Alternatives to Pension Reform

I had some calls last week on the topic of pensions and the June ballot measure. Several people were under the impression that San Jose will eliminate pensions altogether, which is not the case. Other callers wanted to replace the current system with a 401K-type benefit.

One person was against any change to the pension system, even for new employees. They felt that the role of government is to provide well-paying jobs. When I asked what alternative there might be to pension reform, the suggestion was to raise taxes. The caller shared that the city should lay off city employees to “force” residents to vote in favor of raising taxes. If the city were to adopt this scenario, we may choose to outsource those services that are no longer being provided by the former employees, not to mention, city employees would lose 100 percent of their income and residents would probably get less city services. 

I think there are other options to pension reform that would save San Jose money. For example, getting out of the golf business, selling the Hayes Mansion—in fact, selling any city asset where there is a significant financial offer like the Convention Center, Mexican Heritage Plaza and parking garages. We could eliminate spending on all items not in the City Charter and outsource park maintenance at large parks.

Perhaps we should also consider following the lead of every other city in the county, which is switching from four to three fire fighters on a fire engine. However, I would suggest only the fire stations that have lower call volumes. An extra person on a fire engine, each shift, is equal to at least three police officers or many more code enforcement personnel.

Perhaps even consolidating city departments with the county to oversee, for example, the libraries would eliminate layers of management. It might take all of these items and more to add up to the costs savings with pension reform, but there are other options. Alas, if only labor negotiations were public rather than private. Perhaps then all of this would be on the table and a stronger voice for employees and residents could have been part of the discussion.

Incidentally, I asked the caller about several of the trade-offs listed above and they were against these as well. Que sera, sera ...


  1. P.O.-

    Listen to your Fire Chief for once, who recommends leaving the current staffing levels on fire engines.  Yes, other cities in this county run with 3 firefighters per engine whereas San Jose runs with 4, but we have far less fire stations per square mile and far less firefighters per capita.  Take Santa Clara City, for example, one of our bordering cities. They have 10 stations in just 20 square miles, far, far more than our 34 stations covering 180 square miles .  While 4 firefighters on and engine does not make a difference on every single call, there are times when it makes a significant and very real difference, such as structure fires and medical calls like cardiac arrests.

  2. Pierlugi, you have clearly over and over in many of your blogs shown that you devalue firefighters. You seem to be an expert on staffing, where is it that you became so knowledgable?. Making a comparison between San Jose to out lying cities and county pockets only shows you ignorance on the subject. You represent the citizens of San Jose and are doing them a disservice by being so biased and partial.
        The SJFD has agreed to pay concessions, increased health care cost, increased retiree healthcare cost, realistic pension reform and in addition has faced layoffs, staffing reductions, occasional brown outs of compainies and increased workloads. We continue to strive for excellent service to the community in the face of biased Mercury news reports and negative feedback from the Mayor and some council. The city would like us to pay around 40% of our salaries to our pension, Is this really fair and realistic negotiations?
          Gratefully, there are some in the city council and news agencies who believe in a fair and realistic discussion that values the employee and citizen and want to work towards an equitable solution. Remember in these difficult times it is reason, truth and fairness which should be your guide, take note of this in your election campaign…

  3. Has there been any discussion about reducing the number of Council districts? Do we really need 10 plus the mayor? It seems a considerable savings could be made by reducing the number of districts and the related salaries and overhead.
    I think most people could get by better with fewer Councilmembers than they could with fewer public safety personnel or service reductions.
    When this discussion takes place then we will believe you and your colleagues are serious about reducing expenses in a manner that makes sense.

    • good idea – lets have 2 fewer council districts! Even county board of sups has less member and have all of santa clara county to represent! imagine that! Cut out one council member and all the staff that go with his office.

  4. Switch us to Calpers like we’ve been asking for… since you council members are apart of it. Lets compare apples to apples.

    This would be the worst time to sell those properties considering the market, but if Lew Wolfe is buying I’m sure Greed would love to sell to him for pennies on the dollar.

    NAFTA and outsourcing are a huge part of why are economy tanked, quit trying to send working people into the poor house.

  5. Sure, switch to a 401-K plan ASAP.
    All you need to know about San Jose’s politics and problems can be found in Sunday’s paper.  In one section you read about San Jose wanting/needing to raise taxes…and another section reports on millions needed to improve traffic for a ballpark that might never be built.
    Finally, who’s responsible for the $18 million that will be paid from the general fund to cover the RDA’s “bad bets?”

  6. PO,

    We do need some form of pension reform, but not on the backs of those already retired and on a set income.  Most of us did not do 30 years, so there is a miss leading fact that we all get 90% of our pay and get free medical which is just not true but the mercury news likes to print it.  We know our medical and dental will take a big jump next year. Sick buyouts are gone for future retirees.  Yes, we got paid for vacation and comp pay which was earned when we retire but get taxed at 35% when we got it.  Life is not so great as Chuck and some what the public to believe.

    A do see a huge conflict within the city council, it’s Chucks way or the highway.

    Even you stated about pension reform:

    “These are council members who carry water for big labor,’’ said Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio. “They’re just trying to present fear, uncertainty and doubt about the ballot measure.”  When the five other on the council just want more facts made public.

    This tells us how much you hates the unions and the minority of your fellow city council members. 

    Question: why are you still pushing for a November tax increase when Chuck just spent 40K only to find out it is a bad idea.  Why is the city moving forward to spend 22 million on road improvements for a possible BB stadium that may never come and where is this money coming from?  A so called transportation fund.  How much other money is hidden to purchase properties for this complex since there are more to purchase to even begin this road project.  You and the council needs to attend AA meetings for spending our tax dollars like you have your own money press at city hall.

  7. I would be interested to see how you sell the idea of a three person engine to lower call volume areas. No matter how you want to slice it up, SJFD personnel to citizen ratio is the lowest in the county and represents the highest volume of calls. Clearly the initial response to a fire or medical emergency is the closest initial company where time can be absoultely critical to a positive outcome. Any three person engine cities would tell you four people for initial fire attack and critical EMS calls is superior. So with your proposition, certain high call volume areas such as downtown and the east side would recieve a four person company to deal with there initial emergency, whereas some other areas possibly in your district would get less personnel for there potential critical emergency. Can you possibly be serious? or better yet can anyone possibly take you seriously?

  8. “Perhaps we should also consider following the lead of every other city in the county, which is switching from four to three fire fighters on a fire engine.”  – PLO Can you please site your reference for this statement??

    Clearly you take your expert research cues from Mayor Reed. Maybe you have heard of the City of San Francisco or even Oakland? they both have 4 Firefighters on a Fire Engine and neither plan to switch anytime soon.  They have this staffing because it’s the standard recommended by National Fire Protection Association.  Like San Jose, they are large, dense cities with high rise residential units and multiple high hazards.  This population density, fire problem (large, older buildings) and call volume (some SINGLE San Jose Fire Stations run more calls a year than Santa Clara or Milpitas) all warrant these staffing levels.

    San Jose Fire is the 10th largest city in America and 25th in Fire Staffing.  Why I’m wasting my breath,  just like the comments on this page and facts presented to you and your friends on the Council, you choose to ignore the information in front of you in order to push your personal agenda.

  9. If you want to save money then lets start with the truth, REAL Numbers, Real facts, Real Profesionals ( not friends of the Mayor like head of IBM-Reeds buddy , Stanford institute-Reeds buddy, Mercury news-Reeds Brother in law,  se the pattern here???) Stop the illegal ballot measure, stop the (more than likely illegal)Stadium deal , stop with the continued low income housing, and most of all stop with the Rhetoric ,just speak english , and just tell the truth ! Stop with all the lies! No ones buying it except for the 6 council members.You know damn well that this city will be tied up in court for years and wasting millions upon millions of dollars only to lose in court. how does that benefit the city. Heres a novel idea , why dont we try to get HONEST people to sit on council?? that would be a step in the right direction and a 180 from where Mr Burns is taking us

  10. Pier,
    I am sorry but once again your ideas are penny wise but pound foolish. I know your heart is in the right place but until you can stand on your own two feet and not allow the Mayor to bully you into voting his way, you will not likely be taken seriously. It’s no secret the Mayor bullies and cajoles half of the council to vote the way he wants, but ask yourself: have you actually gained by following his orders? I’d submit you’ve most likely lost ground. I know you are losing with your constituents. Im one of them. 
    However, I like the fact that you understand my family and my neighborhood want to feel safe again. Above ALL else, we want to feel like we did 5 years ago when the police were everywhere. When they investigated and then found the three punks who broke into my wife’s car. When the fire department revived Vern’s ticker because his pacemaker faltered. I don’t like being at work and wondering if my house is the next one on my street to get broken into while I’m in my office or in a meeting. One suggestion, stop wasting time fighting with your employees and use that time to find actual solutions to the fiscal situation please.

  11. Ah, the usual subtle Pierluigi attacks on the fire department.  To the outsider, it goes unnoticied, but to those of us who work in the fire department, your contempt and disdain for the fire department is VERY CLEAR.

        Since you’re back to the usual attack the 4 person engine company for 3 arguement, and you’ve been running around preaching the grand jury report like it’s the gospel, let me talk about the IBM report for a little bit.  I find it interesting you preach for 3 person companies and the IBM report suggests the same thing, however, upon reviewing their finding, the report suggests “….cities such as Nashville, San Francisco, Long Beach, and Atlanta are all 3 person or are considering going to 3 person engine companies.”  Really? I know for a fact San Francisco is 4 person companies, and upon doing a little research, I come to find Long Beach is 4 person companies as well.  Hell, I even found a story stating Atlanta is going to FULL STAFFING and BACK to 4 person companies for Fiscal 2012 to 2015.  Why is this?!?!?

        I could not find how Nashville does their staffing, but I do know they are a city of about half the size of San Jose (roughly 600,000) and have roughly 50 fire stations and 1500 firefighters.  San Jose? Below 700 firefighters and 34 fire stations.  This city has been cheating the residents and not planning and growing properly for decades.

        So go ahead, I’m waiting for all the union bashers to come on here with the name calling and telling us what leaches we are.  How misled they are.  And don’t give me we are more expensive firefighters than Nashville.  It’s all relative.  House don’t cost $900,000 there.  Have a nice day.

  12. nice to see we just had our 5th homicide and we are not out of Feb.  Yep lets cut more fire and police and build a new roadway to a ball park that will not come.  Good to see Wolfe hint that he will need city funds to build his park.  Where is that money going to come from?

    SJI since when did you start collecting email addresses!  Doesn’t say it is a must field to comment.

  13. love your comment:

    Alas, if only labor negotiations were public rather than private. Perhaps then all of this would be on the table and a stronger voice for employees and residents could have been part of the discussion.

    The unions have been begging to come to the table but Chuck just says NO because he is dead fast on a ballot measure as are you.

    How many times have the unions agreed to cut wages, but NO, never enough for Chuck.

    This is why Chuck and the 5 of you just prolong this issue.  You are not going to change any verbiage in the measure even if the city manager suggested otherwise.

  14. Switching to a 401K is easy to say but very hard to do. How would you suggest they do that? Once all current employees are redirecting all their money to their own system who funds the retirees? The unfunded liabilities go through the roof.

  15. Pier,
    Jeff makes a very valid point in the first comment above. These other cities you all keep referring to all have higher costs per capita than the SJFD (look at the LAFCO report). They are all also staffed at about a ratio of 1.3 Firefighters per 1000 citizens while the SJFD is staffed at about .65 or less per 1000 citizens. So we are already at 1/2 the staffing and you want more to be cut. We used to get a total of 25 Firefighters on a Full First Alarm (4 on each of 3 Engines, 5 on each of 2 Trucks, 2 BC’s and 1 EMS Field Coordinator). Our trucks are now mostly at 4 with the exception of 2 so if you go to 3 person Engines we would be down to 20 Firefighters on the scene. To get us back up to the 25 we need, now we have to call in 2 more Engines just to get the staffing we need. This further pulls from the system and causes delays elsewhere and this is just on First Alarms. The problem is compounded as the Alarms escalate.
    The problems with lay people trying to tell a FD or PD how to staff is that they really do not understand the needs because they have never done the job and can not possibly understand all the dynamics. Grand juries, IBM, etc come out and do a few interviews, look at some numbers then write a report. It is comical to think people would put credence in that. If I went to Apple and talked to a few people, looked at their books and then wrote a report with recommendations on their staffing and marketing plans do you think they would listen? I would hope not.
    When you have the IBM report making statements that there would be no difference in dollar loss or life loss if it takes a FD Company 13 min to get on scene vs 4-6 min you should easily see the report is bias and junk. Every laboratory and reputable testing agency talks about a fire doubling in size every minute or so, so how could you expect there would be no more damage or life loss? You can not! But, you all will sit there a take the report seriously because it has IBM’s name on it which in reality means nothing.
    Why would IBM do a report for free???? Because they want the city to buy their software and if the report says they need that software then they get the business. Sounds like dirty politics again. Did we not have that problem years ago with Cisco?
    The function of public safety is to protect the public not only on a daily basis for the normal problems but to be prepared and adequately staffed for the larger events and disasters. If you keep cutting and reducing the “surge capacity” of the departments you will not have a response when you really need it and then everyone will be asking “why did they not come help me”.
    I would very much appreciate a reply.
    Thank you.

  16. Did you know the National Board of Mayors reccommends 2.0 Firefighter per 1000 Capita? SJ has 0.6 per Capita.Santa Clara City has 2.50 per Capita. Did you know the National Fire Protection recommends 1 Fire Station per 1 Square Mile? SJ has 1 per 6 Miles. Did you know the National Fire protection Agency recommends a 4 Minute response time 90% of the time? Santa Clara City has a 3 minute response time! SJ has a 9 minute response time! Doesn’t look like any lives saved here. Did you know that for SJ to match Santa Clara City’s standard on Fire Protection, SJ would have to build over 100 Fire Stations. Did you know you are doomed to lose to Steve Kline? I didn’t think so!

      • I would cite that YOU ARE A STOOGE.  Go lick Pierluigi’s or the Mayor’s boots.  Above you have several arguements and facts to base an arguement, yet, you want to discredit them and call Mr. Kline a Union Stooge.  I suggest that People are starting to wake up to their city being hi-jacked by this Mayor and a few council ideologues….

        • If the unions want sympathy from the public, then let all eligible voters vote in union elections.

          Otherwise, don’t whine for the public to pay for your privileges and special treatment.

  17. Well Peir, the unions have be clamoring for public contract negotiations for years, good luck trying to talk chucky into that. And your issue with golf??? Whats wrong with golf?? seems healthier to play a round of golf than pay $20 to park your car, pay entrance and sitting in some stupid new baseball stadium paying $8 a cup for american piss water beer.

    • because they would not be able to lie to the public about how they are “negotiating” with “those” unions. They would not be able to fool the public into believing they are making an effort. It would ALL be out in the open and how can you lie about something when everybody can see for themselves. Open negotiations would not fit their agenda. Our unions tried to get the City to agree to open negotiations because we WANTED the public to see and to know just what was going on…and the City refused. Says a lot, doesn’t it?

    • The Fire Union has not agreed to open negotiations to the public in the past.  In the last arbitration, the City voted to open the process to the public, the Fire Union said no.  That was about 2007 or so. What the Fire Union wants is a new process to directly deal with the Council and not follow the current process outlined in the MOA.  That is what they call open negotiations, a complete new process that may even violate state laws.  I am sure if the union would agree to make the current process oultlined in the MOA public, the City would agree.

  18. Whether or not they’re aware of it, the residents of San Jose have been well served by Pierluigi. He’s demonstrated that he’s interested in doing what’s right for the PEOPLE of San Jose. One would think this would naturally make him a shoe-in for re-election. So how is it that consistently looking out for the public’s interests might cost the councilman his seat? Short answer: Public employee unions.

    Right here on this little blog we’re seeing the beginnings of an orchestrated campaign py the City employees to use their power and influence to replace a man who has spent his first term representing the PUBLIC’s interests with one who will ignore the public interest and instead cater to a whole bunch of different SPECIAL interests with an emphasis, they hope, on that most powerful of special interests, the Government employees.

    Let’s hope the voters of D6 are wise enough to understand the difference.

    • You talk about firefighters like they’re ExxonMobil or something. Government employees are certainly not the most powerful of special interests, and they certainly aren’t trying to manipulate the public through comments on an online blog.

    • John,

      Please explain to me how the rules committee, run by chuck and members of that include Constant and PO, rejected the other 5 council members request for an explanation or the 650 million figure.

      The 6 vs 5 is going to get down right dirty.  Chuck knows there is no explanation, other than fear factor so he is going to just keep his mouth shut and move on with his ballot measure without telling the truth.

    • John , lets hope the voters of D6 are smarter than you . your hatred for the working person borders on obsession. Pensions account for 3% or less of the Budgets Statewide!! So stop with the mimicking of ” your hero” Mayor Greeds mantra that the sky is falling.  Please remember “an open mind is an educated mind” ……………….and you’re pretty closed minded

    • I doubt if ExxonMobil would have any pull with Jim Beall. But the unions sure can make him jump!
      Public employees aren’t a powerful special interest group? Yeah right. Who else has buddies in the state legislature to whom they can go running and ask for the State to perform an audit of the City?
      Who else but public employee unions can call in favors like this?
      MY Assemblyman, Jim Beall, sure isn’t in MY hip pocket. He doesn’t represent ME nor any of the other People of District 24. He works for the unions.

      Public employees have become so accustomed to having political strings pulled on their behalf that they are now unable to understand that their entire pampered, coddled existence is the product of political corruption and cronyism.

  19. The unions offered a pension reform plan that would have saved hundreds of millions and the city flat out rejected it. Why would they not try to take that as a starting point and continue to work with it? That is what someone interested in negotiations would do. But obviously the city is not interested in negotiations they are interested in their way or the highway. So their alternative is to put all their eggs in the ballot measure. Considering all court cases to date have sided against what they are proposing and that this will surly get tied up in court for years, how exactly is that the best course of action. What is the fall back if Reed loses in court? Then the budget is shot and he has no options. They have a chance for a win, win for both sides and it appears that is not good enough, they have to drag it out, demonize the workforce, lie, cheat and mislead people to get what they want.

  20. sorry to disappoint you John Galt, but there is nothing organized about this…. you are just outnumbered here. And in case you hadnt noticed, unions are far from powerfuL…If we were powerful, do you think we would be getting screwed so badly?

  21. I started to write an actual response to PLO, one that included facts and common sense. Then I remembered that PLO never even responds to posts, and so I said why bother…. PLO, I cant wait till you have to find a real job, hope you remember how to mix drinks….

  22. “Right here on this little blog we’re seeing the beginnings of an orchestrated campaign py the City employees to use their power and influence to replace a man who has spent his first term representing the PUBLIC’s interests with one who will ignore the public interest and instead cater to a whole bunch of different SPECIAL interests with an emphasis, they hope, on that most powerful of special interests, the Government employees” – John Galt.

      Well, just think of this as the balance to the Citys’ mouthpiece, the San Jose Mercury News.  That is not a slanted special interest….right?

  23. PO,

    This is what happens when you put put misleading information on pension reform.

    Some guy named Davis was quoted as saying “

    When the retirement boards set a rate of investment return, say 7.5 percent and it doesn’t earn that, the difference should at the very least be split equally. When it goes over, it should not go to the city’s general fund, but it should go into the pension fund, not redistributed to retirees as a bonus. No employee should retire, draw his or her pension and rejoin the city under special contract. Sick pay is not a God-given right.”

    First, of all sick buyouts are a thing of the past.
    Second, retirees do not ever receive any type of bonus, their base pay is based on how many years of service.
    Third, I have no idea what he is talking about drawing a pension and rejoining the city under a special contract.  Maybe he is referring to Councilman Constant.

    Finally, the only thing that goes up is what we pay in medical and dental.

  24. Two FFs and two civilians died in a Contra Costa County fire a few years ago.  An extensive investigation into the tragedy to learn how to avoid similar events in the future found that two of the causes of death were 3 man engines not 4 and time delay. It is horrifying that SJ is willing to put their citizens’ and their employees’ lives at risk for a political agenda and a baseless suggestion to go to 3 man engines. This investigation also shows that the IBM report, on which SJ is relying to say that time delay has no consequences, is bunk. Safety should be a top priority for YOUR constituents and YOUR employees.  You are responsible for making responsible decisions for everyone’s safety.

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