Proposition B’s supporters, including the city at that time, filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to take the case, leaving the state court’s ruling in place.

“Yes, 150,000 voters said ‘yes’ on Prop. B and another 80,000 said ‘no,’ so you have 234,000 people who said anything about Prop. B,” MEA attorney Ann Smith told the council. “You, on the other hand, have 1.4 million residents in this city to serve and you have to care about what is in their best interest; that’s your job.”

A state appellate court also ruled earlier this year that the city is required to give back pay to the roughly 4,000 city employees who have been hired since 2012 and would have otherwise received a pension. However, that cannot be done until the initiative’s rules governing pensions are off the books.

About two-thirds of San Diego voters approved Proposition B in 2012. Then-City Council members Carl DeMaio and Faulconer backed the initiative and have continued to do so despite the state Supreme Court ruling. Supporters have argued the initiative is not subject to the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act because it is not applicable to citizens’ initiatives.

“The council’s vote today to invalidate Prop. B goes far beyond what any court — including the Supreme Court — has ordered the city to do,” City Councilman Mark Kersey said in a Twitter post. “We have the ability to make whole the affected employees without overturning the will of a near supermajority of voters in 2012.”

The six Democrats on the technically nonpartisan council voted to back the unions in the request while Republican City Council members Chris Cate and Scott Sherman and Kersey, an independent, voted against it.

“I am deeply disappointed that instead of doing the right thing and defending this clear mandate in court, the council chose to ignore the will of a vast majority of San Diegans and back their union financiers instead,” Sherman said after the vote.

Councilman Kersey further said in a statement that invalidating Prop. B allows for “pension spiking” and city politicians again receiving pensions, “among other provisions not in legal dispute.”

“This action by the council majority takes us back to the bad old days when terrible decisions by past city leaders led to a massively unsustainable system,” he said. “A better solution is to simply address the Supreme Court’s make-whole order without invalidating the will of the voters.

DeMaio, who now advocates for public pension reform statewide though the Reform California organization, vowed to fight in court.

“San Diego’s voters deserve their day in court — and I’m working with a coalition of taxpayer advocates to ensure they get it,” he said.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. June 10, 2019

— From Staff and Wire Reports

Show comments

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.