Report reveals large retirement payouts for former San Diego city employees

By Joe Britton

City News Service

A report released Monday documents large retirement payouts for former city of San Diego employees, which a pension reform advocate said amounts to a bigger scandal than in the city of Bell, where eight officials now face corruption charges for excessive salaries and perks.

According to the report, which was prepared by Marcia Fritz, the president of the California Foundation for Pension Reform, the top 10 pension recipients in the city of San Diego will split $61.5 million over the next 25 years.

"These workers, these retirees, are drawing from four different retirement allowances at the same time," Fritz said.

"They are making more in retirement than the current salary of the city workers that are replacing them," she said. "We are making millionaires out of these workers."

Fritz and Councilman Carl DeMaio compared the city's pension payments to the city of Bell, where it was recently revealed that some executive-level and elected city officials had exorbitant salaries and benefits. As a result, the mayor, several City Council members, the city manager and other officials in that Los Angeles County city are now facing corruption charges.

"This is actually worse than Bell, believe it or not," Fritz said.

The report highlights a former San Diego city librarian who is eligible to collect a $227,249 pension annually, with an estimated payout over 25 years of more than $6 million.

"That's a lot of books," Fritz said.

The top pension recipient is a former assistant city attorney, who is eligible to collect a $299,103 pension annually, with a total estimated payout over 25 years of more than $8 million, according to the report.

DeMaio - who has long advocated for greater pension reform and is a vocal opponent of a proposed half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot - called the retirement payments "outrageous."

"Taxpayers should be outraged by the data that is being released today," he said. "These pension payments are not only unaffordable, they are indefensible."

DeMaio also criticized the pension system for San Diego's elected officials, which has granted benefits to those as young as 35 and heavily subsidizes those retirements.

The City Council tomorrow is scheduled to consider increasing the amount San Diego's elected officials must pay into their pensions. That is one of the 10 fiscal and pension changes required before a half-cent sales tax under Proposition D, if approved by voters on Nov. 2, can take effect.

The fact that some former San Diego city officials are receiving large pension payments has been known for some time.

The San Diego City Employees' Retirement System currently faces a funding shortfall of about $2 billion.

Deals forged in 1996 and 2002, which granted increased pension benefits in exchange for a reduced contribution by the city into the retirement system, greatly contributed to that deficit.

Attempts to overturn those deals have been mostly unsuccessful.

Over his four-year tenure, former City Attorney Michael Aguirre filed several lawsuits in an attempt to roll back pension benefits, but was largely rebuked by the courts on the grounds the benefits were vested.

DeMaio on Monday said there is still room to reform the pension system and called on his colleagues to ask San Diego voters to approve a measure that would eliminate politician pension subsidies, enact higher contribution rates for city employees and cap their pensions.

"These reforms can be implemented," DeMaio said. "The only thing we are missing is political commitment."

   
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