Monday, August 11, 2014

Ventura County Pension Initiative Barred from November Ballot

On August 4, 2014, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Kent Kellegrew tentatively decided to issue an injunction barring the initiative to phase out Ventura County's pension system from appearing on the November 2014 ballot. The ruling has significant statewide implications for counties that participate in CERL.

The initiative seeks to withdraw Ventura's participation in the County Employees Retirement Act of 1937. This would put future Ventura County employees into a 401(k)-type retirement savings plan rather than the benefit plan covering current employees. The court held Ventura county cannot 'opt out' or terminate its participation in the Act based on a countywide voter initiative.

When the Legislature enacted the Act, it permitted individual counties to choose to participate. When Ventura County chose to participate in the Act, it agreed to follow the rules established by the Legislature. The Legislature only allows a county to terminate participation in the Act using the procedures set forth in Government Code sections 31564 and 31564.2. These procedures do not allow a county to opt out of the Act using a countywide voter initiative.

The court held allowing this measure to be considered on the November ballot would only result in wasted public resources. Even if the voters adopted the initiative, the measure could not be implemented because the initiative did not comply with Government Code sections 31564 and 31564.2.

In addition, the initiative fails on other grounds. The court held the initiative violates the single subject requirement imposed by the California Constitution.

On Wednesday, August 6, 2014, the Ventura County Taxpayers Association said it will not appeal Judge Kellegrew's August 4 ruling. This ruling marks a significant victory in preserving pension rights for county employees.

The ruling is unique as a pre-election challenge victory. After the superior court denied a pre-election challenge to a retirement-related Menlo Park initiative, most victories, such as those in San Jose and Pacific Grove successfully challenged initiatives after the election. This win helps establish that even highly unusual pre-election challenges can thwart attacks on retirement security.