San Diego’s 5-year-old pension reform measure is legal, a California appellate court ruled this week.

Proponents and opponents of the plan agree on one thing: The ruling could have major repercussions throughout the state. They just disagree on whether that’s good or bad.

Sacramento Report logo

Voters in 2012 approved Proposition B, freezing employees’ pensionable pay for five years and switching new employees – except cops – from pensions to 401ks. The state labor board just 15 months ago ruled the city broke state law when it didn’t negotiate with unions before pursuing the initiative.

The 4th District Court of Appeal this week ruled the city didn’t need to negotiate, since it was a citizens’ initiative, not one put forward by the city itself. The city’s labor union is now pursuing an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

At issue was the involvement of former Mayor Jerry Sanders. The mayor is the city’s chief labor negotiator, yet he was heavily involved in supporting the measure. The city’s white-collar labor union argued his involvement meant it was really a city initiative masquerading as a citizens’ initiative; the city argued Sanders supported the measure as a private citizen.

The court sided with the city, saying essentially the city only would have needed to negotiate with the union if the City Council itself had put the measure forward.

“It also has important statewide implications,” said April Boling, one of the primary proponents of the initiative. “What this means is that when citizens decide to put a measure on the ballot, and they receive the support of elected officials, that we can do that. It does not require going into negotiations.”

She said she expected other cities to now consider similar pension reform efforts.

Radio host Carl DeMaio said he will now pursue a statewide pension reform initiative in 2018, based on the ruling.

Mike Zucchet, head of the city’s white-collar union, took the same lesson but didn’t find it so encouraging. The former mayor and city attorney were clear to the pension board, he said, that they pursued a citizens’ initiative to avoid negotiating requirements – and just as clearly, the court blessed that approach.

“This is now a roadmap for how any jurisdiction can do this on any issue in the future,” he said.

Local attorney Gil Cabrera, who ran unsuccessfully for city attorney last year, said the ruling was technically correct, but created an easily exploitable hole in the state’s labor negotiation requirements. He compared it to similar rulings that have exempted large developments from state environmental requirements if they’re approved through citizens’ initiatives.

“Why would any future mayor engage in (negotiation) obligations when they can simply make fundamental changes to working conditions through a citizens’ initiative?” he said.

Boling said there’s an obvious hold-up to the idea that everything can go through a citizens’ initiative now.

“They’re overlooking the cost,” she said. “This cost $1 million. Not every measure has that kind of money – it’s an expensive process.”

Former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, meanwhile, said cities could get things done faster by choosing to negotiate, and unions now have more incentive to negotiate themselves.

“It’s always better for elected to take leadership and negotiate, but when they don’t, citizens have a right to pursue an initiative,” he said.

Andrew Keatts

Pets Unleased (No, That’s Not a Typo)

Dogs and cats could no longer be leased in California – yes, leased – if a new bill co-authored by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein becomes law.

The controversial, pricey and little-known practice of leasing pets has upset animal rights groups and left some customers bewildered when they learn they don’t actually own their new pet, but signed a rent-to-own contract instead.

The bill, AB 1491, would bar such contracts statewide beginning in 2018.

A couple from El Cajon was shocked to discover they didn’t own the bichon frise they bought from Oceanside Puppy in 2014. The fine print of their contract signed with WAGS Financing spelled out requirements for grooming, training and dog waste pickup, as well as repossession of the dog if payments are missed.

Bloomberg recently chronicled the story of the man who launched the pet financing company in 2013. A promotional video on the WAGS website says the lease is merely “an alternative financing tool for customers to be able to take home the pooch of their dreams.”

A director with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals spoke in support of the proposed ban at an Assembly judiciary committee hearing, where it passed 10-1 earlier this month.

Maienschein, a Republican whose district includes Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Kearny Mesa, Carmel Valley and others, has been successful with other pet-related legislation during his tenure.

Bills written or co-written by Maienschein and signed into law include measures that limit dog park liability for cities and counties, set new rules for importing dogs for resale in California, remove a state mandate to euthanize animals abandoned at an animal care facility and protect dogs rescued from dogfighting by redefining what a “vicious dog” is.

“I love animals. I care about how they are treated,” Maienschein told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2013. “It’s important for me to influence policy to make sure the animals in California are cared for and protected.”

Ashly McGlone

Little Cities Weigh in on Big SANDAG Bill

Smaller cities across San Diego haven’t had a lot of nice things to say about Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill to reform the regional planning agency SANDAG.

National City, Coronado, Poway and Escondido have all passed measures opposing the bill – which would create a new oversight body for the agency and reform its voting structure so each city’s vote is proportional to its population.

This week, La Mesa voted to oppose the measure unless it’s amended in certain ways. The Council liked the idea of letting the agency raise taxes on portions of the county, and increasing oversight. It’s requested changes on the reforms to the agency’s governance structure. The Metropolitan Transit System, meanwhile, chose to support the bill if it’s amended in a few ways. It wants to find a compromise on the proportional vote, let the agency choose who its chair is and to let cities decide who should be their representative to the board.

Last week, Gonzalez Fletcher told me she had already discussed the bill with Gov. Jerry Brown, when he approached her asking for her support on his plan to fund statewide transportation improvements with a gas tax increase. She said it was an opportunity to have a broad discussion on transportation.

Gonzalez Fletcher took to Twitter in response to my latest story on the small cities’ opposition to the bill, to clarify that she was open to making changes. She said she’d address concerns that the bill would give too much power to San Diego, but would still make the board’s voting structure more proportional. She said the main priority for her was creating the independent auditor for the agency.

“I will not be bullied out of a bill because a cabal of insiders & SANDAG apologists don’t want to reform their patronage system,” she wrote.

Andrew Keatts

New York Beats California to the Punch on Immigrant Legal Services

New York has funded a big expansion of its program to fund lawyers for immigrants facing deportation, becoming “the first state to ensure that no immigrant will be detained and permanently separated from his or her family solely because of the inability to afford a lawyer,” according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

A bill from San Diego Sen. Ben Hueso, SB 6, that would fund legal services for immigrants facing deportation, is making its way through the Legislature.

“This is one of the priorities of a democracy. … Everyone is entitled to due process and representation,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson at a hearing last month.

Sen. William Monning noted that some people are deported without even receiving a hearing – and those people wouldn’t be helped by SB 6. Another bill or remedy should protect the right to a hearing, he said.

New York’s decision to fund such services continues a long-running friendly battle between it and California to be the first to reach progressive benchmarks. Last year, both states signed laws hiking the minimum wage on the same day. The governments of both states have also addressed protections for NFL cheerleaders, equal pay protections and overtime pay for farmworkers on similar timelines.

Sara Libby

Golden State News

• That controversial law that requires virtually all California schoolchildren to get vaccinated? It’s working – big time. (Buzzfeed)

• In November, voters passed Prop. 54, a measure aimed at boosting transparency in the Legislature. But the recent transportation plan shows that closed-door deal-making hasn’t really gone anywhere. (L.A. Times)

 A lawsuit over California’s ability to strictly limit pollution will be heard in the 9th Circuit soon. (inewsource)

 California wants to move up its 2020 primary, in a bid to have the state’s decision make a bigger impact. (Politico)

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.