Menlo Park election: Who are these people?


All six candidates running for Menlo Park City Council have spent time in the public eye, one way or another, some moments more pleasant than others, but rewarding enough that they're back for more.

The teacher

Educator and "unofficial" community leader Chuck Bernstein stands opposed to the Menlo Gateway Project (Dave Bohannon's big office-hotel development proposal that will be on the November ballot) and high-speed rail, and led the drive to put the pension-reform initiative on the ballot. He served on a Willows neighborhood watch group, the city's 2005 budget advisory committee, and task forces on residential development and child care.

Mr. Bernstein released a statement Aug. 12 calling for campaign-spending limits and a voluntary code of conduct, proposing a ceiling of $40,000 per candidate.

Although he said there are no groups from whom he won't accept a limited contribution, one clause of the campaign spending limit agreement calls for candidates to exclude all contributions from anyone with a current or pending matter before the City Council during the past six months or upcoming six months.

The lawyer

Criminal defense attorney Kirsten Keith indicated she agreed with the essence of Mr. Bernstein's proposals and would sign, provided a few tweaks were made. She did not specify what changes she wanted.

A self-described fiscal conservative, she said she has a track record of building consensus after listening to all sides. In addition to serving on the Planning Commission for six years, she has volunteered time with county agencies dealing with women's issues, including domestic violence, and city commissions on conflict resolution and housing.

Now for the "big issues" of this year's election: She voted in support of the Menlo Gateway project. A two-tier pension system, she believes, would prevent the city's finances from buckling under spiraling pension costs. That leaves high-speed rail. As with the other candidates, no one likes the idea of aerial tracks. Ms. Keith supports an underground solution.

The mayor

Many residents know Mayor Rich Cline's positions on high-speed rail through his work with the Peninsula Cities Consortium, which opposes the current above-ground design, and on the Bohannon Gateway project (he voted to put it on the ballot).

The city needs pension reform, he said, but a two-tier system won't solve all the problems. "Pension reform is but a small part of a long-term realignment of our city's organization to provide the high level of service we have come to expect, but more efficiently and with an eye toward long-term sustainability," he said.

He has drawn a line regarding campaign funding. "Given the current environment with employee negotiations and some development projects, I will not take money from employee unions and the developers with projects under way or pending," Mr. Cline said. "Conflict of interest concerns are real."

Why should he be re-elected? "We want leaders who are willing to make decisions that may go against their own personal convictions if the community feedback and data collection proves that decision correct," he answered, citing his focus on preserving Menlo Park's quality of life while building financial soundness.


Peter Ohtaki, likewise, said he will not accept contributions from unions. The board president of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District said he supports the pension-reform initiative, and thinks his background as a former chief financial officer would help the city control expenses. He referred to high-speed rail as a "very risky make-work program," and opposes elevated tracks.

On the issue of development, Mr. Ohtaki said: "We need to revitalize our local economy, including not only east of Bayshore but also along El Camino Real. The council promised to fix the empty dealerships on El Camino and empty storefronts on Santa Cruz Avenue. That hasn't happened. Menlo Park deserves better. "

The businessman

Russell Peterson, perhaps best known by local residents as the man who sued the high-speed rail authority, would also like to be known for other qualities.

"I'm an independent thinker with a reasoned approach. I tend towards a smaller footprint in Menlo Park," he said. "I want to add the voice of folks I don't think are being heard as much as the developers or the anti-developers." He referred to "certain legalistic or Brown Act things that get in the way of doing what most people would consider sensible."

He describes his budget approach as "fiscally conservative. If you don't have it, don't spend it." That philosophy applies to his campaign, which he intends to conduct primarily online. He doubts the unions would donate, even though his father was a union man.

Where does he stand on the "big four" issues? Smaller Gateway development, same for the downtown plan, yes to pension reform - "you don't plan to fail; if the plan is to be bankrupt in the future, I don't think it's a good plan" - no to putting issues like these on the ballot, and then there's the last issue: high-speed rail.

Speaking with Mr. Peterson, one characteristic becomes clear: he can't go more than one minute without mentioning high-speed rail. It remains to be seen how his dedication to that topic would gel with sitting on the City Council, as the state ethics commission would likely not allow him to vote or speak on the issue as a councilmember.

Mr. Peterson himself is not sure he wants to surrender that option; he's taking the month of August to decide whether to actually run. "I filed to qualify for the ballot," he said.

The councilman

That leaves Councilman Heyward Robinson. The engineer joins Mr. Cline and Mr. Ohtaki in stating he will not accept money from unions, or developers with projects pending before the city, but added a caveat: that only applies to unions who represent Menlo Park employees.

He voted yes to pension reform, but doesn't think the ballot box is the place to decide such matters, since that leaves the initiative open to legal challenge. "It's best to continue our history of having council make decisions about pension rates in the framework of labor negotiations and as part of a total compensation package," he said.

Like the sixth member of a Greek chorus, Mr. Robinson voiced his dislike of elevated high-speed rails, saying it "would be a disaster for our city."

Not so much dislike for the Bohannon project, however, which he said would be located in an appropriate non-residential area, and increase Menlo Park's available office space while adding jobs and revenue.

"There's no substitute for experience," Mr. Robinson said when asked why he should be re-elected. "I ask better questions than when I joined the council. Better questions result in better solutions."

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 17, 2010 at 10:52 am

The best choices for City Council are Chuck Bernstein, Peter Ohtaki, and Russ Peterson.

Heyward Robinson and Richard Cline met with the SEIU in private in the summer of 2006 and shortly after the meeting concluded received the SEIU endorsement. I know. I was there and the SEIU would not allow me to witness the interviews.

Months later Richar Cline and Heyward Robinson voted for a 35% increase in retirement benefits retroactive to the day they started work. So if a person had worked for Menlo Park for 35 years then he/she would get a 35% increase for all years work. The kicker was that the retirement age was rolled back from 60 to 55. Many people became immediately eligible for retirement and did.

Kirsten Keith is a good person. But it troubled me when Gail Slocum asked her to run for City Council. It is bad enough that Gail heavily influences Richard Cline and Heyward Robinson but we simply can not afford to take a chance with having another council member under her sphere of influence. Gail Slocum's politics are far to the left and she like Rich and Heyward opposes pension reform.

Like this comment
Posted by Running out of time
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Candidate and incumbent, Mr. Robinson thinks elevated tracks "would be a disaster for our city."

Please! Disasters are the floods in India and Pakistan, the continuation of our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the human loss in Haiti, the heat and fires in Russia, the abuse of women in Iran, the drug wars in Mexico - etc. etc.

Need I go on? Could the anti high speed rail folks stop with the hyperbole? It's a train. Buy a plane ticket and travel. Go to Europe and take the train from Paris to Milan. Lighten up.

The suburban Mid Peninsula needs to stop complaining and join the HSR conversation in a constructive manner.

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 17, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Easy one for me. If Hank is voting for those three, then I am against them. Thanks, Hank, for saving me the time.

Like this comment
Posted by come on "truth"!
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Dear "Truth",

We always knew you were going to vote for the three pro-union candidates -- Keith, Robinson and Cline. You are the "anti-truth", speaking up only to protect the extreme special intersts of the public employee unions.

For all those who want real change for our moribound City, vote OUT the incumbents and their "sidekick" Ms. Keith. Vote for change.

Like this comment
Posted by New Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Right now change is good ! Let's try 3 new faces on the city council, if that doesn't work, we'll keep trying next election ! Bernstein is a little radical, Ohtaki should be good,Peterson should be good as well..Ohtaki is doing a reasonable job on the fire board
as well as his 2 new members, once they get a contract in effect, at least there will be labor peace for awhile. Menlo definately needs to rid itself of the "dysfunctunical family" image, very important, to let everyone know that menlo is business friendly and not anti-business, as it is perceived now with all of it's vacant store fronts and eye sore dealerships.

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 17, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Tea baggers unite behind Chuck?! What a winner.

Like this comment
Posted by JustAsking
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 17, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Kirsten Keith sounds like a winner to me. Her consensus-building skills, her fiscal conservatism, and her record on volunteerism lead me to believe that she would make an outstanding council member. Her being a female helps, too. We need that perspective on the City Council.

Like this comment
Posted by Hard working Tax Payer
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Aug 18, 2010 at 6:48 am

No candidate endorsed by Gail Slocum is a fiscal conservative. Kirsten Keith has not demonstrated any fiscal conservatism whatsoever. If she weren't asked by Gail Slocum to run for city council Kirsten might have had some credibility. But Ms. Slocum always wants a quid-pro-quo. Just ask Nicholas Jellins who refused to compromise his principles and declined the Slocum endorsement when he ran for City Council in 1996.

3-time mayor Jellins was elected to City Council inspite of Ms. Slocum's prpaganda machine which was heavily oiled with Union money.

The people of Menlo Park need to take a stand and reject Ms. Slocum's hand picked candidates- Heyward Robinson, Richard Cline, and Kirsten Keith. We need candidiates who will stand up to the employee Unions and not be in bed with them. The choice is clear. The best candidates are Chuck Bernstein, Peter Ohtaki, and Russ Peterson.

Like this comment
Posted by JustAsking
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 18, 2010 at 7:38 am

Dear Hard-Working Tax Payer (aren't we all?),
What's the deal with you obsession with Gail Slocum? I'm talking about Kirsten Keith, a criminal defense attorney who has lead an exemplary life with a career devoted to the benefit of all citizens, not just those with money. She seems open to all ideas before she makes a decision. Isn't that exactly the kind of person we want on our Council?
And, as to your comments about Nicholas Jellins ... he is very old news.
We endured his terms in office and had to sit through many evenings of pompous speeches. That is one man who likes to hear himself talk.
Let's work on really studying issues and then making decisions.

Like this comment
Posted by Hard working Tax Payer
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Aug 18, 2010 at 8:59 am

Just Asking,

Are you serious? Compared to Heyward Robinson's tirades against a fellow council member on the dais, Kelly Fergusson's rants against former mayors on the Dais, and Rich fumbling around trying to make a decision the Dais, the Jellins years were far more civil and productive.

Jellins got the Rosewood Hotel. Your hero Gail voted against the Sun Microsystems Campus. Now the sales office was not on the campus. But Sun would have immediately pulled up stakes on the sales office if the Menlo Park campus was not approved. Slocum was a financial disaster and now you want us to vote for her hand picked candidates?

Anyone with a soupcon of common sense will not vote for Heyward, Rich or Kirsten.

Like this comment
Posted by JustAsking
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 18, 2010 at 9:14 am

Dear Hard Working Tax Payer,
Boy, did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning! CHILL OUT!
To put the record straight, I am not a fan of Gail Slocum. Where did you extrapolate that I was? Indeed, like Nicholas Jellins, she is old news.
However, I am impressed with the fine credentials of Kirsten Keith. From what I know about her, she is a well-respected member of the San Mateo Bar Assn.(as am I) who shows a real gift on bringing divisive sides together. Perhaps she should test those skills with you and Ms. Slocum???

Like this comment
Posted by NoTea4Me
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 18, 2010 at 9:56 am

Hard Working Taxpayer,
Do you and Sarah both see Alaska from you kitchen windows? Do you share tea together with the rest of those crazy, ignorant Tea Partiers?
Boy, are you off base on your observations and opinions!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Hard working Tax Payer
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Aug 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

Dear NoTea4Me,

All Alaskans living in Alaska, except those who are blind, can see Alaska from their Kitchen windows. Your powers of observation are extraordinary! Do you have any more pearls of wisdom?

Hmmm, if I have to choose between Tea and your Electric Kool Aid which do I choose?

Like this comment
Posted by NoTea4Me
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 18, 2010 at 11:57 am

Hard Working Tax Payer,
Oops! You caught me in a gaffe! You know I meant Russia. Anyway,touche!
For the record, I don't drink tea with the Tea-Partiers and don't imbibe Electric Kool Aid either. Just trying to be an informed voter with an open mind looking for smart, hardworking, unbiased candidates who will do their best to represent ALL of us.
From what I have been reading about Kirsten Keith, she might fill the bill for me. Spots #2 and #3 on my ballot are still up for grabs. Don't send me any suggestions; they would just cause me to vote for the other candidates. Let's just agree to disagree. You're much too angry for my taste.

Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 18, 2010 at 11:59 am

Hard Working Tax Payer,
How many years left on the Stanford leased land upon which your house sits? Is that why you are so unhappy?

Like this comment
Posted by Gail Slocum
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 18, 2010 at 9:18 pm


I implore you to get your facts straight as well as give the voters of Menlo Park a chance to evaluate the candidates themselves rather than throwing around labels so early in the race.

(1) KIRSTEN KEITH: I did not ask Kirsten Keith to run. In fact I was away on vacation when she decided to pull papers and file them. I had heard nothing before I left and was very surprised to learn that she stepped into this race at the last minute. I agree with you that Kirsten is a good person, and anyone who has watched her on the Planning Commission can plainly see she is knowledgeable and reasonable. However, I am as yet undecided as to whom I will support with my third vote. Like most people in Menlo Park, I want to hear from all the contenders themselves as the campaign unfolds.

(2) PENSION REFORM: I do not oppose pension reform and must emphasize that one can support reform without supporting Measure L, because Reform is not "one size fits all." I happen to want more fiscally effective reforms than the narrow offering under Measure L.

Specifically, I support the Council's unanimous approach last Spring, which included imposition of 2@60 on new hires but didn't stop there because they recognized that this one reform does not begin to achieve savings until 14 years from now. Therefore the Council (including John Boyle) wisely included other important reforms that will create immediate savings, such as requiring all non safety employees to share health care costs and, if contribution levels rise, pension cost increases. To my knowledge, we are the first California city to implement this innovative approach.

Measure L doesn't achieve any of those immediate savings; rather it would COST the City money because Menlo Park could be dropped by the state retirement plan and thus incur lower investment returns and higher administrative costs. It will also cost money for the City to defend lawsuits that have already been filed against this poorly worded (though perhaps well intended) citizen-drafted Measure. For these reasons, supporting Measure L is not fiscally conservative. The Almanac said it best: "Initiative Not Real Pension Reform." I believe these perspectives are similar to what Heyward Robinson and Rich Cline have already said publicly. This was a bold, brave an innovative step, and the Council's unanimous pension reform efforts thus far should be applauded.

(3) UNION MONEY: When I ran for Council, I did not receive any Union money, in fact they gave to my opponents. However, I believe Lee DuBoc DID receive union money when she ran, and it didn't seem to change her mind about anything. Most of the MP COuncil candidate's campaigns I have helped with as a volunteer over the last 20 years have not received money from SEIU, AFSCME or other unions or other major institutional givers of any kind. Rather, they have been primarily grassroots, citizen-funded efforts with the average donation being in the $50- $75 range (half being LOWER than that level).

(4) FISCAL CONSERVATISM: The Council I sat on created the reserves that help us through difficult times, such as the recent unprecedented "Great Recession" and credit crunch would clearly challenge ANY Council. In fact our Council has kept our CIty in comparatively much better shape than almost any other City I know of.

(5) As a philosophical matter, I am not sure how someone can support Ohtaki, and also Peterson and Bernstein. Ohtaki is very different. For example - I believe Ohtaki supports Gateway; certainly Bernstein and I believe Peterson do not. This one issue reveals what appear to be fundamentally different views on how to strike a balance for what is in Menlo Park's overall best long term interests. On Gateway, I happen to agree with Ohtaki (as well as Cline, Robinson and Keith - and a majority on the Council and Planning Commission and several other Commissions). The City revenues, jobs, green building leadership and other improvements Gateway will bring to a run down area east of 101 outweigh its impacts, which have been mitigated to a significant degree.

Hank, it is easy to criticize and be against things, but those whom we elect must govern and work together to come up with solutions. And this often requires compromise after lots of listening and soul searching. Being on the Council is truly a thankless job. It's especially hard to do in challenging times when there are no easy answers. Someone is going to dislike you no matter what you do. I can assure you, though, there is truly no one manipulating everything from behind the scenes in this City - this is too big a place and too open a process for that, especially given that everyone I know is too busy with our jobs and families.

So I invite you to give these candidates a chance to define themselves, and set aside the desire to label or appeal to fears and stereotypes before you get the facts.

We will all be better off if we respect the Menlo Park voters and set a more constructive tone in this town, regardless of who wins in November, because we all have to work together afterwards.


Gail Slocum
Former Mayor

Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 19, 2010 at 6:40 am

[Post removed. Please don't use Town Square as your personal dart board, a way to repeatedly attack someone you dislike or disagree with.]

Like this comment
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 19, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Gail writes above:

(5) As a philosophical matter, I am not sure how someone can support Ohtaki, and also Peterson and Bernstein. Ohtaki is very different. For example - I believe Ohtaki supports Gateway; certainly Bernstein and I believe Peterson do not. This one issue reveals what appear to be fundamentally different views on how to strike a balance for what is in Menlo Park's overall best long term interests. On Gateway, I happen to agree with Ohtaki (as well as Cline, Robinson and Keith - and a majority on the Council and Planning Commission and several other Commissions). The City revenues, jobs, green building leadership and other improvements Gateway will bring to a run down area east of 101 outweigh its impacts, which have been mitigated to a significant degree.

It is really quite apparent that Gail has flip-flopped in her views on development and even on what is "green development"

She supported the Derry Referendum 4 years ago, with a main point being it was too dense and too high.

She in days gone by, when she was a candidate, ran on a motto of

"Looking to the Future: Measured Growth for Menlo Park"

view this picture of her statement back in 1990.

Web Link

Somehow her standard for what constitutes "measured growth" has been shifted to reflect a base closer to San Francisco and certainly not Menlo Park.

On her leadership on the "green agenda", she acknowledges this project will produce 80% of its greenhouse gas emissions from automobile traffic, yet she still trumpets this is a "green project"

See on Youtube

Web Link

Where she was interviewed and stated:

2 min 18 seconds into the video she says:

"Most of the green house gas emission that would come from this project are from the transportation sector 70 - 80% of them....

This hardly makes this project green.

I think perhaps Ohtaki, should state his own position on the project. Chuck Bernstein is quite clearly against, and incumbents Heyward and Cline voted for the project.

Keith's vote for the project was with a condition that a 50% reduction in traffic be instituted. 17% was the final number, which was actually only a 7% reduction, since a "new methodology" was employed to reveal that another 10% was already present and not previously accounted for. Amazing what one can due with numbers.

Like this comment
Posted by LOL
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 19, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Hard-Working Taxpayer (a.k.a., Hank under one of his many aliases):
"Just ask Nicholas Jellins who refused to compromise his principles"

Nick Jellins has principles? Who knew?

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 20, 2010 at 7:59 am

Gail's letter was thoughtful, respectful, accommodating.
Hank's, as usual, was bombastic, paranoid, and insulting.
Which person do you think I will look to for guidance on the upcoming Council elections?

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Collacchi
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2010 at 11:28 am

Oakland police, for one, are paying the full costs, so Menlo Park is not on the leading edge of this innovation, because Menlo Park's "safety" employees (.e.g police) are *not* paying it.

Gail should explain how this measure will lead to existing employees under contract with Calpers being dropped, because she implies that. Is it true?

She should also explain to us the "logic" in saying that cities should not do what they they believe to be right because of the risk that large special interests, in this case unions, may sue them. You're gonna run every time the union snarls? We stood up to Bohannon's legal threats in M-2 and he backed down.

I doubt that council from 1990-1994 contributed significantly to the reserve, (the reserve that every council is now taking credit for) there was a recession in 1992 remember, it was the economy stupid. But we can document that council from 1996 to 2001 doubled the reserves and achieved the AAA rating. Yes, it had a great economic wind at its back, but it didnā€™t overspend, and when the economy went south again in 2001, the 2000-2004 councils cut spending, including significant reductions in force to bring spending in line with revenues, something the 2006 ā€“ 2010 council has completely resisted.

Taxpayers have every right and are completely rational to want to get out of the business of insuring Calpers investment decisions. Gail implies that Calpers is a wise investor of funds, but Calpers itself is being investigated for abuse, its recent track record is horrible, and the legacy of the financial meltdown is littered with State pension funds literally being hoodwinked by Wall Street in the derivatives markets. Now that they are desperate, some are taking even greater risks to make back lost money.

I can agree that Measure L is an imperfect step toward the real solution which is to eliminate defined benefit pension plans, and replace them with defined contribution benefit plans in which the city can manage its total contribution to pension benefits. I see nothing from Gail or Kelly or Heyward or Rich that acknowledges elimination of defined benefit pension plans as a primary goal.

Gail is fond of saying, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Measure L is important because it's a good step that unites the community behind a common purpose that is clearly going in the right direction of pushing back on out of control pensions costs. A united community is essential in the face of a large special interest that is going to fight back.

Why is Gail trying to fragment a community that is uniting itself on what is clearly the right track? Council needs a united not fragmented community to achieve these changes.

What Menlo Park needs is a city council that will marshall that support to push even further, and I see no evidence, that Gail, Kelly, Heyward, or Rich have any desire to gather the momentum to push back further on the defined benefit pensions, or to make any of the tough choices to balance the budget.

While I acknowledge and don't agree with many Measure L proponents who are anti-union, I do think that Gail, Kelly, Heyward, and Rich are either too supportive of or too fearful of unions to fight this fight in good faith.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Paul -
You write: "Gail implies that Calpers is a wise investor of funds, but . . . its recent track record is horrible".
Well pretty much everyone who was invested in the market recently has had a horrible track record, including pretty much all the other pension funds - and you too I imagine. Markets do recover however, and so do those who don't panic and bail.
You suggest that Menlo Park will be better off if it switches its employee pensions to Defined Contribution (401K) from Defined Benefit (Pension). This may be short sighted. Remember, CALPERS has had 19 years of gains over the past 23 years (12 years when gains were in the double digits) and only 4 years of losses (only one year, 2009, in the double digits). During many of the "good" years, CALPERS was able to reduce employer contributions significantly, saving local governments between 50 and 90% of their pension costs. If MP switches to a defined contribution, the pension costs become a fixed and rising (because of inflation)cost that will see no offsets, even when the economy improves and CALPERS is back to earning double digit returns.
Financial gurus advise against bailing out of the market during financial downturns yet that's exactly what you're advising the city to do.
Have a little faith Paul.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Collacchi
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2010 at 8:17 am

Nice try, Steve. I'm advising taxpayers to get out of the insurance business and stop insuring financial investors.

Once the city/taxpayer makes its fair, negotiated contribution to the employee, its up to the employee to manage it and bear the risk. The city/taxpayer have no further financial obligation. If city workers want to invest their retirement money in Calpers mgt that would be their choice. If Calpers wished to invest its money in the market or in naked swaps, that is its choice. How I invest my money, and how you invest your money, is irrelevant and should be irrelevant to taxpayers.

In the defined contribution model the city only has to find money for the three years of the negotiated contract, after which it would re-negotiate its contribution for the next contract. It's not vulnerable to inflation, its only vulnerable to its ability to negotiate.

In a defined benefit system the city makes a promise to say, a 25-year old planner, and bears financial obligations that last the lifetime of the planner, which could be until he or she is 90. The council and generation of taxpayers that make the decision are not the same council and generation of taxpayers that must pay for it.

There are many reasons why defined benefit contribution plans are broken, despite positive or negative market performance, and why historical contributions made by the employee/city haven't covered the historical costs, which is the real issue.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 21, 2010 at 9:34 am

I think Mr. Collacchi has it right. The REAL pension reform will occur when we switch from defined benefits to defined contributions. As Mr. Collacchi noted, it is impossible for an employer to bear the full financial burden of guaranteeing every new hire that they can provide ANY percentage of their highest income for the remainder of their life. Impossible.

Steve correctly notes that Calpers has been a successful long term investor. Even with a defined contribution program, if that enviable performance continues, ("have a little faith," Steve asks), then those defined contributions will grow and the associated pension will grow too.

It would not be very difficult to set up a public employee pension system that is similar to the private sector's 401(k) programs where each employee's account is invested through Calpers. And like the private sector, both employees and employers can define their contributions.

We shouldn't make these kind of decisions on faith, we should make them on actual performance.

Like this comment
Posted by Fiscal Responsibility
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 21, 2010 at 11:09 am

If we could only convince Pogo to move to Menlo Park and Paul Collacchi to move back to Menlo Park and both run for City Council.

What we have right now is are three Menlo Park city council members, two who are running for re-election, who do not care about the City living within its means and are more than happy to enrich the Employee Unions at the expense of the residents. Mr. Robinson and Mr. Cline should resoundingly be rejected on election day for violating their fiduciary duties to the city.

We should all applaud Andy Cohen for his fiscal prudence and seriously consider recalling Kelly Fergusson for her unprofessional behavior and turning her back on the residents of Menlo Park.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Collacchi
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Regarding CalPers performance, here is something alleged to be published in the Sacramento Bee: The Sacramento Bee reported CalPERS lost $11 billion in its real estate portfolio in the 12 months ending April 30. Wow.)

I don't want to get into a wide open religious open war over investment philosophies, but "Steve's" claim that all portfolios have been performed badly in the recent past is true, but shouldn't disguise the fact that pension funds such as Calpers are active managers, in areas other than stocks and bonds, such as real estate, and some, in credit default swaps and other exotic derivative products, and there is little evidence that actively managed portfolios do any better than efficient market indices in the long run.

I'm open to hearing someone publish fully audited stats telling me that for each public dollar paid on behalf of a retiree's that Calpers long-term investment has been so good that it saved taxpayer money for each dollar paid out, but I haven't see any such claim, just lots of hand waving, much like all mutual fund's advertise great past performance for the past 30,60,90 days, 1year, or 5year period, yet aggregated data show almost no mutual fund has ever outperformed market indices over the long term.

As someone who knows a little about the "efficient market" theorem debate, I am deeply skeptical of "active" management of portfolios, particular in markets such as real estate, and I remain skeptical that Calpers active management has produced long term net gains for taxpayers in the form of reduced tax payments.

It's quite possible that as an active manager caught in the wrong position during an 85-year financial event , that Calpers might *NEVER* recover lost value in our lifetimes, and that taxpayers will wind up paying the shortfall, no matter how skillful or lucky they were in the past.

The hidden story inside the Goldman Sachs scandal is how little investors, many of whom are pension funds, understood about the risks they were taking and the products they were buying. These derivative markets are literally gambling markets that produce no real economic value, and pension funds are in way over their heads.

I don't come down on the position of "performance", I am not a financial gambler, and don't even want to take the bet. Let public employees bear the full risk of their own investment decisions, I have no interest in betting on the financial performance of *ANY* active manager, including CalPers.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

First Sunnyvale, then Australia: Mountain View's Le Plonc plots expansion
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 2,365 views

Juggling Renewables
By Sherry Listgarten | 25 comments | 1,794 views

Premarital and Couples: Living as Roommates?
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,340 views

Homestead Faire at Hidden Villa 4/27
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 520 views

A trial run
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 507 views


The Almanac Readers' Choice ballot is here

It's time to decide what local business is worthy of the title "The Almanac Readers' Choice" ā€” and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 27th. Stay tuned for the results in the July 17th issue of The Almanac.