A Victory for Voters … And Cities

For the past five years, LFAP lawyers have guided a citizen’s initiative process in San Diego known as Proposition B. It is a pension reform measure which the voters approved by a 65% majority vote in 2012. The firm drafted the measure, oversaw the election, and defended the measure against several assaults in court by a huge State agency – the Public Employee Relations Board – and several employee unions.

On April 11, 2017, the vote of the people was upheld by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. In a landmark ruling, the Court held that neither the State agency, nor the unions, could interfere with the initiative process or the outcome of the valid election.

The ruling marked a victory for the many cities that must adjust their unfunded pension obligations if they are to survive. If faced with a citizen’s initiative measure that mandates such adjustments, the Court ruled that a city is not required to go the bargaining table with the unions before either scheduling the election or abiding by the outcome.

Importantly, the Court’s ruling upheld the right of the electorate to directly enact a law through the initiative process – a Constitutional right that has been vested in California voters since 1909. PERB and the unions argued that the voter’s rights were subordinate to the requirement that cities must bargain with the unions before enacting changes in pension obligations. They argued that a vote of the people was subject to the jurisdiction of a State bureaucracy. The Court disagreed, ruling that a State agency could not interfere with the right of citizens to directly pass laws through the initiative election process.

While the ruling of the Court of Appeal is a huge step, the fight is not over. PERB and the unions have appealed to the California Supreme Court. The high Court is now deciding whether to hear the appeal.

Stay tuned. LFAP will report further as news emerges.

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