San Francisco Mayor Unveils Pension Reform Ballot Measure

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and several city officials gathered at City Hall Tuesday to announce a measure for the November ballot that proposes widespread reform to city workers’ pensions and health benefits.

The proposed charter amendment—the result of months of negotiations between city officials and labor and business leaders—would cap pension benefits and raise retirement ages for city workers, and require them to contribute more to their retirement and health plans.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

Lee said the proposal would save the city between $800 million and $1 billion over the next decade. San Francisco’s pension costs are set to increase by more than $125 million in the next fiscal year, and by more than $100 million in each of the next three years, according to the mayor’s office.

Lee said “we needed to fix our financial house in the city,” and called the measure “a consensus, comprehensive plan that we believe will fix this problem for the long-term.”

Among the details of the proposal are the raising of the retirement age from 62 to 65 for most city employees, and from 55 to 58 for police and firefighters.

The plan would create additional cost sharing of up to 6 percent for future and current city employees, and all elected officials would be required to begin paying into their retirement plans.

Lee stressed that the proposal was developed with the input of labor unions and the business community.

“We’re proud to say that in working on this, we were making sure we talked to everybody and allowed every voice to be heard,” he said.

The measure was to be introduced at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, and was to be discussed by the rules committee next week before being considered by the full board, which could vote to place it on the November ballot.

The proposal appears to have the support of a majority of the 11 supervisors, nine of which were at Tuesday morning’s news conference.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who has been one of the board’s strongest backers of pension reform, said, “This is real reform … that every San Franciscan can be proud to support come November.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, however, is calling for more extensive reform and has proposed a separate pension reform measure. He said Tuesday that he has gathered about half of the roughly 50,000 signatures needed to get it on the November ballot.

Adachi had placed a pension reform measure, Proposition B, on last November’s ballot but it was rejected by the city’s voters.

Lee said he met with Adachi on Monday to discuss the dueling proposals, and said, “I think the consensus approach is the right way to go.”

Adachi said Tuesday afternoon, “I applaud the mayor’s effort to deal seriously with the pension crisis, and his proposal is a very good first step, but the question is whether it goes far enough.”

He said his proposal would save the city more money in the coming years than the mayor’s plan.

“It’s not in anyone’s interest to put an initiative before the voters that’s not going to fix the problem,” Adachi said.

“I’ve said from the very beginning, if the mayor is able to come up with a consensus plan that solved the problem, I’d drop my measure, and I stand by that,” he said.

KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier on Ed Lee’s Pension Reform Plan:

“(The unions are) going to take a big hit,” pointed out KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier.  But, they took a look at the polling and it shows that if they don’t come up with some kind of deal to keep things moving somebody else like Public Defender Jeff Adachi or some group’s going to go to the ballot with something even more draconian.”

“And, chances are it’ll pass,” said Matier. “So it’s not like the people have a lot of choices moving forward on this movement.”

Listen to KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier’s complete interview here:

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

More from Phil Matier
  • Max Pearl

    Adachi, Lee, whoever wants to punish the current employees of SF, READ THIIS: Due to the progressive leaning of this City, 80% of the current pension pool is either minority or women. Want to guess what the pool is of the already pension receiving pool…white male. Maybe you wealthy and/or political fiends can have your attorney explain disparate impact to you. Any proposed changes to the pension system will result in the City & County of San Francisco becoming the target of a class action discrimination suit, and the only losers will the the citizens/taxpayers of SF.

    • Big G

      Just had to bring race in it!!! San Francisco taxpyers have been getting ripped off for years now, & it wasn’t white male!!! Quit blaming the white male for all of your own problems!!!

  • Tim

    Hmm, Max, someone who actually has been doing some research; you make a good point.

    As a City worker in Law Enforcement, many of us have never had an issue of paying into our pension, and many of us have not issue with paying more, we already pay into the health coverage as well. Where I do have an issue is why under Lee’s plan, only Public Safety pays a higher % more for pension coverage. Lee’s plan bases % increase on income levels, but Public Safety, in those same income brackets, will pay more simply because they are public safety?

    A top step (that’s 6 years to reach top step) Deputy Sheriff base pay is only $89,400. An SFPD Officer top step base pay is $90,000. This is before pensions, health costs, taxes are deducted. The Board of Supervisors now make more than top step Deputies & Officers. Before anyone jumps into Overtime, the Sheriff’s department has eliminated OT down to only 7% a reduction of 93%. This was done, by closing an entire 780 bed facility which was covered all on overtime because there are not enough Deputies to cover the standard shifts.

    Any pension reform should be straight forward, a fixed % of income, regardless of income. I’m not sure why someone making $35,000/yr should pay a lower % towards their pension. The fact is, in order to be living in the black in SF, per the city’s own website, an individual must make $34.23/hr. Therefore, most City Employees do not make this, while few do or over. So, regardless of %, the salaries are not commensurate to the cost of living in the City.

  • Tim

    I should also note, the SFPD has reduced OT by 53%, but it still exists due to the shortage of officers: still have not met the voter mandate sent forth in 1994. Park & Recs, Janitorial & others have also made OT cuts to bare bones, and this is why some work is simply halted, not enough staff to cover the work load.

    What my contacts in the Sheriff’s Dept tell us is the State has changed the sentencing of a felony to 18 mos or longer. This means many heading to prison, will now be housed in the county jails; this is how the state will get around overcrowding of prisons. Yet, if these folks will now be housed in the local jails; how do they plan to cover the cost of reopening a close jail? These mandates are what cause issues for the departments, how to do it without hiring and without overtime.

  • reginald smythe

    public pensions are entitlements and should be eliminated. unions serve no one but themselves and have no business in san francisco government.

    • Tim Callahan

      My friend, look the word up! An entitlement is something that is paid for in advance by the employer and/or employee. You are not entitled to Social Security, Medicare or a Pension unless you have put the time in and paid for it in advance. A handout is called Welfare and this has mostly been eliminated across the United States.

  • Cynthia

    Reginald, I’ve never understood why some feel public pensions are entitlements. Especially in light many public employees have paid into the system. Now, I will agree with you for those workers NOT paying into their pensions. However, this was not done by Unions. Trust me, the unions in SF are NOT that strong and the SEIU only gets what it gets because the politicians back down. To affect change, just simply put a ballot measure to the voters, like was done with MUNI, wow, lots of union power thwarted that vote; and the measure passed.

    What is not being discussed is WHY the pensions are short. And, lets clarify, the SF Retirement System is NOT short. In fact, as reported by many media sources, it is 100% solvent: because the City/workers funded it at 105% – 110% a year. Let’s get back to the WHY they are short. What we are talking about is really CalPERS members, only 1,088 in SF (four departments; Sheriff’s, City Attorney, DA’s Office & Probation).

    The fund is short because of CalPERS & the STate of CA (Legislature) allowing CalPERS (which has a board consisting of 5 picked from various state levels) to cut the required contributions by Municipalities. In 1996, CalPERS waived contributions by the Municipalities (City of SF) for 6 years, to 2002. CalPERS did this because “it was doing so well because of the Dot.Com boom.” Meanwhile, the workers were required to continuing contributing. The savings to SF, was $485 Million. As other workers have posted before on this, if you ask any SF politico, what they did with the money, you will hear crickets. So, it wasn’t the workers who halted contributions by the Cities/Counties/State. This is similar to how Airlines didn’t put in their portions for years.

    There is a solution to cover the shortage, and it would take a simple 18 mos. As suggested by the Republican Assemblyman in La Mesa CA, most employees accrue 2.5%/yr for retirement. He suggest lowering that to 1.5%/yr for 4 years to cover any CalPERS pension gap. I say go further. Do what he suggests, but also raise CalPERS member contributions by 4% at the same time. It would cover the $400 Billion gap in 18 mos. Done.

    • Jim Ringseis


      I was very happy to see your comment. I have wondered why this hasn’t been stated so clearly by the union leaders before now.

  • SF


  • Bloodhounds

    Lets get rid of the supervisors and their assistants. That will save millions every year. Lets stop SF employees driving city vehicles home and using them for their own use. Let them take muni. There are a couple employees in my neighborhood that use city vehicles for their errands and driving their families around. I have a friend that lives in the East Bay and he sees SF vehicles over there all the time after hours. That would be a huge start!

  • dirt poor

    Big Greedy Union Pensions all at the expense of the little guy’s & gal’s trying to make their fair wages.

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