San Diego Business Journal

San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre announced Thursday that his office has filed a civil lawsuit against eight individuals "whose actions helped create the city's massive pension deficit of $1.7 billion," according to his prepared statement.

Those named in the suit are Lawrence Grissom, administrator of the San Diego City Employees' Retirement System; Ronald L. Saathoff, a San Diego city fire captain and president of Local 145; John A. Torres, a San Diego Police Department analyst; Sharon K. Wilkinson, a city employee assigned to Qualcomm Stadium; Terri A. Webster, former acting city auditor and comptroller; Cathy Lexin, former city human resources director and labor relations manager; Bruce Herring, deputy city manager; and Lorraine Lee Chapin, SDCERS legal counsel.

"The results of the defendants' irresponsible actions, which are illegal under both the City Charter and California Constitution, have jeopardized the city's long-term ability to meet its fundamental obligations, not only to innocent retirees, but also to all San Diegans who depend on fire and police protection, timely road repairs, and environmental safeguards," said Aguirre. "Unless these illegal benefits are rolled back, the city will not have enough funds to sustain our qualify of life."

Aguirre said that setting aside the benefits would protect retirees.

"Rolling back the illegal benefits will restore stability to the pension plan," he added. "It is better to have 100 percent of an actual benefit than a dwindling percent of a paper benefit."

Presently, there are 18,000 city employees who are contributing to the pension system, he said. Although 5,000 retired employees are receiving benefits, only 800 to 900 are receiving the prohibited benefits. During the past nine years, Aguirre added, the system has gone from a funding level of 91.4 percent to today's funding level of 65.8 percent.

Aguirre's action is being taken under a provision of the Political Reform Act of 1974 that empowers the city attorney of a charter city such as San Diego to initiate an action on behalf of the people of California.

A spokeswoman for Grissom said that his office would have no comment, pending a review of the lawsuit.

Mayor Dick Murphy was not available for comment.

Pat Broderick