The public will be getting a heck of a lot of San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith this week after he spent much of his first year in office out of the spotlight.

This afternoon, Goldsmith gave a 45-minute speech to the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and is planning to issue a 60-page memo later this week on avenues and roadblocks to future pension reform.

In his speech today, Goldsmith saved his harshest words for municipal bankruptcy, which has received renewed attention since a private task force of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ business supporters raised the idea two months ago.

Bankruptcy, Goldsmith said, could cost the city $100 million to $300 million in attorney’s fees and accomplish little of the long-term financial reforms the city needs.

Like Sanders did in his State of the City speech last week, Goldsmith ridiculed the idea that bankruptcy would be a cure-all, or “magic potion.”

“I get the image in my mind of people filing bankruptcy, holding hands, singing Kumbaya on the beach all around fire pits,” Goldsmith said.

The city is not insolvent, Goldsmith said, a precondition of bankruptcy and reform of the city’s largest liability — its $2.1 billion pension debt — is hamstrung because a number of those benefits are considered vested or guaranteed. Those benefits couldn’t be changed in bankruptcy court, he said.

“I haven’t found a case in the history of this country in which a municipality has been allowed to void or dissolve pension benefits in a bankruptcy,” he said.

Instead, Goldsmith said the city’s power and leverage over its employee expenses come at the negotiating table with labor unions. City Council ultimately can decrease the city’s liabilities by breaking negotiating deadlocks on issues like some pension perks and retiree health care.


Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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