Retiree Health Care Not Guaranteed (for Some)

Three major debts weigh on San Diego City Hall like traumatic memories: Its promises to provide pensions to employees when they retire, its commitments to pay for health care for employees when they retire and its inability to keep up with maintenance of its facilities.

No news today on the first and last front. But on health care, big news: San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith is touting a victory. A court has ruled that, at least for the group of employees in question, health care is not a vested — or absolutely guaranteed — benefit current city workers can expect when they retire. (Actual ruling here.)

You should expect news in coming days as city leaders emerge from talks with labor unions. There are some sticky issues, like the fact that some city employees cannot count on Medicare when they would be eligible. But I bet we see something like what the county did years ago: switching employees over to something like a 401(k) for health care — a guaranteed contribution and savings, but not a guaranteed benefit from it.

Don’t get too excited. Any savings would likely not be enough to save library hours. Why? The city’s has not paid its full bill for the benefit for years. The savings might just make the full bill affordable. That’s progress, trust me.

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Here’s a retiree health care video explainer.

Concerns about Mayor’s Budget

The city’s Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin just released her take (PDF) on Mayor Jerry Sanders’ budget. And, in her own dry, wonky way, expressed something like outrage about how many one-time sources of revenue he used to close the deficit.

Though his budget does include major service cuts (libraries were hammered) those cuts were far from enough. The mayor found $35.1 million in one-time accounting moves to close a hole of $73.1 million and eliminate fire engine brownouts.

Here’s a sample of Tevlin’s concerns:

For several budget years, the Mayor outlined how one-time solutions were matched to one-time expenditures in his budget proposals — this was not done for FY 2011 or for the FY 2012 proposed budget. We would be more comfortable with the significant level of one-time proposals had such information been provided.

Ouch. I’d be restless all night if someone said that about me.

Public Art’s Day in Council

Mayor Sanders is moving forward with plans to spend less money on public art, arts editor Kelly Bennett reports.

When the plan was first proposed, it was in response to news stories about the installation of a sculpture at a fire station at a time when the city can’t afford to keep its fire stations fully staffed. Cutting arts spending in this way, the mayor said then, emphasizes that public safety is more important than public art.

A few items have since been removed from the original list of art to cut. Mayoral staff concluded it’d cost more money to change the construction plan or redesign the projects without art.

Next SDSU President

The Union-Tribune has an update on the search for a new president at SDSU. It’s heating up.

Q&A with Local Sandwich Historian

Susan Russo has your lunch order. She’s the author of the “Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.” Randy Dotinga (on vacation this week in New York City; he’s already been barred from three boroughs and Gracie Mansion) interviews Russo about the history of sandwiches and California favorites like the French dip.

He even gets her to invent a few new sandwiches for San Diego neighborhoods, like “The Hillcrest,” grilled Gruyère with artisanal bacon jam on toasted rye.

Ron Burgundy Officially Retired?

Will Farrell, the star of Anchorman, the smash-hit parody of a San Diego TV news star, is telling the media that “idiots” have killed his dreams of a sequel to the movie, reports Huffington Post.

What We Learned This Week

A New Convention Center Never Been Closer, or Farther Away: I learned that the City Council is expecting a new financing plan for a massive expansion of the Convention Center. But I also got a handle on some big problems with the project. The problems include a football team, school children, bond investors and anti-tax ballot initiatives. Otherwise, it’s right on track. (Also: We discuss this in depth and more — including our hero and goat of the week — on a new edition of our weekly radio show (mp3). And here is a video explainer of the project from San Diego Explained.)

VOSD Members Want Transit: In our first survey of members about a policy preference, we asked about the widening of I-5 and mass transit. The question provoked some interesting comments. Check it out here. Also, if you’re a VOSD member and didn’t receive the survey contact us. If you’d like to become a member and weigh in on this regular feature, well, step right over here.

Rank-and-File School Reform Is Stalled: When the movie “Waiting for Superman” came out, San Diego Unified’s teachers’ union implored members to lead an alternative community based reform effort. The school board embraced it. But now, they’re not talking to each other and things are getting tense.

Water Could Be Coming from Mexico: We were given a picture of a power plant in Rosarito that may be the site of a future source of water for San Diego. How would it work? Very well, according to some.

Quote of the Week: “My biggest fear is that there will be a loss of recognition of the importance of thinking beyond permit processing as we think about the future of San Diego,” said Michael Stepner, who worked in city planning from 1971 to 1997. He was talking about the mayor’s proposal to merge San Diego’s planning and permitting departments.

You can contact me directly at or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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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