San Luis Obispo voters will decide two key issues related to city employees’ compensation Aug. 30 — but not at a traditional polling place.
The City Council voted late Tuesday night to put two measures repealing binding arbitration and pension provisions on the ballot, but decided that the original push to do it by the governor’s proposed special election in June didn’t allow for enough time.
Under binding arbitration, if the city and public safety unions cannot agree on a contract, the matter automatically goes to an arbitrator for a decision. This process was approved by the voters in 2000.
The mail-only ballot — to be used by the city for the first time in August — will cost taxpayers up to $92,500. Such elections have been used rarely in San Luis Obispo County, according to county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald.
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Mayor Jan Marx unexpectedly cast her vote alongside council members Andrew Carter, Dan Carpenter and Kathy Smith, who had already advocated taking the two issues to voters.
Before the meeting, Marx and Councilman John Ashbaugh had adamantly argued that doing so would create too much animosity between the city and its employees during the 2011-13 budget process.
On Tuesday, Marx asked the council to table the discussion until May to allow the city to survey residents and appoint a charter review committee, among other provisions.
The plan garnered little support from her colleagues.
“It became clear to me that there is a great desire in the community to allow the voters to make this decision, and so I thought it would be best for the city and for the council and whatever goes on in the interim between now and the election if I supported the council majority,” Marx said.
This is not the first time that the City Council has considered placing a measure to repeal binding arbitration on the ballot. In 2009, Marx voted to take no action on the issue.
On Wednesday, Marx said that what has changed since then is the council majority.
“The new council decided to take a more streamlined approach rather than the traditional San Luis Obispo way of doing things, like lots of community outreach, surveys, analysis and creating alternatives before making a choice,” Marx said.
Carpenter appealed to public safety employees, who have made it clear they feel targeted, to trust in the City Council.
“I am asking employees to trust in the people you put up here,” said Carpenter, adding that he couldn’t plan the city’s financial future with the “moving target” of binding arbitration in front of him.
Ashbaugh remained steadfast in his “no” vote Tuesday, advocating a series of stipulations to the binding arbitration provision instead of eliminating it.
The San Luis Obispo City Firefighters Local 3523 and the San Luis Obispo Police Officers Association released a statement following the vote Tuesday saying that they stood by binding arbitration as a fair negotiation process.
“We will not allow a select group of interests to tear down the community spirit that has made our city strong,” said Erik Baskin, president of the San Luis Obispo City Firefighters Association, in a news release.
City staff will now craft the language of the two ballot measures. The first will seek to repeal binding arbitration.
The second measure will seek to repeal the pension provision in the city’s charter. By doing so, the city would eliminate an existing requirement that dictates voter approval must be sought to reduce retirement offerings. If passed, current pension agreements with employees would remain, but the city could consider a two-tier pension program that would offer new employees lesser benefits.