By E.A. Barrera
City Attorney Mike Aguirre announced his support for City Propositions “B” and “C” on the ballot this November, telling a meeting of local Democrats that it was the only way to get control of the city’s financial mess. He also said San Diego needed to develop “homeless zones” throughout the city, as a way of organizing and controlling the homeless population of San Diego.
“We’re using our county jail as a homeless center because our council has not adequately addressed this issue,” said Aguirre, who noted that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled it was unconstitutional to ticket a homeless person for sleeping on public streets without being able to provide that person with shelter. “We’re talking about a new home for the Chargers, but we are not talking about a new home for the homeless. And that says something about our morale values right now, in terms of the leadership of our city.”
Aguirre advocated creating an area which would allow homeless persons who cannot find shelter to sleep between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. in certain restricted areas of the City. He said creation of such a “homeless zone” would not violate San Diego’s illegal lodging ordinance and blasted an editorial in the San Diego Union Tribune that was critical of his proposal.
“Contrary to the Union-Tribune’s baseless assertion, this would in no way preclude the police department from issuing citations or making arrests for other violations such as drug use, public urination or disorderly conduct” said Aguirre. “Unfortunately, the problems of homelessness have not been adequately addressed by our municipality. Our police have unfairly been asked to manage the problem. We are using our County jail as a homeless shelter which puts additional stress on our criminal justice system. The problem has gotten so out of hand that it has now become a question of cruel and unusual punishment.”
During the September monthly meeting of the San Diego Democratic Club, Aguirre also discussed his decision to bring a suit in federal court to have city employee pension benefits granted since 1996 rolled back. Aguirre said those benefits were illegal, and he continued to state a point of view he has held since he was elected to the City Attorney’s office two years ago.
During repeated public appearances and interviews since his 2004 election, Aguirre charged that San Diego City Councils of both 1996 and 2002 acted unlawfully to give benefits for retirees, when he said they knew there were no funds to cover those benefits.
“We have a $1.5 billion bill and no way to pay for it. A good part of the bill is due to benefits created unlawfully. We gave benefits to employees without being able to pay for them, thirteen thousand years worth of pension credits were given to 2, 900 people at deep discount,” said Aguirre.
According to Aguirre, the City Councils of both 1996 (under Mayor Susan Golding) and 2002 (under Mayor Dick Murphy), increased the per-year rate at which pension benefits could accrue. According to him this meant, in effect, people were able to purchase pension credits so that they could retire earlier and receive more benefits from the city. He said the city raised those credits from 1.45 per year to 2.50 for general employees and 3.0 for public safety employees, making those credits retroactive.
Aguirre used the employment history of former San Diego City Manager Jack McGrory as an example of how the process worked. McGrory served as the City Manager of San Diego from 1991 to 1997.
“Our last City manager was here for six years. In order to really get benefits for retirement from the city, to be vested, you have to be here for 10 years. (McGrory) could buy five years worth of pension credits which allowed him to vest. He got substantially more than someone who worked thirty years for the city,” said Aguirre.
Aguirre told the SDCC that each month San Diego’s pension plan distributed 100 cents on the dollar to existing retirees “when we know there is only enough money to pay 65 cents on the dollar.”
The City Attorney said the solution was to rescind the pension agreements and get rid of the illegal pension benefits that were put on the books, which he said now totaled between $500-700 million. Aguirre said he was supporting Propositions B and C on the November ballot as a way of addressing future funding problems.
Proposition B would require voter approval of future increases in retirement system benefits for public employees. The proposition states that any future ordinance which amends the City’s retirement system by increasing the benefits of any employee, legislative officer or elected official can not be adopted without approval of a majority of the voters.
Proposition B also states that prior to placement on the ballot of any proposed increase in retirement benefits, the retirement system must prepare an actuarial study of the costs arising due to the benefit changes.
Proposition C would authorize the City Manager to decide whether or not a given city service would be administered by a city department, or contracted out to the private sector. According to Aguirre, Proposition C would give the City Manager “sole responsibility to administer and monitor any approved agreements with independent contractors.”