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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Let’s Negotiate Sometime

Jerry Sanders said during the mayoral campaign that he would, if elected, sit down with labor unions in January to commence the all-important task of renegotiating labor contracts. However, he said Friday that January was an unlikely start date and didn’t know when official negotiations might begin.

In an interview, Sanders said he will wait until his administration gets a better handle on what his aides have described as a dysfunctional city structure and until the pension system delivers its annual bill to the city before sitting down to the negotiating table.

He said he also must decide if he will hire an outside consultant to conduct the negotiations (as the city did this year).

It is unclear when the pension system’s actuary will finish its annual calculations and determine how much the city should pay into its troubled pension system. The system has a deficit of more than $1.37 billion and the city’s annual payments have recently dominated annual budgets. January and March are both being tossed around as dates for the completion of the actuary’s study.

Sanders and his aides say they haven’t been able to get reliable tallies of the city’s labor force and employee classifications.

The mayor said during the campaign that he would know by the end of negotiations with the labor unions if he needed to take the city into bankruptcy. That date was originally pegged at May.

— ANDREW DONOHUE 

Baseball Classic Picks

Baseball is undoubtedly America’s pastime.

But online bookies are banking on the Dominican Republic toppling the United States’ legacy of baseball supremacy when the World Baseball Classic comes to Petco Park March 18 and 20.

Online bookie www.bodog.com sets the United States odds at 6 to 5 of winning the tournament, and the Dominican Republic’s odds at 1 to 1. Venezuela trails the United States with 7 to 1 odds, and Bodog sets China’s odds at 500 to 1.

The tournament pits 16 of the world’s best baseball playing nations against each other in what is being billed as the World Cup of baseball.

In its Saturday edition, Voice of San Diego examines the potential costs and benefits of San Diego hosting the tournament.

— SAM HODGSON

The Mayor’s New Briggs

Mayor Jerry Sanders has added another key member to his new team, hiring Lisa Briggs to handle public policy issues.

Briggs served as executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association from 2003 until this fall, when she left to do public affairs for San Diego Gas & Electric. She also previously worked for the Utilities Consumer Action Network, a consumer advocacy group in San Diego.

She is slated to start at the city Jan. 16 and will earn $95,000 a year.

Briggs said she will work on many of Sanders’ campaign pledges, including the opening up of some city services to competition from the private sector and the creation of a two-tiered pension system. She will also work on affordable housing issues.

But does she have an official title?

“At this point, no. With the new strong-mayor form of government, a lot is still in flux,” she said.

Briggs said she tried to avoid becoming a member of the city’s troubled pension system, but was told that it couldn’t be done. She would only be eligible for a pension if she worked 10 years as a city employee (or worked five years and purchased five years of service credit).

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Ka-Boom

Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005 — 4:36 p.m.

San Diego Bay will be lit up by a fireworks show at the stroke of midnight on Sunday despite the fact that the event’s longtime organizer canceled earlier this year.

Mayor Jerry Sanders asked a number of waterfront businesses to pick up the slack left behind by First Night San Diego, which folded after organizing the fireworks show after 13 years. He is expected to formally announce the show Friday.

Sanders spokesman Fred Sainz said the 2006 show will be centered in the North Bay and will last between six and seven minutes long. Although First Night San Diego used to charge for access to the North Embaracadero, there will be no charge this time around.

The show is being sponsored by Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the Port Tenants Association.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Police Union’s Council Picks Differ on Cops’ Pensions

The City Council candidates’ responses

District 2 candidate Kevin Faulconer enjoys the endorsements of Sanders and the Police Officers Association, although other candidates including the POA-supported candidate in District 8 believe some of the mayor’s proposals will drive away public safety workers.

Police union president Bill Nemec said the POA endorsed Faulconer because he “wanted to develop innovative ways for not just recruiting officers, but retaining them” at a time when many officers are leaving San Diego. He said he wasn’t sure whether the pension ideas floated by Sanders, a former police chief, would stem the exodus.

“It’s one of those things where everyone is looking for an idea,” Nemec said. “We don’t expect the candidates to go lock-step with the mayor, but we endorsed candidate Faulconer and (District 8) candidate (Ben) Hueso because both were aware that we were losing officers.”

Nemec said several cops have departed, mostly because of uncertainty over their future retirement checks as well as a cut to their net pay because of increased contributions they will make to the pension system. He said a survey the POA recently circulated to its members shows that at least 370 of the city’s 2,000 officers are actively looking for jobs elsewhere.

Sanders plan appears to fuel the worries cops have over their retirement costs and future pay.

If enacted, Sanders’ “Action Plan for Recovery” increases the amount employees pay into the pension plan and makes employees’ benefits less predictable but more manageable for the city by closing down the existing retirement system to include a 401(k)-style defined-contribution aspect.

Faulconer said he supported in concept the theory of Sanders’ questions, but thought more leniency should be provided for public safety workers, such as cops and firefighters.

Sanders’ plan would exempt public safety officers from across-the-board layoffs that he will propose if certain concessions aren’t made by unions at the bargaining table, although the remainder of his platform relies on structural changes to the retirement fund for all city workers.

Faulconer’s opponent, Lorena Gonzalez, said she opposed a hybrid pension plan for public safety workers. She refused to answer Sanders’ survey, arguing that the questions were to general.

In District 8, Hueso said he opposed 401(k)-style pensions or requiring workers to pay more. Acle said he was open to Sanders’ ideas, but would not give specifics about the proposals other than to say that he believed the city’s problem was related to overspending.

Sanders did not endorse a candidate in District 8.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

A Hefty Bite

According to a story in the New York Times today, the San Diego/Carlsbad/San Marcos area is the sixth least-affordable housing market in the nation.

The Times cites a report by Moody’s Economy.com that shows a nationwide trend toward more affordable housing.

“Despite a widespread sense that real estate has never been more expensive, families in the vast majority of the country can still buy a house for a smaller share of their income than they could have a generation ago,” the story states.

Not so in sunny San Diego.

San Diegans shell out, on average, 54.9 percent of their income on mortgage payments, according to the Economy.com report. That’s compared to the Buffalo/Niagara Falls region in New York state, where the average family spends just 9.5 percent of their income on buying a home. The national average is 22 percent.

Read the New York Times story here.

WILL CARLESS

Absentee Deadline

Voters in San Diego’s District 2 and District 8 have until Tuesday to apply for an absentee ballot for the Jan. 10 runoff election to fill vacant City Council seats, officials announced today.

“If you are interested in having your ballot mailed to you and haven’t already applied, you should do it now,” said Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas.

To apply for an absentee ballot, voters must:

-complete and mail or fax back to the Registrar of Voters office the application included on the back of sample ballots and information pamphlets already mailed out to each registered voter;

-download an application from the registrar’s Web site at www.sdvote.com and mail or fax it back to the office; or

-mail or fax a note to the registrar’s office containing the name, residence address, the name and date of the election for which a ballot is requested and the address where the ballot is to be mailed.

Applications or requests can be mailed to the Registrar of Voters, P.O. Box 85520, San Diego, CA, 92186-5520, or faxed to (858) 694-2955.

WIRE REPORTS

And the number is…150?

Voice of San Diego today received a question from a reader about whether Mayor Jerry Sanders had asked for and received any of the 300 letters of resignation he promised voters he’d get from high-level city employees.

We’ve touched on this before. 

Sanders’ spokesman told Voice recently that the mayor would ask for and receive the letters in question sometime after the start of the year.

But it’s not clear how many resignations he intends to accept. Sanders had left the question open but in a recent survey he sent out to City Council hopefuls, the mayor was uncharacteristically specific in describing this aspect of his “Action Plan for Recovery.”

“The Action Plan for Recovery proposes to eliminate approximately 150 senior and middle managers to streamline the bureaucracy, increase accountability and reduce costs,” he wrote.

One-hundred and fifty.

That should come as welcome news to one of those senior managers who, on the condition of anonymity, talked at length about the mayor’s plans and the atmosphere they’ve generated in City Hall.

Our source was quite interested in how many managers the mayor planned to give pink slips to.

About the letters of resignation, the city employee said the mayor and City Manager Ronne Froman have vacillated about whether they will actually require one from each of the 300 high-level city workers. But the manager didn’t care about having to write one.

“We’re well aware that there’s a list being developed right now containing names of those who are going away,” the manager said. “The mayor has made it clear to at-will employees that they do not have the kind of job security they may have been used to.”

See what great response you get when you send an email question to VoiceTry it yourself

SCOTT LEWIS

Complaint Against Whistleblower Dies

A long-standing ethics complaint filed against former pension trustee Diann Shipione was dismissed Dec. 20. Shipione is widely seen as a whistleblower who brought to light many of the problems with the San Diego’s public employee pension funding.

The complaint was part of a highly controversial series of events last year when the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System accused Shipione of violating the pension fund’s attorney client privileges. The system also asked then Mayor Dick Murphy for her immediate “suspension.”

(This is just an aside, but that last move is deeply ironic given the pension board’s continuing stance that the city’s mayor could not and should not attempt to remove board members. The pension board, for example, reacted very hostilely to a proposal considered by the City Council several months ago to remove now President Peter Preovolos.)

Her colleagues on the pension board, in November 2004, also prepared a citizen’s arrest of Shipione in order to bar her from a closed session it had scheduled.

Because they are on a voluntary furlough for the holiday period, representatives of the Ethics Commission could not be reached Tuesday for comment on their reasons for dismissing the complaint.

The complaint against her may have been dismissed, but the ruse to keep her out of closed sessions from then on was quite successful.

SCOTT LEWIS

Landfull

The city of San Diego is urging residents to extend the life of the Miramar Landfill by recycling their Christmas trees, instead of tossing them in the trash.

Starting today and extending through January 23, the city will offer 17 drop-off locations for residents to deposit their used shrubbery. The trees will be recycled into mulch and compost, which city residents will be able to pick up for free throughout the year from the Miramar Greenery.

Residents can also recycle used trees through their curbside recycling programs by placing them alongside their yard waste collection containers.

“Yard waste such as your Christmas tree is a large part of the recyclable material that unfortunately ends up buried in the land fill,” said Elmer Heap Jr., director of the city’s environmental services department stated in a press release.

City officials say that the landfill will be packed to capacity in about six years.

— SAM HODGSON

High Surf Remains

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 — 10:45 a.m.

This is going to be another week of dangerous surfing and swimming conditions along the San Diego County Coast. National Weather Service forecasters say this morning that we should expect more high surf and strong rip currents.

A High Surf Advisory will be in effect from 6 p.m. Tuesday until 6 p.m. Friday. Forecasters say the waves are expected to reach 6 or 7 feet today and with sets of up to 9 feet possible in some areas. The highest surf is expected along exposed west-facing beaches south of La Jolla. About 130 people were rescued at San Diego County beaches last Wednesday,when waves reached nearly 20 feet in height.

— WIRE REPORTS

On behalf of Kearny Mesa-based Canyon Ridge Baptist Church, attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund have filed suit against the city of San Diego, claiming that the church is being charged higher rent fees than non-religious groups.

The lawsuit alleges that the church is classified as a “private group” and thus must pay a higher rate to rent facilities at the Kearny Mesa Recreation Center. ADF, a Christian advocacy organization, claims that the city should classify the church as a “community group” and charge it the same rate as groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or the American Red Cross.

The recreation center is also closed Sundays, forcing the church to pay $21.25 per hour to hold services during non-operation hours. ADF says the actions of the city violate the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Nobody from ADF was available for immediate comment, as most employees were off for Christmas vacation.

ADF filed suit against California State University, Long Beach and San Diego State University less than a month ago. In that case, ADF alleged that the universities violated four religious groups’ right to association by mandating that the groups either amend their bylaws to allow non-Christians or forego their rights to become an official campus group.

— SAM HODGSON

Council Legal Bills

The Mayor’s Office said today it plans to release by next week copies of the legal bills for City Council members in connection with the ongoing federal investigations.

Although most legal bills for city employees go through the City Attorney’s Office, City Attorney Mike Aguirre said that the council members have instead been running their billings through the City Manager’s Office.

Mayor Jerry Sanders now essentially oversees the City Manager’s Office. The decision was made today to formulate a process so that the bills are released to the public minus any sensitive information, a spokesman said.

City Council members say the extra legal bills would not be necessary if Aguirre would have allowed his office to represent them.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Person to Watch

Santa has made an early visit to the Voice headquarters this year.

Andrew Donohue, executive editor, Voice of San Diego, has been named by San Diego Magazine as one of San Diego’s 50 People To Watch in 2006. The list honors notable newsmakers and personalities throughout the county.

Voice of San Diego has only been around a short time yet Andy’s stories have almost single-handedly made us a daily must-read for anybody who is interested in the city’s politics,” comments Scott Lewis, Voice co-executive editor. “And now, as we approach our one-year anniversary, he will oversee our news coverage and help us spread our success to other corners of the region in dire need of the kind of journalism he has mastered.”

Donohue has been with Voice since its inception, and oversees news coverage and reports on local politics. Most recently, Donohue swept the “Daily Newspaper, Breaking News” category at the 2005 San Diego Press Club Awards for his coverage of the pension scandal and Mayor Murphy’s resignation. Before coming to Voice, he was a reporter in Washington D.C. and Virginia. He’s no stranger to local politics, Donohue also covered city hall for The San Diego Daily Transcript .

Look for Donohue and fellow honorees in an upcoming edition of San Diego Magazine .

—DENISE SCATENA

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