San Diego, California

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San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the United States and second-largest city in California, after Los Angeles, with a population of 1,307,402 as of the 2010 census within its administrative limits on a land area of 372.1 square miles (963.7 km2). The city is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. The urban area of San Diego extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 2,880,000, making it the third-largest urban area in California. San Diego is also the county seat of San Diego County[1], the 5th largest county, by population, in the United States. San Diego is the 33rd richest city in the world.

The city was rated the fifth-best place to live in the United States in 2006 by Money magazine.[2] According to Forbes magazine, San Diego was the fifth-wealthiest city in the United States in 2005, and the 9th safest city in the top 10 list of safest cities in the U.S. in 2010.[3][4] San Diego's top four industries are manufacturing, defense, tourism, and agriculture.[5]


Current budget breakdown:[6]

Fund Type FY 2010
Adopted Budget
FY 2011
Adopted Budget
Change Percent
General Fund $1,129,706,375 $1,096,228,151 -$33,478,224 -3.0%
Special Revenue $343,052,585 $362,677,490 $19,624,905 5.7%
Debt Service and Tax $3,654,129 $5,964,097 $2,309,968 63.2%
Enterprise $863,068,584 $884,026,175 $20,957,591 2.4%
Internal Service $126,322,518 $107,756,485 -$18,566,033 -14.7%

Public pensions

More than $2.4 million is being paid out annually to the top 10 former employees in the San Diego City Employees Retirement System, according to a new report. A report from the city’s pension system showed about 500 retired city employees received more than $100,000 a year in total compensation from their pensions in 2011. A former assistant city attorney tops the list, receiving $307,758 annually. The average pension payout for former city employees was about $40,000 a year in 2010, according to the latest data available from the retirement system. [7]

San Diego is one of those cities looking at putting new hires into a 401(k) style plan, with the exception of police recruits. It's a measure that's drawn a line in the sand between labor unions and conservatives and business interests, who say it will save the city between $1-$2 billion over 30 years. [8] A ballot initiative is set for the next election cycle. [9] The city has been reforming its pension system since a 2004 scandal involving its failure to fully disclose pension liabilities. That resulted in a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A 2008 study of states by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence found that defined-contribution plans generally have higher investment and administrative expenses than defined benefit plans. [10]

Legislation signed by the governor requires the city of San Diego to enroll new hires eligible for a 401(k)-style plan into Social Security -- which city workers voluntarily opted from in the 1980s. The legislation is in response to voter support of Proposition B, which which calls for replacing pensions with 401(k)-style plans for all new hires except police officers. Supporters of the legislation say enrolling the new hires into Social Security will provide workers with an additional safety net, rather than be totally subject to the stock market. [11]

Under the legislation the city would be forced to put workers in Social Security, which costs about 6.2 percent of payroll. That means general workers would be eligible for a maximum 401(k) match of 3 percent and public-safety workers could receive as much as 4.8 percent. [12]

Under Proposition B, pensions are gone for all new hires except police officers. The new retirement benefit is to be a 401(k)-type investment vehicle, possibly including Social Security. The exact benefit, which is capped at 9.2 percent of salary for general workers and 11 percent of salary for public-safety employees, is subject to negotiations. [13]

Ballot initiative

A pension initiative is headed for the June 2012 ballot that would eliminate guaranteed pensions for most new city hires and give them a 401(k)-style plan instead. [14] Several public union representatives attempted to block the referendum from appearing on the ballot, however San Diego Superior Court Judge William Dato turned away the challenge. He said the labor unions could come back to court to invalidate the measure if it should pass. [15]

Two-thirds of San Diego voters favored the pension reform ballot measure. The measure imposes a six-year freeze on pay levels used to determine pension benefits unless a two-thirds majority of the City Council votes to override it. It also puts new hires, except for police officers, into 401(k)-style plans.[16]

Budget shortfall

The city may face a $40 million budget shortfall next year in part due to increased pension costs. The San Diego City Employees' Retirement System projected the city's day-to-day budget would contribute $183.7 million to cover pension costs next year but the bill will actually be nearly $215 million. The city's pension system generally assumes a 7.5 percent return on investment over the long term but the return was only 0.9 percent this year. [17]

Investment returns

The city's retirement fund showed investment returns of .3 percent for the 2011 fiscal year — well below the target 7.5 percent. The low rate of return could result in the city pension payment increasing by up to $10 million next year. The exact amount won’t be known until December or January. Last year, robust returns helped shave $25 million off what would have been a $256 million annual pension payment and helped give city leaders their first budget surplus in a decade. [18]

Public officials

Elected officials

The mayor, city council members, and city attorney seats are all officially nonpartisan by state law. There are 8 members of the city council, each elected from single member districts. The mayor and city attorney are elected directly by the voters of the entire city. The mayor, city attorney, and councilmembers are elected to four-year terms, with a two-term limit.[19]

On January 1, 2006, the City of San Diego's system of government changed from a City Manager form to a Strong Mayor form. The change, approved by city voters in November 2004, will exist on a five-year trial basis, after which voters will decide whether or not to make the shift permanent. Under the new system the Mayor is the City's chief executive officer, similar to the governor or the president. The Council is the legislative body, providing checks and balances to the Mayor's new authority.[20].

The current mayor is Jerry Sanders.[21]

City Council members:[22]

Name Title District
Sherri Lightner Councilmember District 1
Kevin Faulconer Council President
Pro Tem
District 2
Todd Gloria Councilmember District 3
Tony Young Council President District 4
Carl DeMaio Councilmember District 5
Lorie Zapf Councilmember District 6
Marti Emerald Councilmember District 7
David Alvarez Councilmember District 8

Administrative officials

Under the strong mayor form of government, the mayor is responsible for the day to day operations of city government. A city organizational chart can be found here. A list, with links, of all city departments can be found here.


City employees can contribute to a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), which allows them to place city pensions into a special account with guaranteed interest during the last five years of employment.[23] A recent report by CFFR revealed that the top ten pension pays will cost taxpayers $61 million.[24] The report also showed that public officials in San Diego contribute only 8 percent to their pension plans, as opposed to the traditional 23 percent.[25]

Another aspect of the pensions are sick day buyouts, with the highest one being $118,605. The benefit has cost the city $2.5 million over the past four years.[26] The city has also awarded $73.5 million in pension bonuses over the past 27 years, with the highest payout being $$299,000.[27]

The following are the highest pensions in the city:[23]

Pension Official Special account portion Estimated lifetime payout
$299,103 Eugene Gordon, assistant city attorney $113,900 $8,009,017
$247,312 Douglas McCalla, retirement system investment officer $74,578 $6,622,221
$237,602 Thomas Clark, fire battalion chief $92,709 $6,362,191
$235,936 Louis Scanlon, assistant police chief $85,445 $6,317,608
$227,250 Anna Martinez, librarian $85,080 $6,084,998

Mayor Jerry Sanders has proposed mandating that new employees be signed on to a 401k like pension instead of what the city currently gives public employees. The city is proposing this to save costs as it faces a $72 million budget gap and $2.1 billion in unfunded pension liability. In 2010, the city was forced to layoff 1,400 of its 11,000 employees.[28]

Whistle blower

A Firefighter was recently awarded $424,000 after winning a lawsuit that proved he was fired in retaliation for whistle blowing corrupt behavior within the department.[29] The fire fighter, Paul Vandeveld, was suspended after trying to stop harassment of a colleague who helped reveal the city's pension scandal.


See also: California government sector lobbying

For 2007 and 2008, San Diego spent $517,043 on lobbying. [30]

Transparency and public records

In 2006, San Diego was sanctioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to alert investors about its pension and health plan obligations. Since then, the city has earned praise for its turnaround on transparency as it relates to the issuance of municipal bonds.[31]


The city collects a business tax and a transient occupancy tax.[32]

Public employee salaries

See also: San Diego employee salaries

City salaries are posted online by the State Controller's Office here. Names are not provided, and positional salaries are only listed according to the minimum and maximum possible annually.

Website evaluation

See also: Evaluation of California city websites
Elected Officials
Administrative Officials
Permits, zoning
Lobbying P
Public Records
Local Taxes

School district websitesGuide.png
Transparency grading process

In 2011 San Diego earned a Sunny Awards for having a perfect website transparency score.

The good

  • Budget
    • The proposed budget is posted. [33]
    • Final adopted budget is posted. [34]
    • Budgets are archived to 2005 on adopted budget page.
    • Five year financial outlook for the city is posted. [35]
  • Audits
    • Audit reports for most recent fiscal year are posted. [36]
    • Planned audits are posted.
    • Audits are archived to 2008. [37]
  • Elected officials
    • Contact information for the mayor[21] is posted.
    • Contact information for city council members is available. [22]
  • Meetings
    • City Council agendas and minutes are available. Documents for City Council committee meeting are also posted.[38][39]
    • Council documents are archived to 1971. [40]
  • Administration
    • Contact information is available for administrative staff.[41]
  • Planning information, including Official Zoning maps, is available through the Development Services Department. Specific zoning information is available on request.[42]
  • Contracts
    • Bids and contracts are available for download in the Purchasing Department.[43]
    • City contract lists are archived for three years.
    • Bid tabulations are posted. [44]
  • Taxes
    • Information on local taxes and fees are posted. [45] [46]
  • Lobbyist
    • Information regarding current and past registered lobbyists, as well as lobbying requirements, is available.[47]
  • Public records
    • Public Record Act request information is available.[48]

The bad

  • Lobbying
    • Membership and fees paid to any taxpayer funded lobbying associations is not disclosed.

External links


  1. [1]
  2. San Diego 5th best
  3. Richest Cities in the US
  4. US Safest Cities
  5. San Diego Econ. Development
  6. FY11 summary
  7. UT San Diego, Top city pensioner pulls down $307,000, Feb. 15, 2012
  8. NBC, 401K pension reform all about the numbers, June 30, 2011
  9. Voice of San Diego, A Ballot Plan That's More Than a 401(k), June 30, 2011
  10. Bond Buyer, San Diego Ahead In Pension Reform, January 7, 2011
  11. UT San Diego, New city workers to get Social Security with 401(k)s, Oct. 1, 2012
  12. UT San Diego, New city workers to get Social Security with 401(k)s, Oct. 1, 2012
  13. UT San Diego, New city workers to get Social Security with 401(k)s, Oct. 1, 2012
  14. UT San Diego, Mayor Sanders talks up SD in DC, Feb. 13, 2012
  15. Fox & Hounds, San Diego Pension Ballot Test is On, Feb. 27, 2012
  16. CBS, San Diego, San Jose voters embrace pension cuts, June 6, 2012
  17. Voice of San Diego, Pension Bill Creates Budget Shortfall, Jan. 11, 2013
  18. UT San Diego, Low investment returns test S.D. budget, Sept. 26, 2012
  19. how to run for office
  20. strong mayor model
  21. 21.0 21.1 Mayor
  22. 22.0 22.1 City Council
  23. 23.0 23.1 Signon San Diego, City pensions are higher with DROP, Sept. 29, 2010
  24. CFFR, 10 former San Diego city employees will split $61 million in pensions, Oct. 4, 2010
  25. CFFR, Excessive Pensions in the City of San Diego, October 2010
  26. Signons San Diego, County payouts for sick leave: $2.5 million, Feb. 15, 2011
  27. Sigon San Diego, ‘13th check’ pension payouts: $73 million, Feb. 17, 2011
  28. Business Week, San Diego's Tough-Love Pension Proposal, Dec. 9, 2010
  29. Sigon San Diego, San Diego firefighter wins $424,000 from city in court, Dec. 20, 2010
  30. State-Level Lobbying and Taxpayers: How Much Do We Really Know?, Pacific Research Institute
  31. San Diego praised for transparency on muni bonds, "San Diego Union-Tribune," March 29, 2011].
  32. All taxes can be paid online. Office of the City Treasurer
  33. Proposed Budget
  34. Adopted Budget
  35. Financial Outlook
  36. Audit
  37. Audit Archives
  38. City Council Meetings
  39. City Council Committee Meetings
  40. Council Archives
  41. Departments
  42. Services Department
  43. Purchasing
  44. Bid Tabulations
  45. Taxes and Fees
  46. Other Taxes and Fees
  47. Lobbying
  48. Public Records Request