Warning that Los Angeles could face bankruptcy like other cities, former Mayor Richard Riordan and local business leaders told city officials Wednesday they are prepared to ask voters to reform the public pension system if the City Council fails to act.
Riordan and representatives of the business community met with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council leaders behind closed doors early Wednesday to press the need for change.
"We simply can no longer afford to wait," said David Fleming, the former chair of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the county Business Federation. "We are here to tell the City Council that we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to get our pension system under control."
Villaraigosa had invited the group to make their presentation as his efforts to reform the city pension system have failed to move forward.
However, after a more than two-hour meeting, the council's Executive Employee Relations Committee did not take any action and said discussions will continue on negotiating instructions.
Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said they told the city's leaders that they are prepared to seek voter approval of pension reforms, similar to what was done in San Diego and San Jose earlier this year.
"We want to make the point that every dollar that goes into pensions affects the services offered the public."
Villaraigosa has been pushing
for pension reform for more than a year, winning voter approval to a plan for new police officers and firefighters to reduce their pensions and require higher employee contributions.
However, similar proposals from the mayor for civilian city workers,which can be implemented by the City Council, have failed to gain traction.
"Something has to be done and soon or we will see parks being closed and police officers taken off the street," said Riordan, who last year suggested the city declare bankruptcy to reorganize its operations.
Since then, several cities, including San Bernardino, have taken steps to declare bankruptcy.
"Unfortunately, bankruptcy has a bad name," Riordan said. "What I wanted to see is the city reorganize its operations."
Toebben said that if the City Council fails to implement their requested reforms, the group is prepared to seek a ballot measure for next March to implement a series of reforms.
Among their proposals is requiring a higher contribution from existing employees, raising the retirement age and limiting how much the city contributes each year to a maximum of 15 percent of salaries.
It also would return power over the pensions to voters, making it more difficult for the city to increase pension benefits. The voters decided in 1972 to give the mayor and City Council authority over civilian pensions.
Victor Gordo of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, who listened to the presentation from Riordan and the business community, said he was not surprised with what they are seeking.
"They have been talking about this for some time, but they have yet to come to us to talk about a defined proposal," Gordo said.
"And, there are a number of questions about what they are proposing. Do they really want a 67-year-old worker wrestling with someone in a jail? Do they want a 67-year-old worker climbing up a tree holding on to a chainsaw? They live in a different world than the ordinary worker."
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