No backing down in San Francisco’s pension battle 

Mayor Ed Lee fired back at Public Defender Jeff Adachi on Wednesday as the battle heats up over dueling pension reform measures.

The usually affable mayor and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd slammed Adachi’s pension reform measure as likely being illegal during an editorial board meeting with The San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday. Lee also said he feared Adachi’s measure could jeopardize the success of both proposals.

On Tuesday, Lee introduced a pension reform ballot measure with broad support from labor groups and members of the Board of Supervisors. Adachi immediately criticized the proposal as not going far enough and pledged to proceed with his own ballot measure, an offshoot of Proposition B, a pension reform measure that failed in 2010.

"If he wants to be son of B, he can be son of B," Lee said. "He has that choice. We have a different choice and I think our choice is going to be more reflective of what San Francisco is all about."

Adachi countered the arguments brought up by Lee, Elsbernd and labor representatives by saying the mayor’s proposal doesn’t begin to solve The City’s looming pension liability. Pension costs are expected to double to nearly $800 million by 2014.

The mayor’s measure saves between $60 million and $80 million a year while the measure Adachi is proposing would save between $90 million and $140 million, he said.

"You can’t bring a pail of water to save a burning building," Adachi said of Lee’s proposal.

Unions raised more than $1 million to defeat Prop. B in November and the measure failed with about 43 percent of voters’ approval. The group opposing Adachi’s measure also called it illegal and took it to court, but lost that challenge.

Now, the unions face an entirely different campaign for the November ballot. They must support the mayor’s plan while criticizing Adachi’s plan. Asked how much money the group would have to spend to accomplish that, labor spokesman Nathan Ballard responded:

"I think with the kind of broad support we’ve built it won’t be as expensive as you might think."

While Lee acknowledged that Adachi’s threat of placing a rival measure on the ballot has helped the mayor keep his coalition together, he said it was Adachi’s technique that ultimately failed.

"I have felt from the beginning his approach to Prop. B was wrong," Lee said. "It wasn’t so much his intent — everybody has good intentions — but it’s really how you do it, and whether you do it with people or you do it against people."

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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