In San Diego, is libertarian dream alive, stalled — or dead?

Nov. 8, 2012

By Chris Reed

San Diegans had an extremely unusual choice for mayor Tuesday, picking between a gay libertarian who’d already turned the city into a hotbed of government experimentation and a 20-year congressman who is a ’60s-ethos liberal with serious anger-management issues. The contrast between City Councilman Carl DeMaio and Rep. Bob Filner was so unusual that it even got prominent play in The New York Times.

Fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars in union-paid attack ads and a hypocritical strategy that sought to remind voters DeMaio was gay, Filner pulled off a 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent win.

With less than four weeks until he takes office, the question for Filner is whether he will try to fight implementation of aggressive reforms approved by San Diego’s voters or whether he will betray voters by working with unions and the union-controlled state Public Employment Relations Board in trying to sandbag those reforms.

The first of those reforms is Proposition C, approved in a landslide by San Diego voters in 2006. It was intended to cut the cost of providing city services through a “managed competition” process in which private companies bid against groups of city employees for city contracts.

After four years of stalling by public employee unions in negotiations with the city as well as stall tactics by a City Council whose Democratic majority had strong union ties, “managed competition” was finally implemented.  The four “competitions” to date have all been won by city employees, to the surprise of some. But the savings have been substantial, and are expected to reach tens of millions of dollars annually in coming years.

Under Mayor Jerry Sanders, the city has been moving steadily toward the biggest “managed comp” implementation of all, in trash collection.

Defined-benefit pensions no more?

The second reform is Proposition B, approved this June by San Diego voters in another landslide.

It seeks to impose a six-year freeze on “pensionable pay” — the types of compensation that are added up to calculate pensions. It will end defined-benefit pensions for new city employees, except for police, and give them a 401(k)-style defined-investment retirement benefit.

This is the measure that PERB, in an extraordinary move, tried to kill before it even reached the ballot. The agency makes the bizarre argument that, because DeMaio, Sanders and other city leaders led the push for the ballot petitions for Measure B, it amounted to an illegal attempt to circumvent mandatory collective bargaining on job conditions. (San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who is fighting PERB, so far successfully, captures the absurdity of the PERB stand well here.)

Filner has said he will honor voters’ wishes on these measures. But he has long criticized both, and it would be easy to see him saying he had changed his mind.

So is the DeMaio-driven libertarian dream of increasingly privatized city services and private sector-level government compensation still alive in San Diego?

To a considerable degree, it appears to be up to Filner. If he follows through with managed competition on trash — which has potential savings of hundreds of millions of dollars in coming years — Filner may learn to appreciate the process. The extra money could pave a lot of roads in a city where even busy boulevards in rich areas like Camino del Norte in Rancho Bernardo are pothole-strewn.

The stark choice for a true-left pol

But to the extent that the left sees privatization as a bogeyman akin to outsourcing, it’s hard to imagine Filner accepting a trash-service bidding process that led to hundreds of city workers getting axed. Sooner or later, an outside bidder is going to win, and trash is likely to draw several serious bids. That would leave Filner with a stark choice.

There is a transactional quality to the enthusiasm that many of California’s elected Democrats show for public employee unions. They know where their bread is buttered. But Filner’s passions, for better and worse, seem real. He sees the world in binary fashion, with little gray. For him to decide to accept, rather than fight, a mass firing of public employees is difficult to imagine. The same may hold for accepting a profound change in public-employee retirement benefits as well.

So much for heeding the voters in America’s eighth-largest city. Libertarians may be left to wonder what might have been. DeMaio would be the next mayor if only one in 66 San Diego voters preferred him to Filner.

One in 66.

36 comments

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  1. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 8 November, 2012, 14:12

    Good article Chris.

    The libertarian dream was Prop. 31 (at least in the minds of many at the O.C. Lincoln Club and elsewhere). It sounded like a deregulators dream. But behind the dream was a nightmare.

    I’m never disappointed by most elections because most of us don’t do anything except out of necessity. The politicos keep kicking necessity down the road like a can.

    Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 8 November, 2012, 15:18

    San Diego is a dirty gritty border town….and politics reflect as such….forget about it….over priced 1970’s hotels and far too many substandard burrito shops.

    Reply this comment
  3. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 8 November, 2012, 16:12

    So San Diego voters strongly support city pension and budget reform and then vote to elect a mayor who opposes the reforms. Not much cognitive dissonance there huh? Just more evidence of the deeply irrational and flaky behavior of Crazyfornia voters.

    @ Queeg – Do us all a favor the next time you feel like making one of your typically silly comments and instead stuff a substandard burrito in your substandard pie hole.

    Is that photo a picture of Filner? Man, that is one creepy looking dude. Mom’s – please keep a watchful eye on the kids when he’s around. There is something about his eyes that isn’t right, kind of like a cartoon character maybe.

    Reply this comment
  4. skippingdog
    skippingdog 8 November, 2012, 16:26

    The Libertarian dream is dead in San Diego, and every thoughtful person should be pleased. Now if we can only wring the libertarian nonsense out of the wingnut Republicans we might be able to get on with our Constitutional obligation to work toward the formation of a more perfect union.

    Interesting that the vision established by our founders for “a more perfect union” is anathema to libertarians. We should remember to refer to them as the anarchists they really are.

    Reply this comment
  5. Queeg
    Queeg 8 November, 2012, 17:03

    Dys……be nice…..you lost for reasons…

    Reply this comment
  6. econprof
    econprof 8 November, 2012, 19:09

    That a young, energetic, reform-minded taxpayer advocate like DeMaio would be beaten by the powerful unions who now own our government is indeed depressing. The gap between the taxpaying private sector workers and the pampered, overpaid, early-retiring public sector continues to grow.

    Reply this comment
  7. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 8 November, 2012, 22:20

    Econ….macro out your control.

    PACK AND SHIP

    Reply this comment
  8. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 9 November, 2012, 07:01

    Dysphoric– Queeg is correct little buddy– you lost for a reason. It’s ok. Take a deep breath. Mmmmmmmmm

    Reply this comment
  9. Queeg
    Queeg 9 November, 2012, 07:40

    Dys will not change…he is a true believer….bashing, name calling, irreverance, forgetting the golden rule……whew!

    Reply this comment
  10. Tim Cavanaugh
    Tim Cavanaugh 9 November, 2012, 09:58

    Chris, where are you getting that 1 in 66 number? It looks like DeMaio got 158,356 votes — almost 49 percent of the total vote count and 12 percent of the total population of San Diego. Is the idea that DeMaio would have won if 4,945 people had voted for him instead of Filner?

    Reply this comment
    • CalWatchdog
      CalWatchdog Author 9 November, 2012, 21:25

      Filner won by almost exactly 3 percent of the vote, the last I checked. If 1 in 66 people switch, DeMaio goes to a hair over 50 percent, Filner to a hair under.

      Reply this comment
  11. Tough Love
    Tough Love 9 November, 2012, 11:49

    Sure SkippingDog, As long as the …”work toward the formation of a more perfect union” … continues to include overstuffed Public Sector Pensions & Benefits for actives and retirees (such as yourself).

    Thanks to a GREAT DEAL of Public Sector Union money and incredibly dumb and gullible CA voters, the can will be kicked a bit further down the road. But the DB Plan’s demise is still in the same place … now with just a sharper cliff.

    Reply this comment
  12. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 9 November, 2012, 12:14

    TL, are you suffering indigestion after a steady diet of crow, during the last three days? Hope you had some Alka Seltzer on hand.

    DeMaio being Gay would be no problem. I would only have considered his Libertarian ideology, if I were a voter in SD.

    Reply this comment
  13. Tough Love
    Tough Love 9 November, 2012, 12:42

    No SeeSaw, not indigestion, just amazement at the stupidity of CA citizens who aren’t (and don’t have familiarly members that are) riding the Public Sector Pension and Benefits gravy train.

    They’ll be lucky if 5 cents of each new tax dollar goes to anything other than funding these unjustly excessive Public Sector pensions and benefits.

    Reply this comment
  14. skippingdog
    skippingdog 9 November, 2012, 13:25

    Nice to see you out and about Tough Love, even if you’re only flogging that deceased horse a little more today.

    Have you finally taken an honest assessment of yourself and found yourself to be an anarchist? Your disregard for basic concepts like the rule of law, contractual obligations, and the will of the people as expressed through their vote would certainly place you in that category.

    I noticed that your home state passed a constitutional amendment requiring judges to pay half the cost of their pensions, so there seems to be actual progress in addressing their pension funding. We in California have not only reduced pension formulas for new workers but have also begun having current workers pay more for their benefits. Speaking personally, I have had my post-retirement medical insurance stipend reduced to nothing over the last two years, so you can hardly say I’ve not made some concessions to the need for better financing.

    Yes, California will increase some taxes to close our budget deficit and maintain current service levels. That increased revenue, along with the concessions made by past, current and future public employees will certainly address the bulk of any pension underfunding, particularly as the normal business cycle improves as it has done repeatedly throughout our history.

    The best part of this whole thing is that the natural improvement to the business cycle is exactly what Romney and the Republicans were counting on to make Mitt’s presidency appear successful. Now, the benefits of the cycle will make Obama look like one of our great presidents and will make Gov. Brown look like the sage and savior of California.

    That’s what really bothers you, isn’t it?

    Reply this comment
  15. Queeg
    Queeg 9 November, 2012, 14:19

    Forget San Diego…..overrated tourist trap that is way overpriced, has awful politics and a seedy, seedy redeveloped downtown noted for bad food and spooky streets filled with suspicious people with questionable intent, pasts, futures!

    Reply this comment
  16. Tough Love
    Tough Love 9 November, 2012, 17:03

    Skippy, coming from you ( a retired cop) that’s pretty funny …. in any other venue, the trading of Public Sector campaign contributions and election support CLEARLY CLEARLY CLEARLY in exchange for favorable votes on pay, pensions and benefits would be a criminal offense (the offering and acceptable of a bribe).

    And the “will of the people”?? While I suppose we can’t prevent those riding the gravy train from voting for that train’s continued existence, it seems rather odd that a clear super-majority of those NOT riding this gravy train voted AGAINST it’s continuance, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

    Bottom line … CA has likely passing the “tipping point” and cannot be saved until AFTER it’s inevitable insolvency….. undoubtedly accompanied by a failure of the DB Plans Public Sector workers so depend upon.

    As to your personal “concessions”, we can discuss that further AFTER your completely undeserved (and completely unearned) “retroactive” SB400 pension increase is rolled back.

    As to the benefits of an improved economy, it would certainly be a rare successful businessman (or woman) that would want to re-locate or expand in CA with it’s high taxes and unfriendly & over-regulated business climate. You should expect an acceleration of the current exodus.

    Reply this comment
  17. skippingdog
    skippingdog 9 November, 2012, 19:51

    Campaign contributions are the currency of our political system, whether they originate from the Chamber of Commerce, NRA, Christian Coalition, AFL-CIO, or public employee associations and unions. It has long since been settled by our courts that such contributions are in no way bribes, so your description is clearly out of both the legal and political mainstream.

    Like it or not, there’s no legal way to roll back the “benefits earned” under the provisions of SB400 or its statutory relatives. Those are mature debts and obligations under any legal theory of property rights and are clearly protected by the contracts clause or our state and federal constitutions.

    One significant benefit of the Democratic wave we just experienced is that California is a strongly Democratic state. If it were, just for the sake of argument, likely that CA was about to become insolvent, its position as the largest economy in the US would be reason enough to provide federal financial aid to prevent just such an event. Like it or not, the insolvency of the largest state in our union would have far ranging and highly detrimental effects on every other state. That’s precisely why it won’t be allowed to happen, any more than we allowed our largest financial institutions to fail and take the rest of our economy down the drain with them. Like them, California is simply to big to be allowed to fail.

    Reply this comment
  18. Tough Love
    Tough Love 9 November, 2012, 21:21

    Skippy, Considering SB400 granted an increase in the factor per year of service from 2% to 3% for PAST service years, unless you have a time machine and can go back into those PAST years and work harder and longer….. no, that increase was not deserved, justifiable, nor “earned”.

    While the political system does seem to protect those unjustified “property rights” (as you say), that system will never find the money to fully pay for them. Cutback are all but assured, only WHEN is not yet clear.

    While I wouldn’t be surprised if the Federal Gov’t assists WHEN (not if) CA becomes insolvent, hopefully any pension protection will be subject to the same PBGC caps (e.g. $55K annually if age 65 at Plan termination …. and MUCH MUCH less if younger) that apply to failed Private Sector Plans. That will certainly knock the wind out of quite a few greedy Public Sector sails.

    Reply this comment
  19. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 9 November, 2012, 23:36

    @ TL: In the Amicus Brief that, then CA Attorney General Jerry Brown, filed on behalf of CalPERS members, in the lawsuit of Orange County vs. the Orange County Deputy Seriffs Association, it was detailed, in that Brief, how pension enhancements for CA workers have been automatically adopted retroactively, by the Legislature, from the time the first Defined Benefit Pension system was founded, in CA, 97 years ago. So you are barking up the wrong tree by blaming that system on the workers. And, you certainly cannot blame the unions that did not even exist until 1968, when Republican Governor Ronald Reagan granted collective bargaining rights to local and county government workers.

    The State of CA is not going to become insolvent, and if it did, its pension systems cannot be treated like the PBGC, because it would take an Act of Congress, which is not going to happen either.

    Reply this comment
  20. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 9 November, 2012, 23:41

    More: And, I’m sure you must be aware, TL, the recent CA pension reform act has invalidated the practice of granting enhanced formulas retroactively. In the meantime, the pensions that are in affect will stay in affect, as long as the beneficiares of those plans are still alive.

    Reply this comment
  21. Tough Love
    Tough Love 10 November, 2012, 11:18

    Seesaw, I honestly believe CA will become insolvent. If you think CA will be “saved” by it’s supermajority in both houses whereupon the Democrats can vote for Tax increases w/o any Republican votes, think again, as further tax increases will overwhelmingly crush CA’s economy and accelerate the exodus of Taxpaying citizens & business …… leaving the welfare recipients and Public Sector gravy train riders to fight for the few remaining spoils.

    My early comment as to rolling back the SB400 increases should be considered in the context of CA’s insolvency. Certainly CHOICES will have to be made as to where and what groups should take the first and larger “hits”. Clearly a rollback of the SB400 increases will be near the top of that list. When the lack of funds arrives, Court decisions are meaningless.

    As to you 2-nd comment, I seriously doubt that.

    Reply this comment
  22. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 10 November, 2012, 18:06

    I’m not looking to the supermajority to do anything other than to govern responsibly. If taxes are needed and passed, they must be reasonable. They are not going to go into session for a tax-raising frenzy.

    Anyone who wants to leave CA can just be my guest–many who leave will be back, after they discover that outside of CA, “there is no there, there.” Lay off CA, TL. Just stay there is your NJ observation tower.

    Reply this comment
  23. B. Gore
    B. Gore 10 November, 2012, 18:11

    I am a former san diegan, writing this from central Oregon, where I relocated myself, my family and my business a year ago.
    I note with sadness DeMaio’s loss, he would have really rattled their cage….and also what disgusting hypocrites for making an issue of his sexual orientation… I do NOT miss san diego at all! Sure its cold here, with 4 real seasons, but my family and I love skiing, and the business climate is, well, business-like. AND there’s no sales tax in Oregon-and the roads are in great condition, the schools are light years ahead of the cukoo-nest sanitoriums in Kali, etc.

    The Kalifonia political dynamic, which now seems to have gone nation-wide, is that 1/3 of the voters are getting government benefits of some kind, 1/3 are govt. employees, and presto: a permanent supermajority, leaving the remaining 1/3rd (the producers) in the dust.

    I cry for Kali, what was and what could have been. We still go back to visit, do a bonfire on the beach, etc. but we’re gone for good.

    Reply this comment
  24. Tough Love
    Tough Love 10 November, 2012, 20:33

    SeeSaw, The crazies & greedy run NJ too …. though not (yet) as bad as the crazies & greedy in CA..

    Reply this comment
  25. Queeg
    Queeg 10 November, 2012, 21:36

    Taxes going up….kook fees too.

    Watch for prevailing wage replacing minimum wage….believe…it is coming…

    Reply this comment
  26. eatingdogfood
    eatingdogfood 11 November, 2012, 07:08

    Unions + Democrats = Bankruptcy!

    Reply this comment
  27. Tough Love
    Tough Love 11 November, 2012, 17:13

    SeeSaw, You should carefully read B. Gore’s comment (above) ….. the primary cause being the greedy public Sector Union workers and the politicians (bought off with Union money) who allowed it.

    Many times you showed you love and trust in CalPERS (your meal-ticket), but never once do I recall you expressing your love for CA.

    I have visited the once great State of CA …. a real shame how Public Sector workers have contributed to it’s demise.

    Reply this comment
  28. Queeg
    Queeg 11 November, 2012, 21:52

    Greed rules…..strip the carcass even as it falters and still breathes……

    Reply this comment
  29. Tough Love
    Tough Love 12 November, 2012, 09:18

    Queeg, “Greed rules” but only for so long. THEN it collapses abruptly & completely.

    That’s what is in store for many many Public Sector DB pensions.

    Reply this comment
  30. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 12 November, 2012, 09:58

    Gore is just anothr person expressing an opinion, TL. I’m sure you know the slogan, “Live Better, Work Union”. As for loving CA, I certainly do. I just drove it from the Oregon border to LA for the umpteenth time–anyone who does want want to see CA sustained has not seen it. I was for prop. 30, because of my love for my state. Now go back to your knitting.

    Reply this comment
  31. Gail Steelhammer-Cohen
    Gail Steelhammer-Cohen 12 November, 2012, 11:26

    Well unfortunately it might of been because DeMaio was gay –

    Reply this comment
  32. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 12 November, 2012, 13:39

    Unscramble my words: I meant to say that anyone who does NOT want to see CA sustained has not seen it. As for driving, my spouse is behind the wheel–I just ride along and look–and CA is magnificent!

    Reply this comment
  33. Tough Love
    Tough Love 12 November, 2012, 16:36

    Quoting Seesaw …” I was for prop. 30, because of my love for my state. ”

    Didn’t you mean …” I was for prop. 30, because of my love for my PENSION. “

    Reply this comment
  34. Tough Love
    Tough Love 12 November, 2012, 16:40

    SeeSaw. Watch out for the potholes (in that scenic CA highway) that we have insufficient money to fix …. because the pothole repair guy’s (union extorted) total compensation is likely $75+/hr.

    Ridiculous … 90+% of all Public Sector workers should be outsourced.

    Reply this comment
  35. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 12 November, 2012, 23:02

    I’ve traveled it–it is an interstsate. Why don’t you do something productive instead of making hateful characterizations of me every time I try to have a meaningful debate. You don’t know me–I don’t have to prove anything to you. Mind your own business instead of our business in CA. Stay away from my State–you are not worthty of ever setting foot again on the soil of CA.

    Reply this comment

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