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Sounding Board: Co-location/Excessive Benefits

Daily Transcript Question: Current pension benefits for city employees are widely viewed as being excessive when compared to pensions offered in the private sector. Do you agree that the city's pension benefits are excessive and, if so, what would you recommend city leaders do to avoid the granting of excessive pension benefits in the future?

San Diego's current pension system underfunding and the burgeoning medical benefits costs are not a catastrophe, but a golden opportunity to fix both systems for the 21st century, and a golden opportunity to reduce future union/city conflict.

Because the current system is unsustainable, the pension and medical benefits for all future city employees should be changed to a defined contribution plan.

Within boundaries, employees decide how much to contribute for their pension and medical benefits and the city matches. The employees would own their pensions, decide the extent of medical participation, retire when they want, and labor/management strife over benefits would be vastly decreased.

Pensions should vest from day one. The city would use its buying power to obtain low rates and good benefits for medical coverage. The bridge between actual retirement age and Medicare, and a Medicare supplement, could be built with a medical trust fund and disability/death benefits could be covered with insurance.

As for past and current employees, the San Diego City Employees' Retirement System Web page shows 5,286 current city retirees and 10,384 in the pipeline (there will be an attrition factor for the pipeline number). The city should build a box around them, make some reasonable assumptions about inflation, salary growth and investment returns, then calculate what the city has to put in until benefits end.

Court rollbacks might reduce the obligations, and city revenue growth, over time, will probably solve the problem, regardless.

There are plenty of options if something more is needed, but after the courts rule, I think the city should honor its commitments. The pension system currently has assets of $3.9 billion; statistically, it is well-managed and will cover obligations for years (probably 20-30 years).

What is the hurry to create immediate pain?

I will not participate in the pension system, if elected, unless it is a defined contribution plan. I don't see the need to sell land, but the borrowing option to pay down the underfunding should be kept open because of promises made during the last contract negotiations.

I would not vote to pay reduced benefits before a court decision. I am totally against bankruptcy, and I don't believe receivership is needed.

--Phil Meinhardt

Candidate for City Council, District Two

Daily Transcript Question: A debate has arisen in San Diego County communities over the rezoning of properties from industrial to "mixed-use" -- where residential and commercial uses co-locate. Proponents want to increase the housing supply. Opponents note the shortage of commercially zoned land and argue that co-location will lead to conflicts and the restricting of activities in which existing businesses can engage. Is co-location a viable land-use policy? If so, where in your community does co-location make sense and why?

The co-location of residential and commercial land uses as a trade-off to meet housing demand is the wrong compromise.

Industrial uses may not be glamorous, but they're certainly necessary for the ongoing operation of our communities. Everyone, particularly in SoCal, is sensitive to "dirty" land uses in his or her neighborhood.

To introduce housing into these areas by rezoning is to invite a debate that's unnecessary. The better solution/compromise is to recognize the need for housing by permitting increased densities in the areas that are already zoned residential, or business and residential.

--John H. Agle

Manager, LandAmerica Commercial Services

Complete Coverage: Sounding Board

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The Daily Transcript introduces Sounding Board, a regular opinion page feature focusing on current issues. Send your responses to soundingboard@sddt.com.

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