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By Renee Batti
Almanac News Editor
Two employee unions and a resident filed a lawsuit June 23 against the city of Menlo Park and a resident involved in the effort to place an initiative on the November ballot that would alter pension benefits for new employees.
The unions and Menlo Park resident Katy Rose, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, held a press conference at June 23 at the Menlo Park Civic Center to announce the legal challenge; the lawsuit asserts that the pension reform initiative violates the California Constitution, and asks that it be kept off the ballot.
Menlo Park resident Ned Moritz was named in the lawsuit along with the city. Mr. Moritz was part of "Citizens for Fair and Responsible Pension Reform," which earlier this year gathered some 3,100 signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot. The initiative would increase the retirement age for new, non-police employees from 55 to 60 years of age, and would also decrease the pension payments those employees receive.
The City Council voted last month to place the initiative on the ballot.
Representatives of the unions -- Service Employees International Union Local 521 (SEIU) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 829 (AFSCME) -- denounced the initiative as not only illegal but misguided. The initiative organizers are "taking advantage of our poor economy" to take fair compensation away from the city's employees, said Muriel Frederick, an SEIU member who works for Santa Clara County.
The plaintiffs assert that state law prohibits public pension contracts from being changed through a voter initiative because it gives authority for such action only to a city council.
Ms. Rose also spoke at the press conference, and afterward said she and her husband are unemployed blue-collar workers who "believe fundamentally" that the initiative is a "broad strategic attack on workers as a whole."
The real solution to the city's financial difficulties, she and union representatives said, is to renegotiate a "bad bank deal" the city made for its redevelopment agency, one that, according to speakers, is on track to lose nearly $37 million in public funds.
As the speakers presented their statements, a handful of city employees stood behind the podium, some with signs reading, "Illegal Initiative Not the Answer" and "Real Solution Fix Bad Bank Deal."
After the press conference, Henry Riggs, who along with Roy Thiele-Sardina co-chaired the initiative drive, said the unions were "trying to separate the immediate budget issues from the long-term issues. We're looking at the long term."
Mr. Moritz accused the press conference organizers of "trying to shift attention away from our effort."