Politics, government and public life for Southern California

What's next for Riordan's pension plans?

Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan has dropped his effort to place pension reform for city employees on next Spring's municipal ballot.
Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan has dropped his effort to place pension reform for city employees on next Spring's municipal ballot. NICK UT

Now that he’s dropped his effort to place his pension plan on the May municipal ballot, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan says he’ll go directly to union leaders to seek their support.

“I think this has to be worked through the unions, because in L.A. the unions control the city council,” Riordan said.  Most members of the council had expressed opposition to his plan.

It was a quick turn of events Monday for the wealthy businessman.  After campaigning for weeks to place his pension reform plan on the ballot, he announced that his paid signature gatherers simply did not have enough time to collect the 265,000 signatures needed by a December 28th  deadline.  They had collected more than 100,000 so far, according to a spokesman.

But Riordan also conceded city labor unions helped foil his campaign by loudly denouncing it and sending members to grocery stores to discourage people from signing his petition. Riordan, 83, says he will not give up.

“I’ve learned that if you just hold your cool in defeat and come back out and explain it to people, they’ll be there to listen to you.”

As union leaders basked in their victory over the former mayor, they appeared uninterested in listening to him.

“What he’s said has been nothing but attempts to attack city workers,” said Ian Thompson, spokesman for Service Employees International Union, Local 721.  “I think it would be a very skeptical audience he’d be greeted with.”

Riordan warns Los Angeles will go bankrupt if it doesn’t mandate larger contributions from city workers for their pensions, and place future workers on 401 (K)-style plans. He says recent efforts by the city council are insufficient.

Earlier this month, the council increased pension contributions and raised the retirement age for city workers hired after July 1, 2013.  Over the past few years, current employees have agreed to increase their pension contributions to as high as 11% of their salaries. Union leaders say that's enough.

“I don’t think that asking workers to contribute more out of each paycheck is a solution right now,” Thompson said.

He says the council should find other ways to address L.A.’s growing pension problems. 

The unfunded liability of the city’s main pension fund is projected to grow by more than $4 billion over the next four years.


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