SAN FRANCISCO — A prominent San Diego politician promised a vigorous fight to defend a 2012 measure that cut workers' retirement benefits following a California Supreme Court ruling sending the matter back to a lower court.
Former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, author of Proposition B, which imposed a 6-year salary-level freeze on employee pension benefits and put most new hires into 401(k)-style plans, said the state Supreme Court's Aug. 2 ruling "opens the door for the lower court to consider a yet-undefined 'remedy'" to the city's failure to meet with the union.
"That remedy could range from a simple monetary fine for not meeting and conferring or it could be as wide-ranging as overturning part or all of Prop B," DeMaio said in a statement issued shortly after the Supreme Court's ruling. "We will vigorously fight any attempt to modify or overturn any part of Prop B."
DeMaio also said that any change or reversal of the proposition that the lower court might hand down would be appealed. "If the appeals court in any way changes or reverses the voter-approved pension reforms in Prop B, we intend to appeal that violation of the people's vote back to the Supreme Court," he said.
Reform California Chairman and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio speaking during a gas tax repeal hearing earlier this summer
"That appeal will force the Supreme Court to decide whether the Constitutionally-protected citizens initiative right can be invalidated by unelected bureaucrats using a little-known state law. We highly doubt this will occur."
DeMaio, chairman of Reform California, represented District 5 on San Diego City Council form 2008 to 2012. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2012 and for the state's 52nd congressional district seat in 2014.
In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court did not invalidate the ballot measure and undo its impact on city workers, but remanded the case back the California Court of Appeal. In the 29-page ruling, the high court disagreed with the appeals court's ruling that then-San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders was not obligated to discuss the measure with employee union representatives.
"Here, Mayor Sanders conceived the idea of a citizens' initiative pension reform measure, developed its terms, and negotiated with other interested parties before any citizen proponents stepped forward," Justice Carol Ann Corrigan wrote in the court's ruling.
"He relied on his position of authority and employed his staff throughout the process. He continued using his powers of office to promote the Initiative after the proponents emerged. Yet the court of appeal determined that the city was not required to meet and confer with its unions at any point."
In reaching that conclusion, the lower court failed to give key sections of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) and the Public Employment Relations Board statute "the deference to which it was due" and "expressly imposes the duty" for the city to "meet and confer" with the union, the court's ruling said.
"Moreover, even if one could argue Sanders acted beyond the scope of his mayoral authority, it cannot be that an executive action within the scope of the executive's authority would trigger the duty to meet and confer but one exceeding that authority would not," Corrigan wrote.
"Such a rule would be contrary to the broad purposes of the MMBA," she continued. "The relevant question is whether the executive is using the powers and resources of his office to alter the terms and conditions of employment. Here the answer is plainly 'yes.'"