Jack Barnwell and Kelsey Lynn Lester-Perry
Measure B, the pension reform initiative aimed at controlling escalating city employee retirement costs, is emerging as a divisive issue at candidate forums in the five races for San Jose City Council.
Ten of 17 candidates running in the June 5, election favor Measure B, with the four incumbents evenly divided. Forums have been sponsored by neighborhood groups in all but Council District 2, with one more scheduled for District 6.
Measure B, or Pension Modification, was placed on the ballot by the San Jose City Council on an 8-3 vote on March 6. In short, proponents argue that the city simply can’t afford to pay benefits that were negotiated years ago and the escalating costs have forced layoffs and cuts to city services. Opponents say Measure B is illegal and will be challenged in court, taking money away from city services and putting it into costly legal fees.
The city’s 11 employee unions, which oppose Measure B, say reform is needed but should be negotiated, and that unions have offered proposals that would save millions. The city argues that the employee proposals don’t go far enough to make a significant impact in the escalating costs.
Here is a breakdown of the opposition/support in San Jose City Council District races, and candidates’ views expressed at forums and on their forums and on their websites:
Of the six candidates running for an open seat in District 10, only Brian O’Neill opposes Measure B, with support coming from Edesa Bitbadal, Leslie Reynolds, Denelle Fedor, Robert Braunstein and Johnny Khamis. There is no incumbent in this race because Councilwoman Nancy Pyle is being termed out on December 31.O’Neill: I support smart pension reform. Getting San Jose’s fiscal house in order is my top priority and this cannot be done without comprehensive reform to our costly pension system. However, I cannot support Measure B because, among many other things, it is fiscally irresponsible. The legality of the measure remains uncertain and the City Council moved to take the measure to court immediately after Election Day if approved by voters. The city has already spent a half million dollars in legal fees to test an unconstitutional measure through the court system and the meter is still running.
Bitbadal: I strongly support Measure B on the June 5th ballot. I want to make sure that our budget is sustainable and that we are providing core services today and into the future. These are tough times and they call for tough decisions made by leaders determined to balance the needs of community. Measure B is not the only budget action that is needed. I will stand strong on the fiscal reforms needed to restore our core services and protect our financial stability.
Fedor: I am the only candidate who assisted in writing Measure W with Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, a pension reform ballot measure that passed with over 70 percent of voter approval . I also supported Measure V—another successful pension reform that received over 70 percent of the vote. I am supporting Measure B, Mayor Reed’s pension reform measure on the June ballot.
Braunstein: I support Measure B pension reform measure. I think the City Council and the Mayor should be commended for taking a “fix it now, fix it for good” approach. Other cities in the Bay Area, like Oakland, are kicking the can down the road and not making real, permanent changes to fix their structural deficits or rein in pension and benefit spending. San Jose is doing that with Measure B and it has come up in nearly every conversation with voters I have had.
Khamis: As a financial advisor, I recognize the importance of Measure B for the health of our city. We cannot hope to stop and reverse the erosion of our city’s services without comprehensive pension reform. Our current system is unsustainable and is at the expense of our quality of life and that of our children.
Reynolds: San Jose has $2.9 billion in unfunded liability (in its pension system.) Measure B had better pass. Regardless of whether Measure B passes, we have to have a complete fiscal overhaul; a complete change in what we’re doing today.
District 8 incumbent Councilwoman Rose Herrera favors Measure B, while challengers Patricia Martinez-Roach and Jimmy Nguyen are against.
Martinez-Roach: We need to work with negotiations and unions for the environment. As a public school teacher, I think we need to come to a resolution. I am concerned with Measure B.
Nguyen: Measure B is bad because unions will sue and the city will have a lawsuit
to pay for.
Herrera: This is a turning point in San Jose, and it is critical we pass Measure B to
restore city services and revise pension funds. Jobs are important. I’m fighting for the future of this city. That’s why you need to re-elect me.
Incumbent Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio in District 6 favors Measure B, while challengers Steve Kline and Bill Chew oppose it.Kline: “It is not working a pension reform. What we are going to do is buy a lawsuit. I fact, (Councilman) Sam Liccardo made as part of his motion that if Measure B is successful, the city attorney is going to be required to file a lawsuit to see if it is lawful.
Chew: “We’re telling police officers that the money and benefits we’re offering them before is too much and not worth it anymore. It’s destroying the morale of the police department. Thirty percent of the cops are leaving because they think they’re going to be double crossed and do not trust what is happening.”
Oliverio: I’ve led the way on the city council on pension reform. I authored Measure W, which went on the ballot 16 months ago. And 16 months ago, 74 percent said we want pension reform. In that specific case it was pension reform for new employees that had yet to work for the city, people who hadn’t clocked a single day the ability to offer them a different pension plan.”
In District 4, incumbent Councilman Kansen Chu opposes Measure B, and both challengers, Rafael Sabic and Tam Truong favor it.
Chu: I support pension reform, but I’m not supporting Measure B. The City has the ability to negotiate with unions on second-tier pension reform (for new employees.) Let’s get second-tier going and move on to talk about how we restructure the pension for current employees. The (legal) challenge to Measure B is going to cost the city a lot of money. We cannot do anything to the current pension while it’s in court.
Sabic: I’m confident it’s going to pass. It goes back to you voters to decide what enhancements you would like to see. It still has to go back to our union partners and say this is what we need to negotiate. We have to stay strong. We have to be focused and say this is right for the city.
Truong: I am in a labor union (Police Officers Association), but I support the mayor on pension reform to rebuild the city. We can no longer kick the can down the road. I can’t stand here and see the library closed. I want to see your streets get paved. Your safety is my priority I need to make sure there’s enough cops on the street.
District 2 Councilman Ash Kalra opposes Measure B, and challenger Tim Murphy supports it.
Kalra: I know that San Jose residents desperately want to see our city return to what it once was, and I am not surprised that so many people believe that Measure B will accomplish this since the proponents of the measure have chosen not to share these very real risks with you. I also want to see San Jose residents once again get the services that they deserve, but Measure B will not deliver on this promise.
Murphy: My priorities are getting the city on the road to fiscal solvency by reforming the pension system, looking for inefficiencies in the city services, and looking for ways to reduce costs.