Pension ruling a setback for San Diego City Hall

In April, when an appeals court protected the city’s pension reforms by safeguarding elected officials’ ability to enact them, The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board breathed easier on behalf of all the voters who implemented the cost savings.

The city’s pension problem could have gone from bad to worse that day, we wrote then, but it didn’t. An appeal was expected, we wrote then, but there’s a chance the state Supreme Court wouldn’t hear it.

Fast forward to this week. Bad to worse is back on the table. The state Supreme Court voted unanimously to review that appellate ruling, a sign it could possibly overturn San Diego’s five-year-old pension cutbacks, which would cause the city to spend large sums of money to give retroactive pensions to some 3,000 workers hired since the city replaced guaranteed pensions with 401(k)-style retirement plans for most new employees in 2012.

As Union-Tribune reporter David Garrick noted, the Supreme Court grants a review in less than 5 percent of the cases where one is sought. Without a review, April’s appellate ruling would have been final, and pension reformers would have rejoiced.

So what does all this mean exactly? We don’t know yet. Arguments in the case may not be heard until 2019, according to the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, which downplayed the court’s decision, saying it’s “understandable” the court would want to review a case of such statewide significance.

We do know this: The court’s decision to review this is a reminder that taking the long view on litigation is as smart as taking the long view on pensions.

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