Councilman Don Rocha wants to amend the city’s pension reforms to solve what he deems a more pressing problem: employee retention.
In a memo citing a Shakespeare quote about wise men and fools, the District 9 councilman urges the city to re-work the disability retirement policy, lower the eligible retirement age and consider appealing the pension overhaul voters approved as Measure B in 2012. Maybe, he said, City Council should put a measure on the November ballot to give voters the option of amending the city charter. His entreaty goes before the Rules and Open Government Committee this week.
“As the flaws in our pension reform effort become increasingly apparent, I hope that we will have the wisdom to acknowledge our own past mistakes,” said Rocha, one of the council majority who put Measure B before voters two years ago. “When I say we made mistakes, I don’t mean that the whole effort was a failure. …I do believe, though, that on some issues we landed in the wrong place.”
For one, he noted, he and his colleagues failed to anticipate the retention problem. Since pension reforms upped the retirement age, cracked down on disability pensions and knocked new hires down to a lower benefits tier, San Jose has struggled to keep enough police officers on staff. Rocha said city leaders should have foreseen this problem.
“At this point, we see clearly that while rising pension costs may be a threat to service delivery, so too is an inability to recruit and retain, both in the public safety and federated workforce,” he stated. “When I have to tell residents that we can’t investigate their home burglary, or that it will take six months to repair a streetlight, it’s not only because of pension costs, it’s also because people don’t want to work here.”
Rocha’s proposals include:
- Fixing the disability language in the city charter. Measure B aimed to disability retirement abuses. A city-led audit showed that police would abuse the system by routinely applying for disability retirement as they neared retirement age. Some would go on to find public safety work at other police agencies. Under Measure B, an officer can’t claim disability pension if he or she can perform any other job in the city, even if that job isn’t available at the time. Mayor Chuck Reed suggested earlier this year that the city commit to providing a job in that event. Reed also called for the city to help police buy supplemental disability insurance to make up the loss of income in the switch to the new job assignment.
- Removing automatic pay decreases. “If they go forward, we will be the ones swallowing our own poison pill,” Rocha wrote.
- Third, recognizing that San Jose’s competitiveness problem extends beyond the conflict surrounding disability retirement. Keeping the retirement age at 65 scares away new hires, who can work for an agency that lets them retire at 57 or younger, Rocha said. San Jose should bring its retirement eligibility in line with CalPERS, he suggested. “If we change the restrictions on retirement age and accrual rate in the charter to align with the CalPERS second tier, we would at least be capable of increasing benefits should it become necessary to recruit employees and deliver services,” he stated.
True, he conceded: Voters passed Measure B of their own accord. By a wide margin, too.
“It is equally true, however, that Measure B is not a suicide pact,” Rocha said.
Councilwoman Rose Herrera submitted a memo of her own, calling for the city to amend the charter to rework some of the pension reforms and lure back some of the officers who left.
“Mend it, don’t end it,” she said.
More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for April 2, 2014:
- Taking the lead from Santa Clara County supervisors, Herrera thinks the city should start to regulate electronic cigarettes. “Normalizing nicotine addiction in any form through the use of e-cigarettes in public or their widespread advertising would create a culture akin to the one we deemed unhealthy over 50 years ago,” she wrote. “Just because the delivery system is more complex than it was in the fifties, does not mean we should regulate this product any less than we have come to regulate traditional cigarettes.”
- Sam Liccardo’s plan to crowdsource residents’ surveillance footage to help police makes its way to the Rules committee this week. The councilman brought up the idea after police arrested a suspected arsonist with help from a citizen’s security video. The City Manager’s office suggests this can be done at no cost to the city.
- The local firefighters union weighed in on a city policy that requires high-rise buildings to install what’s called a firefighter breathing air replenishment system (FBARS). “Consistent with its original position, Local 230 continues to view FBARS as an effective tool for firefighters and a long-term solution for a real problem with combating fire sin high-rise buildings,” the city stated.
- The city aims to put a three-year moratorium on any new taxi companies from servicing the airport. “By taking a phase-in approach … we will be able to ensure competitive opportunities while preventing delivery oversaturation in a laissez-faire environment,” Councilman Xavier Campos writes in a memo.
- Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio will host a Willow Glen history night April 7 with a documentary screening and Q&A session.
WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260