WatchSonoma Watch

On 4-3 vote, Santa Rosa OKs police pension changes


A sharply divided Santa Rosa City Council approved a new two-year police union contract characterized by some as an important step toward pension overhaul and by others as far from the restructuring needed to save the city from financial peril.

The council voted 4-3 in favor of the contract, which establishes lower pension benefits for new officers, gets current ones to pay more toward their pension, and gives them raises to cover most of those costs.

The majority of council members praised the officers for stepping forward and welcomed the contract changes, but also acknowledged that some of their fellow council members and members of the public might be impatient for more sweeping changes.

“I know it’s not big enough, it’s not fast enough, it’s not good enough,” said Councilman Jake Ours. “But it’s what we can do, and I think we have to be realistic about this.”

But Councilman Gary Wysocky blasted the savings as “minuscule” compared to the more than $100 million in unfunded pension costs the city faces.

“I can appreciate they came in good faith, but they don’t come anywhere close to solving our financial problems,” Wysocky said of the changes. “That’s just a fact. I wish it were different.”

He said the “structure” in place in the city at the moment “leads right towards Stockton and Vallejo, a reference to one city on the verge of bankruptcy and another that just emerged from it.

The city announced nearly two weeks ago that it had struck pension overhaul deals with its police and fire unions. Discussion of an amendment to the fire contract was postponed pending additional financial analysis.

That left the council to consider just the new contract for the city’s 141 police officers.

The officers agreed to establish what is known as a “second tier” of pension benefits for new hires beginning July 1, 2012. Currently, police officers can retire at age 50 with 90 percent of their salary for life if they’ve put in 30 years of service. That age will be pushed back to 55 for new hires.

In addition, new hires will have their future pensions calculated on a somewhat less generous formula. Instead of using the single highest salary, which is usually the final year of service, pensions for future workers will be based on the average of their final three years for service.

Though often referred to as an “anti-spiking” provision, the city’s actuary, John Bartel, said that’s not really an apt term because the state pension system that administers the city’s pensions, CalPERS, keeps a close eye out for unusual final-year pay spikes, he said.

In addition, officers have agreed to pay the equivalent of 9 percent of their salary that the city had been paying on their behalf, contributions known as Employer Paid Member Contribution, or EPMC. In exchange, the city has agreed to 8-percent salary increases, representing a 1 percent savings for the city.

Chris Sliz, the city’s employee relations manager, said that the change also will allow the city to avoid paying 3.5 percent of officers’ salary in “reporting costs” to CalPERS.

Finally, the officers also agreed to lower a lump sum payment for holiday pay they get every December, a reduction equal to about $1,000 per officer.

In all, over the next two years, the package should save the city about $685,000, Sliz said.

She stressed that the contract reflects many of the recommendations of the city’s pension task force, and noted that the city is very limited in what it can change when it comes to existing employees.

“Current employees have a vested right to their retirement that cannot be taken away,” Sliz said, “and that vested right to retirement starts with the formula that is in place from the day they begin their employment with the city.”

It is easier for the city to make changes for new hires because “they don’t work here yet,” she said.

Pushing harder for changes for existing employees is challenging, Sliz said. The city is trying to solve short-term and long-term financial challenges, and forcing a change to pensions only to be sued would solve neither problem and create a third, she said.

She said a survey showed the city pays its police officers 6 percent less than comparable cities.

Wysocky zeroed in on a chart Bartel produced that showed the long-term savings from various scenarios. He noted that the second-tier would account for less than $200,000 in annual savings by 2022. Most of the savings would come from the employees paying their 9 percent. But even that would save just $452,000 a year by 2022.

He noted that the city’s current total unfunded liability, the difference between its total future retirement costs and what it has set aside, is more than $100 million.

“Aren’t these saving minuscule?” Wysocky asked.

“I’m not suggesting this is going to have a big impact on your unfunded liability by any stretch of the imagination,” Bartel responded.

That’s going to take more work, he said.

Think of a young couple overloaded with credit card debt, Bartel said. The best advice to that couple is for them to stop eating out so much and start paying down the debt.

Santa Rosa is in some ways like that couple. The city has decided to stop eating out as much, but isn’t doing much to pay down its debt, he said. The solution is a painful one.

“Really, the way to deal with this is to pay more that you are asked to pay, because you are coming close to paying the minimum payment on your credit card,” he said.

Such comments convinced Susan Gorin that the city pension is “not sustainable.” She praised the union for stepping forward when she was mayor in 2009 and offering important concessions, and for “showing leadership” by doing so again now.

“At some point the council needs to say ‘Sorry folks. You’ve given up good things, you’ve come before us and made some serious recommendations, and it’s not enough.’”

Councilman Scott Bartley, chairman of last year’s pension task force, noted that the contract does exactly what the task force recommended.

“There is no silver bullet that will make this go away. Everything we do is an incremental change. We wish it was otherwise,” he said.

Vice mayor John Sawyer agreed the city’s financial situation “is not pretty,” but said the new contract “moves us in the right direction.”

“We can’t solve 20 years of negotiation with a single contract,” Sawyer said.

32 Responses to “On 4-3 vote, Santa Rosa OKs police pension changes”

  1. Larry says:

    I just finished downloading the “Vested Rights of CALPERS Members” 20 page booklet that was forwarded to Santa Rosa to threaten the city not change any existing Firefighter or Police Department salaries and pension benefit packages. It would appear to me that the only way to change the current system being dictated by CALPERS is to identify all appointed CALPERS executives by name along with their legislative member supporters and initiate a state wide ballot campaign to recall all of them. Another solution may be to have Sonoma County and Santa Rosa City taxpayers vote to terminate our involvement/participation in CALPERS and substitute a different salary and retirement system. Why continue a system that is flawed.

  2. Big Jim says:

    Why is Mayor Ernesto Olivares voting on pensions for the Police and Fire when he directly benefits from such a pension himself (he worked for 30 years for the SR police dept), and his own pension may be indirectly affected if he were to push for the radical reforms needed? He should have recused himself due to this clear conflict-of-interest.
    On the other hand, why did Santa Rosans elect someone who is obviously not able to tackle the biggest issue for SR in decades, i.e. Salary and Pension reform for Public Safety Workers? I suppose the support of the bullying Police and Fire Unions could have a lot to do with it. Remember their dirty tactics against Gorin? Watch out for those same tactics against Gary Wysocky in the next election – they’ll stop at nothing to sway the election in favor of their own candidates.

  3. BigDogatPlay says:

    Where was Gary Wysocky when the current and soon to be replaced pension structure was put into place? Perhaps he was mulling that decision about continuing to occupy a safe seat he can be re-elected to rather than challenge for higher office and risk being out of power.

    The faux outrage over public pension issues by elected officials these days is enough to make a grown dog howl.

  4. brown act jack says:

    Well, I walked out of the meeting as the lawyer, I guess, was speaking .

    You want to cut the expenses, simple, all new hires come in as part time workers 20 hours a week with no benefits.

    And , if they want to come in with benefits you cut the retirement 2% at 65 for all workers , including police and firemen.

    And , when the things get really really tough, you lay off the entire city staff and rehire them all,if they want to continue working for the city at 75% of current salary and 2% at 65

    And never consent to a raise for more than one year, and make all raises retroactive and not paid until the year is completed successful. If the money is not there the raise is not paid.

  5. SR Watcher says:

    Well they needed to be even with the Fire Department…that has 2 more years of raises in the bag! No surprises…the mayor is retired SRPD remember…can’t let his buddies down..watched the meeting and it was sickening to see him and Sawyer laughing along with Ours (not mine) and Bartley (but what)..Infestation of the worst kind! Don’t really like Wysocky either..he just wants to be elected again.. Unless they bust the unions…oh yeah, the HR Management that negotiates gets hers too! A two-tiered system…for the cops or firefighters kids? Shaving their heads for money sure won’t save us anything…more fun for them…and attention! Now I remember why I stopped commenting on Fire and Police! Not worth the energy when the CC gives away the house!

  6. GAJ says:

    And only 8 of 37 in Community Development made over $100k in 2010…come on Community Development, you can do better!

    A paltry 6 of 87 broke the $100k barrier at Economic Development and Housing, (a bit stunned at the number of people in a that department though).

    Only 5 of 74 in Finance over $100k, (but once again that number of 74 seems very high).

    Three of 20 in Human Resources, (gee, I thought we weren’t hiring anyone…why 20 people?)

    Three of 718 in Parks and Rec…but, really 718!

    Nope; no fat, waste, duplication or over compensation there.

    I could go on, but I’m getting depressed.

    Time to have a beer.

  7. GAJ says:

    Well, there were only a mere 109 people (of 262) in the Department earning over $100k in 2010.

    That’s a smaller percentage of the Department than the 103 (of 141) who earned over $100k in the same year in the Santa Rosa Fire.

    I guess we should be thankful at the fiscal restraint shown.

  8. Graeme Wellington says:

    A billion dollars would pay for police in Sonoma County until peace on Earth breaks out. But the train to nowhere is more important. Those 150 out of 50,000 commuters take priority over EVERYTHING, don’t they?

  9. GAJ says:

    Graeme, the SMART boondoggle and the Pension fiasco are two sides of the very same coin.

    They are both vastly over priced budget suckers and will result in layoffs in other departments with resulting service losses in other areas to the detriment of the public at large.

    Ten years from now Public Safety will likely eat up 85% of the City budget and SMART will have resulted in even lower levels of County road maintenance than the pathetically low levels we have now.

    But perhaps you believe we’ll have a 10% sales tax to make up the difference.

  10. Graeme Wellington says:

    If Money Grubber has proof of present corruption, let’s hear about it and discuss it. And of course, he’s already reported it to the State Attorney General, right? Just the usual BS I will assume.

    The wealth envy here will never abate even if the police did get minimum wage and no retirement. If you can get the same service for less, tell us all how you would do it or shut up. You guys had no problem paying a billion dollars for a train to nowhere just to make dreams come true.

    I think the price of anarchy is higher. Anyone’s services are worth what someone will pay for it. Those plastic participation trophy winners that comment so frequently here don’t have a skill or ability worth compensating and so they must tear down those who do.

  11. GAJ says:

    Clarification, I should have said:

    “FERS Public Safety employees can expect about 50% of average highest 3 years’ salary in retirement AFTER 30 YEARS which is very generous.”

  12. GAJ says:

    Suggesting that using the Federal Employee Retirement System as a guide for Pension Reform is hardly suggesting “minimum wage” for Public Safety.

    FERS Public Safety employees can expect about 50% of average highest 3 years’ salary in retirement which is very generous.

    Anything much above that is simply unsustainable and will result in huge cuts to other public employees and related services.

    The other issue is that these outrageous benefits bleed over into other areas because they are the new “norm.”

    41 employees at the Water Agency, for example, earn over $100k/year and ALL f/t employees vest at 3%/year and can retire at 60.

    But perhaps a 50% retirement at 62 is “minimum wage” to jaundiced State/Local government employees.

    Amazing how the Feds can hire any employees in California at that “minimum wage.”

  13. Money Grubber says:

    Graeme Wellington actually tries to claim local and state law enforcement are currently free of corruption and criminal behaviors :) lol.

    He also cannot explain why we should provide cops with their own cozy public pensions rather than put them into social security like the rest of us.

    And, typical for the public employee LIE, he chants that someone is demanding cops be paid minimum wage when nobody that I’ve seen on this board ever said anything like that. :)

    FACT: law enforcement in Sonoma county is over staffed as evidenced by the Annual FBI Crime Report which continues to show crime falling every year.

    FACT: Sonoma county does not need its own “air support” helicopter when other agencies such as the local CHP already have their own operational helicopter in the area. i.e. CHP rescue in Pt Reyes just days ago.

  14. Kirstin says:

    Graeme Wellington, presumably something IN BETWEEN the extremes of too little and too much can be obtained with dedication from both sides of the negotiating table. So far though, apparently neither side is sufficiently concerned about the staggering unfunded liabilities that Santa Rosa faces.

  15. Graeme Wellington says:

    Looking forward to future discussions about corruption when we establish a minimum wage police force with no guaranteed pensions.

  16. Jim says:

    Not sure how “Sheeple” is insulting or “hateful”. Sheeple is a term used to describe a situation where people can’t/won’t/don’t think for themselves and blindly follow the pack. Hateful? Seriously? Attacking someone with “hateful” and “insulting” only shuts up those who are running for election. Just like calling someone against ILLEGAL immigration “racist”. Call me names while ignoring the facts doesn’t make the facts any different.

    If “Sheeple” doesn’t fit the CA voters I’m not sure what does. The Legislature has a single digit approval rating. Congress is close to it. Yet in CA basically every representative was reelected. The voter only sees “R” or “D”, and CA voters blindly vote “D”.

    If the “rich” should pay more, fine. Everyone should pay their “fair share”, like Obama says. A few questions though…

    (1) who are the “ultra rich”? “Rich” refers to wealth, which isn’t taxed. Warren Buffett is a billionaire 50 times over but pays little in taxes because his wealth is tied up in stock. He has wealth in unrealized capital gains, i.e. paper gains. “Rich” isn’t income, which is taxed. The OWS group speaks of the “1%” all the time, and the media runs with it, but no one points out that the 1% isn’t a fixed group. The vast majority of the 1% last year is different than the 1% a few years ago. Today’s successful business owner is tomorrow’s unemployed via downturn, bad decisions, over expansion, etc, etc, etc. Tomorrow’s 1% is in school right now, or just getting started in the world. Thus, the “1% is a phantom, but an easy one for the media to attack. In reality, the attack is on the successful. Think about it, even a post on this board refers to it…the “rich”, the “wealthy”, the “bankers”, “Wall Street”, etc…all phantoms. The attack is on success, which is the foundation of America…people having the freedom to succeed as well as fail in America is what makes this country great. The attack on the foundation of equal OPPORTUNITY, replacing it with the demand for equal RESULTS will be the downfall of the country.

    (2) yes, the “rich” should pay their “fair share”, everyone should. I completely agree. A “fair share” would be an equal percentage of their income, like a flat tax. Everyone should pay 10% (whatever the number is). There are a couple problems with the “fair share” argument though…any attempt will be spun by the left into a “cut for the rich”.

    The “fair share” argument by Obama and the left NEVER mentions the fact that 50% of the country pay NOTHING. Until EVERYONE pays their fair share the argument is moot. But politically, implementing a flat tax would be a tax increase on the “poor” and “middle class” because any tax paid is an increase from zero.

    The country cannot tax the rich enough to cover the deficit and the ever increasing waste. Until the government makes massive cuts to the unneeded, unnecessary departments and programs, the deficit will never decrease. Obamacare will turn out to be the new Medicare. Remember, Medicare projections when implemented were $12 billion in 1990 but when 1990 came the actual figure was $107 billion. Imagine what Obamacare will be.

  17. Mr. PepperSpray PIKE says:


    San Diego Union Tribune
    Today, online

    SAN DIEGO — “”A retired sheriff’s sergeant has been arrested on suspicion of possessing and distributing more than 300 images of child pornography on his home computer, according to a federal complaint.

    Investigators arrested John Frederick Garner, 64, on Friday ……and was released on $100,000 bail.””

  18. truth in news says:

    So Santa Rosa has decided to penalize the people who EARN THEIR PENSIONS to give more to the people who don’t. Why don’t we just get rid of all the cops and let nature take its course.

  19. Billy C says:

    Do not forget that the police and fire services are the most redundant and replaceable city services we have.
    Let the unions draw there line in the
    sand. At least we attempted to negotiate
    before we contract out both to the County out of financial necessity.
    In the mean time I suggest a really hard look at other departments and see if we really need so many levels of managers and supervisors. If you want to look at some wasteful spending you can start looking inside that 40 million dollar utility’s building!

  20. Rojo says:

    Hey Jim,

    Not sure I want to listen to your rants about “sheeple” If you do not respect people in this country enough to stop the insults and the hateful comments why should we listen to you? Name one reason why we shouldn’t ask the ultra-rich to pay more? They used to pay more when Eisenhower was President! I for one applaud the Santa Rosa City Council for trying to correct the horrible situation we have found ourselves in due to the bank and corporate caused economic meltdown we are all trying to endure.

  21. Marc says:

    Our City council failed at their jobs and I just hope they bought enough votes to get reelected since they do not care about the non union voters.

  22. Mr. PepperSpray PIKE says:

    I just found ANOTHER example of our hard working public employees who demand so much from us.

    California School Counselor Taped Students Having Sex

    From John Fricke and Phil Gast, CNN
    updated 7:25 PM EDT, Wed March 21, 2012
    Salinas, California


  23. Kirstin says:

    I agree with Council members Wysocky, Vas Dupre and Goren: this contract is not enough. The savings are miniscule. Approving this contract only postpones the inevitable reckoning. I’m sorry the majority was willing to settle instead of insisting on further negotiations. Baby steps don’t cut it; we need serious reforms.

    I suppose the same kind of weak “savings” will result from the fire contract terms that will be considered on April 3.

  24. Mr. PepperSpray PIKE says:





    Occupy Protester Files Claim Against Oakland

    Sacramento Bee, today, Online
    The Associated Press
    Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 21, 2012

    OAKLAND, Calif. — An Iraq War veteran whose skull was fractured during an Occupy Oakland protest when he was hit by a beanbag round fired by police has filed a legal claim against the city of Oakland.

  25. bear says:

    You people are funny!

    Been watching those commercials that will get you out of credit debt?

    That means you spent money owed elsewhere.


  26. Jim says:

    This is a nothing story, just like Obama’s “millionaire tax”. It is straightening out the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    I know what everyone is saying…’what the heck is Jim talking about?’ A non-partisan group projected that Obama’s “millionaire tax” or “Buffett tax” is projected to collect a whopping $47 billion over 10 years. That’s about the amount of interest paid EACH YEAR on the deficit. Yet, the idiot Sheeple voters will see that Obama is taxing the big, bad rich people, those awful “millionaires and billionaires”, leading to his re-election. The voters are that simple minded.

    Here, 4 useless council members, probably the ones up for re-election, voted for a similarly effective pension overhaul. This will manipulate the Sheeple into thinking they actually did something. Did anyone catch the “$100 million in unfunded liability” comment? Nope, doubt it. $100 freaking million…and they are talking about saving a few hundred thousand dollars??

    On a side note…I cut my spending by $685, just ignore the fact that I owe $100,000. Yep, aren’t you proud of me, I’m as fiscally responsible as the Santa Rosa City Council! I should run for a seat!!!

  27. taxpayer says:

    It seems that Wysocky is the only one to speak the truth.Or the only one with a spine.

  28. Rydin Shotgun says:

    The city of Santa Rosa should be holding bake sales to cover the unfunded liabilities and INSANE pay rates and packages of its current employees.

    I can’t wait to buy one of the parks from city when they are on clearance sale. I’m going to name it after myself and charge to get in.

  29. Follower says:

    You just can’t help yourselves, can you?!

    No matter how deep they thrust the knife into your back, no matter how much they twist & stab some more… you’ll be right back at the ballot box re-electing them all over again.

    WON’T YOU??!!

  30. Steveguy says:

    ” A sharply divided Santa Rosa City Council approved a new two-year police union contract characterized by some as an important step toward pension overhaul and by others as far from the restructuring needed to save the city from financial peril.”

    So they chose financial peril. Thanks a lot.

  31. Tracy says:

    What a JOKE!

    Seems like a lot of praising the efforts of this person or that person for NO good reason. This effort is a complete failure by all that voted to support these contracts, and Chris Sliz, who claims this is all that could be done.

    What this action demonstrated is an unjust influence by the unions over some elected officials. There is just no other way to explain the increased burden being placed on the backs of the taxpayers while their handing out six figure pensions to people that don’t even work here yet.

  32. GAJ says:


    They’ve sealed the fate for other City workers who will continue to have to bear the pain of City Council procrastination.

    Public Safety will continue to eat up an ever growing percent of the budget.