San Francisco's pension reform turning into a pricey duel 

In the battle over pension reform in San Francisco, two high-profile millionaires are throwing their names — and their money — at a controversial measure proposed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi that is opposed by labor unions.

Businessman George Hume and venture capitalist Michael Moritz have already donated $450,000 to Adachi’s campaign to reform city workers’ retirement benefits, according to paperwork filed last week. The campaign has raised a total of $508,720 through May 31.

Adachi is currently collecting signatures to get his measure on the November ballot, where it will potentially compete with a separate pension-reform measure proposed by Mayor Ed Lee that has the backing of another prominent San Francisco millionaire, financier Warren Hellman.

The early donations from Moritz and Hume, president of the San Francisco Opera, suggest a high-priced campaign is ahead, which is perhaps not surprising. Adachi’s unsuccessful 2010 pension-reform measure, Proposition B, inspired a very expensive campaign.

Proponents of Prop. B spent more than $1.1 million in a losing effort in 2010 — at least $172,500 of that from Moritz, records show. Public-employee unions financed a $1.5 million campaign to defeat the measure.

Hume, chairman of Walnut Creek-based Basic American Foods, did not return calls for comment. Adachi characterized Hume as “a person who cares deeply about our city and the direction it’s going in. He believes we have to fix our pension system and we need to do it right.”

San Francisco, like many cities, is dealing with budget-busting retirement costs. Next fiscal year, The City will spend $422 million toward pension contributions. That number is expected to balloon to $756 million in three years, according to the city controller.

Adachi says the mayor’s pension-reform measure — which has the support of public-employee unions — would only save between $60 million and $80 million a year.  He says his own measure would save between $90 million and $140 million.

But the backers of Lee’s measure have been trying to convince Hume to change his mind. They hope he will withdraw his funding for the Adachi measure much as Hellman pulled his own backing of Prop. B last year at the urging of The City’s firefighters’ union.

“Last time around we flipped Hellman,” said Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the labor coalition that worked with Lee on his proposal. “We do hold out hope that George Hume and others will be persuaded to withdraw their support from Adachi’s measure and join a consensus measure with the support of Mayor Ed Lee.”

As far as Moritz goes, he doesn’t appear to be pulling his significant financial backing of the measure any time soon. He recently told Fortune magazine that protests outside his home last year only strengthened his resolve.

As of last week, Adachi and team had collected a little more than half of the required 50,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot with less than a month left before the deadline.

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Brent Begin

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