Almanac

News - November 10, 2010

Measure L headed for second court challenge

• Unions spent $69,000 to defeat pension-reform measure, and they are not done fighting yet.

by Sandy Brundage

Even though Menlo Park's pension reform initiative was approved by 72 percent of the voters, opponents of the measure said they will again pursue a legal challenge.

"We believe provisions of the measure are unconstitutional. We will be asking a judge to take another look at its constitutionality and overturn it if necessary," said Jerry Jimenez, spokesman for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 520, which fought the measure during the campaign.

SEIU and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) lost a lawsuit in August to keep Measure L off the ballot, and then poured at least $69,000 into defeating it at the ballot box, according to campaign finance addendums filed in the week preceding the election.

That's about $30 per "no" vote; 2,272 people voted against the measure, according to the latest count.

Former mayor Gail Slocum signed a ballot argument against Measure L, but said she was not involved in the campaign. "As an outsider on No on L, my impression is that the campaign leaders should have started earlier. Even if they had, it probably still would have passed, because the arguments one has to understand to oppose L are more complex, and the Yes on L message sounds simple."

Ms. Slocum said that many people weren't aware the council had voted in May to impose a similar "2 at 60" pension structure on SEIU.

However, that structure would only have gone into effect next year if AFSCME also agreed to the same terms.

"L was about requiring a vote of the people to change, which most people I talked to, once they understood it, thought was not a good idea," Ms. Slocum said.

Measure L headed to voters after a grassroots campaign led by the Menlo Park Citizens for Fair and Responsible Pension Reform collected enough signatures to place it on the ballot. Planning Commissioner Henry Riggs, along with Roy Thiele-Sardina and Ed Moritz, spearheaded the drive, assisted by council candidate Chuck Bernstein.

"We hope they re-think biting the hand that feeds them," said Mr. Riggs when asked about a possible second lawsuit.

Measure L raises the minimum retirement age for new public employees, excluding police officers, by five years to 60, and also decreases their maximum pension benefits by 0.7 percentage points to 2 percent of their highest annual salary averaged over three years. Increasing those benefits will require a simple majority approval by voters.

Under this measure, a new hire who retired at age 60 after working for the city for 30 years receives 60 percent of that average salary. Current employees can retire at age 55 and get 81 percent after working 30 years.

Proponents of pension reform aren't done fighting yet either.

"Next up is to make clear that L was only a stop gap that does not by itself achieve sustainability — that the full range of contract issues is indeed the purview of [City) Council] and must be addressed with courage and conviction in future bargaining," Mr. Riggs said.

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