Don Rocha Calls for Reforming Measure B Pension Reform

Councilman Don Rocha wants to amend the city’s pension reforms to solve what he deems a more pressing problem: employee retention.

In a memo citing a Shakespeare quote about wise men and fools, the District 9 councilman urges the city to re-work the disability retirement policy, lower the eligible retirement age and consider appealing the pension overhaul voters approved as Measure B in 2012. Maybe, he said, City Council should put a measure on the November ballot to give voters the option of amending the city charter. His entreaty goes before the Rules and Open Government Committee this week.

“As the flaws in our pension reform effort become increasingly apparent, I hope that we will have the wisdom to acknowledge our own past mistakes,” said Rocha, one of the council majority who put Measure B before voters two years ago. “When I say we made mistakes, I don’t mean that the whole effort was a failure. …I do believe, though, that on some issues we landed in the wrong place.”

For one, he noted, he and his colleagues failed to anticipate the retention problem. Since pension reforms upped the retirement age, cracked down on disability pensions and knocked new hires down to a lower benefits tier, San Jose has struggled to keep enough police officers on staff. Rocha said city leaders should have foreseen this problem.

“At this point, we see clearly that while rising pension costs may be a threat to service delivery, so too is an inability to recruit and retain, both in the public safety and federated workforce,” he stated. “When I have to tell residents that we can’t investigate their home burglary, or that it will take six months to repair a streetlight, it’s not only because of pension costs, it’s also because people don’t want to work here.”

Rocha’s proposals include:

  • Fixing the disability language in the city charter. Measure B aimed to disability retirement abuses. A city-led audit showed that police would abuse the system by routinely applying for disability retirement as they neared retirement age. Some would go on to find public safety work at other police agencies. Under Measure B, an officer can’t claim disability pension if he or she can perform any other job in the city, even if that job isn’t available at the time. Mayor Chuck Reed suggested earlier this year that the city commit to providing a job in that event. Reed also called for the city to help police buy supplemental disability insurance to make up the loss of income in the switch to the new job assignment.
  • Removing automatic pay decreases. “If they go forward, we will be the ones swallowing our own poison pill,” Rocha wrote.
  • Third, recognizing that San Jose’s competitiveness problem extends beyond the conflict surrounding disability retirement. Keeping the retirement age at 65 scares away new hires, who can work for an agency that lets them retire at 57 or younger, Rocha said. San Jose should bring its retirement eligibility in line with CalPERS, he suggested. “If we change the restrictions on retirement age and accrual rate in the charter to align with the CalPERS second tier, we would at least be capable of increasing benefits should it become necessary to recruit employees and deliver services,” he stated.

True, he conceded: Voters passed Measure B of their own accord. By a wide margin, too.

“It is equally true, however, that Measure B is not a suicide pact,” Rocha said.

Councilwoman Rose Herrera submitted a memo of her own, calling for the city to amend the charter to rework some of the pension reforms and lure back some of the officers who left.

“Mend it, don’t end it,” she said.

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for April 2, 2014:

  • The city aims to put a three-year moratorium on any new taxi companies from servicing the airport. “By taking a phase-in approach … we will be able to ensure competitive opportunities while preventing delivery oversaturation in a laissez-faire environment,” Councilman Xavier Campos writes in a memo.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Rocha is “overwhelmingly” correct. And for all you sheeple that continue to tout the “overwhelming” vote for measure B, be the wise person Shakespeare refers to and acknowledge your mistake, or be the fool for all to see.

  2. “Under Measure B, an officer can’t claim disability pension if he or she can perform any other job in the city, even if that job isn’t available at the time.” That’s pretty much the same test that is used for Social Security disability benefits.

    “As the flaws in our pension reform effort become increasingly apparent, I hope that we will have the wisdom to acknowledge our own past mistakes…” The same can be said of ObamaCare

  3. “As the flaws in our pension reform effort become increasingly apparent….” Mr. Rocha, the flaws were apparent before this measure was even voted on. You were warned. Liccardo, Oliverio, Reed, Nguyen all were warned. Just go back and research the comments from the San Jose Inside. YOU WERE WARNED. This is mismanagement of the City. While your intentions might have been good, your ability to execute failed. You and the rest of the council were given another option. That was to sit down and talk with the Unions. They offered deep savings over five years. Savings that we would be seeing for several years now. Instead the City and the citizens are loosing skilled and experienced workers. Overtime is through the roof and services are at an all time low.

    Vote for Change.

      • Mrs. Owens I agree with you. Now at election time Rocha is going to speak his mind. Come on. I don’t buy it.

        Having said that, I looked on your web page and you talk about “A Commitment To Safety” but don’t give a lot of specifics on how you will restore public safety in San Jose. Another issue I have is the following from your web page…”However, no one expected that it would motivate a huge exodus of police and fire.” As I stated above. It was said time and time again that would be the end result. So to say no one expected this is false. You, as a candidate and a person that I would hope would have a pulse on the heart beat of her community, should have foreseen this outcome.

        You say:
        It’s a complicated issue; pension reform was necessary, but I believe that as a city we must take care of the people that protect us.

        Again I agree. Give me specifics. Make me want to vote for you. Perhaps SJI would entertain an article from you.

        • Let me clarify this. I’m assuming that City Hall and the citizens didn’t expect that this would happen. Measure B would rein in the amount of money that was being paid out and new cops would replace the ones leaving, right? It has not been so easy to replace the cops that have left and retain the new recruits. But this is not the case. It has been very difficult to attract and retain new recruits. I specialize in working with the police and I’ve heard the same thing for the past few years. San Jose cops love working here, but the disability clause in Measure B makes working here too risky. Being a cop is a very physical job and the odds of getting hurt/injured is very high. If a cop gets injured, he/she has one year to either get back to work or find another place in the city to work(at a different pay rate, perhaps) and then they could be out. They say it is too risky to work as a cop in San Jose because of this. We need to change the disability clause in Measure B to retain our seasoned cops and retain new recruits. I have to say, despite all of the fallout from Measure B,and the fact that cops pay about 20% into their retirement and the culture of cynicism that is directed at the police, most cops love our city and their department. However, the chance of becoming disabled and put out to pasture makes it unattractive to work here. Most tell me that their teams are half the size that they once were and that it isn’t safe. The dispatchers and call takers that I speak with tell me how response times are slower because calls are backed up and there aren’t enough cops to send out to the calls. Citizens rave in anger at call takers because it takes so long to get help. And, let’s get real here. San Jose is not Mayberry. San Jose has some pretty mean streets.
          These are very trying times for our city. I have lived here most of my life and I would like to stay here. I felt deceived when Mr.Rocha said he was against Measure B and then didn’t table it when he had an opportunity. I need to feel that the person representing me keeps his word and is not a flip/flopper. Mr. Rocha’s personality conflicts with his colleagues are well documented. Less time should be spent on conflicts with colleagues and more time focusing on fixing public safety, the homeless crisis and increasing revenue to the city. We have lost so much revenue from cops not being able to write tickets!
          I believe that if more citizens went on ride-alongs with the police and/or the dispatchers/call takers, they would have a change of heart about what they do and their pay. It’s a tough job that requires mental as well as physical strength. I’ve served on the police oral boards and I know how high the bar is.
          You should vote for me because I am tenacious, with an ability to work with just about anyone and I have excellent communication skills. I will fight for you. I’ve been doing it my whole life. Anyone who knows me, will tell you that I am strong, focused and that I will keep my word. This is not just campaign talk or strategy. I have been saying mend the disability clause in Measure B for a long time.

          • We have heard this before….from Chuck Reed, Rose Herrera, and Madison Nguyen. Tenacity, strength and communications skills have served them VERY well… destroying public safety. NO MORE LAWYERS!!!!!!!

  4. The taxi moratorium is just a way to keep ride sharing out of the airport. Silly.

    As far as the headliner though, CM Rocha has again surprised me with his thoughtful candor on this subject. (Herrera has surprised me too) Way to go Don!

  5. Our esteemed city council finds itself in a situation not unlike that often experienced by young morons in custody after having done something blatantly stupid, and confronted with the question, “How could you guys think this was a good idea?”

    I suggest the council members just shrug their shoulders, mutter, “I dunno,” and hope their parents or some other mature adults come to their rescue, because there is no way they have the talent and ability to fix everything they broke.

  6. Anyone can be wrong, as Rocha was when he ignored what should have been obvious: that San Jose would not be able to effectively hire and retain police officers under Measure B. But his memo demonstrates that he has the City’s best interests at heart, as I’m sure he did when he cast his misguided vote for Measure B. I applaud him for being willing to admit his mistake, something that the egos of Reed, Liccardo, Nguyem et. al. won’t allow. It gives me hope that common sense may someday prevail.

  7. It takes a strong , moral , ethical and caring person to admit when they have made a mistake . I did not vote for Rocha , but he has proven that Change is Possible. I applaud his efforts to correct a wrong . You will NOT see any other Council member admit that they were wrong . Reed , Lickardo , Nguyen , Hererra , Constant , Oliverio , Have put San Jose residents at risk , BUT you will never hear anyone of these individuals admit wrong doing . San Jose can not afford to have a mayor that will not negotiate with workers or admit if a mistake has been made . we already have a Mayor who has employed these tactics and look where it has gotten us

  8. It takes a real stand up guy to come forward the way Councilman Rocha did. I commend you for this Mr.Rocha. Measure B was passed only because it mislead the public with deceptively worded ballot language and misrepresented numbers put out by Chuck Reed ,Sam Liccardo,Pierluigi Oliverio,Madison Nguyen Rose Herrera and Pete Constant. I doubt any of these cowards would have the courage and decency to come forward and admit they knowingly deceived the public and made a tremendous error.

  9. Watching the news the other night about the death of more firefighters in San Fransisco, and my husbands comment was…..’you don’t hear about city council members, city mayors and managers dying on the job’ !!!
    Nuff said….

  10. Rocha, you were one of those that misled the public about police pensions, that ran on the bandwagon but the wheels came off and you are up for re-election in a city being hit by a crime wave of your and Chuck Reed’s making. Political opportunism for his electability, not his constituents best interests, otherwise Prop B would not have been so drastic. BTW, what is he doing about that half billion dollar city hall and the debt that we are paying off with 90% still to go? Oh yeah, that was the reason for the pension reform. To Louis Fong, commending Rocha. Really? He was part of the Chuck Reed ,Sam Liccardo,Pierluigi Oliverio,Madison Nguyen Rose Herrera and Pete Constant cabal. 100%. Commending him for coming forward about being deceitful is like commending a crook who admits to stealing your money. Beyond stupid. Sounds more like the words of a political operative.

  11. Mayor Reed and his gang find themselves in a situation not unlike that often experienced by young morons who wind up in custody after having done something blatantly stupid, and are confronted with the question, “How could you guys think this was a good idea?”

    I suggest they just shrug their shoulders, mutter, “I dunno, ask Chuck” and allow Mr. Rocha or some other mature adult to come to their rescue, because there is no way they have the brains to fix everything they broke.

  12. To All Public Servants And Retirees; Repeat After Me : ” EVERYBODY GETS NOTHIN “! Repeat 1000 times! Now, Doesn’t That Feel Better

  13. Hats off to any public official who can admit a mistake! Mr. Reed–please go to a desert island somewhere and be in peace. The troops are building to fight your pension reform initiative–you are not trying to help CA–you are trying to help yourself by spreading the pain around.

  14. I retired from Caltrans five years ago after a forty year career as a civil engineer. This article and all the comments I have seen so far are correct. Any thinking person could have predicted the situation San Jose sees itself in now. To hire and retain dedicated, quality people in positions of high responsibility requires an employer who doesn’t renege on its promises. No reasonable employee wants his employer to go broke, or his city or county to not be able to provide necessary high quality services.

    Go back to the bargaining table. San Jose will be much better off when reasonable people sit down and discuss what is the best solution for both government and its citizens.

  15. Unfortunately, the damage is done and it is a long road back. I am willing to bet that very few former employees would be willing to return. Even if it went back to how it was before measure B, how could you trust it wouldn’t change in 3, 5, 8, 12 years? Those employees are gone and future employees will probably not trust any promises made.

  16. Seems rules committee (Reed, worthless Vice mayor, PO “I did not steal those signs” and big waste Constant all voted no to any Measure B reform. Guess that tells you where this future council thinks about making San Jose any safer. Enjoy your 29 member police academy which historically 1/4 will fail, 1/3 will leave for better paying departments and we will lose another 80 police officers next year to retirement or other better paying departments. Thank you council. AND NO FORMER CITY EMPLOYEES WILL EVER COME BACK TO THIS DUMP!

  17. Rocha sounds threatened by the Unions.

    The City should stay the course it has set. The other cities will catch up … or go broke.

  18. Why is it that we across the state, we ALWAYS go to the voters “Measures and Propositions?” It makes me believe that those we voted into office to make the difficult decisions are actually afraid to make them. They need a security blanket to fall back on. Of course if you put up such a Measure to voters they will support it. It appealed to their frustrations about taxes. To voters, this was a no brainer. They vote with their hearts not their heads.

    Wake up elected officials and do what you were put in office to do… make the tough calls and voters, if they don’t, vote them out!

  19. Reviews of the performance of the San Jose Pension Funds for 2012 and 2013 have shown that the unusual very large increase in funds placed in hedge fund investments during those years resulted in significant financial losses. The performance of the pension funds if they had been invested in the kind of investments previously used would have provided much more savings than the pension reform measures. Why were such risky investments made when it had been shown that this kind of investing was a primary cause of the recession?

  20. Has anyone considered the fact that maybe it is a travesty that unionized police officers pretty much run the City of San Jose (along with the firefighters, of course)? Isn’t that how you define a police state? Mayor Reed is a man of courage and integrity. He is also financially literate. You wouldn’t get that impression from all the comments here, comments that are orchestrated by an extremely well-heeled taxpayer financed union machine; comments that come overwhelmingly from people who are benefiting from the generous pay and benefit packages. The average police officer in San Jose is making median total compensation of $189,000 per year. Here’s the data taken from payroll data provided by the city:

    Just how much are police supposed to make? Do these supposedly underpaid public servants have any idea how hard it is to make that kind of money anywhere else? If they are having trouble recruiting and retaining officers, then maybe it’s time for other cities to reform their compensation plans downwards, not reverse the course of reform fought for by Mayor Reed.

    None of this is meant to disparage police officers or the work they do. But they have no business exercising, along with firefighters, such overwhelming control of local politics. It’s wrong. It is undemocratic. It’s intimidating. And if the police and firefighters think it is possible to continue to continue the pension system as it is with only incremental reforms, they are duped. They are being mislead to by their unions, who are in turn being mislead by the pension funds.

    If the police and firefighters in San Jose truly care about the people they have dedicated their lives to protecting, they will accept the reforms implemented by Mayor Reed, and use their unjustified influence to pressure other police and firefighters in other cities to accept the same reforms they are living with. That will solve the recruitment and retention problem just fine, and concurrently save our cities from financial ruin.

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