Morro Bay among cities that could have to pay lavish Bell, Calif., pensions

Morro Bay is among the cities across Southern California that are on the hook for the pensions paid to municipal officials in Bell, where excessive salaries led to a recent purge of city leaders.

The Los Angeles Times reports that more than half of former city manager Robert Rizzo’s $600,000-a-year pension will be paid by taxpayers in 140 small cities and special districts that are in the same pension liability pool. This includes Morro Bay, Glendale, Simi Valley, Ventura and Norco, as well as Rizzo’s former employers, Hesperia and Rancho Cucamonga.

In the case of Bell’s former police chief, Randy Adams, the city is only responsible for 3 percent of his estimated $411,300-a-year pension under CalPERS, the state’s public employee retirement plan. Taxpayers in Glendale, Simi Valley and Ventura must pick up the rest.

Critics of the state’s complex pension system are pointing to the scandal in Bell as an example of why the CalPERS should be overhauled. An estimated 90 percent of public agencies in California participate in the system.

Morro Bay City Attorney Rob Schultz said the city would do everything it could to prevent its taxpayer money from being spent on Rizzo’s pension.

City administrators are not yet sure what portion of his pension Morro Bay is liable for or if it is at all, said Shultz, who is waiting on a call from CalPers.

“I am certain that the 140 cities (in the pension liability pool) will do something to make certain that we don’t have to pay that,” Schultz said. “We should not be on the hook for the outrageous salaries that were paid.”

Shultz said that none of the Bell employees worked for Morro Bay. “The past cities that they have worked for will really be responsible for the lion’s share,” he said.

Morro Bay Mayor Janice Peters said she is “outraged” and “offended” by the excessive salaries of municipal officials in Bell.

“It is just taking such advantage of their constituents,” Peters said. “I am extremely offended that a city official would be so irresponsible and selfish.”

Peters said she is “extremely bothered” that a portion of Rizzo’s pension might come from Morro Bay.Even though Rizzo’s and Adams’ salaries were relatively modest until they were hired in Bell, other cities will be responsible for much of their pension costs. When they resigned last week, Rizzo was making nearly $800,000 a year, and Adams was making $457,000.

Bell hired Adams at more than double the salary he was making in Glendale. That salary spike also doubled his eligible pension amount under CalPERS. City managers in Glendale and Simi Valley, where Adams previously worked, estimate they must come up with an extra $40,000 in taxpayer dollars each year to cover the pension costs. Ventura’s tab could go much higher.

“We had no control over his final year’s salary,” Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird said. “Yet the rest of us will be bearing the brunt of Bell’s decision.”

CalPERS last week said it is putting both men’s pensions on hold pending multiple investigations into Bell’s salaries. Glendale and Ventura have sent letters to the attorney general supporting investigations.