Mayor Calls for Fiscal Emergency Declaration, Limits to Employee Pensions

Community groups and city employees will rally in front of City Hall on Tuesday, May 17, to protest proposed cuts to neighborhoods services that include closing branch libraries four days a week, slashing funding for youth programs and eliminating the jobs of 195 police officers and 64 firefighters.

The “Neighborhoods First” rally, which is expected to draw hundreds, will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the City Hall Plaza, 200 East Santa Clara Street. Participants will also testify at the San Jose City Council budget hearing, which will follow at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

The rally comes just days after Mayor Chuck Reed called for the city to declare a fiscal and public safety emergency and endorse a plan to control escalating pensions costs being blamed for most of the $115 million budget shortfall.

Reed’s proposals include capping the city’s contribution to retirement benefits for new employees; raising retirement age to 60 for public safety workers and 65 for other employees; and raising the eligibility for retiree health care benefits. The proposal does not reduce retirement benefits for current employees and retirees.

The first council vote on the plan is scheduled for the May 24 meeting. The action would be the first step to a November ballot initiative to require a public vote before retirement benefits increases.

Reed’s plan to call a fiscal emergency was met with quick opposition from AFSCME MEF, the city’s largest union. Union president Yolanda Cruz said in a statement, “Declaring such an emergency will hurt San Jose’s ability to attract businesses at a time when we need it the most. This act is nothing short of an irresponsible political ploy that endangers the well-being of the city and all of its residents.”

But city officials have been arguing for months that changes to retirement benefits are necessary to keep the city from financial disaster. The costs are projected to be $250 million this year and $400 million by.

While some union members and neighborhood leaders agree that pension reforms may be needed for the future, the rally will focus on doing something now to save vital neighborhoods services.

“We don’t know yet what we’d be voting on,” said neighborhood leader and Sherman Oaks Neighborhood resident Steve Kline. “But whatever the election is about, it’s not going to help thebudget or any budget in the near future.”

The message to put neighborhoods first when balancing the budget has been a familiar cry at the 11 community budget meetings held across San Jose as well as last week’s Neighborhoods Commission meeting. The council also heard from dozens of residents at the May 12 budget study session, and are likely to hear from many more at the Tuesday hearing.

“Nobody up here wants to cut services,” said Councilmember Rose Herrera, who represents District 8. “But if we save one program we have to go and cut something else.”

Expressing concern for the proposed cut in library hours, District 5 Councilmember Xavier Campos, said, “Libraries have turned into de facto community centers. They’re safe, and kids get their work done to be successful students.”