In three weeks, San Diego voters will determine the final district seat up for grabs this year and the selection will decide the council’s partisan makeup.
District 1 has been represented since 2008 by Sherri Lightner, a mechanical engineer by training, now seeking her second term.
Businessman Ray Ellis is running against her for the nonpartisan office. He's a Republican. Lightner's a Democrat. Whoever wins will give their respective party a five-member majority on the nine-member council.
Pension reform is one of the major platforms upon which the two candidates are running. San Diego’s retirement system is a huge strain on the city’s general fund with $2 billion in unfunded liabilities.
Proposition B, approved by voters in June, is the major plan spearheading pension reform efforts currently. However the plan faces legal challenges and savings depend on a cap in pensionable pay, which may be difficult to negotiate with labor unions.
Lightner told NBC 7’s Gene Cubbison that she now supports the implementation of Prop. B, and touted the plan’s potential long-term savings of about $1 billion.
“I’m implementing pension reform by capping salaries and reducing salaries for employees,” Lightner said. “And we on the council recognize the importance of that to the calculations for the unfunded liability. And I could see that as something we would take forward. I don’t foresee any difficulties.”
Ellis, a former president of the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System (SDCERS), said his experience on the board is key to his effort in reforming the city’s pension system. Ellis criticized his opponent for not issuing reforms sooner.
“It’s unfortunate that Ms. Lightner didn’t reach out to Mayor Sanders, Carl DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer and collaborate to get that done without going through the whole initiative process,” he said, referring to the city politicians who drafted the measure.
Ellis said if Prop. B didn’t work out, he would introduce a hybrid plan for city firefighters and police officers.
Lightner contended that a hybrid plan is “worth investigating.”