Friday, July 7, 2017

PERB Petitions the California Supreme Court for Review of San Diego Initiative to Reduce Pensions

In June 2012 the voters of City of San Diego approved a citizen-sponsored initiative, the "Citizens Pension Reform Initiative" ("CPRI"), amended the City Charter to reduce pension benefits for certain employees of the City.  Unions successfully challenged the measure in PERB as an unfair labor practice.  The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the PERB's ruling in Boling v. City of San Diego.   Now the unions and PERB have petitioned for review in the Supreme Court.

Under the MMBA, ballot measures approved by local governing bodies and then by the voters are subject to meet-and-confer requirements. (People ex re. Seal Beach Police Officers Assn. v. City of Seal Beach (1984) 36 Cal.3d 591.) No published opinion had determined whether Seal Beach applies to citizen initiatives.  

The unions challenged the claim that the initiative was “citizen-sponsored” by arguing that the mayor had aided in the initiative's development and had campaigned for it. The unions also argued that the mayor was attempting to circumvent the MMBA by publicizing and campaigning for the initiative with the public in an attempt to cause them to take up the initiative. Accordingly, the unions argued that because the Mayor was the true driving force behind the CPRI, the ballot was transformed into a "governing-body-sponsored" ballot proposal. This would trigger the “meet and confer” provisions of the MMBA. 

PERB concluded that Seal Beach should apply in the present case based on the mayor’s statutory role in labor relations and common law agency rules supporting a conclusion that his support for the proposition was rendered in his official capacity.  PERB cited the fact that several people occupying elected and non-elected positions in San Diego's government provided support for the CPRI, and were essentially the driving force behind publicizing and writing its provisions. 

The appellate court disagreed holding there was no evidence the CPRI was ever approved by City's governing body (i.e. the City Council), which it cited as a requirement for the measure to be "governing-body-sponsored." The court explained that although the mayor and other City employees had drafted the “proposal”, the citizens ultimately led to it being placed on the ballot. The court further ruled that under the facts of this case, the mayor could not be found to be acting on behalf of the City Council under any agency theory. 

PERB and the unions filed a petition for review with the California Supreme Court.  If review is granted the Supreme Court will determine whether elected official and public agency personnel can circumvent the MMBA requirements to bargain over measures reducing pensions by obtaining voter signatures rather a  city council vote to get on the ballot.