Almanac

News - September 28, 2011

Menlo Park picks legal battles

• Will defend Measure L, but won't fight redistricting, council decides.

by Sandy Brundage

There's no shortage of opportunities for a city like Menlo Park to see some legal action in the courtroom, but the City Council decided to pick its battles.

During the closed session at the Sept. 20 meeting, the council voted 5-0, according to Mayor Rich Cline, to defend the city against a lawsuit filed by two labor unions challenging the legality of Measure L, the pension reform initiative passed last year by a 72 percent vote.

Measure L raised the minimum retirement age for new Menlo Park public employees, excluding police officers, to 60, and decreased maximum pension benefits to 2 percent of their highest annual salary averaged over three years.

It also requires voter approval for all benefit increases, a decision that used to rest with the City Council. That policy is the foundation of the lawsuit filed by Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, the firm representing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

How much the city will have to spend on the defense remains to be seen. "We are determining the estimated costs and will bring it back to [the City Council] for a budget adjustment when those costs are determined," said City Attorney Bill McClure, adding that there's no public number to share at this point.

Part of the expense will entail hiring lawyers, as Mayor Cline said the council decided to seek representation from an outside firm.

Redistricting

The Measure L lawsuit appeared to sate the council's desire for legal warfare. On the advice of the city attorney, Menlo Park won't sue over the state's redistricting plan, which splits the city down the middle using U.S. Highway 101 as the border between congressional districts.

The plan reassigns representation of Belle Haven to Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco, instead of retaining the neighborhood within the district represented by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park.

"We are in violent disagreement" with the new boundaries, Mayor Cline reported during the Sept. 20 council meeting, but images of an expensive uphill battle convinced the council to vote 5-0 to stay out of court.

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