Adachi and the real politics of pension reform

Jeff Adachi is pushing pension reform with downtown dollars but not a real political coalition.

While downtown-oriented politicos and out-of-touch corporate columnists tout the political potential of targeting public employee unions with pay reductions and pension plan take-aways – and say the Public Defender Jeff Adachi may be mayoral material for doing so – they forget that electoral success requires coalitions, particularly in savvy San Francisco.

Unlike his cheerleaders, Adachi seems to understand this, downplaying the personal political upside when he talked to the Guardian and other media outlets. Sure, he might just be sandbagging, as his boosters hope he is, but there's good reason to believe that this move could hurt Adachi's chances of becoming mayor more than it helps it.

Much has been written and said about how Adachi's move alienated labor unions and much of the progressive movement. “They urged me not to do it,” Adachi told the Guardian in the final days of his successful signature-gathering effort for a measure that would save the city about $167 million per year by taking that amount out of employees' paychecks.

It's not that pension reform isn't needed. Indeed, San Francisco voters just approved a measure in June to increase the pension contributions for all new city employees, and politicians ranging from Sups. John Avalos and David Campos on the left to Sup. Sean Elsbernd and Mayor Gavin Newsom on the right all agree that more needs to be done, pledging to work with unions on the issue. And given the surly mood of the electorate, Adachi's measure will probably pass.

But that still doesn't make him mayoral material. Unlike Newsom, whose Care Not Cash initiative to take money from poor people helped propel him into Room 200, Adachi doesn't have a strong constituency behind him, unlike the full strength of downtown and the Willie Brown machine that Newsom had behind him.

Downtown will never get behind a mayoral campaign for Adachi, a heavily tattooed defender of criminals who has a strong independent streak, even if they like the fact that he's socking it to the public employee unions, an effort they helped fund. And progressives will now have a hard time ever trusting Adachi to work with them, seeing him now as someone hostile to political process and coalition-building, much like Newsom.

And even Newsom has come out against Adachi and his proposal, even though he loves the pension reform issue and shares some stylistic similarities with Adachi, including a certain political petulance. “Mayor Newsom has been clear that effective, long-term pension reform will come by doing it with our public employee unions, in partnership, not to and against them, in contrast to the Adachi measure,” Newsom Press Secretary Tony Winnicker wrote to the Guardian this week. It was a laughingly hypocritical statement from a mayor who has repeatedly demonized unions and refused to work cooperatively with them, but it's a true statement nonetheless.

Finally, while socking it to public employees may be in vogue right now, during this moment of real economic uncertainty and political myopia, this sort of divisive politics might come to be seen more as opportunistic than courageous. And it's hard to see how the approach that Adachi has taken will somehow add up to an effective political coalition capable of stealing the Mayor's Office from wily politicians like Mark Leno, Leland Yee, or Aaron Peskin.

Consider the fact that even the Police Officers Association – the most conservative, downtown-oriented employee union in San Francisco – also opposes the Adachi measure and other efforts to blame the city's fiscal problems on employees, rather than the large financial institutions that don't even pay any kind of business tax to the city.

So I leave you with the words of POA President Gary Delagnes, writing in the May issue of the POA Journal, sounding a bit like a Guardian editorial writer on this politically sensitive issue: “Even more problematic is the rapidly developing notion that public employee pensions serve as the root of all evil, and are almost solely to blame for all of our economic woes.

“Opportunistic Wall Street insiders, politicians, and robber baron CEOs have manipulated and pilfered our country's financial well-being. They have unconscionably – if not also illegally – lined their deep pockets with the hard-earned savings and pensions of the middle class working man and woman. Accountants from coast to coast have coached multi-millionaires on the art of avoiding paying their true tax obligations. Millions of people were allowed to qualify for mortgage loans by greedy bankers and mortgage brokers that led to trillions of dollars in bailout money. The result is a public incensed about fat cats taking advantage of them. Now, the backlash has set up public pensions and the unions that negotiated them as the scapegoats for his anger.

“Those of use who long ago made the decision to forgo large salaries in exchange for a life of public service, are now being portrayed as greedy and self-centered, taking unwarranted pensions and benefits after 30 years of service as firefighters, police officers, teachers, and nurses. These are shameful accusations, and utterly without merit.”

We couldn't have said it better ourselves, but unlike one of our editorials, this is the perspective of cops and other unions and progressive constituencies that will shape their actions in elections to come.


Are we talking bout the same public safety employees who retire with 90% of their highest pay after thirty years and most of whom at that point have $100,000 plus salaries? "The cause of the problem?" Certainly not. Unsustainable in any economic recovery scenario I've read, "Absolutely!" It's over, there isn't now or on the horizon enough money for business as usual and waiting until the last large business leaves down town before cutting the budget is suicide. With federal deficits as far as the eye can see it's clear the bail outs and easy money are history.

“Those of use who long ago made the decision to forgo large salaries in exchange for a life of public service, are now being portrayed as greedy and self-centered, taking unwarranted pensions and benefits after 30 years of service as firefighters, police officers, teachers, and nurses. These are shameful accusations, and utterly without merit.”

Posted by Guest John on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

The 90% is too high but was approved by the voters just a few years back. Sorry that the stock market crashed. How did that happen?

Posted by SamMax on Jul. 23, 2010 @ 9:59 am

Pension and benefit costs are siphoning away enormous amounts of money that could be used for other City services. The pension system is unsustainable. The Board of Supervisors and Mayor are showing no leadership in addressing the problem, so I'm happy Adachi stepped up. At this point, I'd vote for him for mayor, because he's the only one willing to take on the biggest problem facing the City.

The June pension measure that the article refers to only applies to new employees, was watered down, and does very little to address the huge unfunded liabilities we face NOW and which will only increase. Even Elsbernd referred to it as only a "baby step."

The quote from Gary Delagnes is totally unpersuasive. He suggests that City workers forego large salaries to get benefits on the back-end. Even Willie Brown has called b.s. on this. The average city worker--especially cops and fire--are now highly paid compared to average private workers in the City and also get generous benefits that private workers (including workers in private unions) don't get. And Delagnes blaming Wall Street, "robber baron CEOs," and multi-millonaires from "coast to coast" is silly. The Adachi measure is trying to solve a local problem. City voters don't have a lot of power to solve nationwide, macro-economic problems.

And if Delagnes wants to complain, he might want to explain how the police are complying with the material cost sharing requirements of Proposition H (2002). Prop H provided police and fire with increased pension benefits, and was sold to voters as being cost neutral. It stated that police and fire would engage in material cost sharing if the increased pension benefits ever required the City to contribute to pay for them. According to the Civil Grand Jury report, there is no evidence that the part of the law requiring material costs sharing is being enforced yet the increased Prop H benefits are costing tens of millions of dollars. Everyone should read the Civil Grand Jury report and learn how broken the system is and the extent of the unfunded pension liabiltes that are sinking the City.

Posted by The Commish on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

How much I long for the days when you could count on the SFBG to deliver top-quality terms of writing, reportage and general insight into political goings-on and the people behind them.

This is a very poorly written item offering little educational value. Sadly, that's not unusual these days. There's no real reporting here, so it's not an article. Is it an opinion piece? Not really. It's more like some quickly, sloppily dashed off commentary from someone who thinks SF is comprised only of (1) progs and (2) corp-types. And/or, it is sloppily dashed off commentary attempting to reject the analysis of The SF Weekly's Matt Smith.

The lede, shot full of blow-hard rhetoric, is a disaster in terms of construction. Try saying it out loud. It's rambling, messy, and more than a mouthful.

As for the thinking? It's pedestrian at best. Well, duh, prog leadership is pissed off at Adachi and won't want to work with him again. Corp/downtown reaction is going to be mixed, not 100 percent rah-rah as suggested. While this faction generally likes the idea of asking workers to make concessions, Newsom is blasting Adachi and his measure. So that makes it complicated.

Here's what I mean by fuzzy thinking: This measure is going to appeal to an electoral force not considered in this commentary. That is, those who are neither progressive activists nor corporate types. That's a pretty big chunk of the electorate. But it's one that the Bay Guardian doesn't talk to for the most part. Thing is, this measure will probably appeal to them, and most likely they will notice who put it on that ballot. And that likely will translate into a significant boost in positive name i.d. for Adachi.

The biggest problem with this item, however, is that the writer really has no handle on Adachi's character or personality, nor really that of Newsom.

Adachi got in to this proposal, because he found out about the looming pension fund disaster/meltdown that's underway and was worried about staving off what otherwise will be bloodbath of cuts to city services and departments. The level of budgetary disaster cannot be overstated. Look at the Harvey Rose report. And you bet protecting indigent defense was chief among Adachi's concerns. (By the way, comparing this to Care Not Cash, which was created for Newsom to use to catapult himself to the mayor's office is off-base, for a number of reasons. Chief among them: The writer doesn't seem to understand that the average city payroll salary is greater than $90,000. This class of people has very little in common with the homeless)

When prog leadership actively discouraged him, Adachi decided they didn't get it and so decided to go for it himself. As demonstrated, for example, by his tireless legal campaign that led to the eventual release of JJ Tennison, Adachi is a pitbull once he decides a cause merits his attention.

Now maybe it might turn out to be to his detriment that he really doesn't care what prog leadership thinks of him or anybody else really for that matter -- once he decides that a certain path is the way to go. But that trait makes him vastly different from Newsom.

Newsom is worried about what most everybody thinks of him most all of the time. It makes him ineffective as a politician and sends him heading to the hills when things go wrong. He has no solid sense of who he is or what he really cares about that is independent of what people (esp. some people, like Gordon Getty and Nancy Pelosi) tell him he should be or should care about. It makes him very, very vulnerable and quite fragile. Adachi is the polar opposite. Figure it out.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

"The writer doesn't seem to understand that the average city payroll salary is greater than $90,000. This class of people has very little in common with the homeless) "

The respondent doesn't seem to understand that way more than 1/2 of city employees make less than the San Francisco median income.

A small segment of city employees make in the neighborhood of 2 times the median income.

And what does dependent health care have to do with the looming pension crisis?


Posted by marcos on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

Pensions are the greatest threat to the city's finances?

Source on that?

What about dependent healthcare for city workers?

Where does that rate?


Posted by marcos on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

Source 1: Civil Grand Jury Report, pp. 4-5. Source 2: City budget. You're right that dependent health care is also a major threat to the City's finances.

Posted by The Commish on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

Yeah, and Grand Jury's are made up of a panel of experts on pension issues right? Oh wait! They are a random group of people who are chosen through the jury selection process who have not expertise or qualification to actually know what they are talking about aren't they?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 6:40 pm

Pensions are the greatest threat to the city's finances?

Source on that?

What about dependent healthcare for city workers?

Where does that rate?


Posted by marcos on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

Police officers got an 8% RAISE from July 1, 2009 to July 1, 2010. In this economy, they got a raise. So relying on a quote from the police union president, Delagnes, is hardly convincing.

The police union apparently postponed part of their raise as part of their "give backs"--hardly a concession since they'll be getting that full raise eventually.

Posted by Cas on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 6:33 pm

Employees from private sectors contribute much more than 10% to their own pensions. City employees are essential, but if we don't reform San Francisco's pension system, the quality of city services is only going to continue to dwindle. We need this reform - go Jeff Adachi!

Posted by Cee on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

Personally, not for or against the pension reform measure. But the fact remains, that the lowest rung in the city payroll scale is more or less that of median SF income. Bottom line: This is not the same class of people as the homeless, so comparisons to Care Not Cash are not a propo. That has nothing to do with the merits or lack thereof of the pension reform proposal. Point was: poorly written commentary offering marked lack of insight into SF political personalities.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

According to the latest data available from the State Franchise Tax Board, the median income in SF is $44,448. (BTW, Gary Delagnes is making $130,514.98. So deciding to quote him re: "public servants foregoing large salaries" shows poor judgment.)

The assertion that more than 1/2 of the city payroll is earning less than that $44,4448 completely inaccurate. Check out the current payroll. You can count on one or two hands the number of employees making less than that.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

You refer to the median amount for single filers on state tax returns for 2008. The more reliable figure that many agencies use to describe income levels comes from HUD which lists the 2010 area median for a single person as $69,600. Many many city workers earn less than this. Check the current payroll.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 08, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

This debate on Pensions is overdue.

Shortfalls in the Pension Fund come from the General Fund, and in the near term, the impact on City Services are slated to be devastating.

I have read that we are in the $250 million dollar range.

So while the initiatives on the ballot are important, I am afraid they are just the beginning.

This is a bit like Social Security: we have promised and designed an age 65 retirement system but only funded a retirement at age 70 or 72...

The math is not adding up.

Posted by Guest Charley_sf on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

I believe we may finally be seeing a leader in Jeff Adachi who does not need to be supported by the special interests and political machines in San Francisco because voters of all stripes have great respect for those who have principles and do not back down. I suggest we reflect on Barack Obama's Senatorial and Presidential Primaries .... Was he a special interest powered candidate or a people-powered candidate during the primaries in 2004 (IL Senate campaign) and 2008? I would say he was a people-powered candidate.

Just like Howard Dean in March 2003 who yelled to Cal dems in Sacramento, "I want my country back! We want our country back! I am tired of being divided!", I think Jeff might tap the same vein of San Franciscans fed up with divisive politics in this town. Many Folks may not want a rubber stamp moderate nor a rubber stamp progressive ... A lot of us may want a leader who thinks for him/herself and prioritizes doing what is best for the greatest number of San Franciscans rather than the win/lose groupings too common today.

I suggest Jeff look into Tom Petty's song "I Won't Back Down" for rallies ...

Well I won't back down
No I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
No I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin me down
gonna stand my ground
... and I won't back down

Posted by Jamie Whitaker on Jul. 16, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

The Bay Guardian editorial for Proposition H in 2002:

" Yes on H

WE HAVE UNTIL now withheld our endorsement on Proposition H, which would improve pension benefits for police and firefighters, on the grounds that the unions representing the cops and firefighters have been asking for more city money for years – and yet last year the two unions helped Pacific Gas and Electric Co. defeat public power, which would bring some cash into the city coffers.

But this time around, the two unions – as promised – have stayed neutral on Proposition D (not great, but not as bad as last year). And on its merits, Prop. H deserves approval. The plan would bump up the retirement pay for cops and firefighters, giving someone who retired at age 50 with 30 years of service 72 percent of his or her salary at the time of retirement (up from the current 60 percent). The benefits would rise until, at age 55, a public safety worker with 30 years of service could retire at 90 percent of his or her salary. The cost to the city: little or nothing, since the retirement system already has a huge surplus. Vote yes."

Tragically, it did not work out that way.

From page 19 of the Civil Grand Jury report:

"the unfunded pension liability, as of July 1, 2009 for Proposition H was $276 million to be amortized over 13 years. The annual amortization for the unfunded pension liability for the next 13 years will be approximately $26 million." Additionally, "The estimated amount of the employer's contribution for FY 2010-2011 will be approximately $39 million."

The Proposition H component is just one component of the City's $515 million contribution to pension and health care costs in FY 2010-2011.

To put things in perspective, the estimated revenues for proposed, new taxes on the November 2010 ballot are:

A) 2% Hotel Tax increase, $30 million
B) Commercial rent tax, $28 million
C) Real Estate Transfer Tax, $25 million
D) Increase tax on parking lot operators from 25% to 35%, $24 million
E) $10 vehicle license fee, $5 million

Total: $102 million

The FY 2011-2012 projected deficit from the Controller and Budget Analyst Harvey Rose is $712 million and for FY 2012-2013 it's projected to be $787 million.

In May, the Controller said the following:

"Another thing to point to is the fact that employee benefit costs have been rising steeply in recent years. Looking ahead, we expect that pension contribution requirements for City employees are going to rise dramatically given the way the pension fund works."

San Francisco's political and journalistic establishment has a choice now. It can deny the facts. Like Dick Cheney, it can try to will them away. It can personalize tough policy choices, point fingers and let the debate be ego driven.

However, no ballots have printed for November. Let's forget about Newsom. His failed Mayoralty -- which owns this mess-- his posturing and narrowly, self-serving quotes are not the answer. They are the politics of avoidance and irresponsibility. To be frank, neither is quoting Gary Delagnes. It's been all downhill for him since "Dick's Big Stick." There can and should be a progressive answer to this basic problem of municipal finance. Progressives are now primed to capture the Mayor's office for the first time since 1987, and this is a test of whether they are sober about what needs to be done and fit to govern.


Posted by John on Jul. 17, 2010 @ 12:47 am

As a city and county worker for 15 years Adachi's so called "Smart Reform" is neither smart nor reform. It is merely taking wages from ALL city workers from the highest paid to the lowest and putting more cost burden for rising health care costs on working families. As one city worker put it at a coalition meeting Wednesday night, if it passes I will have to choose between paying rent and paying for my son. This isn't reform and for those who think it will pay for our services there is NOTHING in the bill itself that ear-marks funds directly for services.

As to the SMART part it wasn't smart to craft this bill without the people who it will most effect, the city's unions and their representatives. That is what "collective bargaining" means for those who over the last few months have been burning the midnight oil to save jobs, services and give back. Pension reform is the new "WMD" mantra of the right, especially Republican Meg Whitman and her attacks on state workers and their pensions. The same "unsustainability" arguments are being used by Queen Meg in her campaign to lie and buy her way to the Gov's office about pensions. Adachi's campaign will have to go negative on city worker's and attack unions and our leadership and will be among the most divisive campaigns at a time when unions are trying to raise revenue for our services given our economic times.

The only thing unsustainable about our economic situation that all California city's and towns is the greed and avarice at the top and ambitious political wanna be's who use fear and loathing of those with good jobs, pensions and benefits in unions to get the jobs they seek with access to wealth in the government. Cutting our wages and raising costs of health care to our kids is not a very lofting way to unite progressives and is not progressive economic reform. The only thing good about Mr. Adachi's initiative is the opportunity for those of us in unions to work together, like we did in 2005, to stop another political force , more popular than either Mr. Adachi and his Friend, Mr. Gonzalez, and his attempt to reshape and shake up the political climate in the state, by attacking RN's safe staffing ratios by gutting it and then, kicking our special interest's butts to try and pass 4 State proposals to insure more power to the executive branch of state government. It didn't work then because RN's the first in the breech when many thought this a slam dunk by a politician more popular than our politico's, took Arnold on , dogging him everywhere as the movement to stop Arnold grew larger and more popular. It galvanized unions in an unprecedented campaign, that eventually turned the tide.

I was part of that campaign and from the looks of things, it seems like 2005 all over again.

This measure is not about reform. It is a badly crafted bill which will not save and divert money to services. It is the start of an attack on all workers inside and outside of unions to destroy our wages by cutting our pensions and health care benefits. It is the beginning of a race to the economic bottom for all and will be a divisive campaign to try and drive a wedge between Labor and progressives in this city. That is not a noble goal for anyone who tries to paint this as a progressive way to ease our deficits. It is an attack on unions by attacking our leadership which last time I checked was elected. No one elected Mr. Adachi to speak on behalf of workers, let alone those of us lucky enough to have a union.

Posted by Guest lucretiamott on Jul. 17, 2010 @ 5:22 am

...."As a city and county worker for 15 years Adachi's so called "Smart Reform" is neither smart nor reform..."

Lucretiamott- I appreciate your adding the City employee perspective here. Although I disagree strongly, I also appreciate you did not write any factual inaccuracies about the amendment.

The City has a structural deficit of $800 million. This deficit is primarily driven by escalating cost increases in employee pension and health care costs. To address the crisis, the City is going to have to do one of or a mix of the following 1) layoffs of the workforce (or privatize services) 2) significant cuts in wages 3) increase employee contributions for benefits or 4) find new areas to generate revenues. It is most likely the $800 million will addressed through a mix of all four. Please understand that Mr. Adachi's amendment only addresses about 20% of this structural deficit.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Adachi is the only elected official with the courage to take this issue on and then in turn, be demonized by the City's workforce. (Not that you demonized him in your post but others are...)

Posted by seej on Jul. 17, 2010 @ 8:55 am

lucretiamott's perspective here is invaluable. Over the last couple budget cycles according to Board President David Chiu, 2000 City workers have lost their jobs. Thousands more will lose their jobs if our leaders in power fail to act. For small D democratic politicians this is an awful time professionally to be in office because any competent decision that actually can solve our financial problem will infuriate a well organized bloc of voters, an interest group or part of the political establishment. There aren't "win-win" solutions for this. Avoiding the scale of this problem is an element motivating Gavin Newsom's decision to get out of town as opposed to serving out his term and waiting for say a Pelosi or Feinstein retirement. If elected Lt. Governor, Newsom manages to avoid the FY 11-12 $712 million deficit.
Adachi has certainly taken his whacks for putting this out. However, Seej is basically correct, even should this pass it's a remedy for about 20% of the deficit problem. There are hundreds of millions of dollars of either new revenue, cuts or concessions to plow through to get to zero. Since national economic growth is expected to drop back to 2% for the remainder of 2010, down from 3% in the last quarter, waiting for macro-economic conditions to improve dramatically isn't a solution either. Rahm Emanuel lowballed the stimulus package so the President would appear "post-partisan" at the risk of ending up neo-Hoover.
Unlike Los Angeles, San Francisco does not operate a power system so we can't raise rates like LA does in deficit years. We don't have a city income tax like New York City which is the most progressive form of taxation. Property taxes are a close second. All in all, SF voters have been pretty open to increasing their property taxes for schools and for many bonds. A $5565 parcel tax, a flat rate style of property tax used by the SFUSD in 2008, would be necessary to cover a $787 million deficit. Clearly, that is not happening.
San Francisco continues to have unpleasant choices. Figuring out how to make those choices is the job our political leadership ran for and now has. Good journalism can shine a light on all of this so there is more public consciousness about the scale of the problem. These tough decisions do not have to be taken in a vacuum. The tools our leaders have to choose from are asking for more concessions, cuts and taxes. That still beats surgery where the basic choices are cut or burn. We should encourage our pols to act with the understanding that the hard choices they make separate leaders with conviction from placeholders and wannabes (and one termers).
P.S. Correction, the Bay Times headline in 1992 was, "Dick's Cool New Tool.."

Posted by John on Jul. 17, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

Only the supposed "tsumani" of "unsustainable" and "overly generous" worker benefits are being demonized.

Where is the focus on generating new revenues? All we hear is the hysteria coming from the anti-tax/privatize everything/anti-worker crowd.

Posted by Guest LD on Jul. 17, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

LD, I appreciate your perspective...Tim Paulson, one of the City's top labor leaders, called Adachi an "embarrassment to San Francisco" after he submitted his signatures. In my opinion, that's over the top...

Posted by Seej on Jul. 17, 2010 @ 3:47 pm

Raising any significant amount of revenue isn't legally feasible (because of Prop 13, etc.), politically feasible (because our pols won't propose anything that hits pocketbooks of voters/residents hard in this economy and our taxes are already high) or realistic (because voters/residents won't vote to pay more taxes where their money is to sustain public employee benefits and salaries that the voters/residents don't even get). Need to face reality here -- we have a math problem. LD, sorry you find the word "unsustainable" to be offensive, but it's a fact.

Posted by The Commish on Jul. 17, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

Even by Mr. Jones' usual standards, this is a pathetic piece, and quoting Gary Delagnes as a standard bearer for truth and goodness takes it into the realm of the surreal. The public safety unions are a mostly suburban group of extortionists who not only overcharge for their services but tend to be absurdly lazy to boot. (And let's not even go into the fact that the Bay Guardian has a decades-long history of union-busting and exploiting free "intern" labor, so that calling Matt Smith a "corporate columnist" is just a teeny-weeny bit hypocritical.)

There are plenty of great government employees who work their tails off and deserve every dime they are paid, but unfortunately they tend to be overworked because two-thirds of their fellow employees have the opposite work ethic. As anybody who has worked in the world knows, this is true in the private sector as well, but those people are a whole lot easier to let go than somebody with civil service protections.

Adachi in person is smart and sincere in a manner unlike very few politicians/public servants in San Francisco. We'd be lucky to have him as mayor.

Posted by sfmike on Jul. 17, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

Nice to see Adachi's measure getting more press.

We have had two large discussions here in the SFBG site recently about Adachi's measure. I suggest you look back at them to see the facts.

And the facts are:

Underfunded pension obigations for city employees already retired will consume ONE-FOURTH OF THE ENTIRE CITY BUDGET IN ABOUT FIVE YEARS. One-half of city workers pay ABSOLUTELY NOTHING into their pensions. And the incessant cuts in park & rec, hospital beds, MUNI, and roadwork will continue unless this pension reform measure passes.

It is, indeed, a tsunami waiting to happen.

Matt Gonzalez supports the measure, too.

Posted by Barton on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 6:04 am

Taxes legally and politically unfeasible or just plain unrealistic? Hardly. And it really depends which kinds of taxes we're talking about. Oregon voters earlier this year approved a tax hike on the wealthiest few taxpayers.

Spouting Republican talking points is unsustainable. Something has to give, and it cannot continue to be working people.

Posted by Guest LD on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 9:31 am

Your posts are high on vitriol, low on persuasiveness. "Republican talking points"? You sound like Paulson. If you have a reasonable argument regarding why the City's pension and benefit system is not a huge problem, it would be interesting to hear it. If you concede it is a huge problem, and have a sound suggestion for addressing it, it would be interesting to hear that, too.

Posted by The Commish on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

It is reasonable to expect working conditions and benefits that were negotiated and/or previously voter approved to come through for people. If not, that's a problem. A massive increase in medical coverage for dependents is also a problem. People will be affected negatively big time here and now. To me, that is more persuasive than a grand jury report that says the "tsunami" will (might? might not?) come sometime after 2012.

I concede that I have not been provided with "budget data" from an outside consulting firm, that I do not have big-money donors contributing to my cause, and that I am wary of the mob mentality that demonizes workers with good benefits.

If we're talking about larger budget issues then there is no reason to single out public workers. A sound suggestion might be to broaden the picture and look honestly at other ways to address (potential) budget problems. Like they did in Oregon, in spite of Republican talking points.

Posted by Guest LD on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

Please this from a "POLITICIAN" not that hes as a self serving scumbbag who's finding out that with Pamala gone he has to get a job in the REAL WORLD so look the city pension fund is SOLVENT! that's right they have the money and it's not invested in CREDIT DEFAULT SWAP mumjbo. oh and by the way they do contribute to there pension it callled an hourly wage (basic high school hom ec) There wage is a total HEALTH, DENTIAL AND RETIREMENT or for the LAWYER TYPES X$PER HR OF THE TOTAL GOES TO HEALTH, X$OF THE SAME HR GOES TO DENTIAL, X$ OF THE SAME HOUR GPES TO RETIREMENT
I know its hard to rap your head around the simple in this complex LIE that Adachi has made up but after all he's just another political hack number runner

please go to window "C" after you fill out the form

Posted by Guest danny-b666 on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

The measure is not draconian.

It is merely asking city employees to pay 7.5% of their salaries into a pension fund (just like normal people do for Social Security). About half of them pay nothing at all now.

"I know its hard to rap your head around the simple in this complex LIE that Adachi has made up..."

Ah, yes. Another "you disagree with me so you must be stupid" harangue.

Is Matt Gonzalez stupid, too?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

From the March 25th, 2010 New York Times:

"As Budget Gaps Widen, San Francisco Police Salaries Grow"

************ excerpt from link above *********
Since 2003, total compensation paid by the department [to the SF Police Dept] has risen by more than 67 percent to $364 million while the ranks of employees grew to 2,787 from 2,524. Average pay per employee [in the SF Police Dept] rose to $130,600 in the 2008-9 fiscal year from $95,600 in the 2003-4 fiscal year.
************ end of excerpt ********

Sorry Steven Jones but the editorial you wrote was anything but progressive. I'm a progressive and I'm furious about SF cops and SF firefighters making ridiculous (understatement) salaries and even more ridiculous pensions. In your editorial above, you are just being a stooge for ridiculously-overpaid cops and firefighters who have benefits similar to royalty.

Can you tell me what is supposed to be progressive about being opposed to asking the cops whose average salary is over $130,000 to pay a little more (towards *their own pension*) so people who aren't getting half the salaries and no pensions or much less pensions can live in SF where there's some money left over for city services like a functioning mass transit system???

If that was actually a progressive editorial, it would have been a strong endorsement of Adachi's measure. I'm a progressive and if he runs for mayor, I'll bust my butt to get him elected. Unlike almost every supervisor, he's showing some guts to do the right thing on this issue. Almost every supervisor are afraid to say boo that is opposed by public employee unions who won't give anything of substance back without kicking and screaming and threatening the career of any politician who won't do what they say.

Oh and here's another good read that was in the July 4th Chronicle about some SF publicly-employee electricians that were making over $130,000 a year but had so little to do, they decided to open their own private electrician firm WHILE STILL GETTING PAID EVERYDAY BY THE CITY OF SF!!!

"How city workers pulled off alleged scam"

These City "workers" had so little to do each day, though still getting over $130K a year from the City of SF govt, that they could use all that free time to run their own electrician firm. This went on for like four years.

And not only were they getting a very high salary (and thus would get a very high pension if they didn't get caught) despite not doing any work for the City (there was almost none to do), but they were buying very expensive things for their own high-priced homes "in Contra Costa County's tony Blackhawk subdivision" and having the City pay for them. Like I said, this went on for *years*.

So yeah, people, including progressives, who aren't in on the "game" aren't very happy and that's why a lot of progressives are supporting Adachi's measure. Of course "progressives" who are overpaid SF public employees aren't happy because they'll have to pay a little more for *their own* pensions. Too bad - welcome to the real world.

I'll end this with another excerpt (from the above NY Times article) from the police president you quoted and apparently think so highly of. Here it is:

***** start of excerpt ***

Three years ago, Gary P. Delagnes, the president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, made a bullish prediction after successfully negotiating a lucrative four-year contract: After a scheduled 4 percent pay raise phased in on July 1, 2010, Mr. Delagnes wrote in a note to the officers, the force would most likely fulfill a 20-year mission to become the “highest paid major police department in the country.”

***** end of excerpt ***


Posted by pissed off Muni rider on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 6:40 pm

Multiply that times every union in the city, add the union's employees on the board of supervisors and that quote goes a long way to explaining this cities spending problems.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 11:44 am

"Unlike almost every supervisor, he's showing some guts to do the right thing on this issue. Almost every supervisor are afraid to say boo that is opposed by public employee unions who won't give anything of substance back without kicking and screaming and threatening the career of any politician who won't do what they say."

I agree completely.

Adachi, a progressive on the front-lines working for the poor & maginalized at the Public-Defenders office, is tired is seeing his department get squeezed and penny-pinched every year as public-sector works get big pay and benefit increases.

I hope he runs for mayor, too

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

Let me just clear up a couple of misconceptions about my post. Pension reform is needed, as I wrote, but putting proposals through a political process is what ensures they are well-crafted and fair. The lowest paid city employees, who years ago gave up raises in exchange for increased city contributions to their pensions, will take a significant pay decrease under this measure, even greater than the cops as percentage of income. As for quoting Delagnes and Newsom's flak, I wasn't holding them up authorities, I was simply trying to show that Adachi is alienating groups across the political spectrum, which will make it hard for him to put together a winning mayoral coalition. We will be writing more about the details of the pension problem and this measure this fall; this post was intended to be more narrow in scope and focused on political speculation involving Adachi.

Steven T. Jones

Posted by steven on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 10:19 am

"Pension reform is needed, as I wrote, but putting proposals through a political process is what ensures they are well-crafted and fair."

A ballot referendum is not a "political process"?

Bob LaFollette and Hiram Johnson (the latter here in California) were the ORIGIINAL PROGRESSIVES, and they invented the ballot referendum to give the common people the opportunity to govern over the heads of the evil Southern Pacific Railway that used to run this state.

Steven T. Jones and you other youngins' are probably too young to remember that progressive fight. But ballot propositions are the best way for the common folks to make themselves heard loud and clear.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 11:31 am

Yes, it's true that Hiram Johnson was before my time, and that of most of our readers. While I respect the importance of referendums and initiatives, they were always intended to be tools of last resort when the powers-that-be were too corrupted to deal with the people's needs. Adachi's measure was written in secret with no opportunity for anyone to modify it, which is contrary to the progressive principles of openness and honest dialogue, and closer to the backroom politics that Johnson abhored. If Adachi had been willing to allow the Board of Supervisors to hold hearings on his proposal and consider modifying it after considering good points that members of the public made, that would be participating in a political process. And if the board refused to act on it, he would be able to make the case that the initiative process was the only way of doing this. But that not what happened, and that's why this is not progressive legislation. Progressives believe in winning the argument, not avoiding a legitimate discussion about an important issue and instead raising a bunch of money from rich capitalists to buy a slot on the ballot. That, most certainly, is not what Hiram Johnson had in mind.

Posted by steven on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

Adachi isn't on the board, and much of the board is owned by the unions. What would the point be? I seriously doubt they would agree to let an outsider run something by them that would get them out with their union masters.

If any of them had any guts they would have been on top of this long ago anyways.

And recalling the whole JROTC thing, the attempt at winning that debate by progressives calling people stupid, duped and bigoted?

post hoc reasoning

Posted by matlock on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

They require another ballot prop to change them, so if it doesn't work out well we are stuck with it.

But when the elected refuse to address a situation, as in prop 13, propositions are needed.

Complaining about this proposition after cheering along as the cities progressives give the store away is a bit much.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

What is left out is also the Jeff Adachi is in a particular class of City employees who would be exempt from his measure, and is also in a particular classification of City employee that does not even pay into the retirement system.

For those who would like to yell and scream about people retiring with 90% of their pension, please get it straight that there are only a few classifications who can even retire with that and that those who are eligible received that as the result of general election voting. The rest of us (yes i am City employee) max out at 75% of our max salary year. And while that may seem like a lot to you still I personally think that isnt so much to receive back assuming i work for 29 years to even get to that level.

Pension reform has already happened, is more reform needed, without a doubt but it isnt to pension reform. Its reform to police, fire, and medical salaries, that represent an exorbitant percentage of city workers who make over $100,000 while staffing numbers remain low in order to keep paying the highest earners. Its reform to the City's personal services contracts of roughly 1.4 Billion that keep contributors to political campaigns happy. Its looking at extensive social programs that were initiated in better times. Its looking at the extensive spending at City Hall.

Someone mentioned private sector about employees putting in well over 10%, bear in mind that until the economic downturn there was a long run where that 10% was matched to some degree. So while some may not have what they had before, there are others like most City workers who never had it at all, and who put in additional money in separate retirement accounts that arent like a 401k, where you cannot pull money out (emergency or not). Labor unions in the City have given back year after year after year, and it is well documented the concessions that have been made. Sure there is a public outcry against City workers but not every City worker is represented under the Muni contract, nor are they all Police, or Fire who are notorious for not making concessions simply because politicians are too scared of offending them.

Adachi is sticking his finger into the open wound of the City's budget, trying to steal some glory and approval from the mass public and hoping to ride it into the Mayors office. Labor unions may not be able to win public opinion on this or anything at this point due to the sentiment, but at least if your going to scream something, get it right and check your righteousness, otherwise at least be willing to admit your as much of a pawn as people like Adachi would hope you are.

Posted by Guest Rob on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

"""The rest of us (yes i am City employee) max out at 75% of our max salary year. And while that may seem like a lot to you still I personally think that isnt so much to receive back assuming i work for 29 years to even get to that level."""

So, you can retire on 70% of your maximum salary?

(Most of us retire on Social Security and whatever money we happened to have saved over the years).

You also get healthcare benefits for life, even if you have worked for the city of San Francisco for as little as five years.

You people are living in a different universe.

Posted by Barton on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

Steve-- SEIU won the swap in May so their relationship will be like other unions representing city employees. In exchange for a 6% salary increase, members will pay 7.5% of each paycheck to SFERS for their retirement. It's revenue neutral for the City.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

..."Steve-- SEIU won the swap in May so their relationship will be like other unions representing city employees. In exchange for a 6% salary increase, members will pay 7.5% of each paycheck to SFERS for their retirement. It's revenue neutral for the City..."

Please tell me your kidding. Read the Grand Jury report- this deal reported by the City as "cost neutral" cost taxpayers $136 million. I am convinced no one understands what lousy financial shape this City is in...

"...What is left out is also the Jeff Adachi is in a particular class of City employees who would be exempt from his measure, and is also in a particular classification of City employee that does not even pay into the retirement system.."

This is also not true. The amendment explicitly says ALL "miscellaneous" employees go to 9%. The SFERS pension system only classifies employees as either police, fire, or "miscellaneous" There are no exemptions for anyone, Mayor included.

Posted by Seej on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

Um, Steve?

Hiram Johnson would have been mighty impressed by a grass-roots campaign that gathered 78,000 signatures (only 80,000 people voted in the last election) in less than two weeks to get a populist measures put on the ballot. That's the definition of populism: populi, podere et humani.

The people have spoken, and the politicians and the Talking Heads are now squirming.

Nothing wroing with taking the initiative. Adachi didn't do it Mussolini-style. He got plenty of people on the street to listen to his argument and sign on the dotted line, me included.

Posted by Barton on Jul. 19, 2010 @ 11:12 pm

Barton, it's inaccurate to call this a "grass-roots campaign" considering Adachi relied primarily on paid signature gathers to qualify his measure for the ballot. We'll be voting on this because a bunch of venture capitalists with a grudge against government paid for us to be able to vote for their agenda.

Posted by steven on Jul. 20, 2010 @ 11:29 am

Elsbernd paid his signature gatherers too. Paying signature gatherers is common practice and regardless of paid gatherers or not, people won't sign something they are not interested in...Adachi was receiving 300 signatures in the mail a day from people just printing out a petition online, signing it and sending it in. If you think SF taxpayers don't want this thing, you are mistaken.

Posted by Seej on Jul. 20, 2010 @ 12:42 pm


Yes i actually could retire with 70% of my maximum salary after working for 30 years, and could receive additional money from what i set aside additionally, but guess what...Im paying my own retirement. The City is not contributing any of it. I have worked for the City for 9 years now and at no point has the City been paying into my retirement. I have made that contribution entirely, so seems to me that if i am putting money in every year to the system, that i should get some of my OWN money back! Oh the outcry. It isnt like i got hired and had the option to not pay into the system. How can i say it another way...I am paying my own retirement, so would make sense that i get to live off of my money, minus 30%, so yes you may get social security and whatever you put away, well since the City contributes nothing it is virtually the same. Regarding health reform Adachi's measure doesnt seek to reform how health benefits are meted out, but simply seeks to put more into the system, off of current employees, to reduce the costs encumbered by those already retired. Current employees and I under this would be forced to pay more into our own retirement, pay more into our own health care fund, fund the health care of those already retired, all while taking pay cuts the past three years. We have given back, made concessions, saved the City money, but it time the City fix itself and not on the back of those who keep it operating. Change the system moving forward for those starting anew, but the City is responsible for those that have served it in the past, not those who currently work for it, not when we are the ones funding our own future.

A friend of mind said the following when we talked about the issue:

Currently City non-uniform employees pay 7.5% of their gross pay to the SF Retirement system. Employees hired after January, 2009 pay an additional 2% to a health care trust fund. That’s 9.5% of their pay. With Adatchi’s initiative that will be 11%. Add 31% for fed and state taxes, 6.5% for social security, hundreds for medical contributions and what’s left?

The biggest pension increases in recent years have gone to uniform employees, coincidentally, those who’s jobs protect property and power. They, on the average, receive a pension more than double that of non-uniform employees and they receive that pension much earlier and for a longer time.

Putting the many reform initiatives into context, what we are seeing is the steady grinding toward poverty of the vast majority of working people, whether that be directly through unemployment and asset devaluation (homes, stocks) or collaterally through reductions and outright eliminations of wage and benefits. The last time this happened in the 1930’s there existed a seemingly revolutionary socialist alternative which prompted President Roosevelt to convince enough of the wealthy that they had to transfer much of it to social programs through taxation in ordered to save the system. Today the call is for “no new taxes” and market based solutions.

The trend for working people is to continue to see our economic futures go down the drain while each politician, completes for donations by getting us there faster. The wealthy will continue to become more insecure and demand ever greater personal wealth and privilege because the system, as a system, has outgrown its ability to provide stability, improved quality of life or, even a pension. Its time to stop jealously looking into the next guys plate and find a new way for all to sustainably get enough to eat.

Posted by Guest Rob on Jul. 20, 2010 @ 8:55 am

Tell the union to stop advocating for every new program that the city's progressives dream up. Have the union leadership understand that creating one program after another that will never be enough is cutting into your wages.

The public employee union leadership see themselves as advocates for all sorts of things that have nothing to do with your job, or you. Tell them to center on union members and not being shills for the national revealed progressive agenda.

If you are upset that you are getting cuts from the city, look no farther than all the things your leadership advocated for, fiscal responsibility has never been one of those things.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 20, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

Matlock, this is not about progressives, this is about dumb public employee unions and their political supporters in the mayor's office under Brown and Newsom and in the Board of Supes (except Elsbernd) who every year gave more and more and more to the public employee unions because those unions would then support those politicians. Nothing more complicated there than greed and looking out for one's butt.

The PE unions and their political supporters just went way way way too far and now voters are letting them know it. This has NOTHING to do with being progressive. Progressives are a force for good in the country by improving the lives of the vast majority of the people.

The regressive forces represented by George W Bush, Sarah Palin, Carli Fiorina, Mitch McConnell, Faux News, Limbaugh, Glenn Beck etc etc etc are dangerous to this country. They must rely on deception (like doctoring videos to attack ACORN and the African-American woman from the Agriculture Dept who was fired by the dummy who's the head of the USDA (Vilsack), bullying, ridicule to win over voters because facts and the truth are their enemy.

They're now attacking Sen. Barbara Boxer for her progressive votes like voting against the Iraq war, voting against Bush's big tax cuts for the wealthy, and similar good votes. And for speaking out against the right wing agenda instead of being quiet like they would prefer. Her progressivism just burns these people up and so they are attacking her viciously. It's up to progressives to fight back against these forces.

Adachi's measure can, if anything be considered a progressive measure because it will free up money so there will be money left over for the city to do progressive things like helping the homeless, the unemployed, fixing what needs to be fixed, etc.

Try all you want to change this into something it's not but the facts are against you.


Posted by pissed off Muni rider on Jul. 21, 2010 @ 6:42 am

Muni rider

The progressives get into office to hand over the government to their backers and hand out patronage so as to fail up.

Just like republicans do with their myriad of backers and handing out cash to churches to do social work that is just hectoring for religion.

Both sides put their agenda in populist rhetoric as they give the government away to their team.

If someone runs on Boxers record and she loses then thats because the people don't like her record. I think the war in Iraq was an awful idea, anyone who runs opposed to her because she opposes to the war in Iraq would make me want to vote for Boxer.

Again there is this confirmation bias, "the far right is ridiculous but are side just went astray a little" is what your post says.

In SF we get the worst of government in the nation, a federal government that spends on a stupid war( it is a little better without Bush and his religious loons), a useless state government run by democrat hacks and city run by spoiled middle class progressives.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 21, 2010 @ 11:18 am

Dear City Employee,

Thank you for your response. Unfortunately, you and your breatrhen are seriously underpaying into your pension funds. Here are the facts:

Data collected from the budget analyst Harvey Rose’s office and the City’s controller has found that San Francisco’s yearly contribution to employee pension and health care costs [meaning UNDERFUNDED costs] have gone from $175 million just 5 years ago, to $525 million today. It’s further expected to be nearly $700 million in two years. Basically it isn’t sustainable.

What Matt Gonzalez said:

"A report of the Civil Grand Jury was released in June on this very issue. They lay it out pretty well. I encourage people to read it. Also, people should go to the campaign’s website and read the measure themselves. If you support the measure, download the petition and sign it.

Roughly half of city employees are not currently required to contribute toward their own pensions. ZERO. NADA. NOTHING. That’s not the case in other cities. So we’re basically creating a widening gulf between private sector workers and public employees. The former are not interested in further supporting workers who, on the whole, have such a better situation. Albeit, one that we would all like to improve and make applicable to all workers, someday."

Posted by Barton on Jul. 20, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

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