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April 25, 2010


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Two recent articles about CalPERS:



Of particular interest is this from the first article: "64 cents comes from investment returns, 21 cents from the employer and the members' share is 15 cents."

Eric, you highlight the lack of empathy toward residents from senior staff.

A few days ago, I went by City Hall in the middle of the afternoon (during regular working hours). No one was working. Most desks were vacant. Is this typical? No one works at City Hall, and I mean no one.

Just read that Steve Rhodes gets a car allowance of $500 per month. Why? He is already paid handsomely ($200,000 per year plus benefits).

And then Ann Ritzma, who is paid more than the governor of the State of California, doodles through meetings.

Give me a break.

Why is it that our city employees can continue to collect outrageously high salaries and benefits with total disregard for the financial pressures on the city residents. How many homes are underwater or in default? How many residents are unemployed or underemployed? How many have had to take big pay cuts? Yet our City Council's solution is to raise our taxes, or at least try to, like the fire assessment, or the unfair garbage rate increase or sewer tax increase. Maybe it is time to throw them out.

3 percent at age 50 for police and fire, 2.5 percent at 55 for everyone else. Know what this means? This is outrageous. A total rip-off of the taxpayers. The pension formula needs to be disclosed to all Pacifica residents. If they really knew, they would not stand for this rip-off. Roll back the pensions. These city employees should have to get pensions like everyone else. How about 2 percent at age 62. And what about the police chief? Pacifica is like Mayberry, This guy gets an outrageously high salary and will be able to retire at age 50 on a hugely generous pension. Hey, chief, give back. Get real. It may be legal, but it's not right.

Just curious: Why is that when there is a problem with pensions and benefits, the people always affected are the ordinary ones? It is their choice to settle everything before the time comes that they are not able to work. But in times like these, who is responsible for the loss?

I just had to chime in on this one.

This pension problem in Pacifica has been slowly simmering on the back burner, but like most things very important, the council, minus Mary Ann, leaves it on the back burner with the attitude of, well, if the pot boils over, we will clean up the mess later.

I am not going to bash city workers on this. The city offered these wages and benefit packages they sure as hell should have had a way to pay them.

I compare the City of Pacifica to the people who maxed out the house, took out every dime of equity, then cried that the bank screwed them. Too bad the homeowner never planned for retirement, old age, and when the pay check just wasn't there. Just borrow and use the house as an ATM machine.

The City of Pacifica operates the same way. Grants, handouts, raise taxes and fees, refinance the old bonds and save money. These are clear and blatant acts of desparation.

During one of the biggest economic real estate booms in modern history. the 2004 to 2007 period, what did the city do with all the money made during this boom? They blew it.

Why didn't the city set up a rainy-day fund? Why didn't the city go out out and sell the old waste water treatment plant? Why didn't the city deal with Peebles Corp. in good faith? Why does the city listen only to the people who are leading the city into certain bankruptcy?

As a self-employed person, I have to set up my own pension for retirement. Who is responsible for this? I am. Who is responsible if I had no money in the piggy bank for when I turn 60 or 70 and no longer can work? I am?

It is about time the City Council, Mary Ann excluded, stand up and take due blame for the financial chaos it has led the city into!!!

Thank you for the clarification, Peter.

Todd, I am glad that at least two people, including one council member, seem to be on the right track.

Sanchez Art Center, Pacifica Performances (Mildred Owen Concert Hall) and Spindrift all pay money TO the city in the form of rent and other fees. The city does not spend money on them.

Bruce And Lionel, my friends:

I think you need to acknowledge the efforts being made and discussed by city staff and council and citizens advisory committees. Steve Rhodes and Mary Ann Nihart had articles in the Pacifica Tribune (April 28) outlining efforts they are trying to realize to get where you yourselves are trying to have them go.


I can be lucid now and then, Lionel. Are you saying that the city spends absolutely nothing on the Sanchez Art Center, Spindrift, or any other arts?

Bruce: Good and lucid reply. Thank you.

You don't have to worry about funding for the arts, we don't have any.

The pension problem isn't going away, unfortunately, and politicians behave exactly as you say.

Lionel: I did answer the question in a fashion. I do not have the answer. But having said that...

First, we have to get through the present crisis. I am not a numbers wonk; my eyes tend to glaze over when faced with rows and columns of numbers. So I am not as up on the Pacifica budget as perhaps Todd and you are.

The first thing I would do is go through the budget line by line and identify every expenditure that is not absolutely necessary for the safety of Pacifica. Then I would go through those items and start slashing. Unapologetically, the first to go would be the arts.

Once the budget was pared to the bone, and that includes cutting City Council's stipends and benefits, then I would go to the unions and ask for their input (not go and demand they reopen contracts and take cuts). With the proper approach, many unions will agree to either freezes or roll-backs.

There will need to be drastic measures to get through the current crisis; there is no doubt about it. What I as an employee always want to see is that the fat is eliminated and that the cuts are fair. Here in my own office I get pissed when we buy a $1,500 shredder, yet there is no money for employees. I'm sure Pacifica's employees feel the same way.

At the same time we are trying to survive the current financial mess, we need to look way down the road to try to prevent it from ever having this severe an impact again.

Our City Council does exactly what every other government does -- when times are good they spend like a drunken sailor (my apologies to all sailors). Back when David Carmany was city manager, during one of the brief upturns, the city applied slurry seal to about 80% of the streets in my neighborhood. Why? The streets weren't that bad and there certainly were projects that were more pressing (Beach Blvd. comes to mind as one).

The current retirement "crisis" came about because many governments (state included) excused payments to PERS when times were good. Davis did it with us in lieu of raises. It should be illegal for any entity to short pension payments.

Not every government in the state went to 3% @ 50 for their police either. I'm glad my union was able to negotiate the increases they did, but I am also aware that we got the increases instead of raises.

Once Pacifica has its budget down to a manageable size, we need to start looking for revenue streams, something we have not done for a long time. We need to do something to get this town on a sound foundation, or we have to admit that we will always be poor.

If we know our revenue stream, we can look down the road and prioritize our requirements and needs. Our infrastructure is in terrible shape and we need to upgrade all over the place. At the same time, there are emergency situations that must be addressed, such as Esplanade, Beach Blvd., etc.

We need to create a reserve that can withstand a single year's storm, and have the means to repay the reserve on an ongoing basis.

As a union leader and member, I know that working with the unions is a big part of the answer. The point is to work with, not impose on.

I look at Pacifica City Council and I do not see any real determination to solve the problem. I guarantee you that if the economy did a complete turnaround tomorrow, our elected leaders would give away the keys to the store once again, and not just to the unions. They'll agree to build more hiking trails and maybe another refinery.

You didn't answer my question, but that's OK because you may not want to acknowledge the answer.

Your assertion that public-sector wages, benefits, and pensions haven't risen significantly in the past 10 years is wrong.

Gray Davis was governor when SB400 passed in 1999 and allowed municipalities and special districts to compete for workers as if they were the private sector.

That our city is facing ruin in the short term is not a fantasy induced by the right wing. Revenue is falling and employee costs are rising.

What are we going to do about it?

Lionel, I don't have a solution, but as far as I'm concerned, becoming a Third World country is not the answer. How low do you want to cut public employees?

Steve, you might feel differently if you were a state employee. You may think Arnold is some benevolent employer, but I don't. I've been on three negotiations and the only time we ever got anything close to the raises the private sector was getting was under Davis. As I said, over the 20 years I've been a state employee, my salary has just barely kept up with the cost of living.

If you think what I earn is the equivalent to what a topnotch auto tech makes in the private sector, which is what my training is in, you are sadly mistaken. Even in these tough economic times, a top tech at a dealership in the Bay Area makes easily $15,000 to $30,000 more per year than I do. The benefits are the difference.

Few jobs in government are directly comparable to the private sector. I know, because we tried to find them for comparisons during negotiations. The few there are usually are much better paid in the private sector.

I am not saying that there are not problems in the private sector, too. We all know there are. The difference is in how quickly the private sector seems to rebound. During the dot.com boom, while wages were soaring in the private sector, we got a 4% increase (1999). We almost got the raise of a lifetime just before Davis was recalled, but almost doesn't pay the mortgage.

I think most government workers understand the frustration of the public -- until the public turns to us for help. I will admit I am biased because my union represents public safety workers. You tell me, who would you rather have watching your back, some guy making minimum wage or someone well paid and held to a higher standard?

Are there government workers who don't earn their keep? Of course. Are there government departments we could do without? Most likely. The point is that the public needs to decide what it wants from its government, whether in Pacifica, Redwood City, Sacramento, or Washington.

My personal belief is that we (state workers) would be better off with layoffs rather than pay cuts. Layoffs are instant death for a few; pay cuts are death by a thousand cuts for all.

Personally, I'm not ready to turn my country into a Third World country, not for me or those in the private sector. I do not want a country of burger flippers.

I agree with Steve. Wow, I didn't burst into flames.

Thanks for all comments.

This is a discussion we need to have, as uncomfortable as it may be. I tried very hard to keep my viewpoint to the distinct impression that our current elected leaders and the top staffers seem totally unaware of what's going on among the public they are supposed to represent.

Bruce, the numbers tell the story: Revenues are falling and employee costs are rising. Those are facts, without judging anyone's "worth."
How will we deal with it?

I've got to disagree with you, Bruce. I don't even know why government employees think they need unions in the first place. It's not like the government has a reputation as a ruthless and oppressive employer.

There was a time when it was understood that government workers would take lower salaries in exchange for job security and pensions, but now that it looks like government salaries are as good as, or better than, private-sector salaries, taxpayers feel like dupes who are being taken advantage of.

The description of your income situation is no different than that of people in the private sector. The hourly rates in my field have dropped to what they were 20 years ago, and I don't get a pension at all.

It's very frustrating for people who don't have job security or pensions to know that they're forced to carry the costs of job security and pensions for government workers. People are starting to look at government union workers the way they started looking at illegal immigrants 20 years ago -- as a drain on the system.

I don't want to make it sound like the problem lies only with government unions. It should be obvious that many of us are also very angry with government leaders who can't even balance a checkbook, much less solve society's bigger problems.

There are still pensions, Kathy. They may be only defined contributions, but they are pensions. I happen to think they are garbage.

Tell me, who benefits from having poor retirees? What good does it do society to have "pensioners" who need food stamps?

Maybe everyone who thinks public employees are overpaid should say exactly how much they think a police or fire person is worth?

In many cases, public safety employees get more money because governments cannot attract qualified people at bargain basement prices.

What is happening to this country? Social Security was enacted so that people could retire with dignity. Now that times are tight we want everyone to keep working until they die?

A senior who has a good pension contributes to society through taxes; a senior on a subpar fixed income is a drain on society.

I may be reading more into Mr. Emde's article(s), but it seems to me that there is a fair bit of union bashing here (and elsewhere) when wages and benefits are seen as the reason for shortfalls.

Any contract a union may have is fairly negotiated. It is not the unions' fault that the economy has gone south, nor is it their fault that governments everywhere have failed to budget for the downturns.

I think it is grossly unfair to expect anyone to give up wages and benefits that were deemed fair by both parties because the economy has turned UNLESS they are to have their wages and benefits inflated in good times.

Now some of you may think that is exactly what has happened--that wages and benefits went up a ton during the good years. I look at it a little differently.

Although comparing the state to Pacifica, or any other government, is not an even comparison, they are similar. For the best part of the last 20 years, government workers have not seen their wages and benefits increase at a rate anywhere near what the private sector has seen. For myself, out of the past 20 years, I have gone 7.5 years without a raise or increase in benefits (4.5 years under Wilson, and nothing for the past three years).

Averaged out, my wages have increased less than the cost of living per year. Although my retirement was increased by 25% (from 2% per year to 2.5%), the portion of health care the state picks up has decreased. My total wages and benefit package has lagged way behind the private sector.

At least in the state system, the elected people do not get to vote for their own compensation. An independent commission decides what they make, and they have seen their packages cut. On the other hand, in Pacifica the council members earn a far better package now than they did 20 years ago.

If the general public or our elected officials want to slash employee packages during the down times, then perhaps they should be willing to automatically increase the packages during the up periods. I find it unfair that when there is a downturn and our elected officials misjudge the economy, they expect the workers to take cuts. But if they misjudge and there is an upturn mid-contract, I don't see them offering raises.

Above all, everyone needs to remember that it takes two parties to negotiate a contract. The unions did not decide alone what their members would be paid.

No one in the corporate workforce gets pensions anymore, not for many decades. Executives sometimes get "golden parachutes," but workers and management do not receive pensions.

If companies cannot offer this, how can small city governments be expected to provide this payout?

There are plenty of skilled workers out there, out of work, willing to take these jobs, at the current rate of pay, without pensions.

"Is our city government aware and concerned about the increasing financial pressure on the public?"

Pretty clear that the answer is "no."

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