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Friday, June 25, 2010

Can Jeff Adachi Save San Francisco $167 Million?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 4:59 PM

click to enlarge In which this gent represents San Francisco... - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • In which this gent represents San Francisco...
Public Defender says "Smart Reform" not a political ploy; claims he's not running for mayor

Jeff Adachi has a job. He's good at it, too. But now it's time for a little role reversal. Rather than defend, he's on the attack -- and his campaign will likely put him in the crosshairs of every public employee union in town. To put it simply -- and pension reform is never simple -- he wants city workers to pay more and the city (i.e. you the taxpayer) to pay less. To be exact, $167 million less.

Adachi is fervently leading a signature-gathering drive for a potential amendment to the city charter he calls "San Francisco Smart Reform." He has 10 days to amass 44,000 valid signatures -- "it's going to be close." He's lit up the phone lines and personally pleaded for some $200,000 in campaign funds (including $75,000 from venture capitalist Michael Moritz) to hire a small army of signature-gatherers. Here, in as concise and painless a fashion as possible, is what it's all about:

Currently, city employees pay either nothing or 7.5 percent of their salary toward their pensions; fire and police personnel pay 9 percent. Adachi's charter amendment would mandate employees pay in 9 percent and public safety employees pay 10 percent.

Right now, the city pays 75 percent of health care costs for the spouses and children of employees. Adachi's proposal would knock that down to 50 percent.

These moves, according to the city controller and health services system, Adachi says, would save $80 million and $87 million, respectively.

click to enlarge Pension reform ought to be 'the No. 1 thing on people's minds,' says Jeff Adachi - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Pension reform ought to be 'the No. 1 thing on people's minds,' says Jeff Adachi
Okay, so the city would save tons of money. But what's in it for Jeff Adachi? That's an interesting question.

Adachi has long advocated for pension reform -- which, he admits, has nothing to do with his day-to-day-job. He joined forces with erstwhile rival Sean Elsbernd to push the supervisor's charter amendment that voters just approved as Prop. D. But the Prop. D voters passed was, to put it mildly, watered down at the behest of the city's unions -- "more like soaked beyond recognition," Adachi says. At one point, while working on supposed pension reform, the SEIU convinced Supervisor Eric Mar to introduce amendments he claimed were "cost neutral" that, in actuality, would have cost the city an additional $15 million a year -- and just in near-term costs. To repeat, the city's largest union and members of the Board of Supervisors, ostensibly working to save money via pension reform, actually pushed for a "solution" that would cost the city more money.  

It was with this in mind that Adachi decided that the Progressive-majority Board of Supervisors could not handle pension reform. "This would never make it through the board. That's what I learned," he says. "But when you're spending 28 times more on pension and health care costs than fixing the streets, this is the first year with no summer school, you've got $80 parking tickets -- you're talking about a slew of taxes to raise $40 million or $50 million. This would save the city $170 million."

Sure, but, again, what's in it for Jeff Adachi? Yes, he wouldn't have to engage in a process he likened to "playing poker" every year when it comes to budgeting his office. But might it not be more than that? Wouldn't taking on every union in town -- from the Progressive-friendly SEIU to the moderate police and fire unions -- and saving the city hundreds of millions of dollars be something the "darling of the left" Adachi could use to prove he's no one's patsy in a mayoral run?

Yes. Yes it is. But no, it isn't.

"Most people feel you cannot take on powerful constituents like labor and be elected to office," he said. Pension reform, he continues, is not his Care Not Cash. When asked, flatly, if he's running for mayor, he said he is not. "I don't have any present plans to run."

So, if you believe Adachi, he's become Mr. Pension Reform -- and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars while going to the mattresses with the unions in a union town -- because it's The Right Thing To Do.

"Pension reform is not a sexy issue," he says. "My hope is, people begin to understand that their quality of life -- the number of police officers on the street, having a lawyer to represent you ... all of that directly affects your quality of life. Pension reform is not the No. 1 thing on people's minds. It should be."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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