One of the touchiest issues in San Diego city politics is the pension crisis that has bedeviled it for many years.

The latest attempt to confront the issue is a ballot measure that just qualified for the June 2012 election, which supporters have dubbed “Comprehensive Pension Reform.”

The measure would move most new city workers from a guaranteed-benefit pension to a 401(k)-style plan. That’s gathered the most attention. However, most of the initiative’s estimated savings would come from a plan to freeze pensionable pay for city workers for the next five years.

There’s a catch: The initiative doesn’t actually set that cap. For legal reasons, it only recommends that the City Council essentially adopt the pay freeze as an opening negotiating stance.

This week, VOSD asked the city’s declared mayoral candidates to have their say on the CPR’s pay freeze provision. They were asked the following questions:

The issue that would save the city the most money within the so-called Comprehensive Pension Reform proposal is a proposed freeze of all of the city of San Diego’s employees’ pensionable pay for five years. But that is something the City Council would have to do. CPR would simply advise it. If you support the measure, would you still push for a freeze like this if it were to fail? And if you don’t support the initiative, would you support just this freeze?

Carl DeMaio, city councilman:

A year ago I outlined the solutions that are included in the Comprehensive Pension Reform (CPR) Ballot Measure — reforms that end outrageous pension payouts in city government and save taxpayers billions of dollars.

By including those solutions in CPR and building a broad-based coalition to pass this measure, I am showing that I’m not waiting to be Mayor to build consensus and get things done.

Contrary to the framing of the question, CPR does far more than “advise” these reforms be made.

First, CPR mandates an end to “pension spiking” by limiting pension calculations to just the base salary for city employees — without the added bonus, specialty and ad-on pays. Second, to give me more muscle as Mayor to enforce my pensionable pay cap, it amends the Charter to require a super-majority vote of the City Council to undo my pensionable pay cap.

During this campaign I intend to make one thing perfectly clear: If San Diegans want an end to these outrageous pension payouts, they must do more than vote for the CPR measure, they must elect a Mayor and City Councilmembers who have demonstrated the knowledge and commitment to achieve maximum reform of pensions. For more details on my pension reform plan, visit

Bonnie Dumanis, district attorney:

Pension reform is central to my vision as San Diego’s next Mayor. I fully support the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative and hope that voters will embrace it as well. If it does not pass, I will still make pension reform a clear priority, including a freeze of San Diego City employees’ pensionable pay for five years. In addition, I continue to believe that public safety employees deserve a safety net. I’ve determined that such a safety net is possible with no additional cost to the taxpayer through the option of an annuity, which would come during the implementation phase of reform. Finally, we’re going to need a Mayor who has the leadership experience to make sure pension reform is actually implemented — whether it is passed by voters or not. As the only candidate with chief executive experience and a proven track record of restoring accountability at a large government organization, I’ll take pension reform from plan to reality. Please visit my website for more information on my campaign:

Bob Filner, congressman:

The congressman failed to respond.

Nathan Fletcher, assemblyman:

San Diegans have seen a steady reduction in services over the past years, in part due to ever increasing pension payments required to correct the mistakes of the past. The Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative gives us an opportunity to deal with the pension issue once and for all, and then move on to a positive conversation about the city we want in the future. I support the initiative and believe it will pass.

Once the initiative is approved by voters, the next mayor of San Diego will be responsible for implementing CPR in a way that is fair to taxpayers and fair to city workers. The freeze on pensionable pay generates the most immediate savings, and with a 2/3 city council vote requirement to override, it should ensure we have the needed money to invest in vital services like police and fire protection and roads. As Mayor, I will do everything I can to persuade the City Council to do what the voters have advised in passing the initiative and provide savings we can invest back in our neighborhoods.

David Cardon, real estate broker:

I do not support the CPR Initiative and I do not support a “Freeze” of city employee pensionable pay for 5 years. Having said that we must realize that all of these Proposals & Initiatives are just a diversion from what the real issue is. The real issue is that the city has written a bad check to city employees and the public. As I’ve said before, only through the restructuring of City Departments and the sale of assets can the city get out of the RED and move back into the GREEN. City Leadership are HOLDING on to City Reserves to prevent bad credit ratings, not spending the money they have borrowed to fix infrastructure problems, and talking about a new stadium and a new city hall building. Why not fix our INFRASTRUCTURE and pension issues first and then talk about all the other issues. As Mayor of San Diego, my only question will always be, “How does this benefit the City of San Diego?” It’s time for a new kind of leadership in San Diego. Our government is set up as a “Strong Mayor” system. My goal is to show the bureaucrats that when the people come together, they will put their “Strong Mayor” in office, and together we will get the job done.

Hud Collins, trial attorney:

CPR is an awful idea. The CPR substance solves nothing; procedurally it is unlawful (violation of the California Constitution article XI section 3 — revision v amendment). A freeze is totally unacceptable. SD employees have taken the brunt of criticism since 2002; and have given up to 6% compensation the last three years. If decision is the freeze; then SD must file for bankruptcy or think outside the box (I have a full plan – $15B city assets, transfer $2.145B to retirement fund to cover unfunded liability – now reported on city ledger; 100% funding, close defined – benefit plan, all employees to 401(k) with match (public safety) … pension solved). As presented, the CPR is an amendment that amends 14 different sections. According to the California Constitution (and applicable to charter cities) — this proposition initiative is a revision (amend — discreet/narrow/minor vs revision, fundamentally changes organic document – which cannot qualify for the ballot as a revision. Further, it solves nothing! No solving of the pension deficit – $2.145B, FY2013 deficit ($30 — 50M), no solution for $327M city payment to retirement fund, will cost 90M over 6 years; complicated, convoluted, years to implement; employees not back to social security; composition of initiative is illogical and unlawful; Dodd-Frank, GASB requires when there are new hires switched to 401(k) – retirement fund must be paid off faster. Last, CPR Freeze section, says shall be implemented.

Sunny O. Enyoghwerho, businessman:

I’m in support of the comprehensive initiative put forward by the city council to freeze all the pension funds to all qualified employees for five years. The system needs to be reorganized to properly deal with the problem facing the city. Even though this initiative is adopted, and they don‘t have competent people to manage the program, the freeze alone will not solve the problem. The city was with Social Security for many years. About thirty years ago, they changed to the plan they have right now. Since then, the plan was very effective until recently. Lack of fiscal responsibility led to the downfall of the program. Since the management is responsible for the pitfall of the program, the city officials have to assume the responsibility. The problem should not be directed to tax payers, because they are not responsible for the mismanagement. If the initiative is not adopted, I will still push for it. I will take it to the voters.

Steve Greenwald, compassionate physician, businessman, and civic activist:

The entitlement of the city employees is but one of two entitlements the other being medical benefits for present and past employees…both are unsustainable in their present format and require attention at this time. The employees of the city are the best in the west and deserve the best from the citizens that they all serve!!We must develop a process of arbitration and mediation to solve all the employer/employee problems…binding arbitration may occasionally be necessary. The employees are part of the solution and must be treated with respect and cordiality at all times. A happy employee is an effective employee!! Confrontation and arbitrarily changing entitlements will result in an unhappy employee force and would be detrimental to the citizenry in the long run. As mayor I will always try to arbitrate all challenges that come across my desk!!

Toby Lewandoski, computer scientist:

I do not support this issue and do not support the freeze.

Tobiah Pettus, unemployed:

No. I do not support the proposed freeze of all of the City of San Diego’s employees’ pensionable pay for five years. An agreement was made. Individuals spent years of their lives working under that agreement. We should all remember compassion and the fact that City employees are not entitled to Social Security. Pensions are their only security and I will not take away what individuals have earned through spilling the precious years of their lives. Yes, I know things are difficult right now, but we are Americans. San Diego is “America’s Finest City” and we will bring our economy back. We will succeed… and we will do so without crushing the future of our parents – even though, in this case they are few… less than 10,000 City of San Diego employees. It should also be noted that this proposed freeze is also in violation of the Corbett Judgment with the Police Officer’s Association.

Pension Reform is NOT a vision for San Diego. Pension Reform is NOT going to drive San Diego’s economy or bring San Diego jobs. Creating an environment for growth and driving our economy should be THE focus of the 2012 Mayoral Campaign, NOT Pension Reform.

Scott Wilson, businessman:

This issue, while of interest to many, is not the primary focus of my campaign. My campaign is solely focused on raising awareness about the ramifications and repercussions of lifting the Alcohol Ban on beaches in San Diego. Please check out for more info.

Lamii Kpargoi is an international fellow working with He will be working on elections issues and media best practices in community relations. You can reach him directly at and 619.550.5671.

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