A Condensed Play-by-Play of the City Council Ballot Measure Vote

“Love is in the air,” Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones declared in her opening remarks for the invocation of Tuesday’s City Council meeting. From there, everyone proceeded to attack one another.

The public comments portion of the council meeting featured a passionate cast of characters speaking for or against the June pension reform ballot, which passed by an 8-3 vote.

A retired firefighter recited a poem he wrote, reps for the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce were booed on their way back to their seats, a lady threatened to occupy councilmembers’ homes every day and David Wall wore pressed overalls as he ripped into everyone.

James Rowen made the best-received comment of the day by guessing that a lawsuit against the city could lead to “oh, $650 million” in lawsuit fees. He added that he just made the number up off the top of his head to a soaring round of applause.

But there were some people not sitting on the dais who favored approving the ballot measure, including: Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone; Pat Sausedo, VP of the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce; Jeff Cristina, a councilmember for the city of Campbell; and Bob Kieve, owner of KLIV. Hisses and signs reading “FALSE” accompanied these comments. (When pro-labor speakers addressed the council, the signs in the audience were flipped and read “TRUE.” If you were sitting in the rear of the chambers and walked in late, this would have been baffling.)

After more than an hour of public discussion, Mayor Chuck Reed and the councilmembers had their say, or at least tried to have their say when members of the public weren’t shouting them down.

“We’ve been a leader (on pension reform) because we’ve been forced to due to skyrocketing retirement costs,” Reed said, adding that the city paid $245 million in retirement costs this year, more than triple the cost from a decade ago.

The mayor added that the choices were either approving the retirement benefits reform ballot measure “or we could have to cut people’s pay again or lay more people off.” He paused to look into the crowd as audience members openly mocked him with catcalls and laconic insults. Clearly fed up, Reed asked several people in the crowd to “shut your mouth” now that the public comments section was over, leading one man in the rear of the crowd to yell, “You had a longer sixty seconds than we did!” The man walked out of the council chambers before security was forced to remove him.

Vice Mayor Nguyen voted with Reed and said she didn’t want to look back “10, 20 years and say I did nothing” to keep the city operating at a sustainable level.

Councilmember Pete Constant asked for the ballot measure language to be modified slightly before voting with the mayor. The new wording, he said, would make it easier for voters to understand.

Councilmember Pierluigi Oliveiro again stressed his wish for public negotiations before voting with the mayor. However, Oliverio added that he thought the tenor of the public comments didn’t reflect the opinion of most voters.

Councilmember Nancy Pyle again pushed for a local sales tax increase before addressing the concerns of employees. Taking off her glasses, Pyle sympathized with the crowd and said, “It isn’t fair. It’s a rotten thing that has happened to all of us.” But, acknowledging her constituency in Almaden, she said she would support the ballot measure.

Councilmember Rose Herrera said the ballot measure “is also good for employees,” which caused a considerable grumble in the audience. Her reasons for her vote focused on the potential to eventually raise wages and retirement benefits once the system is on more sustainable footing.

Councilmember Kansen Chu voted against the ballot measure. His argument: “My question is it fair to pass this very difficult, very complicated issue to the voters?” Chu was joined by Councilmember Xavier Campos, who said he is against the ballot measure “for one very simple reason: because it will endanger the health and safety of the people in San Jose.” He added that “we’re gonna get sued … in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Councilmember Ash Kalra lamented the “myopic approach” the mayor and some of his colleagues were taking in pension reform over other issues. In his arguments, Kalra punched a hole in the city staff’s wording about disability job placement procedure meant to prevent fraudulent claims. The mayor stared straight ahead with his chin resting on his folded hands.

Kalra also asserted that the main supporters of pension reform were prodded to do so by emails from Mayor Reed and Councilmember Constant. At the end of a lengthy speech discussing the legal pitfalls and lack of precedent in the courts for the city’s ballot measure, Kalra, who voted against the measure, received a standing ovation from the pro-labor members of the audience.

Councilmember Sam Liccardo voted for the ballot measure and stressed that the council is not the boss of city employees, but that the citizens of San Jose are every public employee’s boss. A memo Liccardo submitted before the meeting requested that City Attorney Rich Doyle “file an action for declaratory relief in the trial court of competent jurisdiction.” According to the memo, which Constant brought up earlier in the meeting, the action will allow for “judicial determination of whether the City may adjust the compensation of current employees through additional retirement contributions or pay reductions.”

Councilmember Don Rocha was the last on the dais to speak, and he tried to offer several changes to Constant’s substitute motion but was rebuffed by his colleague. This resulted in Rocha delivering several pointed remarks, before surprisingly supporting the ballot measure.

Josh Koehn is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to josh@metronews.com or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

24 Comments

  1. Thank goodness.  Moving in August, working for a City who needs me, wants me, and pays me.  Taking my 18 years of experience, education, know how and expertise with me.  Good riddance San Jose.

  2. what happens to the company that can’t offer competitive compenstation package?
    It looses valuable employess and eventually goes out of bussiness.

    San Jose citizens will loose level of service and will pay much higher taxes because only idiots will stay

  3. Unfortunately pensions are not the problem this will go down as the biggest scam in san jose history. the unfunded liabilty is the ponzie scheme designed for politicians and wall street to raid pension funds period!!! San Jose politicians have been pumping good money after bad into downtown for years {read my lips san jose will never be a tourist destination give it up. lets see where do I want my convention to be Vegas, LA,San Diego, New York, or um San Jose DUHHH!!!] San jose was a nice safe community to live and work in with nice weather period. all it took was a couple of ignorant greedy deralict politicians to ruined it.other losers Like the SJ air port, city hall etc….. Even the library system they sunk millions in over the last seven years is riduculous. You could buy every person in san jose a lap top and kindle and save the 20 million dollars a year thrown away on the antiquated library system where perverts go to look at porn for free. It does not matter if you do not hire another city employee ever again.Thats the part the citizens dont understand. Instead of paying 6,0000 citizens a descent wage and modest retirement for quality work, now you will pay twice as much for inferior service to a contractor who will be on the golf course all week while his illegal aliens make 8 dollars an hour trying to patch a crumbling infrastructure and yes you will pay double for that service {has anyone ever called a plumber, DUHHHH!! there is a reason why that work was in house. the joke is on the citizens. Evil, Deception, Greed and Ignorance was on full display today at SJ City Hall.  Good Luck San Jose your going to need it!!!!

  4. 8-3 council vote in favor of the pension measure….? How did SJPOA and SJ Fire Local 230 lose two votes in a month (not to disrespect the other unions but SJPOA and SJ Fire have or used to have the most influence)?  Did they take those two votes for granted…not to mention trying to aguire/change one or two votes to their side of the issue.  Has SJPOA and SJ Fire lost their influence with council members, neighborhood groups and the public?  Where is the the union leadership…? Maybe they should stop using what little influence thay have with institutions that cannot and would not assist them i.e the Independent Police Auditor, and start developing relationships with groups / individuals who can assist them. When was the last time the President of the SJPOA or SJ Fire Local 230 attended a neighborhood association meeting?  I guess you get what you vote for.

    • There’s some humor in all this in that both the firefighters and the police unions have been pretty bold about whom they would and would not interview when city council elections come along.

      In 1994, both unions fell over themselves slavishly panting to endorse Chuck Reed for City Council, and rudely declined to even communicate with his competition.  Of course, Reed has paid them back for their support with a vengeance.

      Maybe there’s a little pinch of “schadenfreude” in all this.  They trusted Reed, and he treated them in the same way he treated most of his closest political allies in Berryessa before his citywide prominence.  Too bad those unions didn’t look around before putting all their eggs in one basket.

    • Thanks for writing that.  I left a comment a couple days ago talking about the same situation.  I was told in writing “I don’t care about your neighborhood assoc”  I was always a supporter of Public Safety.  Public Safety was not a supporter of me.  Read responses under TAX MAN couple postings back.  I will not support them unless I see a change in demeanor or leadership.  8-3 is how the people feel.  So much for trashing the mayor idea.  The unions presented the city in an awful way across the nation.  In the end the people stood by the Mayor.

      • I read that comment the other day and was really troubled by that.  I don’t condone or agree with the poster stating that. I don’t know if it was a police officer or a firefighter who wrote that.  For the poster who wrote that, I seriously hope it was done in the heat of the moment and you didn’t stop to think what you were writing.

            I think I can vouch for a lot of my fellow co-workers that we still do really care about the community we serve, and that some of our membership has lost sight of the mission at hand.  In the last few years, there has been an incredible distraction and attack on the character of not just police and firefighters in san jose, but ALL city employees.
        Don’t let people define you.  Keep coming to work and do what you do (a great job I hope!!) and don’t forget the citizen is the customer.  Promote your product.  You’ve lost sight of it.  It’s easy to be angry and say, “F*ck it!!!”, but the stronger person of character and integrity will rise above it.  Be the better person.  Weather the storm.  Endure.  This will pass.

            To the citizen who wrote the above post, please don’t lose faith in your public servants.  They’ve been demonized and they are angry, just like you are. They have a hard job and they are tired of the distractions.  I’d like to invite you to my station, but for obvious reasons on this blog, I’ll remain anonymous.

        • I always talk to your FF’ers up at Savemart area.  I know it wasn’t a F.Fighter.  I tell them how much I support them and let my neighbors know the importance of public safety.  I wore boots once and understand the need for our Countries security.  There are those that serve abroad and those that serve at home.  I find no difference.  You, your teams and the police will always remain at the top in my book.  Thanks for all safety personnel.

      • You came on here with your snobby boasting about your neighborhood association support statement, supporting the mayor like it was some kind of thing to hold over our heads or some kind of thing that was suppose to slap us in our faces. This is what you said:

        “My neighborhood assoc. just put out a support statement for the Mayor.  That alone reached hundreds of people.”

        I say…SO WHAT!!! I responded to you and told you that I could care less about your neighborhood assoc support statement…and I don’t. I could care less that they just put out a support statement that will reach hundreds of people. I find it really, really disturbing that you now try to turn it around and make yourself the victim. Typical. What I was referring to was the support statement for the mayor. Not the association, itself. When I made the statement ““I don’t care about your neighborhood assoc…”, It should have included the words “support statement” and if you read further down of what I wrote, it says just that. Read it again. You started it with your snobby statement and I responded to what I thought about your statement. If you do not want someone to respond in such a way, you should not make such statements.

  5. Ive been a City of San Jose employee for 17 years. I never imagined feeling the way I do today. The mayor has stripped every bit of morale from the entire workforce. I will be searching for a new employer that values my dedication and hard work. Good luck attracting quality employees to work for you Chuck

  6. “Kalra punched a hole in the city staff’s wording about disability job placement procedure…”

    You failed to mention Mr. Liccardo who followed Mr. Kalra clarified the city’s wording is more favorable to the employee than what is used by social security.

    Mr. Kalra may lament the “myopic approach” but in three years he has failed to put forward a viable pension reform proposal that would be supported by at least five of his colleagues on the city council.

  7. “The mayor added that the choices were either approving the retirement benefits reform ballot measure “or we could have to cut people’s pay again or lay more people off.”

    Why are those the only choices? What about putting the union proposal before the voters?

    They say it is not good enough but why: If the city was honest and true to its sunshine values it would:

    1) Identify the needed savings (in true dollars not a guesstimate);
    2) tell us the savings of the ballot measure
    3) tell us the savings of the union proposal
    4) and the savings of each component of the ballot meausre.

    This is the information the public needs to know if the extreme approach is really necessary.  But no—the City refuses to show their math—again!  I guess we should not be surprised.

  8. “Councilmember Sam Liccardo voted for the ballot measure and stressed that the council is not the boss of city employees, but that the citizens of San Jose are every public employee’s boss.”

    How can the citizens provide sound direction to council when they are relying on sensationalism; are not shown the math and the city is hiding or not making readily available very important information.

    • Nothing that Scott Herhold writes is good. He is just another in a long line of Dingleberries (starting with the 6)hanging onto the Mayor. In the near future the truth will come out and then people will say “I didnt Know,I believed the Mayor”. Well nimrod do your own homework! dont believe the unions, dont believe the Mayor, And for god sakes dont believe anything coming out of the Merc. People in this city are blinded by “the most corrupt mayor in san jose history”

  9. You have successfully managed to put the biggest hit on employee morale in the history of San Jose.  I can only hope Karma finds you.  I know I will think twice before I put myself in harms way as a public safety employee in your fine city.  With your plan not only will I be forced to give up between 30 and 40% of my salary to maintain my pension, unless I decide to “opt” in to your “fine” plan but I will also not have any disability to rely on if I get seriously hurt in the course of my work.  I have too have a family to support and since I will not have the same benefit as some others, the “councilman” that sits to your left, I will definitely not take the same approach to my job.  You should be “applauded” for your fine work Chuck.

  10. I guess time will be the judge of that.  I too am a citizen/taxpayer and I am not feeling the improved morale you speak of.  The citizens will get employees that don’t give a rats @#$ and their services will suffer.  You may not see it directly but trust me, it will happen.  You think cops are going to be proactive in fighting crime, NOPE. They will wait for calls to come in and respond as needed.  Think about it,  the city doesn’t have the backs of its officers so why should they put their neck on the line.  Sure, cops enjoy their work and want to help people but in the end they too need to be respected, paid, and assured they would be taken care if they became injured.  Chuck has done away with all that.

      Next Chuck will be asking for a tax increase and people will be happy to cough up the extra .5% since Chuck has brought “Pension reform” to San Jose.  So not only will Chuck screw over the city workforce he will next screw the citizens over by asking for the tax increase.  He will then have more money to redistribute to pay off his RDA disaster and get his losing MLB team to San Jose. 

      The city should have added one more addition to their ballot and that would be to allow employees to opt out of the pension system all together.  Employees do not have a choice and are required to participate in the city’s pension program.  At least that way I could save the 30 to 40% he wants me to put into my pension and use it to pay my mortage and take care of my family. 

      Is it just me or doesn’t it seem weird that San Jose is the only city attacking its employees.  Sure employees for other cities have made concessions but nothing like the 10% in total compensation San Jose employees have given.  On top of that we already pay damn near the top in pension contributions and now they want to take more than double my current contribution.  In other cities employees went from paying 0% to now paying 9%.  San Jose was already far above the others in contribution rates and now we will go even higher.

    I am sure many would say, “if you dont like then leave”, and yeah that sounds like a great idea but the reality is employees just want to be respected and treated with some dignity. Sure I could leave and start over and probably make more money and get a better pension somewhere else, all while working in a lower ranking position.  I want to serve this city but this council has made it very hard for me. Many people have always said the city will never have your back if something happens so take care of yourself. I always thought those opinions were overstated but now I understand. I will have a hard time working hard for this city under these conditions. Stay safe out there.

  11. > You have successfully managed to put the biggest hit on employee morale in the history of San Jose.

    Diminished city employee morale will be offset by greatly improved citizen and taxpayer morale.

    If you want, you can think of it as a LOSE-WIN situation with the citizens being on the “WIN” side.

    But, I’m OK with that.

    • And please enlighten me as to how citizen and taxpayer morale is going to improve? Oh, that’s right the pensions are going to be overhauled, your service levels are going to be returned, and probably even EXCEED your expectations.  Your taxes will drop. Every library will open, maybe even build some more.  We’ll double the police and fire force, build a baseball stadium, bring the A’s.  The nightlife will become fantastic.  The business and tax revunue will soar.  Applicants will be lined up to work for this great city.

          When I hear naive comments like the one above, I find my own laughter is not enough.  Have a nice day, Mr. Naivete…..