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Business Group Withholds Support for Pension-Reform Deal

Chamber of Commerce says "voters deserve one clear and comprehensive measure"

Updated June 9, 2011 at 5:15 p.m. with a comment from the mayor's spokeswoman

On Tuesday, the public policy committee of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce invited Sean Elsbernd, a supervisor, in to talk about the pension reform plan that City Hall announced on May 24, after months of talks with union- and business leaders. That plan would save the cash-strapped city about $60 million in pension costs next year.

Also invited in, to present separately, was public defender Jeff Adachi, who has introduced his own pension-reform plan, one that he says will save the city about twice what the City Hall plan would. 

Both camps very much want to be endorsed by the group, which represents 1,500 local businesses that employ 200,000 people. Last year, when Adachi's first pension-reform proposal, the controversial Proposition B, was on the ballot, the Chamber remained neutral.

On Thursday morning, the Chamber of Commerce's executive committee met to talk over its options. Mayor Edwin Lee had included Steve Falk, the group's president, in the "consensus" group formulating the City Hall proposal, and he clearly wants Falk and other members of what Lee likes to refer to as the "City Family" to publicly endorse his plan.

But instead, the Chamber issued a call for both sides to meet and hammer out a single proposal, so that voters would have only a single option come November. 

"This city deserves one ballot measure," Falk said in an interview Thursday afternoon. "We need serious pension reform." He would like the Mayor and City Hall officials to amend the City Family plan released on May 24 to make it palatable enough for Adachi to drop his effort.

That appears extremely unlikely. When asked the status of the Mayor's efforts to strike a deal with Adachi to that end, his spokeswoman, Christine Falvey, indicated that there has been no official City Hall communication with Adachi on this matter since May 23. Nor, apparently, will any invitation be extended, despite the Chamber's plea. "Mayor Lee has an open door if Mr. Adachi would like to speak about the pension measure that is being put on the ballot in November," Falvey said via email Thursday evening. The Mayor "relayed this during their last meeting."

Adachi, in an interview Thursday afternoon, said that while he had not heard from anyone from Mayor Lee's office, he has been meeting with most of the supervisors. Adachi said that he is stressing to them that "it is very important that the supervisors, in reviewing the Mayor's proposal, honor their duty to ensure this is a good deal for the city, and a good deal for the people. That has to be the focus. That's why they call them 'supervisors.' They are supposed to supervise, instead of just using a rubber stamp." 

Adachi said that Mayor Lee presented the City Family plan to him on May 23 as "set in stone" and not open for negotiation. And in his meetings with individual supervisors, Adachi says that he hears from them that the Mayor's plan is that it will be placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors as originally submitted. 

If the Chamber's prodding doesn't yield anything, Falk said that his group could possibly endorse both measures, or neither, or either, or remain neutral. But the confusion of two measures, he said, could cost the city dearly. "We support the consensus plan. I was personally involved" in the group that produced it, which also included Warren Hellman, chairman of the Bay Citizen. "The Board could change it, make it better or worse, depending on your point of view. The board always makes me nervous."

On the other hand, "Jeff Adachi's plan saves the city more money," though the City Family has been circulating the notion that Adachi's plan, if passed, would not survive a challenge in the courts. Still, said Falk, "The folks involved with this Chamber think the city needs every dollar of savngs it can get its hands on."

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