Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan abruptly dropped his initiative to overhaul the city's pension system on Monday, saying he wasn't able to gather enough signatures by the deadline.
To date, Riordan's team had gathered about 100,000 signatures to qualify for the May ballot. The city recommended a Dec. 7 deadline to turn in the needed 300,000 signatures.
In an interview Monday, Riordan said he became concerned when told the day before Thanksgiving how many signatures had been collected.
After consulting over the weekend with the group behind the initiative - a 10-member team that includes attorney David Fleming - the campaign was jettisoned.
"In hindsight, there were some things we should have known, such as how difficult it would be to get signatures," the 82-year-old millionaire said. "But you grow up and you learn."
Warning Los Angeles' spiraling pension costs will lead the city to bankruptcy, Riordan sought to change the pension system, including bringing newly hired employees to a 401(k)-style plan.
The proposal, introduced in October, was forcefully opposed by unions, who argued Riordan's plan would initially cost more upfront to the city.
To counter the initiative, the Coalition of L.A. City Unions set up a special phone hotline for union members to call, and sent them to the same parking lots where Riordan's team had workers collecting signatures in their own efforts. The union members collected
Meanwhile, Riordan's campaign may have made some missteps in its approach, including putting signature-collectors outside the city boundaries, a move that could result in the collection of ineligible names.
Tony Jordan, a clerk typist with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3090, encountered Riordan campaigners at a table outside of Sprouts in Culver City.
"Maybe they didn't know they were in Culver City," Jordan said. "I don't know what they're telling these people who are they soliciting."
Riordan said was unaware of whether his workers were campaigning outside of city limits.
While Riordan's group needed millions of dollars to pass the pension measure, attorney Fleming said money didn't factor into the decision to pull the plug on the campaign.
"It was never an issue of money, there was always money," Fleming said. "It was just an issue of time."
Fleming and Riordan's pension overhaul plan came on the heels of the City Council's approval of another pension change, one backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to raise the retirement age for newly hired civilian workers from 55 to 65, and reduce pensions for those who retire early.
In a statement Monday, Villaraigosa said he "has long appreciated Mayor Richard Riordan's love for the City of Los Angeles and his efforts to keep it strong."
"Most people concluded, however, that his pension reform proposal went too far and would have cost the City more money than the current system."
Union members were quick to call the plan "half-baked."
"It was risky and would have cost the city more money," said Simboa Wright, a member of SEIU Local Union 721, which represents more than 10,000 city workers.
Despite the cancellation of the ballot campaign, backers are considering trying to put an initiative on the 2014 ballot.
Addressing the celebratory statements issued Monday by the unions, Fleming said: "They may be celebrating today, but the question is: does it work out from a math standpoint in the future?"