Toward the end of his speech at the San Diego County Taxpayers Association this afternoon, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith knew he was wading into unfamiliar territory.

“I’m going to talk about revenue in front of the Taxpayers Association?” Goldsmith asked incredulously to laughter from the crowd that included Mayor Jerry Sanders, three city councilmen and County Supervisor Ron Roberts. “Yeah, revenue.”

Goldsmith said his office would be issuing legal opinions on new revenue sources. He said it’s important to distinguish between “fees,” which don’t require a two-thirds majority of city voters to institute and “taxes,” which do.

“A fee is when I pay for my own trash removal,” said Goldsmith in a reference to the 1919 city ordinance that prohibits charging for trash collection at single-family homes. “A tax is when I’m forced to pay for yours.”

In addition to talking about bankruptcy, Goldsmith spent most of his time Wednesday discussing possible pension reform and plans for jumpstarting the long-stalled outsourcing program for city services.

Goldsmith said the city had failed legally in its “frontal assault” on pension benefits in court and suggested a narrower legal approach that focused on whether past benefits were granted in line with the city’s charter. That would define what pension rights are vested, or guaranteed, and what could be changed through negotiations with city unions.

His office is preparing a 60-page memo on pension legal options for later this week.

A few benefits Goldsmith believes aren’t vested are retiree health care, and any benefits where employees don’t contribute “substantially equal” amounts as the city. He said he’s asked the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System to study whether that was the case for any benefits, including disability retirement. He thinks there are some discrepancies between what the city and its employees pay.

“I do not believe that it’s substantially equal,” he said.

On outsourcing, Goldsmith suggested a different tack than the city has been taking since voters passed a ballot proposition allowing the city to outsource in 2006.

In October, Goldsmith said the city could outsource without allowing city departments to bid for the services. Goldsmith reiterated that opinion and said he would like to change the focus from talking about the process of outsourcing to actually outsourcing.


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