Oral arguments before the California Supreme Court began last Tuesday in a case filed by the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Alameda County that represents another battle in the war between public employee unions, their pensions, and local municipalities.
With a particularly harsh recession on the horizon, the case could be pivotal for cities and counties across the state, as budget shortfalls balloon and staff and service cuts begin in the coming months.
The case examines what is known as the "California Rule," which holds that negotiated public employee contracts cannot be changed by cities to negatively affect workers' bottom lines — even in times of deep recession, as cities struggle to balance large deficits. The matter before the court also includes the practice known as "pension-spiking," when employees cash in unused sick leave or put in larger than normal overtime hours prior to retirement in order to boost their retirement pay.
The argument being made by the sheriffs deputies union, and other unions that have joined the case, is the benefits that may be used to spike pension were always part of the deal. "One person's pension spiking is another person's expectation of a promise," said David Mastagni, an attorney for the Deputies Sheriff Association of Alameda County, Calmatters reported.
The ramifications of the case could make a great impact on how cities in the East Bay navigate a potentially brutal recession due to Covid-19. During the Great Recession, East Bay public employees unions and belt-tightening cities clashed over rising pension and other benefits costs. Many public employees eventually coalesced over the idea of paying some costs of their own pensions.
The era made "unfunded liabilities" a catchphrase for moderates and conservatives to reign in labor unions in the East Bay. But as the Great Recession was replaced by several years of robust economic output, the county and quite a few East Bay cities made a point of steering budget surpluses into paying down unfunded liabilities. That could help blunt the coming downturn.
Alameda County is pursuing a half-cent sales tax measure to fight homelessness
Alameda County officials are in the early stages of proposing a November half-cent sales tax measure to fund solutions for reducing the region's growing homelessness crisis.
In just the past four years, homelessness in Alameda County has doubled, officials said. County point-in-time counts reported 4,040 unsheltered individuals in the county in 2015. The number has sharply risen to 8,022 in 2019. Eighty percent of those individuals are living on the streets, said Elaine de Coligny, executive director of Everyone Home, a non-profit whose mission is to end homelessness in Alameda County.
The proposed measure would raise between $150 million and $160 million annually in revenues to fight homelessness. But supervisors acknowledge the projection was made prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting shelter in place order.
"With the corona crisis, we're not going to see $150 million," Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley said during a virtual town hall about the proposed homeless tax measure on Wednesday. "That's what we projected before this crisis."
A half-cent sales tax increase will likely be a tough sell during the time of Covid-19. Over the next two months, county officials will decide whether a region racked by unemployment, a reduction in local sales tax revenues that could reach 10 percent this year, and general despair over the state of the local economy, will be interested in raising taxes come November.
"I know it's going to take a huge effort," Supervisor Wilma Chan said of the proposed measure. "Unfortunately we have to raise all this money locally," Chan said. "Alameda County in the last three years, has put in about $320 million into homelessness, but it's nowhere near enough and we just don't have the resources."
Alameda County Dems ask AG to investigate fatal shooting by San Leandro Police
Alameda County Democratic Party leaders approved a resolution to urge the state attorney general to investigate the April 18 fatal shooting of Steven Taylor by San Leandro Police.
The resolution was conceived by Pamela Price, a member of the committee and former candidate for district attorney. Price believes the San Leandro shooting, which occurred inside a San Leandro Walmart, can be the first test of the state's use of deadly force standard, signed into law last August by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Assembly Bill 392 removed some level of vagueness in California law for when a police officer can use lethal force from "objectionably reasonable" to a "necessary" response.
While many police accountability activists acknowledged AB392 was watered down as it winded through the Legislature, some legal experts believe the new law will allow juries to focus on an officer's actions just prior to discharging their weapon. For example, if the officer appeared to exhaust of methods of de-escalating the incident before using lethal force.
In the case of Taylor, a San Leandro police officer engaged the suspect, who was holding and twirling an aluminum bat near the entrance of the Walmart store. Cellphone video shows the officer was face-to-face with Taylor, who then make a large leap away. The officer then Tased Taylor, but it failed to subdue him. It's unclear whether the electric node even hit Taylor or attached to his backpack. Seconds later, the officer fatally shot Taylor. A late-arriving second officer also tased Taylor.