Republicans Favor Subsidizing New Chargers Stadium in SD

San Diego ChargersSan Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, told a senior NFL executive on Tuesday about the city’s plans to pay for and expedite the building of a new $1.2 billion-plus stadium for the Chargers at the Qualcomm site in Mission Valley. Afterwards, Faulconer’s press conference was upbeat, stressing his optimism that the Chargers will stay in town and not head for Carson and a shared stadium with the Raiders or Inglewood and a shared stadium with the Rams.

But the doubts that have been raised publicly and privately by the Spanos family — the owners of the Chargers — about the the city’s financing plans and expectations of quick environmental OKs appear to have sunk in with the NFL’s upper brass. The league’s executive vice president, Eric Grubman, had a good news-bad news reaction to the meeting with San Diego officials in an email to the Union-Tribune:

Grubman was also positive after the meeting … praising the city for its large team of environmental experts and for giving the NFL a thorough understanding of its accelerated timeline for environmental approvals and a January public vote.

Grubman also said the city’s proposed stadium design has “all the key elements we would expect at this stage.”

But he stressed that the design was only conceptual, no actual negotiations took place on Tuesday and that the financing plan presented by the city includes “very significant funding from NFL and Chargers sources.”

That was a reference to the $400 million to $500 million that the team and the league are expected to kick in for construction and related costs.

Is a mostly subsidized stadium not good enough?

Grubman’s critique prompted a sharp response on social media from some who wondered how the world’s most lucrative professional sports league could gripe about a proposal in which taxpayers bore two-thirds or so of the cost of a stadium for the league.

But as an indication of how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other team owners felt about the Chargers’ interest in moving, it was telling. Past assumptions about the league not wanting to risk a backlash over a moneymaking team leaving a community that had supported it for more than a half-century may have been based on a sentimental view about how the NFL operates.

So where do things go from here? The Union-Tribune’s coverage suggests a meeting in less that two weeks could be absolutely crucial:

[San Diego officials will make] a presentation scheduled for Aug. 10 in Chicago to the NFL’s relocation committee — a group of six team owners overseeing possible franchise moves to Los Angeles.

The day after that presentation, all 32 NFL owners are scheduled to meet in Chicago to discuss how to handle relocations to the Los Angeles area, where the Chargers, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams are working on stadium projects.

How — and how much — does Atkins want to help?

The fact that the San Diego political establishment is not united on the stadium issue came up again Tuesday. The involvement of Atkins in the meeting with Grubman was treated as a huge plus by Mayor Faulconer, but her decision not to join him at the press conference and the vagueness of her confirmed comments led editors of the Voice of San Diego to wonder what help she was actually providing.

On Twitter, VOSD’s Liam Dillon paraphrased her position this way: “Atkins: I’m happy to expedite the mayor’s Chargers plan, but I don’t have a position on the mayor’s Chargers plan.”

An aide to Atkins said she was ready to help the city and the team maneuver through the obstacle course of state environmental rules in building the stadium. But the City Council member whom Atkins appears closest to — former interim Mayor Todd Gloria — is very cool to Faulconer’s stadium push.

So how much Atkins actually wants to do to help keep the Chargers in San Diego is open to question. For now, city Republican leaders appear far more inclined than elected city Democrats to subsidize a Chargers stadium, wherever it is located and however the taxpayers’ share of costs is provided.

San Diego Caves To Chargers, Agrees To Finance New Stadium

San Diego ChargersSan Diego, in a desperate bid to keep the Chargers from relocating to Los Angeles, has offered to provide public funding for a new stadium, but even that may not be enough.

The Citizens Stadium Advisory Group in San Diego unveiled a proposal this week involving at least $600 million in public financing for a new, $1.1 billion-dollar stadium, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Yet, even though it is the most generous offer currently on the table, the team has so far demurred, saying it needs time to evaluate the offer against possible alternatives.

According to Market Watch, the Chargers have been under pressure from the NFL for years to update Qualcomm Stadium, which was built nearly 40 years ago. But until now, the team’s requests for taxpayer assistance have always been summarily rejected by city officials. (RELATED: Super Bowl Shines Spotlight on Stadium Subsidies)

The difference in this instance is the very real threat that the Chargers will follow through on plans to build a $1.7 billion stadium in Los Angeles, which would be shared with the rival Oakland Raiders. That proposal received preliminary approval in April, inducing San Diego Mayor Ken Faulconer to break with tradition and offer the team an incentive to stay put.

Faulconer’s plan, which he insists “won’t raise taxes,” calls for $173 million in bonds, $121 million from the city of San Diego, $121 million from San Diego County, and $225 million from the sale of the current Qualcomm site. In addition, the mayor’s committee estimates that another $100 million could be realized from ticket surcharges and the sale of personal seat licenses.

The Chargers, meanwhile, are asked to contribute $300 million towards the cost, with the NFL kicking in another $200 million.

At the conclusion of the league’s annual owners meetings Wednesday, Chargers chairman Dean Spanos told the Union-Tribune that he was aware of the proposal, but that he was not yet familiar with the details and would be reviewing it this week.

“I’ve always said, and I maintain the fact we want to stay in San Diego,” Spanos said, adding. “We’re committed to keep trying to see if there is a viable solution.” (RELATED: Obama Asks Congress to End Stadium Subsidies)

However, despite acknowledging that San Diego is “a great market,” Spanos also indicated that taxpayer subsidies would have to be substantial in order to keep the team from leaving, saying, “This is all going to come down to: Can we find a viable solution from a financing perspective?”

Significantly, San Diego is not in competition with other cities looking to lure the Chargers with their own incentive packages, as is frequently the case. Instead, Spanos seems to be referring to the enormous revenue potential of the Los Angeles market.

In fact, the proposed Los Angeles stadium would be financed entirely with private money, and would likely cost the Chargers about twice as much as they would have to pay under the San Diego plan. (RELATED: Obama’s Plan for Ending Stadium Subsidies Misses the Point)

Nonetheless, sports economist John Vrooman of Vanderbilt University told the Union-Tribune that the Chargers might actually come out ahead by rejecting the subsidies. Over 30 years, Vrooman projects that the team’s value would increase from $1 billion today to about $2.3 billion if they move to Los Angeles, compared to just $1.4 billion if they remain in San Diego.

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

New Desal Plant in the Works at Camp Pendleton

The dramatic announcement by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month of a 25 percent cut in water use across much of California triggered harsh commentary in the state and across the nation over the lack of preparation by government agencies and water districts for a long-term drought. A typical focus was incredulity over a dry coastal state’s failure to embrace desalination plants, as has been done in Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal nations.

But almost none of the coverage has reflected the fact that formal, official planning has been going on for years for one of the world’s largest desal plants along the coast of the Camp Pendleton Marine base in north San Diego County. Any construction is years off, but necessary preparatory work is well under way.

The image above of a proposed desal plant there comes from a 2010 presentation by the San Diego County Water Authority. It shows how sky-high water planners are on the potential of the 17-mile Camp Pendleton coast. Attention is now focused on a site in the southwest corner of the 125,000-acre base, just north of Oceanside and about 20 miles north of the Carlsbad desalination plant that is scheduled to open in coming months.

The Carlsbad plant will be the biggest in the Western Hemisphere and is expected to produce 50 million gallons of water a day — 7 percent of the San Diego region’s needed supply.

The Camp Pendleton project would be far bigger, with desalination experts saying 150 million gallons of water a day is realistic. That would make it one of the largest desal plants in the world.

A Saudi Arabian desalination plant will produce 264 million gallons a day when its first phase is complete, Bloomberg News reports.

A 2009 San Diego County Water Authority report didn’t take it for granted that the Pendleton project’s supplies are needed. It spoke of only expanding the project to the full 150 million gallons a day “as supply and demand conditions warranted.”

After four years of drought, there’s not much doubt that California needs far more reliable water sources — especially in the San Diego region, given that local water officials have spent 20-plus years fighting with the giant Metropolitan Water District over supply and costs.

The water mega-wholesaler has long opposed San Diego’s efforts to diversify its water supply by partnering with Poseidon, a private company, to build the Carlsbad plant and by striking a deal to shift Colorado River water from agricultural uses in Imperial County to supplies for homes and businesses in San Diego County.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

New Labor Protections for CA Cheerleaders Moving Through Legislature

Legislative committee hearings aren’t known for their heart-pounding excitement. But, you might hear a round of cheers to excite the crowds at this week’s Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism & Internet Media Committee.

On Tuesday, the committee is scheduled to consider a proposal by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, that would provide greater labor protections for professional cheerleaders. Assembly Bill 202, which scored a 5-2 win in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment earlier this month, would protect cheerleaders of professional sports teams from workplace abuses by classifying them as employees, not independent contractors.

Specifically, the bill would amend the Labor Code to state that “a cheerleader who is utilized by a California-based professional sports team directly or through a labor contractor during its exhibitions, events, or games, shall be deemed to be an employee.”

Gonzalez: Treat cheerleaders fairly

Gonzalez says that professional cheerleaders are being exploited by multi-billion-dollar professional sports franchises.

“AB202 simply demands that any professional sports team – or their chosen contractor – treat the women on the field with the same dignity and respect that we treat the guy selling beer,” said Gonzalez, who was a cheerleader in high school and college. “NFL teams and their billionaire owners have used professional cheerleaders as part of the game day experience for decades.”

She added, “They have capitalized on their talents without providing even the most basic workplace protections like a minimum wage.”

Gonzalez’s legislation, which has the support of the California Employment Lawyers Association, California Labor Federation and Consumer Attorneys of California, comes on the heals of high-profile lawsuits by professional football cheerleaders that allege widespread workplace violations. The allegations include claims that the Cincinnatti Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets failed to pay overtime or even the minimum wage.

Cheerleaders claim NFL teams broke labor laws

Caitlin Yates, one of the former NFL cheerleaders that has filed a lawsuit for labor violations, testified earlier this month before the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment about her experiences with the Oakland Raiders.

“When I first started working as a Raiderette, I was just happy to make the squad and support my team,” Yates said. “However, over time I realized that the way I was being treated was unfair.”

Oakland_Raiderettes_at_Falcons_at_Raiders_11-2-08_04Yates claimed that cheerleaders were sexually harassed, forced to pay out-of-pocket for job-related expenses and work with injuries.

“There are some teams out there who don’t treat their cheerleaders as employees or pay their cheerleaders a fair wage,” she told lawmakers. “We are professionals who deserved to be paid fairly no matter what team we play for.”

The issue has been a black eye for the National Football League, which has acted quickly to settle lawsuits and avoid similarly embarrassing testimony. Last September, two former Raiderette cheerleaders reached a $1.25-million settlement over accusations of “failing to pay minimum wage, withholding wages for months and refusing to reimburse cheerleaders for their business expenses,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers paid out $825,000 to settle allegations that one cheerleader was paid just $2 per hour over two seasons.

Independent contractor vs. employees

For all of its sex appeal, much of the debate about Gonzalez’s legislation centers on the highly-technical differences in employment law between an independent contractor and employee. Some companies seek to designate their workers as independent contractors to avoid payroll taxes or other workplace requirements that are mandated on employees.

A 2006 study by the United States Government Accountability Office found that “misclassification of workers as independent contractors … cost the United States government $2.72 billion in revenue from Social Security, unemployment and income taxes in 2006 alone.”

“When companies misclassify workers as independent contractors instead of as employees, these workers do not receive worker protections, including minimum wages, overtime pay, and health and vacation benefits, to which they would otherwise be entitled,” a legislative analysis of AB202 contends. “Because employers do not pay unemployment taxes for independent contractors, workers who are misclassified cannot obtain unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs.”

That explains why professional sports teams would want to treat cheerleaders as independent contractors. But, do they meet the standard?

250px-Oakland_Raiders.svg“Under common-law rules, anyone who performs services for you is your employee if you can control what will be done and how it will be done,” the IRS explains on itsinformation page detailing the differences between employees and independent contractors. “This is so even when you give the employee freedom of action. What matters is that you have the right to control the details of how the services are performed.”

The IRS identifies three areas for determining whether the individuals providing services are employees or independent contractors. Those questions are: behavioral, whether the employee has control over the work; financial, who controls the business aspects of the work relationship; and the type of relationship, whether the work performed is a key aspect of the business.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, “You are not an independent contractor if you perform services that can be controlled by an employer – what will be done and how it will be done.”

If the claims in some of the lawsuits are accurate, some NFL teams clearly exercised controlled of what and how cheerleaders performed their jobs.

“If a Raiderettes cheerleader forgets to bring the right pom-poms to practice, she’s fined $10,” Mother Jones summarized of the claims in one lawsuit. “The same thing happens if she wears the wrong workout gear to a rehearsal, she forgets to bring a yoga mat to practice, or her boots aren’t cleaned and polished for game day.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Stadium plan for Chargers, Raiders near Los Angeles advances

As reported by the Associated Press and featured in the Sacramento Bee:

A proposed stadium near Los Angeles that could become home for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders hit an early milestone Wednesday.

Organizers said sufficient petition signatures have been verified by election officials to qualify the proposal for the ballot in Carson, where the project would be built on a former landfill.

The Raiders and Chargers are planning a shared stadium in the city on the edge of Los Angeles if both teams fail to get new stadiums in their current hometowns.

Pension initiative may empower local reforms

The leaders of two local pension reforms, former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, are working with a coalition on a statewide initiative to help local governments make cost-cutting pension reforms.

DeMaio called the proposal a “tool kit” for local officials to “fix the problems in a manner that reflects their community’s ability.” Reed said the proposal would enable “measures that people can do to make their own decisions in their own communities.”

During a break at the Reason Foundation’s third annual Pension Summit in Sacramento last week, the two men said they are “on the same page” and working with a coalition on the details of a proposed initiative for the November 2016 state ballot.

DeMaio said the state constitutional amendment would apply to the state, cities, counties, other local governments, and the University of California — all the “instrumentalities” of California government.

DeMaio
“I’m very big on making certain that when we move ahead on reform that it’s unassailable in the courts,” said DeMaio.

The California Public Employees Retirement System, which opposed pension cuts in three recent city bankruptcies, and the state Public Employment Relations, which tried to block the San Diego and San Jose reforms, would be covered by the initiative.

“They will have no ability but to implement faithfully the voter’s initiative,” De Maio said.

A case in point for local empowerment: A drive led by David Grau and others gathered enough signatures to place an initiative on the ballot last fall to switch new Ventura County employees to a 401(k)-style plan.

But a superior court judge removed the initiative from the ballot, ruling that nothing in the 1937 act covering 20 county pension systems allows them to “opt out or terminate” through a countywide initiative or a vote of the county supervisors.

Empowering the reform process is a big change from past statewide proposals for a specific plan, such as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s briefly backed 401(k)-style plan in 2005 or Reed’s lower-cost pension option in 2013. None made the ballot.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” said De Maio.

Reed
Reed said a statewide initiative should be “simple and easy to explain.” He said a “big omnibus” pension proposal is difficult to explain and easy for opponents to mischaracterize.

A structural initiative is common ground for a Democrat (Reed) and a Republican (DeMaio) who led the campaigns for two very different local pension reforms overwhelmingly approved by voters in June 2012.

The San Diego initiative, overcoming a PERB lawsuit to keep it off the ballot, switched all new hires except police from pensions to 401(k)-style individual investment plans now common in the private sector.

In San Jose, the reform gave current workers the option, for pensions earned in the future, of paying more or receiving a lower pension. A superior court blocked the option. Reed said other parts of the initiative have saved $80 million to $100 million so far.

Another thing the two battle-tested reformers have in common is experience in laying the groundwork, moving in steps, and not trying to do everything at once, which seems to be the current strategy of the statewide initiative.

Before the big reform in 2012, Reed changed the San Jose pension boards, adding independence and expertise. He backed two successful ballot measures in 2010 limiting police and firefighter arbitration and allowing switches to lower pension plans.

DeMaio backed a ballot measure in 2006 requiring voter approval of pension increases, city council approval in 2008 of a “hybrid” combining a lower pension and 401(k)-style plan, and a 50-50 employer and employee split of pension costs in 2009.

Union1

Dozens of government employees picketed the appearance of Reed and DeMaio at the Reason pension summit, an early warning from a coalition of public employee unions that a pension initiative may be opposed at every step, including the first one.

Schwarzenegger dropped his 401(k)-style plan in April 2005 after emotional union television ads contended death and disability would be eliminated for police and firefighters and their families, a claim the governor disputed.

After former Assemblyman Roger Niello, D-Sacramento, filed a pension reform initiative in 2011, the union coalition picketed a luxury auto dealership he partly owned, with one sign saying, “Pensions not Porsches.”

Major donors to a new initiative might face the same campaign tactics. The number of voter signatures needed to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year is 585,407, down sharply from 807,615 last year due to low voter turnout in November.

But several million dollars probably would be needed for a signature drive, particularly to screen for false signatures (opponents are sometimes accused of providing) and to gather a surplus as a safety cushion.

A news release from the union coalition, Californians for Retirement Security, said the new initiative is expected to be financed by “Texas billionaire John Arnold, a former Enron executive” who contributed to the Reed and Ventura County initiatives.

In San Diego, paid signature gatherers for the pension reform initiative posted at retail stores were often joined by “blockers,” union members and others who urged shoppers not to sign the petition.

Time and money may be needed for court battles after an initiative is filed. Reed dropped his initiative last year contending that Attorney General Kamala Harris gave the measure an “inaccurate and misleading” summary that made voter approval unlikely.

Dan Pellissier of California Pension Reform suspended a pension initiative drive in 2012 “after determining the attorney general’s false and misleading title and summary makes it nearly impossible to pass.”

Pension reform had strong support in a Public Policy Institute of California poll in January last year. Public pensions were “at least somewhat of a problem” for 85 percent of likely voters, and 73 percent supported switching new hires to 401(k)-style plans.

“Without serious pension reform in California, we face a future of cuts to important services and more tax revenues diverted to unsustainable pension payments,” Reed said in a news release last month.

“It is clear that politicians in Sacramento are not serious about reforming unsustainable pension benefits for government employees, so voters must take the matter into their own hands and impose reform at the ballot box,” DeMaio said.

Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, had a different view in a news release issued by the union coalition last week.

“This new effort is likely to eliminate retirement security for millions of more Californians, worsen economic inequality in our state, and undermine the ability to attract and retain quality firefighters, teachers, police and other public servants,” Low said. “We are confident we can defeat it.”

Originally published by Calpensions.com

Reporter Ed Mendel covered the Capitol in Sacramento for nearly three decades, most recently for the San Diego Union-Tribune. More stories are at Calpensions.com.

San Diego will lift travel threat if Indiana law changes

As reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Mayor Kevin Faulconer does not anticipate enacting his threatened ban on city employee travel to Indiana in light of Gov. Mike Pence’s pledge to amend a law that critics say allows discrimination against gays and lesbians, a spokesman said Tuesday.

On Monday, Faulconer told city officials to restrict publicly funded city travel to the Hoosier State if the law was not changed by next week.

“We appreciate that Governor Pence is stating clearly that discrimination wasn’t the law’s intention and his call for an amendment is the right thing to do,” Matt Awbrey, Faulconer’s spokesman, said in an email early Tuesday. “… Assuming Indiana follows through with Governor Pence’s amendment that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone, there will be no changes to the travel policy.”

Awbrey said it could not immediately be determined if city employees had any plans to travel to Indiana …

Click here to read the full article

In San Diego, Rep. Xavier Becerra fuels speculation about Senate run

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Mulling a run for the U.S. Senate, Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra stopped off Monday in San Diego to talk with business and labor groups.

Becerra said the congressional recess presented an opportunity to travel well outside of his Los Angeles district to hold discussions with the Chamber of Commerce, local labor leaders and representatives from the biotechnology industry.

“There’s not a member from every part of the state that sits on the Ways and Means Committee who could tell people about what the latest is on trade policy or tax policy or healthcare,” said Becerra, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. …

Pension Reform Duo Sets Target on 2016

The dynamic duo of California pension reform are teaming up in 2016.

Former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio and former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, both of whom successfully passed pension reform in their respective cities during their time in office, announced Wednesday their plans to work together on a statewide pension reform measure for the 2016 ballot. Reformers hope to take advantage of easier ballot measure qualifying rules that require the lowest number of signatures in decades.

“Without serious pension reform in California, we face a future of cuts to important services and more tax revenues diverted to unsustainable pension payments,” Reed, a Democrat, said in a press release announcing the effort.

The group points to independent numbers which show the state’s pension liabilities have increased 3,000 percent in a decade. Last November, then-State Controller John Chiang (now state treasurer) pegged the state’s total unfunded pension liability from 130 public pension systems at $198 billion, a dramatic increase from just $6.3 billion in 2003.

Redux of San Diego pension reform fight

Last year, while DeMaio was preoccupied with his campaign for Congress against Rep. Scott Peters, Reed unsuccessfully tried to qualify a similar statewide pension reform measure. However, that effort stalled during the qualification stage over a dispute with Attorney General Kamala Harris over wording for the title and summary. This time around, he’ll benefit from DeMaio’s experience as a grizzled veteran of ballot-measure shenanigans.

“We have done a lot of legal work to make sure this initiative is bulletproof,” DeMaio, a Republican, told Reuters. “Because the unions are going to throw the kitchen sink at us.”

DeMaio knows full well the extent to which organized labor will go to thwart pension reform. In 2011, he led the effort to qualify San Diego’s Comprehensive Pension Reform measure for the 2012 ballot. The CPR measure forced all new employees into a 401(k)-style plan and capped contribution levels for current employees.

Labor organizers deployed activists to block signature gatherers and frighten potential signatories with misleading claims that signing would put them at risk of identity theft. At the time, longtime San Diego political operative T.J. Zane, who now serves asexecutive director of the San Diego Republican Party, described the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council’s signature-blocking efforts as “unprecedented in its scope and ferocity.”

After the measure qualified for the ballot, San Diego voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition B in June 2012 by a two-to-one margin.

Chuck Reed: Pension reform in San Jose

At the same time DeMaio was reforming pensions in San Diego, Reed, then-mayor of San Jose, was leading a similar effort in Silicon Valley. Reed’s Measure B passed by an even larger margin: 70 percent to 30 percent. The Wall Street Journal praised Reed’s efforts and described him as “that rare creature, a Democrat in a liberal bastion who is nonetheless focused on salvaging government finances while inviting the wrath of public unions and their political allies.”

Ultimately, courts effectively gutted the most important provisions of Reed’s measure.

“San Jose’s was the most far-reaching, in that it challenged the core obstacle to serious pension reform in California,” Steven Greenhut, one of the state’s leading experts on pension reform, wrote at City Journal. “But a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge gutted the reform measure, saying San Jose could cut its employees’ pay, but not their pension benefits.”

Even after the negative court rulings, Reed’s successor has begun to further distance the city from Measure B in a bid to make “peace in the city’s pension wars.”

Broad-based coalition for reform

The proposed statewide pension measure for 2016 already has received some harsh criticism as the work of two washed-up politicians.

“2 out-of-work pols @carldemaio & Chuck Reed plan to attack @CalPERS, retirees with #pension measure in 2016,” tweeted Democratic political consultant Steven Maviglio. CalPERS is the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, America’s largest public-pension system.

In anticipation of push-back from local governments, state pension funds and organized labor, Reed and DeMaio have made it a point to build a broad-based coalition that sets aside their different political parties.  The coalition also will include David Grau of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association. Last year, after collecting thousands of signatures, Ventura County’s pension reform proposal was removed from the ballot, according to CalPensions.com.

“CalPERS has dedicated itself to preserving the status quo and making it difficult for anybody to reform pensions,” Reed recently said of the effort. “This is one way to take on CalPERS, and yes, CalPERS will push back.”

It’s unclear whether the proposed ballot measure will be drafted as a statute, which requires 365,880 valid signatures, or a constitutional amendment, which requires 585,407 valid signatures.

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

The Battle of Mount Soledad

Atop San Diego’s Mount Soledad — an 822-foot hill overlooking the seaside village of La Jolla — sits a 29-foot concrete cross. Erected in 1954 to commemorate Korean War veterans, the cross is part of a 170-acre, city-owned park offering breathtaking views of the Pacific coastline. For 35 years, it sat unmolested. Then, in 1989, an atheist named Philip Paulson, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the display of a cross on public land was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Paulson died in 2006, but the litigation he began continues to this day.

The Mount Soledad case is a microcosm of the American culture war, with lawsuits used as weapons, federal courts serving as the battleground, and activist judges allying with the ACLU. The secular left has long sought to purge religious symbols and imagery from the public square, and the Mount Soledad cross was an inevitable target on a list that included nativity scenes, Ten Commandment displays, and religious invocations at public meetings.

In 1991, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of the ACLU’s claim that the presence of a privately funded cross on public property violated the California constitution’s establishment clause. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rubber-stamped the district court’s decision in 1993. The city of San Diego faced a dilemma. The U.S. Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction over disputes involving state law, and the California Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction over federal court litigation. The liberal Ninth Circuit was the final word, with no further appellate review. As is typical in “civil rights” cases, the ACLU won substantial attorneys’ fees, thus creating a cottage industry and ensuring that the ACLU’s “pro bono” litigation would continue as long as the cross remained in place.

Rather than bulldoze the cross, the city decided—with the support of 76 percent of voters in a ballot referendum—to sell the land under the cross in order to remove any unconstitutional “taint.” After some legal skirmishing, the city held a sealed-bid auction to sell a half-acre parcel surrounding the base of the cross. The successful bidder wouldn’t be required to retain the cross, though the property would have to be used as a war memorial, and the buyer would be responsible for all future maintenance costs. The Mt. Soledad Memorial Association won with the highest bid of $106,000. This should have put an end to the dispute, as the privately erected cross was now standing on private property. The association expanded the memorial, adding features honoring individual veterans, such as bollards, engraved paving stones, and more than 3,000 commemorative plaques.

Remarkably, Paulson and the ACLU challenged the auction’s legitimacy. The same district judge who ruled in his favor in 1991 rejected the complaint, but Paulson appealed. In 2001, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed the district court ruling. But Paulson still wasn’t finished. He sought an en banc hearing, an extraordinary procedure for correcting internal conflicts among panels. His persistence paid off. In 2002, the Ninth Circuit invalidated the auction by a 7-4 vote based on an argument Paulson didn’t even make: that it was “rigged” in favor of preserving the cross because—incredibly—any bidders wishing to remove the cross “would be saddled with the costs,” placing them at a financial disadvantage vis-à-vis bidders who intended to preserve the cross. Because the ruling once again rested on an interpretation of California’s constitution, the city couldn’t appeal the Ninth Circuit’s absurd decision.

As the city’s legal options narrowed, the cross dispute began to attract national attention. President George W. Bush in 2004 signed legislation designating the cross as a national veteran’s memorial if the city donated it, which more than three-quarters of voters approved. In the meantime, the city faced ongoing lawsuits along with the prospect of $5,000-a-day fines if officials did not bulldoze the cross. In 2006, the city obtained a stay of the removal order from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. When a state court judge invalidated the transfer to federal ownership, Congress voted overwhelmingly to seize the cross by eminent domain, and the federal government took possession in August 2006.

Yet, litigation continued. After Paulson died, the ACLU found another atheist, Steve Trunk, to take his place. The ACLU challenged federal ownership of the cross as a violation of the U.S. Constitution, but in 2008 the district judge found that the federal government had a secular purpose for acquiring the memorial. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court in 2011, ruling instead that even though Congress had a secular purpose for acquiring the memorial (including the cross), the primary effect was to endorse religious belief. The Supreme Court last June declined to review the case until the Ninth Circuit appeals are exhausted. Meantime, Congress—evidently not hopeful for a changed outcome from the Ninth Circuit—recently approved the transfer of ownership of the cross to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, repeating the strategy the city attempted without success in 1998. Even Democratic California senator Dianne Feinstein supported the bill, which President Obama signed into law this month.

The ACLU’s tactics, “secular in purpose,” resemble nothing so much as those of a religious fanatic. Its opposition to the cross is implacable. Commenting on the federal government’s transfer of ownership, ACLU lawyer James McElroy said simply: “We’ve been here before.” The Ninth Circuit’s resolve to bulldoze the cross is stymied—at least temporarily—by popular resistance to its destruction. Another quarter century of taxpayer-funded litigation may result.