Pension initiative stays on Menlo Park ballot


The pension initiative will remain on the Menlo Park ballot, despite a lawsuit filed to stop it, a judge ruled on Aug. 27.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge George Miram said in his decision that the government code that allows voter input on pension systems "raises serious doubt as to whether the Legislature intended to foreclose voter involvement in pensions as the petitioners argue."

City Council candidate Chuck Bernstein, who helped organize a grassroots campaign to put the pension initiative on the ballot, said he was happy but not surprised by the decision.

"It allows us to re-energize volunteers. The hold was hard, with the uncertainty," he said.

Citizens for Fair and Responsible Pension Reform gathered enough signatures to have the initiative, Measure L, placed on the ballot. Measure L seeks to raise the retirement age for new, non-police public employees five years to 60, and also decrease their pension payments.

Two unions, Service Employees International Union Local 521 (SEIU) and American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 829 (AFSCME), filed the lawsuit to argue that only the City Council has the authority to change pension compensation.

Judge Miram rejected that argument, stating that they did not prove that voters are not allowed to "instruct their city representatives."

Noting the costs of the city appealing a loss would exceed the $18,000 cost of the election, Judge Miram said the "wiser course" would be a post-election review.

The Aug. 27 ruling doesn't address whether the initiative is a legal route to pension reform -- which means another lawsuit could be filed post-election.

Mr. Bernstein said that if the initiative passes with 60 to 70 percent of the vote, that he would expect the unions to be reasonable. "It would be a very bad public relations ploy on their part to oppose it."

Judge Miram had 90 days to make a decision after the Aug. 12 hearing. Attorney Richard Miadich, who represents one of the plaintiffs, said the ultimate validity of the measure would not be decided until after the election.

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Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 31, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Mr. Bernstein said that if the initiative passes with 60 to 70 percent of the vote, that he would expect the unions to be reasonable. "It would be a very bad public relations ploy on their part to oppose it.

Given the unions' past tone deafness on this issue I think we can be assured they will file suit after the measure passes.

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 31, 2010 at 12:28 pm

There is no doubt that the unions will sue to overturn a successful initiative like this, because they are entirely motivated by greed. That is their right, as it is the right of sensible taxpayers to oppose them utterly.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter, too
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 31, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I agree with the last commentor. Just see what happened in San Jose recently. The fire fighters would not take a 9% pay cut to save 49 of their fellow fire fighters' jobs. The public sector workers and their union representatives have to realize that things have changed. People in the private sector are having to work harder for less.

I would gladly take the pension benefits that the reform initiative will implement. It's better than anything I'll ever get by working in the private sector. And, it is just what our public school teachers get now.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Peter you were right! The citizens do have a say. But then, the unions don't understand this.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm

What is happening is that pensions and retirement at 50 for public workers was great as long as the pain could be deferred, things didn't appear out of whack with the private sector, there weren't the tools to see what was happening and there was litle impact on services because of the relatively small number of retirees. Now the giveaway is revealed due to reversal of all these trends: there are more retirees, people are living longer so the defined benefit liability is much higher than expected, private sector pay has stagnated (if one has a job), and there aren't revenues (despite high state tax rates) to pay for generous pensions and maintain services. The public sector unions (and most unions from what I can tell) are about getting what they can for themselves. In this case, the logical extension is that unions will get theirs and the rest of the public will pay no matter what. This is the difference between what is good for society as a whole vs. what is best for the individual (as represented by unions). The tide has turned now that the public is becoming more aware of this issue and the union self-interest is exposed. The next trend may well be that different pension packages are set up for younger employees, followed by an emphasis on hiring more junior people due to budgetary concerns. The fundamental relationship of trust between public workers and the public has been irreversibly broken (which not surprisingly is why unions don't want individuals to be able to have a say in their pay). In this day of the internet and more information disclosed, unions will not be able to play the games of the past and the sooner this is realized, the better for all involved. The idea of shared sacrifice from everyone but those who get their income by taxing others is not sustainable.

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