San Diego pension ballot measure clears legal hurdle

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A California court on Tuesday backed a voter-approved measure to cut retirement benefits for San Diego city workers, a decision that supporters and opponents said may encourage other cities and counties to pursue similar efforts.

The 4th District Court of Appeal overturned a state labor board ruling that San Diego's 2012 ballot measure was invalid because then-Mayor Jerry Sanders campaigned for it and didn't negotiate with labor unions.

The California Public Employee Relations Board said in 2015 that Sanders' failure to consult the unions violated state law on collective bargaining rights of public employees.

A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the mayor's involvement didn't require the city to negotiate with its unions. The 66-page opinion said Sanders didn't need union approval to promote the measure as an individual or using the mayor's bully pulpit.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, which was closely watched around the United States by cities and states that are grappling with large pension shortfalls. It temporarily froze pay levels used to determine pension benefits and put new hires, except for police officers, into 401(k)-style plans.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who supported the measure as a city councilman, said Tuesday's ruling keeps in place a measure that brought financial stability to California's second-largest city.

Jan Goldsmith, who was city attorney during the campaign and defended Sanders' role, said an adverse ruling for San Diego would have rippled throughout the state.

"It would have created an insurmountable hurdle for future citizens' initiatives on pensions and other things that affect labor," Goldsmith said.

Labor unions have resisted efforts by state and local governments to slash public pensions and San Diego was no exception. The San Diego Municipal Employees appealed to the state labor board, challenging the measure on grounds of Sanders' involvement.

Michael Zucchet, the union's general manager, said Tuesday's ruling "severely undermined" state law on collective bargaining rights for public workers.

"This roadmap has been created that you don't really need to bargain actually," Zucchet said. "You've got a workaround."

Officials at the state labor board didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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