Ventura County Board of Supervisors Calls Pension Initiative Illegal; Lawsuit Filed

A proposed ballot initiative in Ventura County seeks to eviscerate the pension system currently in place for Ventura County employees.  On June 17, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to place the initiative on the ballot for the November 2014 election, because they believed they were compelled to do so by state law.  However, Ventura’s County Counsel submitted a 21-page report to the Board in which he determined that the ballot initiative is illegal.  County Counsel concluded that the County accepted the creation of the County’s pension plan pursuant to a 1937 state law.  Once a state law is accepted, a local government cannot repeal it unless there are express provisions in the law allowing repeal, something not present in the 1937 law. 

The Board directed County Counsel to “defend” the County in any subsequent litigation over the ballot initiative in a manner consistent with his conclusion that the initiative is illegal.  In other words, the Board agreed that the pension initiative is illegal, while at the same time agreeing that it should be placed on the November ballot.

Under the proposed ballot initiative, employees hired after July 2015 would be placed in a 401k-style defined contribution plan, instead of the current defined benefit plan.  The County would contribute 4% of base pay for non-safety public employees and contribute a higher rate for public safety officers depending on whether or not they are enrolled in Social Security.  The initiative would also freeze pensionable income levels for current employees for five years.

Opponents of the ballot initiative have filed a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors, and other defendants, including the County Registrar of Voters, in Ventura County Superior Court challenging the legality of the initiative.  The Board of Supervisors has directed County Counsel to request that the Superior Court issue a decision on the legality of the initiative before the ballots for the November election are printed.

We will provide updates on this story as events warrant.

By Jake White | July 15, 2014

Legal Developments